Comments

  1. Barbara Keller says

    The risk I wish I had taken? The list is endless. I will pick the one on my mind today.

    The father of my only child, Rosie, was a heroin addict, on and off. Those days there wasn’t much available for recovery. He seemed to try, but he couldn’t get help.

    No one approved of him, and my mother pushed me hard to leave him behind until he could prove himself which mostly meant he should be somebody else, get a job, live on his own, keep a job for six months, prove he could support me.

    I listened to her, for whatever reason, to please her, to protect myself and Rosie, to take the easy way out, to run away from the problem. I left and made a life without him.

    In any case, he died when Rosie was seven and I had not seen him in four years. And now, so many years later, 38 years more or less, I still miss him. I’m still sad. I often think he was the one, the only one for me. The best friend through thick and thin, except I left.

    I have dreamed of him many times, sometimes I’m in a cabin telling a friend, “This time I’ll stay, I’ll cook dinner, and he won’t die.”

    I wish I had ridden it out a little longer, tried a little harder. I know you can’t fix someone else’s life, or keep someone from dying, but I could have tried a little harder instead of running from the trouble.

    Two days ago I sat in church and listened to a man tell his story. He was an alcoholic, he found God and got well, found a wife and is here to tell the tale. I was sad for Gary who was saved, did find God, but didn’t get well or live to tell his story. And I was sad for me, for spending my life alone, and for Rosie and her kids with no dad and no grandpa.

    I understand it’s easy to make that wish from here, safe, my daughter grown with kids of her own. There is no iffy history, and I can’t go back and do it differently, but it is a sometimes wish, and a regret.

    • says

      Barbara, thanks for being the first to post this week–and your description of hindsight and regret. You capture those emotions perfectly. Though of course, as you said, there’s no telling what might have happened.

      • Terilynn says

        Thank you for sharing.
        As an alcoholic, I understand the urge to practice wishful thinking. I’ve both been enabled as well as the enabler. It’s unfortunate there wasn’t help for him. From what I’ve learned about my own disease, you may have been attempting to save him from his own demons. Demons are contagious. I think you made the right choice, although in wistful times you may doubt it.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Powerful piece and the quote in the dream stuck with me, “This time I’ll stay. I’ll cook dinner and…”

    • Ilana says

      Barbara- I think it took a lot of courage to share this story with us. It is well written and clear. I can totally connect with the feeling of “This time I’ll do it differently.” I’ve had relationships that I wish I had handled differently. They are gone now, through my own fault, and I am sorry that I hurt those people. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Ilana

    • Judy says

      Thank you Barbara for your candid, well-written post. This line grabbed me, ‘I have dreamed of him many times, sometimes I’m in a cabin telling a friend, “This time I’ll stay, I’ll cook dinner, and he won’t die.” ‘. Often the desire to rescue others is greater than the desire to rescue ourselves. Always a slippery path. Thank you again for sharing.

      • Barbara Keller says

        Boy isn’t that the truth. He was costly, in all ways, and in my dreams I don’t remember that, I just miss him and feel bad. It also doesn’t include how angry I am that he left me alone to raise our daughter. This post worked well for me. I got to write the story and I got lots of understanding and I got to do a little emotional sorting. All good. Thanks Guys.

  2. Wendy says

    I wish I had taken the risk to steadily write. It is easy to say that there is not enough time or “I don’t have anything to write right now,” but the truth, at least for me, is that writing brings up things for me that I thought were long buried. I often don’t feel that I can write because I still feel protective of people, or I’ve written something and feelings have gotten hurt or worse. I have lost relationships through writing. And there is a part of me that doesn’t understand that. Why can’t I tell my story? Why do I have to tell my story? Why can’t I put the person in a purple hat, change her name, and make her the neighborhood dentist instead of the person close to me? Why is it even when I change the name, change the sex, add glasses and a lisp, I still “get in trouble”? So I put writing in a box. I leave it unattended and beckon the wolves. I say I can’t do it and walk away and try not to hear the call, try not to feel the emptiness, try not to feel that uneasy feeling that something indeed is wrong, and I don’t know how to fix it. Then time passes and I think I will try to write again, and all that hurt is still there. I try to write “a real story,” one that has nothing to do with me, and I end up putting the pen down again. I would like to take the risk and write.

    • says

      Wendy, you raise so many important issues here–ones more of us who write from real life have struggled with. What I tell myself is to write everything–and I can share it in a safe setting–like a confidential writing circle so that it can be witnessed and heard. But there are definitely some things I have chosen not to publish now–and maybe ever–because at my stage in life, I honor relationships more than my writing. Often it’s a hard call and I’ve erred on the side of damaging some relationships because I chose my right to publish over a relationship that was damaged because of that choice. Other times, I’ve chosen to publish and the impact of that work on the world has made it worth the hurt to a few people. But it’s always a struggle and there are no easy answers.

    • Hazel says

      “Why can’t I tell my story? Why do I have to tell my story?” Do we have to have the answers to these questions? I ask them to but I don’t get any answers. I think like Laura says, first we have to just write it then we can sort it out.

      Provocative piece. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Wendy – I have to say, I could have written this post myself as I’ve felt the same over the years. This is the first time I’m sharing anything about my “story”, my life, and with total strangers. I hope you take the risk and write again – and if you need an unbiased outsider to make your written word feel real by being read I’d happily read your story and your life without judgement…you don’t even have to turn a person into cat since I won’t know who they are anyway :-) Thanks for sharing.

    • Terilynn says

      I’ve always been a writer. I well know the internal critic who says why bother, you’re not good enough!
      At the tender age of 55, I said hell with that. I’m in a writers group, have a great teacher/mentor and am working on two collections of short stories. One is about my cats, of course!

      • Sheila mcGinley says

        Wendy: Oh, exactly. Oh yes indeed! Thank you for saying it, and Terrylynn, thanks for adding the inner voice of contempt.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I enjoyed the bold beginning sentence in this piece and the questions. I felt the struggle of one wanting to find a way to write without getting in trouble and felt the feeling of the fictions not working to hide enough.

      (As a side note, I was just re-reading Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and she has a good part of a chapter about fictionalizing people to avoid libel. She talks about changing all the details of people but of keeping the actions that need telling. Or at least that is my take on it. So as not to be sued, when she is inventing or fictionalizing a male character she says that she always gives the guy a teeny weeny penis so he will never come forth and say, “That is me”–that is really fun advice…)

      Thank you for writing!

        • Lee Xanthippe says

          Haha…Laura, you made me think of what the pop artist Roy Lichtenstein said, “I don’t worry about size, because I have two!” I have no idea what that means but I love it anyway! “Bird by Bird” was definitely worth a second read. I read it when I was in a very different place in my writing–I hadn’t yet embraced writing’s mark on me and my full-on passion for writing and reading and what rich things both these grant me.

    • Ilana says

      Wendy- I really liked this piece. How you looked at your fears honestly. It is a difficult thing, to write when you have feelings you’d rather keep buried. For me, anyway, it is often like a valve that once I open it the feelings come pouring out and I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to. I admire writers who can write about something other than themselves. My stuff keeps overflowing into it. Maybe if we both keep trying it will come. Good luck to you and keep posting. Ilana

    • Judy says

      Wendy, love this line, ‘I leave it unattended and beckon the wolves. I say I can’t do it and walk away and try not to hear the call,’ That is wonderful writing and I want to read more. This is a supportive community. Often each of will write of how we struggle with writers block, get stuck, think we can’t do it, but….then we do. Look forward to more posts. Thank you for this one.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Outstanding. Well written description of a common issue. Someone said, maybe Annie La Mott, that everything we write comes from our own lives. That’s all we know for sure. That’s where the truth comes from, and that’s what people want to read. Revelation and truth mixed in with plot and entertainment. I struggle with it myself all the time. So I write it, and if I can find a writer’s group, I read it there and I never publish. Here’s a funny story. I wrote a story about my disabled and slow husband and a woman in my neighborhood, just a 2 pager, and submitted it to a writing contest in Linfield county Oregon. I was so afraid he would hear about it I used a fake name, and then forgot about it. I got second place and when they called to tell me Barbara Star had won I said “Sorry, that’s not me.” That got sorted out and I went to the ceremony. I was simultaneously very happy to have been recognized and so scared he would hear about it. That was in 1999 and I haven’t done it since. Made a story public. Thanks.

