“The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who are you and what you mean.” — Toni Morrison
Last February, when my friend Jara asked me what I wanted for my birthday, my request was dinner out at our favorite restaurant. The only caveat was that I wanted to include Jara’s friend Kelly. “Are you sure?” Jara asked. Unspoken was the fact that Kelly and I hardly knew each other. I didn’t understand the meaning behind my strange impulse either. All I knew was that dinner with Jara and Kelly was how I wanted to celebrate my day.
Graciously, Kelly accepted my odd invitation and the three of us met for what turned out to be a lovely evening. Midway through the meal, I asked Kelly, who owns a popular local salon, how things were at work. Things were great, Kelly said, except she currently didn’t have a massage therapist and there was a beautiful treatment room sitting empty.
The Universe–my word for God or the Great Unknown or whatever is out there–tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re a massage therapist.”
“Ummmm, I WAS a massage therapist,” I corrected. “Years and years and years ago. Now I’m a WRITER, remember?”
“You could rent that empty room from Kelly and reopen your practice.”
I scoffed. “I don’t think so. I hardly have enough time as it is to write and take care of the kids. Why in the world would I even consider reopening my massage therapy practice?”
The Universe went silent except for a sharp bang that sounded remarkably like a window being thrown open.
I didn’t give those conversations–mine and Kelly’s, and mine and the Universe’s–another thought in the months to come. I had too many other fish to fry, namely I was in a writing slump I just couldn’t shake. Even though I was showing up at my desk each day and sending out my manuscripts relentlessly, I wasn’t making any progress. My writing effort ended up in an ever-fattening file labeled “incomplete” and my mailbox only attracted rejection letters.
Still, I wasn’t ready to give up. I slogged through the end of winter and into spring fervently hoping that if I stuck with it, my writing would bring me the happiness and fulfillment it had in the past. Instead, as the weather warmed, my life in general hit the skids. My writing inertia worsened, painful marital issues pummeled my heart, I suffered from bouts of fatigue that made the smallest effort feel impossible, and, according to an email from my mother, she and I weren’t getting along. It seemed that every effort I made to fix things ended up with a door slammed in my face, and by the end of May, I was knee-deep in despair.
It was awful. I could feel the urge to scream crawling up my throat as fear and anxiety overwhelmed me, but I’d just spent the past several years writing about how to face these kinds of scary unknowns with grace, and now was the time to use the wisdom I’d gleaned. So I began to ask myself the questions: What did I really want from this one wild and precious life of mine? How could I reframe the situation and find happiness? What would love do?
For six weeks, I questioned my deepest self. Each passing day, I could feel the answers nudging me in an unfamiliar direction, until one morning I was standing at an open window. With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I sat on Jara’s couch talking through a plan for how I could reopen my massage therapy practice. She helped me compose an initial proposal to Kelly and I hit send. That afternoon, Kelly responded and as easy as that, I was officially in business again.
Leaping out the window was at once exhilarating and ridiculously scary. By day, while filling out forms to renew my certification, purchasing supplies, and brushing up on my bodywork techniques, I’d be bustling with purpose and energy and full to the brim with excited optimism. But in the middle of the night, I would wake cold with fright. What if no one made an appointment? What if I wasn’t as good as I’d once been? Who would do all the things I do now while I’m at work? Will my daughters be okay? And my biggest concern, what if I didn’t have enough time to write? Doubt played tag with my confidence. What, I asked myself, if I failed all around?
“What if I fail all around?” I asked my friend Erin, in the light of day.
“Then you go on to Plan B,” she said, matter-of-factly.
Ahhhh, of course. Plan B. In my panic, I’d forgotten all about Plan B and the other 24 letters of the alphabet. Remembering helped me keep doubt out of the game. Sure, it would be a little embarrassing if my massage practice failed, but it would not be the end of the world. I’d just look for another window.
But I didn’t fail. Steadily, my practice has grown over the past several months and I have as well. I am soaring. My work as a massage therapist has filled in the blanks left by twelve years as a stay-at-home mom and three years as a struggling writer. I feel renewed, energized, and fulfilled. In a way, I feel saved by the people who give me the privilege of working with them, and I am grateful for and humbled by the trust they place in my hands.
As of this fall, life is wonderful. And life is busy. All the housework that I did before is still there needing to be tackled each week. Fortunately, my husband has picked up some of the slack and my girls have matured with their extra responsibilities. I, too, have had to make some necessary adjustments–I caved and got my daughters a cell phone since they are on their own more now and need to keep in touch, I explored the frozen food section at the grocery store to make cooking easier, and I have come to accept that my house is generally going to look like a bomb hit it five days out of the week. But we are getting by and the time we have together as a family has become that much more important and precious. The only pre-work fear that has been realized is that I don’t have time to write and I can’t keep up with my weekly posts.
For the past four months, flyingnotscreaming has limped along while I have tried to figure out what to do. As always, there are no easy answers, but lots of lessons. The hardest one to swallow is that maybe my dream of being a published writer, the one I’ve had since fourth grade, isn’t the goal I really want to chase. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not willing to sacrifice all I might need to sacrifice to make it as a published writer. At the same time, the insights I have gleaned while writing the essays for this site have led me to happiness. I learned to soar with some semblance of grace even though it ended up being through an exit I didn’t expect. And that is the biggest lesson of the past several months: to be happy, to have ease, and to find peace, sometimes we have to let go of the death grip we have on our expectations. I was so focused on the door, I almost ignored the open window and the joy it allowed me to find. Sometimes we have to trust the Universe at large and be led.
Yet I just couldn’t bring myself to shut down this site. I didn’t want to lose all I had gained. And I knew that living with a heart full of grace is an ongoing process that needs constant attention, mindfulness, and application. I loathed giving up my weekly attention to my flight pattern. I didn’t want to forget to appreciate the view and lose elevation. While I hadn’t had time to complete my weekly essays, the ideas and insights were still churning in my heart and head–I’d been learning so very much from this new venture of mine. What I knew for sure is that I still needed to get my discoveries on paper even if it meant emailing what I learned each week to a few good friends who were willing to suffer through my self-explorations.
And suddenly, that seemed to be the answer. Or at least, a Plan B of sorts. Instead of my usual long, carefully constructed essays aimed at helping me be a better writer, I’ve decided to post quick, short blurbs–not unlike an email to a friend–that help me be a better person. I’ve taken to thinking of them as my “Notes from Flight.” They may not be terribly polished or as well composed as my previous posts, but they will be from the heart. Or more accurately, they will be what was given to my heart that week.
So put on your seatbelts–it might get a little bumpy or uneven now and then, but as I have learned over the past eight months, if you allow life to change course, you can end up at an even better destination. So coming soon, flyingnotscreaming will have a new look and a new schedule. A Quote of the Week on Mondays and Notes from Flight on Fridays or Saturdays. I may not always have the time. But it’s okay if you don’t hear from me now and then: just know that I am flying not screaming.
And if this doesn’t work, we’ll move on to Plan C.