I’m Drawn To Those Who Ain’t Afraid…

Oh, I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those who ain’t afraid
I remember that time you told me,, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely  you touched mine ’cause
Part of you pours out of me
in these lines from time to time….

A Case of You, Joni Mitchell

I’m on vacation this week in Upstate New York, where I used to live. I come back here every year in the fall…to soak up the autumn colors, post a ridiculous number of photos to Facebook and Instagram, spend time with a best friend, and give myself permission to take a long pause from life, work, parenting, and all the things that wear me down.

The nice part of having these few days to myself is that I can ponder and reflect with few interruptions; there is silence and stillness without responsibility, and it feels like these trips literally save me and make me useful to others and hopeful again for the coming year.

This trip I’ve been thinking about the people that have come in and out of my life – some for days, some for years – and how they’ve helped create who I am now. In my last post, I talked about how I want my life to be influenced and colored by others who are brave and creative. I’m constantly amazed at the people that swoop into my life…people that I never could have seen coming, people that I never fathomed could actually exist in the world, people that brought me gifts with their presence, people that showed up right at the moment I needed them – even when I didn’t know I needed them.  This, again, is grace…when you’re given what you need before you knew you needed it.


Another thing about people that I’ve been thinking about, but which I don’t entirely like, is that sometimes, you can outgrow them.  Or, maybe you don’t outgrow them, but you grow off in opposite directions, and no matter how much you hash through things with them and try to come back to each other, you can never understand each other again. This growing away from people does not feel like grace, although it probably is in the long run.

Sometimes, the voices that you once trusted implicitly are no longer safe voices to speak into your life – they have become the devil, the accuser. And, it’s not because those people are bad or have ill intentions, but it’s because your paths have veered off in different directions and you lose the resonance that you once had with them.  You’re vibrating at different frequencies and when you try to merge together like you used to, the result is clanging dissonance. Maybe the flip of that is also true….your voice becomes the devil for them, as well.  You can no longer understand the path they are taking, and so all of your words, suggestions, and encouragements are useless and unhelpful.


Not long ago I met with someone who once knew me very well, someone who I allowed for years to speak into my life because we were on the same path.  But this time, I realized how far we had moved from each other.  It was like we were complete strangers talking past one another, and there was no point in agreeing to disagree because we were already too far gone.

I told my story of the last five years, in the same way that I tell most people that come into my life these days.  To my complete surprise, though, I was wrecked by this person’s response. I came away from the meeting believing for a few minutes that I was a selfish asshole who had really fucked up my life.  Why was I working so hard on my writing career?  Why was I going to grad school when my children are still little?  Why didn’t I just ask my ex-husband for more child support?  Maybe I’m just not cut out for marriage or committed relationships in the first place. Did I not realize I’m treating my children like bowling pins in the pursuit of my own self-expression and fulfillment and joy?  Was it not apparent that the path I’ve pursued is surely devoid of empathy and compassion towards others? 

I believed for a few short moments that what I thought was being brave might actually just be folly rooted in my own self-centeredness.  I questioned hard the joy and peace I feel most days now, where once I had little joy and no peace. That meeting was an encounter with my devil, my accuser….a voice that sided with the lingering insecurities hovering around my mind.


I’m so intensely attracted to people I see in the world who are being brave – not necessarily the ones who are doing nutty things that are dangerous – but the people who are ruthlessly pursuing themselves and searching for meaning in life even if means they risk losing everything.  When I come across these kinds of people, it’s almost all I can do not to grovel and beg them to let me just be around them once in a while.  Their stories help me to be brave, and there’s really nothing good that has come out of my life that has not been painted on or sculpted in places by these people.

After my momentary deep dive into depression and certainty that all of my decisions over the last five years were impressively horrible, I ran to a different voice – one who is resonating on my wavelength and has every right to speak into my life because she knows me and understands me, and somehow, I can do nothing wrong in her eyes.  [Side note:  EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves a friend like this, where everything you do and say and dress like, plastered or sober, is accepted with love.  Grace, I tell you.]  I brushed away my tears, pulled myself together, and actively remembered who it is I WANT to be.  I don’t want to be a person who plays life safe and lives according to platitudes and rules.  I want to be a person who does hard things, and loves people easily and quickly, and shows my boys that sometimes the very best life is not the easy one – but the one with challenges and difficult decisions and a mom that will do anything to find herself, so that they can one day know how to really find themselves.

I want to keep chasing after the brave people and beg them to let me be in their lives, to show me how it’s done, to reveal more of the joy that I haven’t yet seen, to love me despite my fear and faults and failures.  I want to keep resonating with the amazing people I already have in my life who show me on a daily basis what it’s like to live wholeheartedly and authentically, even when they are still afraid.