  3. Sarah says

    There is an intriguing book called, “What I Know Now, Letters to My Younger Self” edited by Ellyn Spragins. This is my letter.

    Dear Sarah,

    Take a deep breath and relax. Hard to do I know but I promise that you will not be on Paxil forever, it will not always define you, and that one day you will finally feel at home in your mind and body – do not think you need a man to be your Xanax, or that because you have no place else to call home right now that this should be your resting place. Do not think this is the relationship that will fulfill you someday even though right now it doesn’t; only time will tell that.

    You are going to travel the world, have a few really great jobs, fall down but always get back up; you are going to make a lot of mistakes, fall in love when you shouldn’t and with whom you shouldn’t and feel heartbreak that you didn’t even know existed.

    You are going to touch peoples’ lives without even trying, find yourself through some really great books and teachers- by eating wholesome foods and losing 40 pounds, by trying out all different kinds of exercise and finally finding love acceptance and peace through yoga and meditation, by meeting a person that is going to help revel to you your authentic self; you are going to have a moment of clarity when you’ll finally realize that the romance and love you’ve been seeking all along has always been there inside of you–you’ll finally see that you are your own perfect partner, that you are your own soul mate, and that nobody but you will make you complete.

    Yoga and meditation are going to become your daily date with your perfect match so stop searching for that in stranger’s beds. You are going to do all of this, I promise you, so stop worrying so much about the future and live in the right now, live in the present, release the anxiety and the fear. You are so young and should do what you feel deep inside, stop questioning the why and just leave this man and go explore, go live on your own, stop trying to fit into a box that you don’t want to be in yet or maybe ever, and do it all with no regrets.

    Put yourself first. Stop longing and yearning for another life and just go see if it’s out there for you – he will let you come back if you want to, I know this because he did let us come back. If you don’t do this now you will spend the next 12 years wondering, it will be the throbbing vein that you can’t ease with any amount of alcohol or drugs or sex, or even years of therapy, it will constantly be there, the white elephant in your head. So go dear girl, go take this risk that you really want to take and go with reckless abandon, you are stronger than you think. If you don’t go now, you will always wonder, what if.

    With kindness, strength & love

    Sarah

      • Sarah says

        Thank you Hazel. This is my first time posting in this community (or any other for that matter) and like Wendy I have been very quiet with my personal experiences in order not to damage or offend anyone. I still don’t want to do that, but like everyone else, I have a story that wants to be told, and this seemed like a supportive and fun environment in which to do that.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I felt the kindness, strength, love, and gentleness in this piece. The multiple perspectives–a knowing bolder self, writing to a younger more searching self. I enjoyed the voice of the letter writer in this piece and the younger person she was talking to, trying to guide, embolden, share wisdom with… Thank you!

    • Ilana says

      Sarah- Welcome to our community. This is a beautiful letter. I’m taking notes to send to myself ;) It sounds like it comes from a place of peace. So loving and gentle. Thank you for sharing. Ilana

    • Judy says

      Sarah, this is wonderful writing. I was hooked immediately but especially love this line, “go take this risk that you really want to take and go with reckless abandon, you are stronger than you think. If you don’t go now, you will always wonder, what if.” Thank you for this wisdom and sharing your loving letter to yourself.

  4. MaryL says

    When I was working as a teacher in Boston, taking two graduate courses at a time at B.C.. I decided to work full-time toward a doctorate in Counseling Psychology. This was early winter, 1971. I had no plans to marry or have children – never thought that could happen.

    Then I received a letter from a friend of friends, a man who wanted to get to know me. My friends though well of him, though they didn’t know him very intimately. So I was happy and surprised to receive a friendly note, inviting me to check in with him when I was back home in CT. It’s taken a long time to understand what happened, but I think I’ve figured it out. When L came along, I was so in need of affection that I would do almost anything to be close to him. And it wasn’t a matter of heart over reason. I had not been taught to discern true love from manipulation, or honest affection for lust. I believed every word he spoke to me, and when he first kissed me (on the cheek), a spark kindled something deep inside.

    There was a disconnect there … I know it now. Suddenly, I didn’t need to go to graduate school … I needed his love …. Needed it to survive, because I didn’t have anyone else who declared love for me. It was a decision I still regret. I wish I had taken the risk, said goodbye to L, and moved on with graduate school. After all, with the Ed.D. in my hands, I could choose my work, choose where to live, actually rent an apartment of my own, travel, and most importantly, give myself time and space to look at what I REALLY WANTED from life, and how I could attain that.

    I surely didn’t want to be tethered to a controlling man who – after he was sure I would put up with him – lived, fed on – abuse and intimidation, using words, periods of silence, then physical assaults, even choking me. My reaction to this was not to get f___ mad, to tell the world what a jerk I’d allowed into my life, but to try harder …. to please him, to try to get him to change, to make him love. “I can’t make you love me if you don’t!” goes the country song, but I didn’t believe it. All I had to do was to figure out what he liked and do that, and what triggered his wrath and avoid that, and all would be well. Twisting myself to be someone else, quashing all my feelings, never raising my voice, crying in shame – not crying out in anger – this changed me. Yes, the seeds of submission had been planted in childhood, at home and in church, and they were growing into a suffocating vine.

    Leaving him behind – or kicking him out – was a risk, and a dangerous situation … I could be hurt even more. How I wish I had taken the risk, thought long and hard and made a decision to move on – in education, in life, in relationships.

    It’s ironic, since I took risks every time we were together, but I didn’t even notice that I was risking losing my identity to this guy who was “killing me softly.” (Roberta Flack)

    • says

      Mary, this was a powerful piece–I was especially moved by the ending…”It’s ironic, since I took risks every time we were together…” How true that is.

    • Hazel says

      MaryL,
      I was a simple, naive, country bumpkin only 18 when almost the same thing occurred in my life. I could have written the meat of this post word for word. I am wondering if this is something that happened more often in the late 50′s and 60′s. Finally in the mid-seventies I did leave to make a different life for myself but it was messy, because by then I had two children. I left anyway.

      Your last paragraph: “It’s ironic, since I took risks every time we were together, but I didn’t even notice that I was risking losing my identity to this guy who was “killing me softly” is absolutely true for me as well.

      When we share we find out that others have fallen into the same traps as we have. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, it is just another in the long list of human experiences that one can have. I find it comforting to know there is someone else who might understand how it is to have to live in that “cage.” In no way would I wish that on anyone else, but, I think it happens far more frequently than we know.

      Thank you for sharing.

      • Mary L says

        Hazel, thanks for your comment… true … those abusive relationships do kill you softly, slowly, but surely … now when I look back I wonder what happened to all the dreams I had … to travel … to live in a university town … to continue playing the piano… do you know I have a piano, but something stops me from playing … what’s that all about? … I think it’s part of that quest to find oneself … what do you think? I also regret that the decisions to move on came only when I was in the pits, the toilet, the sewer… not a good jumping off start to a healthier life, but since I did not drown, (miraculously), I have been able to wash away some of the feelings of shame and being soiled.. I hope this doesn’t sound too grim … I am on a better path now, and the sun shines some days … not today as we await yet another dowsing of rain! Peace! And yesterday, my grandson told me his little sister can say “Nana” … but she has to squeeze her nose! YAY!

    • Ilana says

      MaryL- This piece is so compelling. You artfully pulled me in and then shocked me with the cold truth. I am sorry that this happened to you. It is a pattern so many of us fall into, “All I had to do was to figure out what he liked and do that, and what triggered his wrath and avoid that, and all would be well.” A truth you presented beautifully. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Ilana

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      This piece gently lures the reader into this world where things aren’t what they seem and change into a dangerous thing. I felt for the degree and independence lost…very powerfully told. I thought the song lyrics were very artfully employed in this piece. Thank you for putting it out there.

      • Lee Xanthippe says

        As I read many pieces, it occurs to me that exposing what is vulnerable is also exposing the dangerous “games” people play and exposes the way people use people.
        I guess exposing one’s vulnerability can also be a way of being strong and of exposing the difficult truths in the world, so perhaps one could more easily recognize them. (I wonder also to myself–women are often taught to please but are women taught to protect themselves? Are women taught when to stop pleasing?)

    • Judy says

      Mary, nicely done. I must echo what others have posted here, but are the s/hero of your own life in this well crafted piece. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Terilynn says

    I’m no stranger to risk. I grew up with it.

