Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Three words we should strike from our vocabulary

I remember the first time I received positive affirmation about my writing. It was in 1991. I'd entered an annual poetry contest for a private, liberal arts college in Erie, Pennsylvania. I had written creatively, both poetry and prose, since I was 13. But I was a senior in high school. Writing was a "hobby." How good could I be? I sent off my entry - just one poem - and didn't think about it again until I'd gotten the news. I'd received an award for a poem I'd scribbled off haphazardly. I was shocked.

It's been 25 years since that award that made me realize that writing could be more than "just a hobby." Working in any kind of art, frequent criticism and rejection are a way of life. For several years, I kept rejection letters for story and poem submissions in a folder like they were some rite of passage. But lately I've been thinking a lot about rejection and three words that have extended their reach into almost every facet of my life: "not good enough."



In the 25 years since that contest, I've finished two degrees, have published many articles, and have over a decade of teaching experience. But no matter what milestones I accomplish, there is still a voice that says to me, who do you think you are? You're not good enough to enter that writing contest? You're just an imposter, and those others will see right through your bullshit. Give up, go back to waitressing.

Anne Lamott said "We're all afraid of the same stuff. Mostly we're afraid that we're secretly not okay, that we're disgusting, or frauds, or about to be diagnosed with cancer." And more ... “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor ... It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” 

My own fears of inadequacy - and that inner voice that says I'm "not good enough" - span to include almost every facet of my life. I've told myself I am not good enough, whether it is as a writer, a photographer, an employee, a lover, a wife, a mother, a woman, or teacher.

So how do we obliterate these three awful words, "Not good enough?" 


  • Show up. No matter what those inner critics in your head say, show up. Keep writing/shooting photos/knitting/racing half marathons or whatever it is that you love. Because when we do what we love, our passion shines through. We gain confidence with practice. Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers that the way to achieving expertise in any skill is to practice it for 10,000 hours. You can't practice if you don't show up. 


  • Be vulnerable. Be real. Getting real about our inner critic and fears of inadequacy is difficult, but there's no better way to squash the inner critic demon than to say its name. Part of that inner critic is shame. But when you confront that shame - and better yet, share it with another person - its effect on us lessens. Brene Brown said in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” 



  • Own it. The hard part of being real is owning our imperfections. We are taught from a young age to be the best, make the grade, don't make mistakes and above all make sure you compare your successes to others. With age and experience, I've learned to admit my mistakes and imperfections because it lessens their grasp on me. Sometimes owning our emotions can be really difficult. Owning it to others even more so. But acknowledgement of imperfections is the first step toward growth. 

  • Celebrate what's unique about you. Walt Disney was originally fired from his job at the Kansas City Star because he "lacked imagination." James Joyce, Irish-born writer and poet, flew in the face of conventional writing styles when he published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916 in a modernist, stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Find those anomalies about yourself and celebrate them. They are what make your consciousness and perceptions of the world uniquely yours. 


If you have additional thoughts or ideas about ways we grapple with inadequacy, you can share them in the comments section or write to me at shannonsbucketsgotaholeinit@gmail.com 

Monday, October 24, 2016



Cheryl Strayed said of grief "You let time pass. That's the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then, one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun, and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you're okay."

There was a time I was so shattered, I could not see returning to the things I had formerly loved and defined my life by. Time stopped, for awhile. And then suddenly finally, I've found myself on a bench in the sun. That bench came in the form of a four wheeler in the Upper Peninsula.

It's been awhile since I've written here regularly. Slowly I have been celebrating returning to myself, and coming back to the things that I love after such a difficult and trying time make them all the more savory and beautiful. Fall brought a peaceful reassurance that the things that define me will always be there, and are what I will always return to: dogs, a warm fire in the wood stove, the smell of autumn leaves in the woods, the feel of my favorite winter hat, teaching and talking about writing and writers. This fall I have returned to myself completely, stronger than I ever was before because now I know the pain of a loss that brought me to my knees and lived to walk again smiling.

After a glorious weekend in the Upper Peninsula - the land I love - here are some of my favorite photos:

Lake Superior on a beautiful fall day. I have also seen this same beach when she's not in such a great mood and it's treacherous. Deer Park, MI
My favorite type of tree along a trail that leads to a cabin I once lived in. Deer Park, MI

A dog that belongs to my good friends Joann and Larry Fortier. Deer Park, MI 

Elise and her five month old pup, Mallory, looking over Lake Superior. Deer Park, MI



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wanderlust

Sitting in one place for very long drives me nuts.

