14 January 2011

i. Year of the hermit

As a result of many positive influences (and a few powerfully negative triggers) last year and the year before, I have decided to take this year off and write.

I shall still teach each week, thus fulfilling my regular responsibilities, but mostly my routines are a-changing. Starting today, I am choosing to spend more hours away from my office, taking long walks (though minus 20ÂșC deters me a wee bit), hand writing letters, posting daily updates on my baker’s dozen book-blogs (which, as of today, are closed to the public for a few months of constructive work) and generally living the life of a writer.

And a hermit.

(I smile as I type that word, knowing that’s not how the majority of my readership sees me.)

Already I take one day off per week to be “cyber-silent” and now I am officially extending that time to one weekend per month and one week per year, with my hubby’s approval. (In fact, he insists. He knows this is what I currently need; he also knows that I pour more generously from a full cup.)

While I realise this may come as a shock to readers who don’t know the solitude-seeking side of me (and perhaps wish they did), believe me, it has always been there. I’ve just never had the courage to act on it fully. In the past, when I’ve retreated into my little world, I’ve been dragged back to reality (albeit reluctantly), but this year is different.

This is my trial year. The year of the hermit.

My mom says that even as a child I used to disappear into my room for hours (days!) at a time, surround myself with books (or imaginary friends?) and seek complete solitude.

I refuel alone. Always have, always will.

Personality profile tests show a fine balance between my more obvious extrovert qualities: friendliness, stable people skills, etc., and my introvert(ed) self: needing to be alone for extended periods in order to have the energy and desire to be with people.

My best friend, Bronwyn, is a peaceful, gentle soul, and since we were eight or nine, we’d spend hours together in companionable silence. In that sweet way little girls have, we’d spend all day together at school, go home together, play for hours, do our homework together, and never tire of each other’s presence. I only realised how much I took her quiet company for granted once we both moved away from home, got married and lived on different continents, separated by an ocean and nine time zones. When we were together again last year in her mother’s cosy kitchen (Bron drove for several hours from Botswana to visit with me in South Africa during my June visit), we both remembered the ease and familiarity of our friendship of three decades.

I am thankful to have made new friends with whom I have that same ease, and my oldest (!) Canadian companions have blessed me for more than a dozen years already, but there truly is something special about a shared heritage and growing up in the same neighbourhood. Speaking the same heart-language. Laughing at the same insider’s jokes.

Here, too, I have (been) embraced (by) a circle of kindred souls whose quiet company I enjoy. Mostly my close friends can be as chatty as I am at times, and can keep up with my word-flow, reciprocating without threat or censor. One relatively recent vulnerability is the (over)use of my many words—which I see as a God-given gift to encourage and uplift others, and which my critics see as noise: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”—and my instinct is to keep future words to myself for the time being. But write I must. “It’s like a fire in my bones.”

For me to grow strong again, I need to surround myself (for a season) with folk who build me up and see the good, see the g-r-o-w-t-h, in the midst of the traits that some may enjoy less than others. Thankfully, my balcony friends find even my idio(t)syncrasies endearing. I tend to look for the good in others; it always shocks me when someone chooses (for my own good, of course) to list my character flaws, since many of them are personality-related and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot I can do about them, for if there were, wouldn’t I have already?).

There are several folk with whom I do not weigh each word, though, and my cherished friends are the ones I can also be quiet with. They are the ones who know me more fully, not just the public persona that comes out to play once or twice a week, usually in large gatherings. (I admit: I do have a lot of fun being a teacher, but sometimes my students mistake my three-hour-a-week energetic presence as my all-time personality; alas: it ain’t so. I could never sustain that intense pace full-time—inspiring as it may seem to some!—nor would I want to.) I will keep teaching while I believe I have a calling to do so; I am also well aware that the need is not the call. And each week after class I go home and take a nap.

In Zulu my native countrymen greet one another by saying, Sawubona: “I see you.” My true friends see me. And I see them. I am not invisible. In the sanctuary of their embrace I feel safe. I am at home with my heart-friends.

At the start of this New Year, I realise I am beyond tired, for the first time in as long as I can remember, and a sadness lingers in my soul. (I may share the source of this sorrow in a future post. Or not.) This year I do not believe that filling my time with people, precious as they are, is going to heal the wounded places in my writer-soul. This is the year I need to settle down and face some fears and put to rest unfulfilled longings from the past.

And finally be free.
To be.

You may wonder what my fears and longings are; some, by their very nature, are personal, and have wisely been shared only with my sovereign Creator and with my covenant spouse; but simply put: I am experiencing what I can only describe as a mini midlife crisis.

“This, too, shall pass,” I know this, and I am patient. Longsuffering, even.
In the meantime, it’s a mean time.

Turning forty is definitely a catalyst for the roller coaster I’m on. Although I hasten to say that I know it ain’t true—that it’s just a fickle emotion which will no doubt change during the next snow-eating warm Chinook wind or lunar tide—I feel that I have left no legacy, that my life has little lasting significance, beyond my immediate roles as spouse and teacher and friend, and that folk endure me rather than enjoy me (other than my kindred circle, whose affirmations I appreciate beyond words).

I have been reminded, time and again, to keep a healthy perspective. To use a currently circulating expression, it’s time to “build a bridge and get over it!” Yes, yes, all this I know. As I said, knowledge is different from emotion. And I am allowing myself to feel this current sadness in my soul, to grieve the past year, to g-r-o-w, and to regain my equilibrium.

In my own way.
In my own time.

Even as I spend time away from the world’s demands and noise, I feel some of my former joie de vivre returning, but I know this journey will take time. And courage.

My commitment to myself (and to a handful of loving and loyal readers who have asked to view my reams of writing, reluctant as I am to share them) is to show up. Be present. Keep writing. Let the river of words flow freely, knowing that readers can always “put down the book,” so to speak, without rejecting me. And learning to live with rejection, too, if necessary. Learning to differentiate, learning to be indifferent to the approval of others. To shed the ill-fitting people-pleasing cloak. Learning to grow up—mature—without losing the childlike joy and wonder that makes being an adult worthwhile. Remembering to laugh at myself, to cultivate and nurture my (neglected) sense of humour.

On New Year’s eve a ministering angel reminded me that, contrary to my current view of being “too much” for some, I am, in fact, never enough. We are not enough. We do not have enough to give. Oddly reassuring words. The world needs a whole lot more love and light and laughter and encouragement than any one of us possesses in order to meet the needs of those around us, and so I was encouraged to be myself; let my words flow; bless, bind up the broken-hearted and bring joy and comfort to the lonely.

Some of you have expressed a desire to follow my journey (whatever your reasons). Thank you for your company, around the corner and across the continent. If interested, watch this space. (It’s my blog and I can cry if I want to.)

In closing, I remember the (humorous?) message on a slip of paper my dear friend Rob Low shared with participants one year at a King’s Fold New Year, New Life retreat: “I am currently making some changes in my life. Please call me. If I don’t return your call, you are one of those changes.”