    I wanted to be a vet. At a child, my mother said it would cost too much money to put me through school. Especially since I was “only” a girl.

    I had a chance later in life to go for it. I think I chickened out. I felt unworthy of such an honorary title. Maybe it’s for the better? I have more passion for the animals now. Still it’s a pain-in-the hiney to get vets to humor my theories and support my treatment plans.

    Yeah, I should have been a vet.

  6. Hazel says

    Does being dyslexic when no one even knew what that was cause one to develop patterns of restrictive behavior that stifle risk taking in a creative way? I really don’t know what might be true for others but I do believe it did for me. I always knew I was different and my whole focus in my early artistic endeavors was to do something that would fit in. I built this bubble of control around me that has existed to this day.

    The risk I wish I had taken was that when I had gained my certification as a Bill Alexander oil painting instructor and had taken many lessons from other artists, during the five years around 1980-1985, was to have been able to break out of my bubble of control and to express myself in my own way. I am a good copy machine. I can do anything if shown how. I have learned the use of color; the rule of thirds; the way to use oil paints wet on wet and what makes them work; I can teach others how to do it; but even my best work, the piece that everyone comments on and many have wanted to buy from me, and which I will not let go of, is modeled after another man’s work.

    My creative self has been locked up so tight in an iron bubble and only now in my old age as it is starting to rust am I able to scratch at the layers as they crumble and to reach a tentative hand out to feel the world outside of control. The days of painting are mostly behind me now, but I wish I had taken the risk to splash some color on a canvas and just let it drip there. I wish I had risked a bold red blending into purple. I wish I had risked a soft loden green with an ultra-marine blue; and Indian orange with Phthalo-yellow-green. The pictures I have in my head never seem to turn out on the canvas and I never seem to be able to accept the things that appear there.

    It is all bound up in the willingness to risk; to put it out there; to let others have their own feelings about the work, to be their own judge. But, therein lies the rub. I am afraid of being judged. The good vs. bad thing, why would I want to risk being bad? I feel myself starting to cry as I am writing this. Maybe someone will judge this writing as bad and then what will I be or do?

    A calligraphy teacher I once had said to me as I was hesitating to start to write a piece, “Hazel, it is only paper, if you mess it up you can toss it.” But I still felt tight and nearly didn’t do it. I felt frozen nearly unable to pick up my pen. I was facing taking that risk of exposing myself.

    Yes, I am in a corner now, writing is about all I have left. I have given up making things because all I do is accumulate boxes full of beautiful things that no one wishes to buy, yet when I give them away people always make a fuss over them and seem to be very impressed. I will risk my words. Words are real things; they have meaning; they paint pictures; they can soothe feelings or provoke them; they can be bent, twisted, bold, riské and risky. Yes, I believe this is my last adventure into creativity, and I am willing to risk here because I feel certain there will be honest feedback with helpful suggestions.

    • Sarah says

      Hazel – I’m so happy for you that you have decided to risk your writing but I also think now is the time to risk painting, why not? What do you really have to lose at this point? Don’t look back in 10 years with the same regret you’ve had all this time…pick up that brush and make those colors bleed!

      • Hazel says

        Thank you Sarah. I have been thinking about it. If I can get the shingles pain under control I may have to give it a go once again. I wouldn’t know what “my” painting could even look like. But, there is only me. huh? To see. I might become another Grandma Moses; who knowses? lol

        Nothing risked; nothing gained. You’re right.

    • Ilana says

      Hazel- Again, you cadence grabbed me and took me on a beautiful ride through your piece. Your images are lovely and your truths so clearly communicated. My favorite part of this piece was this “I wish I had taken the risk to splash some color on a canvas and just let it drip there. I wish I had risked a bold red blending into purple. I wish I had risked a soft loden green with an ultra-marine blue; and Indian orange with Phthalo-yellow-green.” It sounds so free and enjoyable. I hope that you will not give up on your painting, if only to do this one time. And I am glad that you still honor your written word. Ilana

      • Lee Xanthippe says

        Yes, I too liked that part especially and the dialogue with the resistance. I liked the phrase “iron bubble” as well. I felt the tension in the part about feeling judged and the wrestling with this. Thank you for the bold splashes of color in your writing!

    • says

      Hazel, this was a beautiful piece. I loved these sections: “My creative self has been locked up so tight in an iron bubble and only now in my old age as it is starting to rust am I able to scratch at the layers as they crumble and to reach a tentative hand out to feel the world outside of control. The days of painting are mostly behind me now, but I wish I had taken the risk to splash some color on a canvas and just let it drip there.”

      And this at the end: ” I will risk my words. Words are real things; they have meaning; they paint pictures; they can soothe feelings or provoke them; they can be bent, twisted, bold, riské and risky.”

      I’m so glad you feel safe on this forum.

      • Hazel says

        Ilana, Lee, and Laura,

        Thank you all for your comments, I find them very encouraging as set out on this risk of writing and sharing it.

    • Judy says

      Hazel, this is much beauty in your writing. This is such a well crafted piece which touches all human emotions and senses. Your play with words and your play with paint are such a gift–rare indeed and special. I would have to copy and paste the entire piece to choose a favorite section, but the use of iron bubble pointed its own vivid picture. Thank you and to your health.

    • Terilynn says

      Oh Hazel!

      I love that “iron bubble” beginning to rust. I resonate with that. It invokes potential ready to bloom.

      I also relate to your perfectionism. Mine came from my mother, and HER iron bubble around me finally rusted and collapsed.

      You are lovely as you write. Keep kicking the shrapnel aside. (Wear sensible shoes, of course.) I love the way you write, Hazel. And I hurt when you feel “stuck.”

    • Barbara Keller says

      Fabulous truths and outpourings. Fantastic job. Hooray for you. The rusting bubble seems to be crumbling. So well written, so from the heart, so honest and clearly presented. A masterpiece of focused and carefully answered prompt. Judged? Ha. No way. Not for this, and not here. Carry on. Maybe one day you will paint what’s in your head. (The significant thing is that it is in your head. I have undone quilts in my head. It’s OK.) Or maybe you will write your head off and express yourself this way. Thanks

  7. Ritch Brinkley says

    I took the career risk nobody (with the exception of a couple of influential profs) thought was wisw-a life in the theater (film, tv, etc). People have often said how brave I was to make the leap, but in absolute truth-it was a box canyon. That is to say I could not think of one other profession in which I thought I could succeed. No other activity had gleaned such encouragement since portraying the titular role in “Humpty-Dumpty” in the first grade of a small west Texas town. And it proved successful-by standards of bringing home the bacon. But in choosing the struggle, I had no permanent home base, my friends were all over the map, and until in my forties found the concept of taking on a wife (and possibly attendant progeny) far too frightening-a risk too big for me to swallow. The end result of that choice means that when my friends and sibling spend holidays, vacations, etc.with their children and grandchildren I remain in solitary. Until recently, nearing my seventh decade, I still entertained the notion of sky diving, bungee jumping, rapid shooting, and like adventures. I often embraced the saying “if life begins to bore you, then risk it.” But with advancing years and deteriorating health, those daring challenges will forever remain dormant. I usedto joke that the concept of “greener grass” found me regretting not taking the careerchoice ofcultural anthropologist. But I freely admit that were I sitting in some jungle village drawing up bloodline charts, I would probably be moaning “if only I had become an actor….” I think risk changes with the passing years. Now I risk a visit from the Grim Reaper by postponing dialysis. I am willing to risk the kidney of some dead but altruistic stranger-which would undoubtedly have immersed me in fear as a callow youth. (Forgive the indulgence of a hackneyed expression). Another risk that has lost its sting is trepidation in submitting products of my pen to potential publishers. I suspect that hesitation diminishes with advancing years, when one’s memory bank holds more promise than one’s reflexes. Nevertheless, the demon known as procrastination still maintains a strangle hold on my productivity. Alas, back to the tecium of humdrum affairs…..

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Love the voice in this piece and the sense of changing views of risk given age. And the risks of different choices. I loved the part of wishing to be the anthropologist who wishes to be the actor. And the new risk of the grim reaper. Thanks for taking us on the journey!

    • says

      Ritch, I love the concept you explore here–how our relationship to risk changes with the passing of years and our different stages of life. So well said–I was with you all the way.

