Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"I'm okay, right?"

“We are okay, we are all right/We sing very loud…we shut our eyes through fear and doubt.”
--Joshua Radin, We are Okay

"Go away. I'm all right."
--H.G. Wells, last words

“I’m OK, right?”

This is the question that I have asked people of influence to me at every critical point in my life. Every time but one, the answer has been yes. That time, when the answer was "you're not okay, you need to get healthy again," I crumpled under the weight of it at the foot of a trail over a good-sized wilderness of doubts, fears and changes that needed courage and support of (very patient) friends and family in order to navigate it.

Here’s the thing about that question; every negative answer outweighs all of the answers in the affirmative. Because at gut level, that question really is “am I love-able? Am I worth it?” And if I get mixed reviews on that answer, I’m suddenly thrown into a vortex of doubts.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that everyone at some point in their lives will struggle with this question. But especially it comes up where love is involved. This is the question I and my single friends ask at the end of every potential relationship, on the evenings when we watch movies and eat ice cream after hearing about the engagement of the guy one of us was never really over, after attending the office Christmas party alone. We ask it when plunging into yet another long expedition into the world of bridesmaid dresses and shower-planning. We ask it after answering a multitude of "why not?" questions from family or friends about a guy who happens to --funnily enough--be single, too! A perfect match, obviously. We have so much in common. Let's just say we ask that question a lot.

I think we all need to know we’re okay when the life we’re living doesn’t match what we expected in any sense. You know this if you’ve changed careers, too. When your major in Videography at a liberal arts university appears to lead to Starbucks…with some pro bono youth group video work on the side, you need to hear that. Perhaps the only quantifiable payoff from that major will be the cheers of sweaty seventh graders, but it does at least lend a whisper of the idea that you might be okay.

I know I need a good amount of affirmation in different ways to make it through a day. One of my lifelong struggles will be with that tendency to people-please, so it's possible this question might be a bigger deal for me than for some. But with regard to singleness, I suspect that a lot of people have a finely-tuned radar when it comes to being okay. What we get, instead of reassurance that we are okay, is a lot of questions, a few implications (subtle or otherwise), and a whole lot of well-meant wishes for "the real thing to come along". Facing that kind of chronic doubt is typical when you're facing it from yourself (Anne LaMott refers to it as that radio station inside your head "KFKD"). When you're facing that faint doubt from everyone else, it gets to be a constant tension, something that creates a defensive sensitivity. What I have to watch out for is when the question becomes this one:

"I AM okay, all right? Leave me alone!"

It's when I start hearing the echo of this statement in my thoughts that I'm getting far away from a healthy perspective. But more on this in the next post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Those who walked before me

"I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."
--Henry David Thoreau

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another.”
--Thomas Merton

There are myriad reasons why I'm near terrified to write about this topic of being single. One reason is that I'm not positive I have anything new to say about it. There are many who have been single much longer and better than I have, and have already written their stories. (then, of course, there is the woman who wrote a book with the actual words "How to Expand your Meet Market" as a chapter heading. In case you are curious, one of the suggestions for women was to attend NASCAR events. I'm sure this book will come up again later. FYI, being that kind of writer is another one of my fears.)

The main reason, if I'm being really honest about it, is that I'm afraid that writing about being single makes me a confirmed and possibly militant single person. But if writing about it makes it truer, then I really should be writing about a lot of other things I would prefer to be doing than being single; i.e., I should be writing about exercise, waking up on time every morning, and of course, spending more time praying and reading my Bible, not to mention writing more, painting more, and being faithful in friendships.

But the truth is that writing doesn't make wishes or goals or hopes or ambitions come true. For me at least, writing helps me face fears, figure out puzzles, put frustration on a page so I can realize how small or big it really is. And then I can figure out how to deal with it. Have you ever had that experience where you close your journal after writing for a while, and you feel at peace; that long sigh of calm in between battles?

