Four of seven

Four of seven

February 10, 2012

Dear Patronopolis,

So, ten minutes of my alloted forty just went by, and all I have to show for it is a collection of disjointed sentences. Argh! Why is that some days I can sit down and fall into a natural flow, and other days everything feels stuck and fraught and difficult?

I don’t know why. Perhaps I’ll never know. But it reminds me a story I heard a while back. A woman around my age was telling her grandmother that she was unhappy. Like, really unhappy. Boyfriend problems, job problems, nothing was working out. The grandmother listened for a while and then said, “who says you’re supposed to be happy all the time?" I loved that. It has both a hardness and an incredible kindness in it. A graceful acceptance, wrapped up in tough little shell. You’re unhappy? So. That’s how it is today.

I want to apply that grandmother wisdom to my work. Who says I’m supposed to find the creative flow all the time? Some days it happens. Some days it doesn’t. It’s the most obvious thing in the world. So why is it so hard to have that experience? (This experience — I’m still feeling clunky and stuckish here.) What’s the big deal? Why does the dammed-up, un-flowy state always feel like some sort of problem, when I know very well that it’s always going to be part of the process?

It’s so much easier to see the big picture when my gaze is directed outward. When I’m talking to a student, for instance, and she says she felt like she could sing something really well one day, and then couldn’t the next. “What’s the problem?" she asks. “What’s going on?" And I feel almost ridiculous, or like I’m copping out, because I really feel like the only problem is that she thinks there’s a problem.

If I’m feeling brave enough to be fully authentic, I’ll say something like, “It sounds like you were able to find and own your power to sing that song one day. The next day, not so much. I think that’s what’s going on."

And she’ll say, “Yeah yeah yeah. But why? What happened?"

"Umm…I think all that happened is that you had a day that felt good, and a day that felt not so good. I have days like that too."

"Oh," she might say. “Hmmm."

And hopefully then we laugh.

It doesn’t matter if this student is 9 or 59. We all feel it. And sometimes, when someone else is sharing this vulnerability with me, and I’m looking into another pair of human eyes, full of distress and concern and effort, the true question flickers into view, and it causes a well of love and tenderness to rush up in me. What’s wrong with me? That’s what she’s asking. That’s what I’m asking, when I spit and sputter and can’t seem to just get down to it. What’s wrong with me? That’s what the woman was asking her grandmother — I’m so unhappy. What’s wrong with me?

And the grandmother wasn’t buying into this drama. Sadness is just sadness. Stuckness is just stuckness. Sometimes that’s how it is. Who says you’re supposed to be happy all the time? I hear two messages there: we don’t get to be happy all the time, and we don’t have to be happy all the time. Or creatively productive, or positively energized, or wonderfully empowered.

I can see so clearly, looking into a students’ eyes, that there’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just stressing out because she’s so afraid.

Now that my forty minutes are up, I’m going to go look in the mirror and pretend I’m my own teacher, my own wise, sassy, crotchety, loving. grandmother.

Thanks, Patronopolis.


"How will you know the difficulties of being human if you’re always flying off to blue perfection? Where will you plant your grief-seeds? We need ground to scrape and hoe, not the sky of unspecified desire." — Rumi