    • Ilana says

      Great piece. I loved how you said that if you’d followed your other dream and became an anthropologist you’d wish you’d become an actor. I have had that feeling so many times. If only we could have it both ways. ;) Ilana

    • Hazel says

      Ritch,

      Thank you for such a well written piece. Yes, r-i-s-k changes with age. In particular I liked this phrase: “one’s memory bank holds more promise than one’s reflexes.” How true that is!

    • Judy says

      Rich, always enjoy your post. Your voice is both fun, funny and insightful. Love these lines, “But with advancing years and deteriorating health, those daring challenges will forever remain dormant. I used to joke that the concept of “greener grass” found me regretting not taking the career choice of cultural anthropologist. But I freely admit that were I sitting in some jungle village drawing up bloodline charts, I would probably be moaning “if only I had become an actor….” I think risk changes with the passing years.” Nice job.

    • Terilynn says

      You write beautifully, Ritch. May your reflexes fund the strength to go forward and make good of the tedium.

    • Barbara Keller says

      I really enjoyed your piece, the writing, the humor. I laughed at “risk a visit from the grim reaper by postponing dialysis.” Yes age presents a different set of risks and choices. Sorry you’re alone for holidays. Probably you’re used to it. I chose husband and children and I’m still alone. I remind myself that even if my husband had lived, not died at 33, he would no doubt be dead now anyway. My daughter is 44 and far away. We tend to think of those as life long phases, but really they are quite short term. Barb

  8. Ilana says

    The Risk I Haven’t Taken Yet

    I don’t have too many regrets now. A few things I would do differently but nothing that I really spend too much time thinking about. It didn’t used to be that way. I used to be full of regrets but for the last two years I have been running head long into my fears and most often with great success. There is one risk, however, that I have not yet taken and I can’t seem to make myself do it. I have 300 pages of “Issa An’ Me” written. The story is told, from beginning to end but it has some holes in it. Throughout the book there are highlighted notes “put in more about this” or “Remember, you changed that part so this has to be changed to make it fit.” Is it good enough to submit for publication? I don’t know. Should I fill in those holes and try? I’m not sure where to begin. It’s not that I couldn’t find out. I know enough writers to ask questions about what the next step is, I could look it up on the internet or perhaps find a book that guides a hopeful writer through the process. But I’m just not doing it. Something is holding me back. It feels impossible to me now, like something I am simply incapable of. (Or perhaps, unworthy of?)

    I know it’s fear that’s holding be back but I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. I know that the first, second, third (etc) attempts are supposed to yield a rejection letter. That’s okay with me. A rejection letter would be an accomplishment in itself because it would mean that I had the courage to send it and someone read my work. I want to try for a rejection letter. So why am I not figuring out where to go next? Am I afraid of being laughed at? No one is going to laugh at me, at least not to my face. I’m sure they pretend to be nice at the very least. “We regret to inform you…” No one is going to actually send me a letter that says, “Who do you think you are submitting this trash? It’s dreadful, full of mistakes and utterly boring. This writing doesn’t even make sense. We are offended you have wasted our time with this garbage and if we ever see your name in our mailbox again we will call the police and have you charged with harassment.”

    Is that what I’m afraid they’ll say? Perhaps. It’s not really logical. Realistically, no one would put in the time to tear me apart like that. At least I don’t think so. Oh wait. There is someone who would say all those things. Her name is Ilana and she says it on a regular basis. She imagines all sorts of horrible things people could say to me if I made myself vulnerable. I really can’t blame her. She’s trying to protect me. She’s been hurt so many times and long ago decided that if she anticipates the blows they won’t hurt as much when they actually come. There are two flaws in her thinking. The first is that she doesn’t realize how much it hurts just to hear her say it. Really, she does more harm than good. The second is she’s not always right. In fact she’s often wrong but there’s no telling when she’ll be wrong so it feels safer to just trust her.

    So I’m waiting. For what? I do not know. I’m waiting for it to feel right. For the moment to come when I feel empowered enough to simply ask, “Where do I take my book next?” Maybe it will be some ultimate sign of growth, that all my work these last few years is finally paying off. Oh I do like the way that sounds.

    There is one more thing I wish I had done. Two years ago I saw Carrie Fisher’s one woman show “Wishful Drinking” and I was absolutely inspired by her courage and strength. At the end of the show she said, “If you see Carrie, shhh. Don’t tell her about this show. She would be so humiliated.” To me this was a lesson in self forgiveness. She was saying that her past self had the right to make the mistakes she’d made and still have her feelings spared. I heard her telling me that though I had made mistakes in my past I shouldn’t torture myself over them. I should honor who I was and that I did the best I could, then move on and do the best I can now.

    This meant so much to me that I wrote her a letter. I told her that I am not going to claim to be her biggest fan. I don’t own all the Star Wars and Princess Leah paraphernalia yet her work meant a great deal to me. I told her of my own struggles and how her messages in “Wishful Drinking” inspired me and gave me strength. Carrie Fisher didn’t toss the letter aside and say “Why is this crazy woman writing to me?” She never had the opportunity. Because I never sent it. Ilana told me that I had no right to waste this mega star’s time with my petty problems and I believed her. I still have the letter, now two years old. I like to fanaticize that she’d read it and say “I’m glad I inspired this woman.” But that’s all it is, a fantasy. Because I still don’t have the courage to send the damned letter.

    Maybe one day I’ll publish my book. Maybe one day I’ll tell Ms. Fisher how much her words mean to me. Maybe one day I’ll turn to Ilana and say, “Thank you for trying to protect me. You got me through so much but it’s time to say ‘I love you.’ It’s time to say ‘I trust you and you should try. You should put yourself out there because at the very least, you will have tried.’”

    I guess that’s where I’ll start. I’ll have a talk with this sweet little girl who witnessed so much pain. I’ll tell her that I love her and it is time for her to trust me. It is time for her to grow and learn to honor the both of us. Now that is a risk I think I’m ready to take.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I love how this piece took me on a journey and the voice seemed to find courage and direction in the end, taking a small step, after the big steps of revealing. I found the Carrie Fisher letter part intriguing, and felt empathy for the steps not taken. I too was curious what the resistance was about and then parts of it were revealed. Thank you!

      • Ilana says

        Thank you, Lee. I didn’t feel or find that courage until the end. I got to that last line and thought. “Hey, that’s something I’m willing to try.” So I wrote it. I appreciate your comments. Ilana

    • says

      I, too, loved the journey you went on with this piece. You gave yourself such good advice throughout–there is a part of you that knows exactly what you need to do and also compassion for the part that is trying to protect you. I feel as if you’re close to taking the risk–you just have to step off the ledge and try.

      These were great lines for everyone reading who hopes to publish one day–or to publish again: “A rejection letter would be an accomplishment in itself because it would mean that I had the courage to send it and someone read my work. I want to try for a rejection letter. “

      • Ilana says

        I hope you are right, Laura. I hope I will be ready soon. Thank you for honoring my journey and for valuing that one baby step, working for the rejection letter. Maybe I’ll take that step sometime soon. Ilana

    • Hazel says

      Ilana,

      I found myself routing for you to “go for it, Ilana!” You write so well. Your story is ready, “go for it, Ilana!” If you get that rejection letter we will all rejoice with you but it could be an acceptance letter. You won’t know until you put a stamp on it and send it on it’s way and we will all hold our collective breath with you while you wait for the returning letter. Our suspense as great as yours as you hold that letter in your hand. We are here with you. We breathe the same air; we feel the same fear, because we are fellow writers.

      Until then: “I guess that’s where I’ll start. I’ll have a talk with this sweet little girl who witnessed so much pain. I’ll tell her that I love her and it is time for her to trust me. It is time for her to grow and learn to honor the both of us. Now that is a risk I think I’m ready to take.” We are still right here with you.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Ilana, What a beautiful piece. I, too, greatly enjoyed that you took us on a journey of trust and growth. I love this graphs, “A rejection letter would be an accomplishment in itself because it would mean that I had the courage to send it and someone read my work.” People will read your work. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Brilliant. What a group we are. Your post is wonderful, covers so much, is organized, well written, to the point, examining, leading, concluding, forgiving. I loved it. Thanks (the best news is self publishing, in which you ask no one for permission or a “go ahead” judgement.)

