Friday, December 12, 2014

Stopping for Discomfort

(Photo from Lynda Barry's latest - and brilliant - book, Syllabus.)

So. I have a - what? Confession? Revelation? Insight? - little something to share with you. Sometimes I catch myself taking down other teachers. Disparaging other Dharma guides, ripping down writing instructors, pitching tar at other photo folk. 

I am sure you are not shocked to hear this - you know, better than I do, that I am imperfect and human and that's the only way I am ever going to be. But, of course, I have lots of shame and blame around it. And when I told my wife about the following story early this morning, she implored me to blog about it. It also happens to fit with the #quest2015 #stop prompt for this week, thanks to Charlie Gilkey.

Here's what happened.

In the tiny week of classes right before Thanksgiving, one of my most dedicated students mentioned she got into a workshop with Lynda Barry. 

Lynda Barry is a local yokel, who luckily is gaining more and more cred, now that she has published not just collections of Marlys and occasional memoir/novel action, but three books on the mystery of creativity. She went to school with Matt Groening (Simpson's creator). She's quirky, loud, funny as fuck and super smart. 

I've had the great fortune to attend talks by her over the years, and two of her writing workshops. To those who know her work, I've been known to say I would like to be a blend of her and Natalie Goldberg (with whom I have studied a great deal, and is also quirky, but a lot quieter and more, well, Zen, in the real sense). All of this is background to make the conversation I am about to impart all the more aberrant.

Said student announced to her small-attended class that week that she got into a workshop with Lynda. While Lynda is local, she is also very popular and it can be hard to get your "one-time" spot in one of her free workshops. So it was a coup. I was surprised to detect my first reaction - a bit of a scoff, mostly internal. Barely detectable.

The other students asked who Lynda is, what her workshops are like. No one else knew, so I kind of described her process. I have found it disappointingly one-pointed in the past - after two workshops I really didn't need more, since she always recites the same poem and gives the same assignments.

So what did I say to the students? 
Did I say I was disappointed?
Did I say that to do it once was amazing?
Did I acknowledge her broad and deep exploration of memoir, fiction and what she calls "image" - the deep well of memory and creativity that lives in us all?

I said this:
(Gah I don't even want to write it!)
"Well, she's a bit of a one-trick pony."

As soon as it left my mouth I wanted to cram it back in: foot-in-mouth disease.

Now I know what happened: I did not stop to check my own discomfort. I got too easy, too informal and in an icky way, said something gossipy. I back paddled, trying to explain while also covering my own ashamed ass. The student attending the workshop looked a little sad, the others shrugged. 

I apologized for it again before class ended, but the damage was done. 
To them?
To me.

At the time I had no idea what had happened, not really, besides being a bit mean and inappropriate. But I used it to beat the fuck out of myself for weeks after. Really. Like not-sleeping, rolling the bitterness over and over in my tongue without resolve, without any compassion for myself. It's when my wife said I should write about it, that clearly I was still carrying it around, that I finally felt myself soften.

And why did that happen? Because this week I caught myself - after the fact - blaming myself for some things a student said to another student in one of my classes. Perhaps because I was already overloaded with shame/blame background noise, I saw it faster, and saw the same thing was happening here.

Its all nice and good to realize it after, but ideally I can feel the discomfort that precedes such pinning down self-blame on the spot, before it morphs into crunchy, sticky self-denigration.

And how will I stop this?
I will practice stopping it - it will never fully go away! - by noticing. I will stop it by stopping. Stopping when I feel unsure, instead of leaping into idle speech. 

I will, as I said in a post awhile back, stop drop and roll:

And when I don't stop until after? 
When the confusion lingers? 

I will stop as soon as I am able and get some compassion going. After all, this is meditation in action. Compassion as practice. Accepting imperfection as the only way it can be done. 

And I will also admit, discuss, lance the infection with some self-reflection. 

Let the disparaging that comes out of places of discomfort and disappointment stop as soon as it can, and re-route that energy into learning for the next time.

1 comment:

  1. Miriam, I am rejoicing that someone had the balls (tubes, ovaries) to put into words that icky remorse I have felt myself, like tape on my paws or peanut butter on the roof my mouth. Only 1,000 times worse. I so relate! Love this. So true, so vulnerable, so universal. Thank you.