I don’t know…maybe I am selfish.  Maybe it is selfish for me to try to squeeze every little bit of joy and glory out of life that I can, even when it looks irresponsible to some people. But I know there are people who resonate with me, who GET IT, who know that there are things you can’t unsee, places you can’t go back to, and ways of being that you can’t unbecome.


Is There a Protocol For This?

Photo credit: Sharada Prasad CS

I have recently come to the awareness that I have taken handmade pottery for granted my entire adult life.  I’ve always been one to go to craft fairs in Vermont and New York and scope out the pretty coffee mugs and egg white/egg yolk separators, and I’ve known a couple of people here and there who made pottery as a hobby. I also remember back in junior high when we would take those clay Christmas trees [you know what I’m talking about, right?], scrape the seams off with scalpels, toss them into kilns, and Voila!, out came ceramic decorations that we felt compelled to pull out every year and plug-in somewhere with plastic lights to sparkle and gather dust until we repacked them away in March.

But I never really stopped and considered the process and hard work of creating enough product to market, sell, and make a living on, all the while trying to maintain a balance of creating good art but doing so in an efficient manner.  I have also learned that apparently pottery is not as romantic as portrayed by Demi Moore, in Ghost. I hear the real thing is alot more like chronic back pain, frozen fingers, sweat dripping into the clay, and feeling like you’re sticking your face into the Sun when you’re checking all your baking goods in the kiln.  I’m really, really wishing I could get SNL to do a spoof off of that Ghost scene now.

Another interesting and lovely find lately is to discover that there are potter-philosophers out there in the world who write some really amazing stuff.  I guess this shouldn’t surprise me; there are plenty of other artists who view the world through their craft.  Anyway, I was delighted to stumble upon this phenomenon.


steve carrell

Working as a nurse, I frequently use protocols. They are basically an easy way for us to proceed in patient care without having to obtain doctor’s orders for things that are relatively straight forward and common.  So, for example….keeping a foley catheter in a person longer than necessary or without good reason is a surefire way to give them a urinary tract infection.  So, there are protocols for nurses to decide if that foley should stay put or if we should pull it. Or, if someone has imbalanced electrolytes, there are protocols to tell us which potassium and magnesium supplements to give, when to order blood redraws, and target values that let us know the protocol is complete. Basically, these protocols are step by step instructions for following a process to achieve a desired end result.

Sometimes I wish life had protocols.  Step by step instructions on how to get to where we want to be. Do this and do that until you arrive at your goal.  Be this and then that, and it will bring such and such into your life. I used to think life DID operate according to protocols.  It was called fundamentalist religion and contract theology.  It only took me 30 years of following all those prescribed rules to realize that God doesn’t really play by that game.  The Bible isn’t really a handbook for living, as much as people have told me throughout my life that it is.  If anything, the Bible is a guide for what NOT to do in life. I think the same is true with alot of other sacred literature.

The universe doesn’t seem to operate by a “you do this and I”ll respond in such and such a way” fashion much of the time.  This realization can be really hard when you’re coming out of a protocol-style faith tradition because it feels like you’ve lost ground to stand on and you no longer know the rules of how to play the game…..or if there are any rules at all.


One of these potter blogs that I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks is written by Carter Gillies; it’s definitely worth your time to look at. He writes the kinds of things I have to reread multiple times to really “get”, and he’ll throw out passages that can bring me to a hard stop.  Here’s one that I read yesterday:

“There is much more to the world than the ‘given’, and it is art’s duty to not only explore this but show the magnificent expanse beyond the merely existing and leaden ‘facts’. We don’t just receive the world, we bring it into existence.” -from Sisyphus, November 10, 2018

OMG!  So good!  This got me to thinking about the idea of being co-creators with God (or universe, or insert whatever word works for you here.).  How often do I sit around and demand life to bring me what I want, to avoid doing the heavy lifting, to refuse to see beyond the superficial? I want someone to hand me the rules and teach me how to play the game so I can get to the goal that culture and society tells me is the whole point.

But….what if….we are the ones that are making the rules?  What if there is no preordained goal imagined by the universe and we have the creative power to design our own ends?  What if the world and what exists before us are our paints and brushes, or our clay and glazes, and our job is to bring more life into existence with them? We belong to the world, but the world also belongs to us and comes into existence through us.

Carter says in all caps:  EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST.  Wow, what would life be like if we all really believed that?


I definitely think there is a biochemical basis for depression, but I’m convinced that our beliefs play a strong role, especially when it comes to our sense of control.  If we believe we have no control over anything, and life is simply done TO us…well, that IS pretty depressing.  But, if we believe we have no absolute control over anything but that we DO have the power to reframe our perspectives, exert influence, and use our creativity to express ourselves in new ways and bring into existence things that once weren’t there….what’s depressing about that?

