I was on quite a roll there for a while last year with blogging, and then I stopped. I got so busy with work, and the busier I got, the less energy I had for anything than work. Then I ran out of steam altogether.
Now I’ve brought on someone to help me keep up with all the social media for my dad and me — and when I asked her how often I should blog, her answer was NOT once or twice a year. . .or whenever you get around to it.
That was a month ago.
I’ll be honest. I’ve been stuck. Not at a loss for words. . .because I’ve been working on numerous book projects, writing articles for publications, and I journal every morning as part of my daily spiritual practice.
The reason I haven’t been blogging can be summed up in one sentence:
Hello, my name is Victoria and I’m a workaholic.
When my best friend and soulmate overdosed five years ago, it shattered my whole idea of what addiction is. It wasn’t something that happened to other people out there. It had nothing to do with not being able to control yourself. I understood why it is called a disease. And it forced me to look at my own addictions.
I always counted myself fortunate. Other than a daily predilection for dark chocolate, and an obsession with tortilla chips that makes me an unpopular dining companion at Mexican restaurants, I have never struggled with substance addiction. No, I picked the more ephemeral stuff — the stuff that is harder to identify. Which doesn’t mean they’re any easier to heal.
And what I discovered is that what I thought had been my best friend’s downfall — her denial of her problem. . .well, that’s only half the battle. I’ve known I’m a workaholic for decades.
And it’s only gotten worse.
I haven’t taken a day off since New Years, and that’s after running myself so thoroughly into the ground at the end of last year that I had to stop. And when I did, I swore this year would be different.
It’s early April, and I’m already exhausted.
And so, this week I spontaneously decided to take a few “personal days” after a work trip to California. This is what my first two personal days have looked like: I drove up the coast and obsessively hunted for the perfect but affordable quiet Airbnb, and after checking in, I tried to take a nap but failed. So, went out for lunch where I wrote, walked on the beach, and then came back to write some more. So far, so good.
That first night I fell asleep early, woke up at 3AM, and then wrote and worked for seven hours straight, took a short walk, and wrote and worked some more. Finally I stopped and took myself out. While I was out, the little voice in my head started in. “What time will you get home and get back to work? Be home by 4PM."
I try to speak kindly to that voice, because telling it to shut up never works. It just gets more agitated and invasive. I say, as though speaking to a five year old, “You’ve had a very productive day. You’ve worked nine hours already. You can stay out a bit longer.” And so I did. I took a walk on the beach, making the mistake of taking my cell phone with me. When I got an agitated text from a client, it all came crashing down — the massive guilt for having had the gall to think that it would be okay to take any time off at all. How dare I?! The voice had been right.
Yesterday was day three, and I started in again — this time at 4AM, writing and working for a mere six hours before the exhaustion behind my eyes overwhelmed me. I decided to take a short hike. I found a beautiful place, and brought my camera and binoculars to look for birds. But it was as if I was watching the world from behind a gauze lens and with a leaden heart. I was there, but not present.
As I drove home by a different route, suddenly a flash of riotous color streamed quickly by my window. I looped around the block and discovered the color was a rose garden in full bloom. I grabbed my camera and got out.
I was hungry, tired, but I made myself go. Why? Because I have made a vow to myself that every day I will do something that brings me joy. And I love love love roses. I walked through the garden with my camera, taking pictures and smelling every color. I’ve always believed that even blindfolded you can tell the color of a rose by its scent, so when a young couple and I started to chat about which of the roses was our favorite, I suggested they try it — and off they went. I loved watching them holding hands taking turns smelling each color and sharing their observations.
Almost bleary with exhaustion and low blood sugar, I kept at it — smelling each color rose, taking pictures, until slowly, oh, so, slowly, a glimmer of hope nudged at me. The butterscotch scent of yellow the riotous gaudy perfume of hot pink the bittersweet melancholy of pewter. Embraced by those seductive scents in voluptuous bloom, I suddenly felt it - that tiniest flicker of joy.
Suddenly, a gust of wind rushed through the garden, sweeping hundreds of petals into the air, and we all stopped. Young couples, grandmothers with children, workmen on their lunch break, yoga moms walking their dogs — and looking up into the cloudless blue, we all let ourselves be showered with silken petals.
After that, my world changed colors. No one was unmoved by that ethereal dance of earth and sky. We smiled at one another, our eyes met. A rapture of roses had transformed us all.
Mary Oliver gives us Instructions for a Life:
Tell about it.
For a brief moment, the mesmeric darkness of the shoulds with which I daily bludgeon myself lifted, and I felt full of the thing that connects me to life, to my heart, to other people, to the world — joy.
When my father gave my high school graduation speech, he ended with the first stanza of a poem by e.e. cummings:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
I remember thinking at the time that it seemed an odd choice for a man who vastly prefered the inside of an art museum to a meadow with a sweeping view. It took me a long time to see that what my father was sharing was his philosophy of life.
Every day he was grateful to his Divine Source for the world around him. And every day he said one word to life. He said Yes.
I’ve come to think of that Yes as my father’s spiritual practice.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like my dad. I saw his joyous embrace of life and other people. It was infectious. But I also saw his compulsion to work that took him away from home all the time, his fear of running out of money or of not having a life purpose that drove him constantly.