I recently read in The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, of a study involving rodents at the University of Wisconsin. Mice who were bred for running were restricted from running, and then had their brain activity measured.

"The researchers presumed that when the mice were deprived of running,"says author David Epstein, "their brain activity would decline. Instead, it went into overdrive, as if the mice needed exercise to feel normal" (p. 237).

In college, sitting in class, I felt an irresistible urge to walk, to move. Later, my long-term college boyfriend caught me running in my sleep like a dog whose paws move with the instinctual call to propel forward.

Along with my urge to move, traveling comes naturally to me. I travel well... as long as I get ample time moving. It's never the traveling part I dread; it's the stationary part: time spent sitting in vehicles, busses, planes...

I remember taking a cross-country trip from San Francisco through the Cascade Range across Oregon and into Seattle. I had been running avidly in the months before, and it hit me hardest in South Dakota. Watching the wild sunflowers go by in a blur along Interstate 90, my legs itched to move, to be outside, free of the confines of the hippied-out Ford Aerostar my boyfriend and I practically lived in that summer. Once, I made him stop along the highway just to run around in a field of sunflowers for awhile.



Traveling, I feel my mind open up. Sitting still, words seem to settle and stagnate like sand in the bottom of a pond. I blossom in movement.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Excerpt

Here's what I know: you can do a lot of things that at first you think are unbearable and don't think you can do. 

The men from the funeral home came, finally, after my family grieved around my dad’s small body in the hospital bed in the spare bedroom. They put a thin gurney in the narrow hallway. It didn’t look wide enough to hold an average-sized person, but it was perfect for my dad. They began removing the blankets that covered his lifeless body, and I asked routinely “do you need help with anything?” not expecting an answer. Surprisingly, one of the men said, “Yes, in fact,” and asked me to stand at the head of the gurney to steady it for placing my father’s body on it. I did what I was asked. I am the daughter of a Marine, after all. 

I stood holding onto the cold metal rail at the head of the gurney, bracing myself for him to appear. The hallway and time seemed to stretch, becoming longer, narrower, and my head started to spin. I began sobbing in anticipation of seeing him carried out of his house this final time, questioning to myself whether I had the strength for this duty. And then he appeared. Wrapped in a white sheet, naked except for an adult diaper, the big man I’d known as my father appeared a gaunt, tiny frail person in the funeral man’s arms. He carried him like a baby, cradling his head against his arm and chest and walked slowly, carefully toward me. As he lay my father down before me on the stretcher, I looked down at my father’s face from above and great swells of sobs took hold of me uncontrollably. The funeral man placed a navy blue velour blanket over my dad, pulling it taut up to his chin over the white sheet. I could see his thin legs under the blanket in repose and the knob of knuckles underneath where his hands were folded neatly over his rib cage. He looked peaceful finally as I looked down at him there. His mouth finally closed. 

I pulled the stretcher out of the hallway with the two funeral men, our informal private calling hours now taking place in my parent's living room, and my mom began to wail. “I can’t let him go!” she repeated, and leaned down and kissed my dad’s sunken eyes and cold cheeks and forehead. I wrapped my arms around her sobbing body. She shook with grief. I wanted so much to protect her from this pain. But I couldn’t. Grief is a process, and it comes in waves, and the waves crashed hard within my parent’s living room that morning.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Seven steps to healing a broken heart


 One of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, said in Tiny, Beautiful Things

     "Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”

Recently, I have emerged from a very painful break up from a marriage that shouldn't have been so difficult to leave. My husband never loved me, and the heartbreak happened years ago when I first realized this. Because he never loved me, leaving should have been easy, but it wasn't, and I waited 14 long years before I was able to break free for good.

This experience has me thinking a lot lately about grief, the process of healing and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages in the acceptance of death. Divorce is, after all, what the French call le petite mal -- the small death. Here are some things that have helped me on this journey.

1. Strengthen your heart - with activity. My first real heartbreak happened in college. At the time, I was running 5-6 miles a day and heavy on gym time. With that breakup, I hit the gym harder with this mantra in my head: I was strengthening my heart (emotionally) by strengthening my heart (physically) with activity. I added visualization to it and pictured my heart actually building muscle, getting stronger along with my emotional heart. And it worked.

This time, I am running over seven miles at a time and chanting the same mantra in my head. There might be a tendency toward inactivity with the depression that comes with heartache, but do your best to not fall into the slump. Physical activity boosts endorphins - the natural chemicals in our brains that combat depression and increase our sense of well being and happiness.

