Storytelling

We all have stories we tell ourselves about the people around us, about the lives we’ve lived, and about what our futures will be.  We create tales based on things people said, things we did, things we saw and things we want.  But of all these stories, the most powerful ones are the ones we tell about ourselves.

We tell ourselves stories about our worthiness, our intelligence, our abilities, our looks.  We make up stories about every single part of our lives, and then we live those stories out.  And too often, those stories suck.

We tell ourselves that we didn’t work hard enough.  We tell ourselves that we didn’t try hard enough. We tell ourselves stories about all the things we could have done and should have done and will never do.  We make up stories – and we believe these stories – about things that have happened in our lives, and then we spin those stories so they ultimately cast a dark pall over us.  Then we hide under this cloak of  stories for fear of what would happen if we came out and stood alone under the sun.

But what if we told ourselves new stories?  Stories that don’t say thinks like “I should have”, but rather, “I tried my best in that moment with what I had.  And that’s good enough.  And I can do it different in the future if I choose.”  What if, in our stories, we were always good enough. What if we were more than good.  What if we were great?

What if our life stories weren’t filled with doubt and judgement and shame and fear, but instead were stories of triumph and effort and heads held high even in defeat.  What if our stories were stories of love – for others, and our lives, and ourselves?

What if we took a chance to stand alone under the sun, faces upturned and smiling?  What if every story we had for our futures started with “I can” instead of “I wish”.  And what would our lives be like if we believed them?

It’s time we start telling ourselves new stories.  Stories where we are the winners.  Stories where we live with love and joy and overcome obstacles with grace and dignity.  Stories where it is okay to make a mistake – or ten – and where defeat doesn’t equal a diminishing of your worth or abilities or future prospects.

Tell yourself a new story about your life.  A story that starts and ends with you being wonderful and perfect and doing nothing wrong.  A story that is full of lessons and possibilities rather than mistakes and missed opportunities.

You will live the story you tell yourself, so tell yourself a story of love.  And believe it.

Now, I know.

I got up at 4:00am on Friday, to feed my apparently starving to death almost-seven-week old daughter.  She wasn’t starving.  She just screams like she is.

I turned on the tv for company, as I’m apt to do.  And there it was flashing in front of me, the news so fresh and coming in so fast that every couple of minutes a few details changed as they tried to keep up with the influx of information.

Another mass shooting.  This one, the largest in the history of the United States.  At a movie theatre.

I don’t think I had any original thoughts in that moment.  It’s that lack of originality in times of crises, the common grief, outrage, lack of understanding and sorrow that unites us  as a species.

I wondered, like a million others, why he felt the need to hurt people he’d never met.  I felt the rising anger that simmers below my surface over the lack of gun control in the United States – access to weapons of mass destruction in the hands of whomever feels the whimsy safely cloaked behind the words “freedom” and “right”.

My heart leapt out of my body towards the families of everyone in that theatre at that moment – wondering where their loved ones were, and if they were okay.

Then someone said the words.  A baby has been shot.  And I started to cry.

Babies have been hurt in the past.  I heard about it.  It saddened every cell in my body, and made the world grey for a time.  But now I have a baby, and everything is different.

Now my baby had been shot.  I felt every emotion that baby’s mother felt.  I felt her shock. I felt her fear.  And I felt her remorse.  I had no idea who the baby was, and whether or not she was okay.  But in my head, I cried the words to my own baby girl, and the silent father. I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry I brought you here.  I’m sorry I didn’t protect you.  I should have.  It’s all my fault.  Please be okay.  God, I’ll do anything as long as she’s okay.  Please let her be okay.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry. 

I found out the next day that the baby – only a few months old – was treated and released from the hospital, on her way to a full recovery with no memory of what happened to her.  Another child – a beautiful, innocent, six-year-old girl – had a different fate that night.  And I understood in a razor-sharp moment of clarity that in times like these, every child will be my child.  And I’ll have the voice of every mother in my head, begging for a chance to go back and do something different so her child would be safe.  And again, I heard my own mother’s words in my head.  Words she said to me countless times when I was growing up.  When you have a child, you’ll know.  Now, I know.

Conversation Killer

Is it just me, or are babies real conversation killers sometimes?

(If your first reaction is “OMG she doesn’t love her baby!” then kindly take your opinion and stick a sharp pin in it.  But keep reading, because I need the audience.)

It has become clear to me that are multiple ways babies kill conversations.  They cry and fuss and demand attention by way of dirty diapers and needing to be fed right now Mummy because obviously I’m STARVING TO DEATH because I’m screaming like I haven’t eaten in 2 days not just two hours and I’m only six weeks old so no, I will not keep things in perspective.