I would like to be at peace with being single, not because I'm determined to stay that way, but because it is where I am now and, for the foreseeable future, where I’m going. I've been encouraged by several writers over this past year, people before me who have been honest and faithful in their experience with singleness and single people, and I share them below because I want, in many ways to be like them and to walk as faithfully and honestly as they are.

1. Jon Acuff:
Jon isn't single, but he wrote a blog post on singles within the church that received more comments than any other post he wrote in his roller-coaster year-and-a-half rise from blogger to print author, helping me realize that so many others are involved in this same journey.

2. Connally Gilliam wrote the book "Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect"
Even though the title makes me cringe a little, and now I have to confess to wandering the single self-help section of a Church bookstore (only once I swear!), I read the preface and realized that Connally wasn't your average "meet market" writer. I can honestly say it's the best book on singleness I've ever read and what she had to say about being a believer, a woman, being single, and living in community gave me hope about what a single life could be. Don't be too dismayed by the use of shoes and the color pink on the cover, Connally speaks some good truth.

3. Kate DiCamillo writes so-called books for children. But when I heard her speak at the 2010 Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, she kept me spellbound with her discussion about writing of the things that scare you so badly you feel you can't look them in the eye, the things that make your fingers tremble while typing, and the things that you think you can't write about. I wish a story like "A Tale of Despereaux" had come into my head when I thought about what scared me, but it didn't. Not yet, anyway.

4. Tim Stafford is a senior writer at Christianity Today. Somewhere around 10 years ago, Tim Stafford spoke on singleness at Seattle Pacific University, a chapel lecture that is available free on iTunes U. When I was attending a Christian Liberal Arts university, these were the chapels I would stay away from. But Mr. Stafford’s lecture, from the perspective a long-happily-married man, addresses the topic with compassion, challenge, and an assurance that single people are part of God’s work AND community, too. From my experience, many modern evangelical churches don’t have a problem believing that single people are part of God’s work. But in practice, they often have a hard time incorporating single folk into the community.

There are lots of other people, both writers and people who simply live well, who have influenced me. These four have been particularly important and recent influences in starting me on the road to writing honestly about fears, including this one of walking the fine sidewalk between alone and community.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fear and....

“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.”
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"For when a woman is left too much alone, sooner or later she begins to think;- And no man knows what then she may discover”
--Edwin A. Robinson quotes (American Poet, 1869-1935)

Just now, I walked back into the house from the yard I just finished mowing...well, that's not exactly true. The front yard is mowed now, but the backyard, strewn with the materials for raised garden beds, is not currently mow-able. My dad has built 5 marvelous raised bed frames, and it has taken my sister and I 3 weeks to turn over the sod, shovelfull by wormy shovelfull, where they're going to be placed. One bed is leveled and placed, ready for the load of dirt that will come from...somewhere. That's another task to research this weekend. The garden is getting a much, much later start than it should be. Last week I re-potted all of my heirloom tomato plants because they were rooting out of the peat pellets, desperate for real soil.

Sitting at my kitchen table, I look around to see any number of things that need to be done; the dishwasher needs to be emptied, and laundry needs to be done so I'll have clean clothes for a brief weekend trip over Memorial day. A stack of picture frames and the art that goes in them stand on the bookshelf in the living room, waiting for their turn with my attention. An old door lays on the table in the room we use as an office/studio, part of a project for a friend's wedding that will take place in a month

But I sit down to write. I didn't really plan on this, but there has been a steady recurrence of events this spring that have begun directing me to write about something I have never wanted to write about (except in angry journal entries which will, with luck, never see the light of day.). Someday I'll tell you about the prompts (and direct commands)that got me here to this blog entry.

I'm a single girl, and this was never where I wanted to be in life.

There are great things about my life, and I'm luckier than many people in the same situation. I have a great family, including a sister who went out on this house-buying venture we started last fall. While I lived far away from my hometown for 3 years after college, I was blessed with a roommate and a few friends who were willing to really walk through life with me for a few years (a rarity, as I now know).

But the fact is still there that I never expected to be single into my thirties, and so now I am walking a new and unfamiliar road of making a life alone every day. For a time, I'm going to focus on that journey here on my blog.