Protocols don’t leave any room for creativity or thinking outside the box.  This is one reason it was so freeing to walk away from fundamentalist Christianity. That God was boring, small, petty, and type A. There was little room for anything new and glorious because it was all labeled and judged as good or bad.  A protocol-less God/universe is freedom, grace, and space to make alot of mistakes with the knowing that there is always room and time to try anew.


I had a conversation with a new friend the other night about my goals as a floor nurse, and then later, as a forensic nurse.  He asked me what was most important to me when I cared for patients  Good question on his part, and I knew my answer right away.  More than worrying about whether or not my patients walk out of the hospital cured or pain-free, I want them to feel heard and seen. This is an area where protocol doesn’t completely fly.  Yeah, it’s great to get all the technical details right in healthcare, but I’ve met plenty of people who technically received amazing care and still recalled their hospital stays as lonely and terrible.  On the other hand, I’ve had patients tell me I was the best nurse ever, even after all I did was pass meds and sit and talk with them.  Which shows me….most people don’t care about protocol and the details of their medical care nearly as much as they want to be known and validated.  And so, I work really hard to ask my patients the good questions, to listen to their life stories, to empathize, and Lord knows I cry alot with them.

So, my friend pointed out…..maybe your style of nursing is also art? I’m bringing into existence something that wasn’t there before….something that couldn’t have existed if I had just stuck to the rules, and gone step by step through the guidelines created by some hospital committee somewhere.


Going back to the idea of everyone being an artist and my previous immature appreciation about the hard work of creating pottery.  I think we all want to have the sense that we know what we’re doing, and that what we’re doing matters.  Life feels safer that way.  But it’s also sterile and boring when we’re told what our lives are supposed to look like.  Are mass-produced lives, where we all follow similar paths adhering to the pursuit of the same life goals because someone told us to….really worth living? Is it really all that great to spend our entire lives consuming and never creating?

No, I want a life that I’ve helped create, not one that I’ve just passively accepted.  And I want a life that is influenced by other people being brave and putting their creations out into the world.  This gives me hope too; that the world will never remain just as I understand it at this very moment, because there are brave people out there who are constantly seeing with new eyes, creating their art whatever it may look like, and offering it without any stipulations for how it may be received or where it will end up.  People refusing to live inside boxes and according to checklist protocols are what contribute to the enchantment of all things.

The Power of a Solid Faceplant

good life
Photo credit: Victoria Nevland

“I would rather have 30 minutes of something wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.” – Julia Roberts, Steel Magnolias

I’ve officially been a nurse for an entire year.  It still kind of blows my mind, especially since 3.5 years ago, the prospect of actually going to nursing school seemed so incredibly impossible. At the time, I was living south of Boston and faced long train commutes into the city to reach a school with an accelerated program.  Then there was the problem of all the prerequisites I had to take since I’d been out of college for more than seven years.  Really? I have to retake Introduction to Chemistry when I was a BIOCHEMISTRY major and actually worked in jobs where I used it?  Then, there were all the logistical problems of being a wife and mom to three, with responsibilities and extracurricular activities and dinner to make and a house to clean….and goats to take care of.  ‘Nother story there for another time.

So, I did what any sane person would do….I made the situation entirely more difficult by getting a divorce and moving to a different state to start all over.  It was a complete jumping off a metaphorical cliff.  I had no idea if any of my best-laid plans would fall into place, if I could actually survive independently as an adult after letting go of a career for nine years, and if I could, in fact, make it through more school and start working as a nurse.

Turns out, it all worked.  Somehow I still have money in the bank, I am a year into grad school, and people actually want me to work for them, both as a nurse and a writer.  My kids still think I’m a badass mom. I have the best friends a girl could ask for.  I apparently stuck that landing.

Other landings I have not stuck so well.  I’m actually well acquainted with completely effing things up, usually because I get in too big of a hurry, or I don’t trust my gut, or I’m trying too hard to make other people happy rather than do what I need to for myself. But despite a stream of periodic catastrophes trailing behind me, I think that sometimes the absolute best thing we can have happen to us in life is a solid, smackdown faceplant….a colossal screwup if you will.


There are a bunch of variations of the following meme these days on FB that really make me laugh.

go big

As a natural introvert, holing up in my house by myself is one of my more favorite activities.  But I’ve learned that it’s also my kryptonite. It’s easier to stay home where it’s safe, where my only interactions are with those who are kind of required to accept my quirks and eccentricities because they’re called “my kids”, and not push myself out into the world to try new things and potentially face having more of my rough edges worn off in some exquisitely painful way.