  9. Lee Xanthippe says

    8.13.13

    I read the prompt and then reach over the table past the stacks of books, papers, cards standing and written, or leaning and waiting. The books—“don’t let me be lonely,” “the art of procrastination,” “the talent code,” “the anxiety and phobia workbook,” “how the light gets in,” “how we decide,” “suddenly slow”—an assortment, one book I will never read, most I have read, one I got stopped up by when the guy started talking about psychopaths, another is for a friend, one is recommended by a friend. But I reach past the books and ephemera—haha, ephemera, a nice name for a pile of papers—to the card I bought for myself because of the quote—Anais Nin—I’d forgotten it was her quote but remembered the gist of the quote and I pick up the card with the Japanese-looking brush painting on the front—white blooms, petals wide and widening, pink at their base and the quote,

    And the day came
    when the risk to remain
    tight in a bud was more
    painful than the risk it
    took to blossom.

    8.14.13

    I don’t like to think of myself as tight in a bud but I am both too loose and too tight, to unfocused or multifocused, too unpurposed and too closeted. How to bloom in a world that both can and cannot be trusted? How to open up when to reveal one secret or truth online is to open oneself up to any…I am resisting the word “idiot”…to any…one out there. I suppose I will come to the conclusion that I have to live my life and have to open the blossoms out, even if some who walk by may gawk or judge. May? No, will. But also what I cannot fathom are the advantages to being out, open, out there…and maybe I am talking vaguely, yes?

    What do I want?
    To be able to write, to put my words out into the world, to connect with other people, to offer good things, levity, humor, complexity, a well-toasted hazelnut, sweetened by the world, to give you the nut of how I see this nutty world, to drop my multicolored petals on you, to write the path of the petal as it falls, to see what the petal falls upon and how the pink melds to another shade of pink or how the pink contrasts the green leaf. I want to write how the petal moves in the wind or in the swish from the overhead fan. I want to write how the petals lose their intergrity, their strength, at the same time the aging thinning petals gain their integrity, gain a new strength, less brutal, less hammerlike, more subtle, more shifting-like, more alive and unique as the petal finds her veins, holds itself up less against the world, and leans its thin body flat-like against the surfaces, taking the shape of the surfaces underneath it. The petal that falls upon the hand and rests there, becomes like a piece of glove, a quilt piece of glove on the hand, my hand. Who knows what I am talking about, but I want to write about the real stuff—and with less fear that anything I say can and will be used against me. I have done so very few fearful things in my entire life, why should I fear as if I had, as if I really had something to hide when I really don’t but maybe I miss the point.

    What I fear comes down to a few things but mainly, I fear that a body in flux—employable as I have been—will seem unemployable to others if I reveal. I want to be employable and not knocked out of the running because of someone’s mis-assumptions. I cannot fight a tide alone and yet the tide of judging…I would do well to learn from the greats who have put themselves out there despite the marks people count against them. Marks against one—ironically for the very thing and things that make one rich. I fear poverty and misery that comes from poverty and so I end up talking in code, fictionalizing my life.

    As I write, my tongue flicks back and forth “worrying,” as they say, a thin piece of skin, hanging lightly on the inside right side of my mouth. Eventually I will stop writng and wash my hands and gently scrape that light but persistant annoyance of skin, likely from eating too many tortilla chips that softly roughed up the inside right of my mouth, near the gun where my wisdom tooth used to be. What did I lose when they took my wisdom teeth out all those years ago and can I ever gain that wisdom back?

    So I’ve forgotten the prompt entirely, only that it reminded me of the Nin—and I think the pain of staying tight in this bud is getting worse than the pain of not letting it out, of not letting myself out…I hope I didn’t lose how to let myself out. I stand by the open cage door, but is it safe out there? Of course not and of course. The answer is always both, how to live in this world and create safer places (safer? yes, like safer sex?) in a world that is unpredictable. And how to use all that shit to bloom one big damn bloom after another.

    If I read what I write before I post it. I may not post it, so I trust, I post, let everything fall as it may.

    Oh, the risk I wish I had taken. I can make that list but the fact remains the same that the risk I wish I had taken, I could not. Or I could but did not want to deal with the likely side effects of taking the risk, the anxiety, the ruining of other people’s good times, the risk itself, the feeling of being far away and sick, the dread I did not want to take on myself any more that I had. I could not take the risk or I was too tired to take the risks of the risks. But now, I have learned better perhaps (or perhaps not) how to take the risks, that pleasure sometimes comes with risk, and the risk, the discomfort is worth it for the gain, and for the feeling that taking the risk means I don’t have to regret. Taking the risk means that even if it wasn’t all pleasant, I was there, and often I was rewarded with much joy and of knowing that I could do it, could go there, could do what I wanted to do. I could be across the country and find a bed to fall in love with.

    • says

      Lee, thanks for this wonderful example of writing practice–letting the mind and pen wander and putting it out there. There was a logic to the piece, all the way through.

      It’s interesting, I use that Anais Nin quote at the top of all my confirmation letters when people sign up for a weekly writing class. And I loved this line you wrote at the end, ” I think the pain of staying tight in this bud is getting worse than the pain of not letting it out, of not letting myself out…”

      That does seem to be the only time we take the really big risks in life–when the pain of not taking them is greater than the fear of going ahead…

    • Ilana says

      Lee- I love the way this piece flowed. There is a freedom to it. My favorite line, though, was this one. “If I read what I write before I post it. I may not post it, so I trust, I post, let everything fall as it may.” Talk about taking a risk! It was liberating just to read it. Nice job and thanks for sharing. Ilana

      • Lee Xanthippe says

        Thanks, Laura and Ilana for your feedback!
        It is always a little surprising to me what people see–the risk, the freedom, the logic–things I think I embrace but am not sure that they come out in my writing…trusting the moments around me, trusting that where the writing will lead, trusting not knowing, trusting finding my way in the dark, trusting my resistances, trusting the flow and the detour, and the lassoing of ideas that happen when one puts these different creatures all in the same room, trusting that the creatures will find a way to a relationship with one another.

    • Hazel says

      Lee,
      Wow! You took us inside the bud to feel the squeeze. This is so insightful: “I stand by the open cage door, but is it safe out there? Of course not and of course. The answer is always both, how to live in this world and create safer places (safer? yes, like safer sex?) in a world that is unpredictable.” I to would like to know, “how to use all that shit to bloom one big damn bloom after another.”

      Your conclusion was also reflective, ” Taking the risk means that even if it wasn’t all pleasant, I was there, and often I was rewarded with much joy and of knowing that I could do it, could go there, could do what I wanted to do.”

      Thank you for sharing.

      I believe, just showing up for life is taking a risk.

    • Judy says

      Lee, your writing is always lyrical, poetic, glowing and filled with wonderful images from a lovely expressive soul.

      The entire section of What Do I Want…read with such ease and playfulness. Then WOW, there is this, ” Who knows what I am talking about, but I want to write about the real stuff—and with less fear that anything I say can and will be used against me. I have done so very few fearful things in my entire life, why should I fear as if I had, as if I really had something to hide when I really don’t but maybe I miss the point.”

      Thank you for this post and for the Nin quote.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Well, you sure can write. What can I say? You seem to have taken lots of risks just to write all this down. And you did it very well, It’s honest and forthright, and at the same time, poetic, and pretty and you reference other people, and situations well and appropriately. Impressive writing. Heartfelt feelings.

  10. Mary says

    When my husband started the process to transition into a woman my first thought was we are going to move to another city. Anywhere but the town I live in. The farther the better. Moving away from everything we know, and everything that knows us as a heterosexual couple was the risk I wanted to take. A life we built up in our community for over twenty years. Hockey coaching, school volunteers, the baristas at Starbucks who know our drink orders and the waitress at our favorite breakfast joint who teases us about sleeping in late on Saturdays, this is all fragments of our lives together. Our footprint in the small sleepy town we live in. I wanted to risk it all so that we can start over in a place where no one knew our history. Where we can start with our “after” selves rather than our “before” selves. This was a chance I wanted to take. This was my knee jerk reaction and a way to attain some control in a situation unfolding quickly in my life. It wasn’t long however that moving to a new town and leaving all behind was not a risk at all but running away. I was creating a safety plan for us, for Dana and myself.

    The risk was staying in our community, staying in our life as we know it and trudge forward. To tackle the uncertainty and the adversity. The confusion and befuddlement. The hurt and the disbelief. To stare down the unknown. That was the risk. And I took it. We took it together.