But babies are also conversation killers without even trying to be.  And in this way, they don’t kill every conversation.  Just any conversation that’s not about them.

How is it that when you are pregnant, or have an infant, (and perhaps even as they get older though God, I really hope not), there seems to be nothing else to talk about than these kids?  Is there nothing else interesting happening in the world?  What about the US Presidential elections?  The continued decline of the global economy?  What Kim and Kanye wore to the gym yesterday?

We had some friends over for lunch a couple of weeks ago, and babies seemed to be the order of the day.  It was 3 hours of talking about nothing except eating and sleeping and pooping and playing.  I love my friends.  They came over with nothing but the best of intentions.  But all I wanted to hear about the last cool concert they went to, not discuss baby feeding schedules.

Last night, another couple of friends were over.  And again, it was babies, babies all the live long day.  This time there was one baby out of the womb (mine) and one baby in the womb (one of said friends) and besides babies and their imminent arrivals, there seemed to be nothing else in the world.

Was I like this when I was pregnant?  Did I talk about pregnancy and babies like nothing else existed?  That’s not how I remember it, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  Only because the only things people want to talk to a pregnant woman about is pregnancy and babies.

And now that she’s here, have I fallen into his baby abyss without knowing it?  No doubt, I talk about her a lot.  But I refuse to take all the blame.  Ask me how she is.  I’ll tell you she’s perfect.  Then ask me what I think Guiliana and Bill should name their little boy.  Ask me what I think the city should do about its public transit problem.  Ask me my opinion on  all the recent gun violence in Toronto, the fixing of the LIBOR by world banks, or unrest in the Middle East.  Ask me about my next vacation, my hobbies, my hair.  Ask me about anything.  I promise to do my best to keep the baby’s fussing to a minimum, so that she doesn’t steal the conversation right back when it gets going in a new and exciting direction.  But let’s at last least try.  Because I love those conversations.  Let’s not let them die.

Someone else is watching

I’ve been doing a whole lot of thinking and talking and dreaming over the last few years.  A whole lot of thinking and talking and dreaming about having a career as a writer, where I can work from home, or an office, or a coffee shop, or a beach chair, or anywhere I damn well please.  What I haven’t been doing a whole lot of is writing.

I’ve had a million excuses in my head about why I haven’t written more.  These excuses follow the usual litany of excuses that most writers find floating through their heads when they’re looking for a reason – any reason – not to write:

– I don’t have anything to say right now

– I’ll do it later, after I eat/sleep/clean/etc.

– I’ll think about it first and write it out later

– No one wants to read it anyway

– Who do I think I am?  Some kind of writer?

– What if someone reads it and hates it?

Lots of words about why I’m not writing, and a lot fewer actual written words.  At the same time, I have said over and over to other people that the key to being a writer is to write.  And the trick to writing is not really any kind of trick at all.  Just write.  Write when you want to.  Write when you don’t.  Write every day, even just a little bit.  Start a writing practice and stick to it.  Don’t worry about what others think.  Duh.  Just write.  Write.  Write.  Write.

I’ve seen some of the people I’ve coached start writing, and keep writing, and have some real success with their writing.  And while I am so happy for them, there is a part of me that continues to scream that I should have done this myself.  That I’ve wasted minutes, hours, weeks, years, just talking and thinking and not doing.  I’ve said so many times that I’m sick of having the same conversation with myself over and over again.  It starts with “I’m going to do it”, and ends with “soon”.  But something has changed.  I had a baby.

She’s a beautiful little girl who turned six weeks old yesterday.  She has her father’s fair skin and my full head of hair.  She can scream bloody murder when she’s hungry and the love I have for her is almost indescribable.

But she’s not my muse.  I don’t look at her and find myself with words dying to pour out confessing my love for her, my amazement at her, or the wonderment of this new situation.  But rather, I think about what I have to offer her, and truly, it’s not much.  I’m not wealthy, or well-connected.  I don’t have jewels to give her, celebrity friends to introduce her to, or a maid to make her bed.

All I can offer her is to be the best mother I can be.  And the best mother is not one who wishes her life was different.  The best mother is not one who encourages her daughter to pursue her dreams while her own sit unattended to on the back burner.

The best mother I can be is one who sets an example of how to live your life – with integrity in what you say, and love for what you do.  Who follows her dreams without excuses.  Who reaches higher after falling farther.  Who is scared shitless, but goes forward anyway.

So I’m starting again.  Again.  Because now someone else is watching.  And that matters to me more than anything.