I’m so much better now at actually making myself show up for things, even whenever everything inside me is screaming “Go home to your couch and Netflix! Don’t face rejection.  Don’t have yet another conversation with a complete stranger. Don’t try another thing that you may be horrible at.” It seems that when I ignore this voice and go do things that feel really hard to me anyway, that’s where the magic sauce is.

I remember years ago, one of my friends talking about how she could never be as brave as me.  I recall laughing so incredibly hard at that.  She had never seen me at my worst, never really knew the depth of anxiety and fear I have fought against since my childhood.   She never knew how many times I put on a “mask” and pretend I’ve got everything under control, when secretly I wish a big hole would open up and swallow me.


The tough thing about choosing to do hard, scary stuff in life is that you can never really know for sure which ones are going to result in faceplants. Some change direction mid-course too…..what once looked brilliant suddenly takes a nosedive, or what seemed doomed from the start unexpectedly becomes amazing. While I’m writing this I”m thinking of some of the things I’ve done in life that scared me the most, and how they ended up turning out:

  1. Going on a medical trip to Honduras my freshman year in college with a bunch of people I didn’t know – This one turned out pretty well, and I made some good friends. It also solidified my desire to end up in healthcare.
  2. Joining the college debate team – Yeah, I pretty much sucked at this compared to my decent high school debate showing, but I had alot of fun hitting up Lousiana and Arkansas IHOPs with my debate team.
  3. Spending a summer in West Africa to fulfill my degree requirements: Probably one of the most life-changing and scary things I’ve ever done. Africa gave me malaria but lovingly sent me home with new family and lifelong friends, and an invitation to come back and faceplant again.
  4. Choosing between a PhD program I had just gotten accepted to or move to another state for a guy I met online – Everything seems like a good idea at the time, right? I chose the guy, which ended up becoming a string of faceplants that grew the hell out of me and paradoxically probably ended up being a very good life decision, painful as it has been.  Getting three great little kids out of the deal does not constitute as a faceplant, though.
  5. Submitting that first query letter to a magazine – Nothing is scarier than facing rejection about something that you are passionate about, like writing. Many of my first queries were total faceplants, but then, I got an article accepted for a legit magazine with a substantial readership, and then suddenly all my previous writing failures seemed worth it.
  6. Trying to have a kid without pain medication –  My body ultimately faceplanted here, but I did learn that I have the capacity to do active labor for 30+ hours without pain medication, twice.  That was empowering, even if I still required C-sections.
  7. Turning in a graduate paper on Sayyid Qutb for my Islamic Theology class – this might seem like a dumb thing to be scared about, but I really loved my professor and I really loved the subject….and so did not want to appear completely incompetent.  I think I got an A, and I’m still good friends with the professor. I’m probably not great at Islamic theology overall, though.
  8. Getting a divorce and starting ALL over – This has been a continuing series of small wins and small faceplants.  By far the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and by far the most worth all of my faceplants.
  9. Starting my first nursing job –This was faceplant on repeat.  When you’re learning all that you don’t know, trying to navigate asking intelligent questions while not pissing off doctors for accidentally asking stupid ones, while trying to do good time management and avoid going home two hours after your shift ends, while trying not to look like you’re on the di-la-la yourself from pure exhaustion while handing out Dilaudid to patients…. 
  10. Dating again post-divorce – I think this goes without saying. Dating after being out of the game for over ten years is no joke. I think I’ve committed plenty of faceplants I’m not even currently aware of. But, I pick myself up, reapply makeup to said faceplanted face, and do it again.


So, why do anything that might potentially result in a faceplant?  Because, as Julia Roberts said in one of the greatest movies of all time, it’s better to have short moments of truly amazing and breathtaking, than spending an entire lifetime on this earth without experiencing anything really wonderful or meaningful. And as unfair as it may seem, life sometimes requires us to work for the really good stuff.   There’s plenty of grace out there, but vulnerability is often the key to getting the greatest gifts.

I would much rather faceplant and make a fool of myself on a daily basis then die and have to tell whoever it was that made me that I wussed out on life because I was too scared to live it, or let it live me….whichever it is.

All of my epic life faceplants have made me who I am today, and they have revealed more of who I am as my authentic self by sometimes ruthlessly peeling off all my protective layers.  Faceplants are proof that you are out there trying, attempting hard things, and growing as a person.

I continue to risk faceplanting because I want my kids to be brave in life and not be afraid to really go for it and give it all they have. If I live too carefully, they might be more likely to approach it timidly as well. I want them to live as fully human as they can, to try all the things that they are passionate about, to refuse to be held back by “what if’s” or “shoulds” or arbitrary rules telling them to play it safe all the time.

Most of all, I want to be able to look back from my deathbed and be able to say, “That was a damn good life.”  Actually, I think I’m one of the lucky ones….my 39 years, faceplants and failures and all,  has already been a damn good life.