    To take a risk l learned to rely on a few things which was risks it itself. The risk to rely on faith that all was going to work out. The risk to rely on my inner confidence and believe in myself that I can hold my head up every day. The risk to rely on courage. The courage to be myself.

    And the greatest risk of all…. to love. To love my family, to love my marriage and most of all to love Dana with unconditional love.

    “The trouble is if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more” – Erica Jong

    • says

      Mary, every time you share another part of this story, I just want to hear more. This is a story that must be told. So powerful. So important. And you can tell it with such honesty and compassion.

    • Hazel says

      You are telling this story even though there is great risk for you. I can’t imagine all the feelings you must have had and do have to get to this point. You are very strong and certainly have risked much and I’m sure there is more to come.

      “The risk to rely on my inner confidence and believe in myself that I can hold my head up every day. The risk to rely on courage. The courage to be myself.

      And the greatest risk of all…. to love. To love my family, to love my marriage and most of all to love Dana with unconditional love.”

      As fellow writers of risks we will support you with our kindness and our belief in you that you will always have the courage to be yourself and write YOUR story.

      • Mary says

        Thank you Hazel. I too believe being surrounded by writers will give me the courage to do so! Your support and kindness is much appreciated for a newbie like me :)

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Thank you for writing this daring story. I felt the pulls of wanting to leave next to the choice of hunkering down and weathering changes within a familiar community. I loved the details that painted the community, the barista, the waitress, the Hockey coaching and the taking on of the risk together in the community. I felt the tension in this piece–both the inner tension of the situation and the changes, and also the tension of the community around–and how they might react. Thanks for telling this story.
      I could relate, having watched others go through a dramatic transition of a similar sort. Often, if the story is told, it is told from the point of view of one transitioning. I enjoyed the story being told from the point of view of a wife going through this with a transitioning partner. Thank you much for writing!

    • Ilana says

      Mary- What an inspiring story. I love how you showed us the journey you took to realize that moving away wasn’t the risk, that staying was and it was the risk you and your spouse chose to take. Nice job! Ilana

    • Judy says

      Mary, let me echo what others have said. Your writing is clear and filled with compassion and love. You have an amazing story to write and families will benefit greatly from your deep understanding, love and respect for each other. You are both very brave and thank you for sharing.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Here I am crying again. What a great answer to the question. Honest, clearly put, tenderly explained. Good for you, good story.

  11. Polly says

    Tuesday after work, I had the most productive therapy session yet. I told my therapist that I was feeling almost completely ready to confront my brother. She even agreed to be there when I call him. We discussed what I hope to accomplish, what I expect. I felt empowered.

    Since I was so little when it started, and very good at checking out, some of my memories are vague. I would love to have the details confirmed. While I know that the chances of his owning or admitting anything are slim-to-none, I have some questions that I would like him to answer. I want to know exactly when it started and exactly when it ended. I want that information confirmed. I want to know who else he abused. I want as much information as he can provide. I really, really want to be in charge of that conversation. I want him to know how his abuse impacted me but not in a way that would give him any satisfaction. I want him to know that he can never, ever contact me again. He will not be permitted to set foot on my property or at my place of work. No phone calls. No emails. No further contact from his girlfriend who keeps trying to track me down on every social network – many of which I have not joined anyway. No contact. I want him to know with every fiber of his being that his power and control over me are gone, permanently. I want him to know that his actions were vile and disgusting. I will tell him that I refuse to carry the shame for a second longer. The shame is his to carry for the rest of his life. It belonged on him all along.

    I look forward to the day when he no longer matters enough to me for me to be angry, sad, afraid, or ashamed. When his significance is that of a small, gross-looking bug. I might cringe when he slithers past but would then forget about him within minutes.

    My therapist and I also spent time talking about each of my older siblings (there are six), one at a time. Chances are good that my four older sisters experienced many of the same things I did. I have known that for a while.

    We talked about the fact that my oldest brother has always gotten away with everything. Regardless of what he subjects the rest of us to, the entire family invariably rushes to save him every time he cries wolf, every time he inflicts harm on those he supposedly loves, or threatens to inflict harm on himself. When he shows up at my mom’s house and passes out on the floor because he is blackout drunk, the family defaults to feeling guilty for having encouraged him to come over, and humiliating him in that way – makes no sense. When he gets blackout drunk and commits unspeakable sexual acts with his sisters in the room (this happened as recently as a few years ago), we reach a consensus that we could never address that issue with him, because that information would destroy him. Him! I think I was the one who said that at the time. So it doesn’t matter that the rest of us go through. We all agree to rush to save him, as we’ve been trained to do our entire lives.

    We visited that last topic for a while.

    I left her office on a completely empowered note Tuesday afternoon. I had a plan to confront my brother. It was exhilarating.

    I arrived home minutes later to a number of mass emails between family members. I have my brother’s address blocked so his emails go to a separate folder instead of arriving in my inbox. That way I can review them when I choose to but they are not right there in front of my face until I’m ready.

    The first email I saw was from one of my older sisters. All it said was, “_____, did this happen to you???” I scrolled down. There was an email from my brother – my extremely depressed (no sympathy), messed up pedophile of a brother. He had checked himself into a local hospital in his city the night before because he’d been feeling suicidal. On his way there on foot, he asked someone to call for a ride for him because he wanted to kill himself. He must have actually told them that because not long after, the police arrived. They handcuffed him and took him to the hospital. The way he tells it, he was horribly mistreated (they wouldn’t give him a cigarette in the hospital apparently, because um, it’s a hospital), was accused of something although he didn’t say what that was (his emails are usually pretty incoherent) – the way he describes it you’d think he had been water boarded or something. Apparently he had to stay there while they ran tests of some kind.

    Last month, my dad’s stepson committed suicide. He was the third child out of four in that family to take his own life. I never met any of them, but it’s tragic. In my brother’s email, he told my dad that that was the best decision his stepson could possibly have made. He said that faced with a similar decision he would gladly follow through rather than check himself into a hospital again. Selfish and hurtful.

    In no time, the emails starting pouring in. Everyone was so concerned. People in my family were apparently crying, at a loss as to what to do. My mom decided to take up a collection and offered to drive out to visit him “when he’ll see us”. My dad sent out a number of emails, each of them ending with words like, “dear god, pray for us all!” The emails wouldn’t stop.

    I wanted to scream to everyone that I don’t care what happens to him, and exactly why that is the case. My family has been eating this up with a spoon all week. He has them all where he wants them. I didn’t reply to a single email although I burned to send something scathing. It took all the self-restraint I could muster. When family members phoned, I tried to stay vague, to hide the anger in my voice. I tried to sound like I cared at least a bit.

    What gets me is that when other people in my family have made actual cries for help and quietly checked themselves into hospitals or sought therapy, (we’re a happy bunch), they are told that they are doing it for attention, they’re told that they are crazy, or they are simply ignored. My brother sends out a completely insensitive and sensationalist email about his late night adventure in the psych ward, and the family becomes putty in his hands once again.

    My oldest sister phoned me on skype yesterday. She got a job on the other side of the world last year and we haven’t been able to connect by phone a whole lot since she’s been gone. She is the one that I have sensed all along will probably believe me when it comes time to tell. She has never gotten along with my brother, and my gut tells me that she has good reason for that.

    After a few minutes of small talk, she asked me if I was “as freaked out” about my brother’s ordeal as she was. There is something about my relationship with her that makes me incapable of lying to her. I paused for a second, exhaled, and said, “No. No, actually. I can’t explain it right this second, but I think it’s just a matter of him being who he is. It’s all so dramatic.” I get up off the bench I’m sitting on and start to walk briskly. I am energized. Every cell is online. I know I could come out with it at any point and this makes me nervous.

    “Yeah I guess so, but it sounds like he’s having a pretty horrible time.”

    “Yeah. I mean I know I should probably have some human sympathy or something but it’s just … I don’t know. I can’t, yet.”

    I didn’t hear an ounce of judgment in her voice. She chose her words carefully. “Well you know, everything is shaped by your experiences, right? It’s okay.”

    I changed the subject. I started rambling about the fact that I’ve been at the same job for Three Whole Years, and how weird that is. I reached the intersection across from my office, and segued to the topic of having to get back to work. My voice is strained, my breathing constricted. “I love you. I really miss you. Thanks for calling. So good to hear your voice.” Shut off the phone. Deep breath in, and sharp exhale. A lump formed in my throat as I made my way through the glass door and up the flight of stairs to my desk.