2. Don't go it alone. Find support - through a trusted friend or family member, support group, a counselor, or your church or religious organization. When we try to stoically push through pain in solitude, we often don't realize that isolation can only increase our depression. Seek out the support of others.

3. Detach. Buddha said attachment leads to suffering. For me, this was difficult because my husband was such a part of my life for most of my adulthood. I began detaching from him by detaching from his friends, places and activities we would do together. I blocked him on social media. I disconnected any thing I could that tied me to him, with the exception of our daughter.

4. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here: rid yourself of all of the reminders, mementos, trinkets, or otherwise emotionally-charged paraphernalia that remind you in any way of your ex or your relationship. My soon-to-be ex husband and I have a beautiful daughter together, so I have kept my wedding dress, rings, photos and anything that she might want when she is an adult. As for the cards, memories and other items of love, I've gotten rid of everything he ever gave to me. Use this time to clean and redecorate your space. There is no need to look back, only forward onto better things.

5. The only way to get through is through - not around. My relationship with my husband ended years before I finally ripped off the band-aid and filed for a full-on divorce. I put off filing because of fear of his reaction and I was overwhelmed when I tried to decide where to start the arduous task of unraveling our lives together. So I attempted to go around the pain and upheaval by dragging things out over years in an attempt to negotiate "graceful ways" of ending things. What I ended up doing was dancing around the truth and avoiding the turmoil of an abrupt and harsh end that had to happen and keeping my children in a dysfunctional environment where they could not thrive in the process.

Sometimes the only way get something done is to just do it. Like the Cheryl Strayed quote above, sometimes I know I have a tendency to want to ruminate over all the past mistakes and wallow in suffering. This is not productive. Likewise, once I finally ripped the band-aid off, I wanted to escape feeling the gush of blood and pain of that freshly opened wound. I wanted to run from the discomfort, and it's probably second nature for anyone to want to avoid feeling grief, pain, and heartache. But what I've found is, it's best to feel the pain and sit with it. It can teach us a lot of what we need to learn: about ourselves, the world around us, and the paths that lead us to making the same mistakes. Write about your feelings. Talk about them with a trusted friend. Purge the difficult emotions, but don't try avoiding them.

6. Forgive yourself. Going through a break up is one of the most emotionally trying things a person can go through. We all have break up stories and have likely done things we aren't proud of while going through the grief process. Don't add to your stress by "shoulding" on yourself and saying "I should have done this better" or "I shouldn't have done that, then maybe it would have worked out." Chances are, if you're like me, you look back over your relationship and realize there were red flags waving right in front of your face all along, you just chose to ignore them. Let it go.

7. Take care of yourself. Trust me: this has been the hardest thing for me to do. I've found it difficult to sleep, eat, or concentrate during this tumultuous time. Sometimes, we just have to force ourselves to do these things. Eat. Shower. Sleep, even if it means taking occasional supplements. Melatonin is a gentle holistic method for gaining zzz's found in most drug stores. Take a multi-vitamin. B vitamins can help combat depression and help strengthen our immunity which might be worn down from stress. Don't drink alcohol to excess. While it might sound appealing to want to let loose, alcohol is a depressant and can only wear down the immune system and ultimately make a depressed person feel worse. It also can lead to lowering our inhibitions that can allow emotions to get out of control.

The old adage is that time heals all wounds. Amazingly, the bitterness of even the worst of break ups eventually gives way to forgiveness.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

The room

"These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them." ~ Rumi 


In psychology, rooms of a home can be representative of a person's psyche. Psychologist Carl Jung had a famous dream about a house. He and Freud dissected the meaning of this dream house to reveal hidden meanings about Jung's unconscious mind. Each room of the house represented a different part of Jung's mind. You can read more about the dream house here.

Two months ago, I began the process of dismantling and redecorating the biggest room in my house: the living room. The room and subsequent dismantling and redecorating of it became quite symbolic. My estranged husband had called the living room his bedroom for over three years. Indeed, the rest of us -- my daughter and myself -- didn't go in there; only the dogs frequented the large, dark, drafty room. The walls were a dingy, dark beige the color of dirty sand, and the carpet was of the same hue. He rarely moved from the sofa, which was also of the same color palate, except to go to work, eat and occasionally shower.

