Apparently the week before Christmas is as good a time as any to have a major Come to Jesus moment.
As most of you know, I’ve been working on a memoir. Thing is, I never wanted to write a memoir. I wanted to write what I’ve been writing — a book about creating my daily practice of joy. And why that changed my life. Why I think creating a daily practice of joy has the potential to change everyone's life. I wanted to write a book that, when pushed by my wonderful publisher Jennifer to distill into three words, boils essentially down to this: Story - Message - Inspiration
That’s what I try to convey in my talks. That’s what I try to share in my deeper conversations. And that’s what I hope I am creating in this blog. So, that’s what I wanted to write in my book.
But somehow we all started talking about it as a memoir. And that changed everything. Because memoir sent me down a rabbit hole. It was a twisty turny dank narrow rabbit hole, filled with dark dark dark dark dark places I didn't want to go. Turns out it was EXACTLY the rabbit hole I needed to go down, the uncomfortable journey I needed to take. Because it got me here -- to what I'm pretty sure is THE Come to Jesus Moment of my creative life.
So what was the big deal?
I was trying to explain it to my best friend Pamela.
I never WANTED to write a memoir, I said to her.
Well, but that's what you're writing.
NO! I'm not.
OK. She said. I could tell she desperately wanted to change the subject rather than get into some nitpicking parsing of literary genres.
No such luck for her. When you have a Come to Jesus Moment, there's no damn way you're letting your best friend off the hook.
A memoir, I said perhaps just a tad too passionately for a Thursday morning, is all about those first two letters -- ME. I'm only interested in me if it makes some kind of bigger point. A message that inspires. Some lesson we can all learn. That's what I want to share.
Well, she said. You're a teacher. You've always been a teacher. You use your life experiences to teach.
Yes. I'm a teacher. And a student. I teach and I learn. said. Both.
She got it.
Which was great.
But more importantly, I got it.
So, what’s the difference between the way I tell the stories of my life and the way a memoirist writes? Well, I am interested in stories that allow us all to share the kinds of conversations we all need to be having — about how to live more honest, truthful, holistic, hopeful, healing, helpful lives. Yes, I have loved many memoirs I have read. But I have loved other books a lot more. Thinking about those books, I realize none of them really fit a specific category at all. Kind of like me. Undefinable. But in the best way.
But the upshot in practical terms is that I have spent five months writing a largely unreadable book. Unreadable because it was unwritable. There's precious little chance anyone is going to want to read a book that the writer didn't even want to write.
And so my creative team had a major Oh FUCK moment. To which my first response was shame. Why, I wondered. What can't I just do what everyone wants me to do? Why can't I just write the memoir they want me to write.
And then I got it. There is nothing wrong with I can't do this. There is nothing wrong with I don't want to do this. There is nothing wrong with knowing who you are, even if it isn't easy to explain. There is nothing wrong with it. BUT I didn't know that. I felt that everything was wrong. With me.
Until, in the best Come to Jesus moment ever, I did.
There's nothing wrong with me!!!
Write what YOU want to write Jesus and Buddha and Quan Yin and the Holy Spirit and Ganesh and all the rest of my Posse exhorted me LOUDLY. BE YOU!!
My publisher and I talked for three hours on the phone. And she heard me, thank goodness. She heard my I don't want to do this. And not only that, if this is supposed to be a book about joy, this is the most joyless writing I have ever done. I am so far away from joy, I'm not sure I even remember what joy feels like.
She heard me and said, Write what YOU want to write. I got off the phone feeling like I had been let out of jail.
The next morning I still felt like I'd been let of jail. But let out of jail and unsure whether I knew how to live in this brave new world into which I had been released. On top of that, I still wondered if was nuts. Surely I should be able to do what had been asked of me. To write a nice little box for myself to cozy up in, to package myself into something packageable. But whenever I thought about what it would take to do that -- not as a writer, but as a SOUL -- I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.
So I called Mary. Mary is the person I write for. Everything I write is written for Mary as my reader. Mary is 30 years to the year older than me, and she gets me more than anyone I know.
Who am I? I asked her. Please tell me.
So she did. And when she finished, I was in tears.
Tears are not really my thing, or Mary's. But she reflected the truth of who I have always hoped to be in how she sees me in a way that made me feel seen and loved as I have ever felt.
Armored in that love, the next morning I began to write. And write and write and write. And guess what? I am having a blast. A blast!!!!! And a hell of a lot of joy.
Who knows whether the book will be any good. Who knows whether one damn person will read it. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that I am writing the book I have always always wanted to write. Not a book about joy, or even a book that is all joyful, but a book that is a joy to write. The book I want to write.
I began this whole journey after an unexpected conversation with myself in the mirror in the spring of 2011, when I realized that, although I had been doing everything "right", my life felt all wrong. I began my journey back to joy when I began listening to my soul, even when what it was saying sounded just plain cray cray. And the cray cray just keeps getting cray crayier. Let's face it, there aren't a lot of intentionally homeless fifty-something year old women who are piecing their lives together on plastic and lease car miles and the kindness of strangers and calling that joy. But I'm one of them. Joy, I've discovered, cometh for me when I listen to the voice inside me that says things that the world thinks are patently cracked, and then I do them.
But some small part of me held out hope that surely I could fit in somewhere. And a memoir writer, a memoirIST, sounded like just the ticket. Who wouldn't want to be a memoirist, for heavens sake. Surely I could do that. I may be homeless, but I write memoirs. That could be my new calling card.
No such luck.
What kind of books do I write? The ones that bring me joy to write.
So, on this Sunday morning, a week before Christmas, I couldn't be happier to have had my creative Come to Jesus moment. And I'm sharing it with you, my fellow joy practitioners, because I'm pretty sure that's what Christmas is really all about. Because that haloed baby in the manger -- born in July but whose birth we celebrate on the date of a pagan holiday celebrating Light at a time when we all desperately need some Light and Hope and Love and Joy -- came into the world to do things that everyone thought were cray cray and dangerous enough that they crucified him. They crucified him for being the living embodiment of Love and Joy and Light. They being those who were too scared to see their status quo change. He didn't come into the world to start a religion. He didn't come into the world to keep its rules. And he sure as heck didn't come into the world so he could write his life in some recognizable genre to make him feel like he fit in in some small way. Fitting in wasn't even an option. Fitting in was failure. Instead he turned over tables, broke all the old laws, and loved more and better and deeper and more true than anyone had ever loved before. Loved EVERYONE. NO EXCEPTIONS!
And so, for anyone who believes that we have lost that kind of love in this world, even those who don't celebrate or perhaps really even get the whole Christmas thing, guess what? Being true to ourselves, honoring our inner voices even when they seem patently nuts, so that we can love ourselves enough to love the whole wide world, well that might just be the truest way that any of us can celebrate Christmas. Christmas being the coming of The Light of Love into the world in a way that woke us all up to the Truth that sets us free: It's All Love.
The wise men followed the light of a star to find a man who taught the world how to love. Let us all let our own lights shine so that others can have permission to find their own. We are the light and the love of this world. By being true to our whole hearts, let us light and love it back whole!