One of the ways I am actively exploring creating my truer life is regularly busting the story that I don’t belong. Jennie helped me do this by inviting me to a Seattle 7 event a few months ago. To say I was thrilled like a little kid invited to a birthday party would be… accurate. And then to be inducted into the Seattle 7? Color me belonging. Of course, I knew Jennie from reading her five bestselling novels, including Love Water Memory and When She Flew. To get to know her personally has been even better than reading her work – she’s just one big love & such a connector! Maybe that’s why she’s an avid volunteer and the co-founder of Seattle7Writers. Visit her world at www.jennieshortridge.com.
Thanks for being here, Jennie!
I am a soldier—have always been a soldier—of optimism. I have fallen six times (more like six hundred) and gotten up, over and over again. I’ve healed old wounds, instilled new patterns, and faked it till I made it. My mantra, when low, has always been “I feel good,” a la James Brown. The lower I’ve felt, the louder I’ve sung it.
This optimism may be why I find myself leading a busy nonprofit collective of authors, why I’ve joined a new organization to help destigmatize mental illness, why I teach and volunteer and mentor, and oh yes, write novels and then do all I can to help my books find readers. And usually I do it all with joy and a satisfyingly clear sense of purpose.
But right now? Well, I don’t feel good. I feel sad. My work is suffering. In the past few months I’ve been confronted by a string of life changes not of my choosing, including the recent loss of my feline companion of twenty years. Now, I’m unmotivated and closer to tears than singing, right at holiday time when high expectations are inescapable and daunting.
It’s a recipe for self destruction. For eating more and exercising less. Having an extra drink. Spending too much time at screens and not enough in the real world. Forgetting to reach out to others. Self pity on a grand scale: “I have no power over these life changes, therefore I am doomed.”
Perhaps then, it is the optimist in me that realizes I do have some power—the power over how I react to these things, to how I hold them in my gut and heart and head, and how I move myself through them with as few casualties of physical and mental health as possible.
In wintertime, it’s natural to turn inward and take stock of our reserves. Like Winnie the Pooh counting hunny jars, I can count the things for which I remain grateful: my dear husband, family and friends, a lovely city and home, a vocation I never believed I could have. The striking lime color of moss on dead branches if I can’t think of anything else, or the smell of baking bread and wood smoke hanging in the fog as I walk through my neighborhood.
I also have the power to decide how I react outwardly to these changes. While speaking my truth, I can do my best to remain thoughtful and respectful, with some semblance of grace. And when I react too hastily and don’t do that, I can forgive myself. Sure, sometimes only after stewing too long in toxic broth, but eventually, yes, I can climb out and say, as I would to any friend, “Forgive yourself, you’re human. Move on.”
Here’s the thing: I really don’t want to be a soldier anymore. I don’t have to be un-sad to be worthy, or to be generally optimistic. Sad is part of life. But I can feel a little better and sweeten my broth doing the things I naturally do when feeling better:
- Take walks in nature
- Eat exquisite food
- Take hot baths
- Spend time with friends I find delightful
- Watch funny or sweet movies
- Get enough sleep
And though this last one can be the most difficult, there is one sure-fire way I’ve found to beat insomnia: acknowledging those golden hunny jars with gratitude, one by one by one, over and over again. And, as this song goes, I fall asleep counting my blessings.
Thanks for your honesty & hope, Jennie. It’s so easy when we are building our lives to think that other women have it all together, especially a successful author and activist like yourself. I used to look at your picture on the back of your books and think, “She’s so talented and beautiful, her life must be so good.” I know, comparisons suck, but our brains make them anyway. Thank you for opening your heart to us. (And now I know how beautiful and talented you are, which is even more amazing in person!)