Over the course of three years, nothing was moved or touched; in stagnation, dust collected on all stationary objects, covering books, shelves, and even the baseboards in over an inch of filth and debris. The dogs, often left to their own devices when he would fall asleep on the sofa, had done their business on the carpet countless times, so the acrid aroma of dog piss hung thick in the air. I never knew how he could stand to be in the room for five minutes much less live there. Elaborate, intricate systems of cobwebs of all variety and design hung in corners and from light fixtures.


When I began tackling the room, I ripped up the stinky carpet first; it was stained clean through the padding to the wooden planks below, and made my fingers visibly wet with dog urine to touch it. I hated the dark tan walls, so I decided to paint a bright color and let our 11-year-old daughter choose it: a bright goldenrod. She said it was a happy color, and I agreed. We began the arduous task of removing everything from the room: shelves, curtains, books, other furniture for cleaning.


He reluctantly went along with the deconstruction, but was clearly disturbed and anxious by the changes. But as disturbed as he was by this changing environment and my taking back my living room, I was more disturbed by the state of the room, appalled and startled at the shape of things. I had no idea he had neglected it to the point that he had. He struggled with depression, but anyone would be depressed living in such a place. Like a hyperbolic chicken-and-egg scenario, I wondered which came first: his depression? or was he depressed because of the state of the room?

The room had become a metaphor, a representation of his disconnect not only from me and our family, but from much more. As I cleaned an inch of dirt and dust from the shelves and books, I saw clearly what depression looks like. It doesn't just look like someone who gives up on themselves; it looks like someone who gives up on everything. I could see the places where I had come unglued on the walls like tea leaves: splatters of coffee stains told the story of anger and frustration with his apathy; dents in walls from the impact of fists revealed past unrest. My own grief overwhelmed me.

Anger can be a huge motivator if directed properly, which ours never was. And each of us had things to be angry about, and each held onto that anger like a precious stone, unwilling or unable to let go.

During the week the redecoration of the room started, tension reached new levels between us (partially spawned by my discovery of many lies and pressuring him for answers, and partially from his lack of empathy for the hurt he had caused), he abruptly moved out. Tension had built to a breaking point over that week the details of which I will save for another story. Our relationship had spanned 14 years of roller-coaster-like ups and downs, break ups and abuse, infidelity and pain, and neither of us had clean hands. Like the room, we'd uncovered dirt and cobwebs and, like the room, we reached a culmination, an ugly crescendo that shattered like a million points of glass.

After the initial trauma of the abrupt vacancy, I set out to finish the room, mostly as a final exorcism of the hate that had lived there. I bought a new sofa and recliner and burned the one he'd used as a bed for three years. I purchased a flat screen TV even though I rarely watch it. I picked up a few accent tables at thrift or discount stores. I burned sage and tried everything I could think of to rid the negative pallor from the room. But no matter what I did, I was haunted by his hate. It followed me in my sleep causing nightmares. It would not allow me to sleep more than four hours at a time. I bought several large plants and brought home some small sections of birch trees from my favorite places in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I began meditating in the room. And then I discovered something.


I was not myself. I am still not myself. I lost myself in a vortex of a loveless, abusive marriage and an abrupt severing of someone who had been in my life for a very long time. Discovering someone I knew for 14 years was living a double life and lying about everything - even things that would be easier to tell the truth about - has fragmented me. And I don't know how to begin the process of getting myself back. And I've realized that, like the room dismantle, I have been dismantled, and so now I have to find a way to clear the cobwebs, paint the walls and find a new healthy space. In the process of creating that new healthy space, I have gone through a metamorphosis, and the changes have not always been attractive or things I am proud of.

But here's what I know: the way to repair what's been destroyed is to start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

I am starting from ground zero. I am creating a clean, safe space in my home and my mind.


I am spending time sitting with myself. 

Sit in silence with yourself, and you will hear all of the things your spirit needs. 

I am returning to the places I have grown up. I am no longer afraid to show up. 

#Akron
I am returning to the things that ground me. That have always grounded me. Like this...

The runs just get longer


I will return to myself through finding my voice and speaking my truth.




Monday, October 19, 2015

Lake Superior shores

Along the shores of that giant lake I found a rock shaped like a heart. I picked it up and held it close to my own heart, thinking about you. All of the hurt. All of the anger. I placed within that rock-heart all of my anger and hurt and replaced in my own heart good intentions and love. I wanted to throw the rock-heart back into Lake Superior, let that clean Big Lake wash all of those bad feelings and ill will clean but for a second, I couldn't resist wanting to hold onto all of it: the love and the hate.

Then, instead of throwing the rock-heart into the clear cold water, I simply gently let it go. It shimmered under the cold waves. I let go.