    I wanted to tell her, but as soon as I tell anyone in my family I will be taking such a tremendous risk. The prospect of losing my relationship with any of them is terrifying.

    I texted her last night to thank her for not judging me based on my reaction to her question. I told her that one day I would sit down and explain myself – once I’m ready. She replied that she was leaning back that way again, and was glad that I wouldn’t be judging her for it.

    I think that out of all of my siblings, I will probably be able to count on her believing me the most, the soonest. I think she will be an ally. I truly hope that the rest are too. In the meantime I continue to steel myself as I stroll further along this healing path.

    • Hazel says

      It sounds like you have a good plan. You have certainly been able to express your wishes here as you “continue to steel myself as I stroll further along this healing path.”

      Thank you for sharing your journey to freedom. God be with you.

      • Polly says

        Thanks Hazel. I like that you called it my “journey to freedom”. That’s such a good way of looking at it.

        Now I’m faced with the dilemma of when I can confront him. It would seem that now I might have to hold off for a little while. I’m certainly looking forward to the day it happens though.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- Sounds like a very intense situation. Good for you for not folding and going back to old patterns when the e-mails started pouring in. I wish you well and look forward to hearing more. Ilana

    • Judy says

      Polly, this is compelling writing and such an intense situation–I greatly admire your ability to articulate your plan so clearly. So many good section of writing but this sentence is amazing, “My family has been eating this up with a spoon all week.” Totally in awe that you have the skill to step back and watch rather than jump in. You have this communities support and we hold you in our hearts. To healing. J

    • says

      Polly, you’re at a very challenging crossroads, facing a step that is wrought with risks and opportunities. The most important thing is your own preparation and your own focus because, as you stated so clearly, you can’t control anyone else’s responses or reactions. Wait until you’re really ready and sure this is something you really want to do, even if you don’t get any of the responses or validation you seek. Good luck.

  12. Judy says

    The Missing Risk
    In her book “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf wrote that in order for a woman to write fiction she must have two things, certainly: a room of her own (with key and lock) and enough money to support herself.

    Spring 1962…..Two nights before leaving Chicago after spending a year in a Marshall Field buyer program, I had a complete meltdown. My fiancé was arriving to take me back to Indiana to finalize our June wedding plans. I had just started my period (always horrid with cramps and mood swings) and I needed fresh air and time to think.

    Kleenex in hand, I left my beautiful yellow room at the Wesley Street Ladies Boarding House. It was raining. I was crying uncontrollably and completely conflicted about returning home to begin married life. (Damn, I haven’t had enough time to explore the city, myself or life.)

    By the time I’d walked around the block, the street lights were on and it was getting dark. Between the blinding rain, my tears and now darkness, I didn’t realize I was about to step off a curb into fast moving traffic.

    When WOW, something literally snatched me back to the sidewalk and I narrowly missed a direct hit by a speeding car. Horns blew. Breaks squealed. Someone yelled something. It took me awhile to realize what had nearly happened before I turned and slowly walked back to the safety of MY room, with a lock and a key for which I paid the rent (albeit barely).

    Climbing the winding stairway to the top floor, I heard my five floor mates in the kitchen fixing dinner, laughing, singing, being playful. Silently, slipping into my room, I closed the door. I curled up on the bay window seat, opened a drawer to pull the soft ivory-colored coverlet my older sister gave me, wrapped my arms round my legs and plopped my head on my knees. I sobbed—the kind where you hardly catch your breath.

    Down the hall in the kitchen, my roomies were singing “Love Me Do,” a song by a hot new British group with funny hair and a name like a bug. From there they rolled into a protest song, “Blowin’ In the Wind” by Bob Dylan.

    Ortho Novum, the controversial birth control pill, was now available. It would give us a freedom our mother’s had never known. We were each around the same age, 18 to 20, had come to the big city from small towns and farms scattered throughout the Midwest, to follow our dreams and come of age.

    Since President Kennedy’s election, there was a sense of great possibilities opening up for young people, despite the escalating war in Viet Nam and its protests. Something called a civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King was gaining support. Soon, young women all over America would be reading, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and forming consciousness raising groups.

    Jobs were opening up in areas unknown to women before us, or so we thought: a college education would get you a job as a secretary in a publishing company or advertising agency with a vague promise of promotion and pay significantly lower than our male counterparts.

    Our stories were more similar than not: good girls got married and had babies. Like me, Liz was engaged and would be leaving soon but I wondered whether she was having second thoughts, too. When speaking of our new lives, it was all sunshine and lollipops.

    There was an excitement all around–the air was humming and something great was coming to paraphrase “West Side Story.” (Then why couldn’t I get out of this fetal position?)

    I waited a bit longer to join the kitchen fun. I didn’t want to move, I wanted to stay in ‘this room’ as long as I could. I did not want to go home and get married in three weeks! But, I’d made this promise. I had this ring. And my family….and my friends….and the minister….on and on…..my mind circled and quarreled with itself….And. And. And. “Oh, shit,” was the blood curdling scream into the coverlet, now moist with tears.

    The gentle aroma of Dutch’s Kulichki cookies floated under my door as I tried to pull myself from the window seat to join the group. Then the smell of homemade spaghetti sauce– Anna Louise’s old Italian family recipe, she’d say with a wink, pouring more red wine in the sauce. “Yeah, more family recipe,” everyone yelled.

    This was home. These were new friends—exciting, funny, each with a story, a plan for a life, and the dream of jobs into careers. And, besides, there were really cute boys in the house across the alley. We’d all had Sunday dinner a few weeks ago. I wanted more of those dinners and those boys.

    Finally, I forced myself out of the window seat and hurried to the bathroom to splash cold water on my eyes and tidy up. Then I joined everyone in the kitchen. (Oh my gawd, they made a going away dinner.)

    The rain slowed to a drizzle as we opened the kitchen’s back door to take in the fresh air and sit down at the table. Someone started the ‘remember when’ game and we spent the evening talking of how each of us found our way to the Wesley Street Ladies Boarding House; which guy in the house behind us was cutest; did we want to go to Rush Street again; and have dinner at that great German restaurant before I left.

    I didn’t want the evening to end. I never revealed my conflicted feelings during dinner that night or how I was nearly hit by a car hours before.
    When Hank arrived two days later, I greeted him warmly and to myself rationalized all my doubts to my period.

    As we finished loading the car, I turned to him and said, “Hey, I really should check that I haven’t forgotten anything–back in a flash.”

    I walked slowly around to the front door, stood on the pavement looking up at the third floor and the gable on the left. “My room,” I thought, “my very own room in a white three story house with its Queen Ann porch, white wicker furniture and hanging fern plants. I smiled as I recalled the advertisement, “Affordable rooms for single ladies in lovely tree lined residential area of Oak Park. Convenient to transportation, shopping, etc. etc. etc. Call Mrs. Hathaway at 132.456.7878 for an appointment.

    As we drove away, I closed my eyes tightly, squinting, hoping to hold the image my room in my mind, silently asking myself, “Which is the greater risk–backing out of this marriage or remaining in the room of my own?”

    #####

    We were married in June. Honey mooned in the Great Smokey Mountains. Our adorable first son was born in mid-spring. We eagerly moved back to Illinois where my husband accepted a job with an insurance company as a college recruiter. We lived happily (for awhile) in Evanston, near Northwestern University. There was growing unrest on college campuses all over the United States over the war and civil rights movement—which slowly included women’s rights. Our second son was born three years later and was two during the infamous Chicago 1968 Democratic convention. Hank accepted a promotion in New York City. We divorced. He married his former secretary, Shelia, shortly thereafter.

    Seven years before, I’d had a room of my own. That winter, my great kids and I lived in a one bedroom walk up—they got the bedroom, I slept on the fold out coach. On Christmas Eve, the three of us dragged a large pine tree back to the apartment singing Jingle Bells. Right on cue, it began to snow. We lugged the tree into our apartment to decorate it with the boys’ homemade ornaments and popcorn: a sweet memory of feelings I’ll not forget.

    Not for ten more years would women joyfully sing Helen Redding’s “I am Woman.” Until then, females under the age of eighteen were called either girls or ladies. The culture didn’t/doesn’t want their ladies being wild women.