I’ve come to understand that every day, in everything we do, we have a choice. We have to choose between love and fear. In my father, it was a delicate dance, but every day, love won. By saying yes to life every day, he chose love.
A few years ago, I began dedicating a bigger part of my life to preserving my dad’s legacy. I have gone to horror conventions, given talks about my dad’s life, worked on getting his books republished, connected with his many fans. All while working my far more than a full-time real job.
It took me a while to see that, although I have been following in my father’s footsteps, our paths have diverged. As he grew older, his love of life expanded. The old maxim all work and no play holds true for me —my light and life have dimmed and diminished.
Because I’m in California right now, a short drive down the coast from the town where my best friend lived and died, I’ve been thinking about her a lot. And the other day, it came to me more clearly than ever: Her addiction may have been a bit more dramatic than mine — but the net result is the same. Little by little, just like she did, I have been whittling my life down to a nub.
Yesterday felt like hitting a new bottom. If I can't feel overwhelming joy here — where beauty meets me at every glance in the cloudless blue skies stretching out across the vast Pacific, in crimson bougainvillea dancing down walls, in flouncing drought-defying California poppies, in the sunny- haired surfers diving under the waves — where has my yes gone?
But when those rose petals swirled through the air and stirred my heart, I realized that this is why I must stay on my new path — what I have come to call my Daily Practice of Joy.
I recently looked up the meaning of the word practice: Practice is the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.
I’ve been talking about my father’s joy for months now — naming it, knowing its importance in his life and its necessity in my own. But the more I’ve worked, the abstract it has seemed.
I thought to myself — I try to practice conscious eating, I get my 10,000 steps a day, I am even trying to get a good night’s sleep. My morning spiritual practice has sustained me for years. But all of it has started to feel dutiful. And sometimes, I find myself wondering — why?
So, a few weeks ago, I decided that I consciously needed to commit to having a daily practice of joy. I was driving to Texas for work, and instead taking the shortest fastest route as I always do, I made myself stop at a bird refuge, because birds always make my heart sing. I plodded through that afternoon, under a scorching Southern New Mexico pollen-filled sky, with a splitting headache and filled with more duty than joy, that nagging clock in my head and a long drive ahead. But as in the rose garden today, my heart stirred for the first time in weeks, as though recalling a distant dream of joy that might have once been mine.
A few hours later, as the sun was setting, I found myself on a deserted two-lane road. Red furrowed fields on either side of me glowing in the last embers of light. Out my window, I saw a lone V of geese heading south. Then another. Then another. Until V after V of geese filled up the sky.
I pulled over, and as the sky colored red to purple to pale, I stood alone on that empty road, listening to the calls of snow geese seeking their nightly refuge. Thousands of them calling out — to my heart — which cracked open and called back to them in immense gratitude.
And in that moment, I knew that I had found my path. It wouldn’t be easy. I had done too good of a job finding my no for the yes to resurface without some serious dedication on my part. But that day — as yesterday — the joy, the yes, they have shown me that my connection to the things that really matter has not been, cannot ever be extinguished.
When I’ve shared with friends that I am committing myself to a daily practice of joy, and that I believe it is my life’s work to share it with others, they have one of two responses.
Some say, “I’ve got a real problem with the word joy. What does it even mean?” For me, the word joy has signified that word that connects my heart to my own life, to the lives of others, to the greater good, and to my Source. Happiness seems to me something that comes from the outside, but joy is already in me, and when it comes, it connects. But their response made me feel that I had to find a less ephemeral definition.
This is the one I like best: “Joy is the pure and simple delight in being alive."
Others say, “You’re going to write about joy? You’re miserable! Shouldn’t you wait to see if it works?"
A few days ago I read a wonderful blog on writing by Parker Palmer. He said, "In this society, people who write passable books — and even books that aren’t — tend to get pegged as experts on their subjects. . .I’ve never written a book on something I’ve mastered. . .I write about things that feel to me like bottomless mysteries — and I start writing from a place of beginner’s mind. For me, writing . . .begins with making a deep dive into something that baffles me — into my not-knowing — and dwelling in the dark long enough that 'the eye begins to see' what’s down there. . .Novices are often advised to 'write about what you know’. I wouldn’t call that bad advice, but I think it needs tweaking. Write about what you want to know because it intrigues and baffles you."
And that’s why I’m finally writing this blog — to help me untangle the mess of my life that is strangling my joy. To show up every day with the intention of practicing joy — and being accountable to you to share my progress.
You see, if I just try to find things to write about that will interest those of you who want to read about design or my father or cooking or travel, it's just more work. There are plenty of blogs you can read that will give you amazing recipes or tell you what colors are best in a bathroom. But without the joy of eating or of creating a space that reflects who you are and how you want to feel in your home, what do ingredients or color schemes matter?
So, consider this my inaugural blog. It will be posted on all three of my websites, and hopefully there will be something for everyone.
And for those of you who recognize yourself in my words, I hope it may help you, too, rediscover your yes.
As Henri Nouwen so wisely wrote, "Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy, and keep choosing it every day."
I hope you will join me in choosing joy.