    Today, there are few regrets. I have a room of my own and I try to write daily, including memoir of my wild women days. My room is filled with photos of grandkids, sayings, sketches and treasures from work travels and with John, my dear husband of thirty years. On the fire escape outside a large window, hang lush green ferns and several herb gardens—the smell of basil is renewing. At long last, I live comfortably in my skin. Life has been full, interesting, challenging. And, as Chef Anthony Bourdain says, “I’m hungry for more.”

    • Hazel says

      Judy,
      You have painted a good picture of that time, the late 50′s to late 60′s. The conflict that many young women had and the way they made their choices. The popular conception was that women would become promiscuous in the extreme because “Ortho Novum, the controversial birth control pill, was now available. It would give us a freedom our mother’s had never known.”

      Your regret at the risk you didn’t take seems evident in your paragraph that starts, “Seven years before, I’d had a room of my own. That winter, my great kids and I lived in a one bedroom walk up—they got the bedroom, I slept on the fold out coach.”
      I know you would never want to give up your children now that you have them but like us all you are wondering, “what if . . . ”

      I think you could take this piece and expand it into a solid chapter in a book if you choose to. Nice writing.

    • Ilana says

      Judy- This is so well written; an engrossing and entertaining story. I loved the lessons about being true to yourself as well as the good things that come out of imperfect situations. I really enjoyed reading this piece. Thank you for posting it. Ilana

      • Judy says

        Hazel & Ilana, thank you for your very kind words. My winter project is to complete the genealogy and family sketches and self-publish. Baby steps. Baby steps. I like the linked-story format and am playing with ideas for a play based on Chicago history. We’ll see.

  13. Jeanne says

    I want to put “missed risk,” along with “regret” and “remorse” in a box and stuff them into the closet of an abandoned building and walk away. They may eventually be discovered by a person for whom they have no meaning and I will be long rid of them and their residual futility.

    I want to replace this box with three new ones, each wrapped in beautiful translucent paper and carefully respectively inscribed with the words “attention,” “understanding” and “peace.” I will place these boxes atop a sacred writing desk, which I have crafted out of the toil of my life.

    Before we move on, I share with you the recognition that the universal mother in me (in all of us), is on a first name basis with risk. The moment one gives birth to or adopts a child or takes one under her wing, she earns a Ph.D in the management of risk. Miraculously, our internal GPS systems calibrate automatically and constantly to adjust to the delicate navigational dance among danger, safety and independence. The unassisted step, bicycle ride without training wheels or trip to college, all bring with them an element of considered risk. On balance, at some point along the spectrum, we let go, if only briefly, to allow for the necessary growth of those who have been committed to our stewardship and care.

    Trust me; I attended this graduate school for risk management. Admittedly, I was the mom of two who dragged “swimmies” (those inflatable swim arm bands) onto the airplane for our annual trip over the Atlantic Ocean to visit my parents in Florida, in the event of the necessity of their use (or more aptly, uselessness), during a crash sea landing. I was also the mom who, in a particularly threatening thunderstorm, thought it reasonable to awaken my young sons and ask them to don sneakers and sleep with one foot on the ground, lest absent the rubber soles, they be struck by lightning in the comfort of their own beds. Me again, the one who insisted my long suffering husband drag the cushion of a futon on the roof of his car on his first camping trip with the boys, need I say more?

    Eventually, you learn to laugh at yourself as you come to understand that the real dangers in our children’s lives, broken hearts, substance abuse, illness, errors in judgment, to name just a few, are not subject to “child proofing,” at all and that the whole concept is at least to some degree, a misnomer. But that is not the kind of risk we are talking about here with the Erica Jong quote “The trouble is if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more,” and you and I both know it.

    The question, “tell me about a risk you wish you had taken,” for me begs another kind of story. One that is more personal and harder to tell. Real personal risk, the kind that finds you standing on your toes for the first time at the edge of a high diving board, peering over the tantalizing turquoise water below, is a gut check. On the board stands will, which, in simply arriving at the edge, has already taken steps of courage. I am also aware that although it is a singular journey, nobody usually gets to the edge alone.

    In the dive, first in the air and then in the water, is an experience of immersion and freedom, a reveling in the sheer joy of being alive. Perhaps ultimately, to risk is to surrender will to action. No longer does the dive exist in the mind’s eye, but finally, you are the diver, at the cost of courage exercised and owned. Nobody can take that kind of risk for you and nobody should. The difficult conversation, the eulogy delivered, the painting of a landscape, the writing of a poem are all healthy exercises in personal risk. For each of us, the fears and obstacles are divergent, but the benefit of an increased sense of self in direct proportion to the degree of risk remains a constant.

    But this brings me back to that box, the one left in the closet . . . for the reason that the concept of missed risk, for me, brings self-awareness and pain. Mine was a childhood innocence lost to an absence of self-worth and darkened by depression, an adolescence wracked by bulimia. I was the young mother suffocating in the open air in the grips of a panic disorder, and the wife of a good man, emotionally unavailable and suffering from his own unexamined grief, anger and mental illness. In the context of its own morass, would we ask a bird whose wings had been clipped, why it didn’t fly? The answer is the same for the bird as it was for me. It didn’t and I didn’t because we didn’t have the power. When you are told over and over that you are somehow a disappointment, broken in some fundamental way, selfish or bad, you don’t risk. I didn’t risk, because to risk meant an exercise of the power and the will of a soul that I didn’t feel it was my right to have.

    Unlike some of you who have so bravely contributed to this blog, I have never suffered from rape or incest, experiences potentially far more devastating than my own, but I empathize on a primal and visceral level with your strength and struggle to survive.

    Not all questions can be answered. For me, perhaps for some of you, the question is not what risks have I not taken that I wished I had, but rather, what will I risk now knowing that I am worthy and can be trusted with power? The possibilities and answers are exhilarating, liberating, freeing, and a rebirth.

    And so, I sit down at my writing desk, the one I crafted and begin to unwrap the rainbow colored boxes inscribed with the words of the moment that count now.

    • Ilana says

      Jeanne- The whole piece was beautiful but what will stick with me the most is the end. The possibilities for the future. It is such a hopeful note. Thank you for giving me this. I truly appreciate it. Ilana

      • Jeanne says

        Ilana. Thanks for taking the time and interest to react. I find I like to write on the prompt before reading the other posts. I am looking forward to reviewing them all later tonight. What a wonderfully positive and nonjudgmental community this is. For a beginning writer like myself, Laura’s writers journey offers a place to pursue a passion and others to travel with. Jeanne

    • says

      Jeanne, I just loved this paragraphs:

      “Trust me; I attended this graduate school for risk management. Admittedly, I was the mom of two who dragged “swimmies” (those inflatable swim arm bands) onto the airplane for our annual trip over the Atlantic Ocean to visit my parents in Florida, in the event of the necessity of their use (or more aptly, uselessness), during a crash sea landing. I was also the mom who, in a particularly threatening thunderstorm, thought it reasonable to awaken my young sons and ask them to don sneakers and sleep with one foot on the ground, lest absent the rubber soles, they be struck by lightning in the comfort of their own beds. Me again, the one who insisted my long suffering husband drag the cushion of a futon on the roof of his car on his first camping trip with the boys, need I say more?

      Eventually, you learn to laugh at yourself as you come to understand that the real dangers in our children’s lives, broken hearts, substance abuse, illness, errors in judgment, to name just a few, are not subject to “child proofing,” at all and that the whole concept is at least to some degree, a misnomer. But that is not the kind of risk we are talking about here with the Erica Jong quote “The trouble is if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more,” and you and I both know it. ”

      And your conclusion at the end: “Not all questions can be answered. For me, perhaps for some of you, the question is not what risks have I not taken that I wished I had, but rather, what will I risk now knowing that I am worthy and can be trusted with power? The possibilities and answers are exhilarating, liberating, freeing, and a rebirth.”

      I can’t wait to follow your journey as you explore where your risks take you.

      • Jeanne says

        Laura: Thank you for taking the time during your Scotland journey (which I have been following and marvelling at), to respond to my post. In only two submissions, I am already growing and beginning to think as a writer. I can’t wait to continue to be your student and to make writing a reality in my life. Although I didnt make the journey with you to Scotland, I started and that is something.

  14. Judy says

    Jeanne, so beautiful and well crafted. I was hooked immediately with this, ” I will place these boxes atop a sacred writing desk, which I have crafted out of the toil of my life.” I’d have to cut and paste the entire piece but the bird analogy was lovingly written. Thank you and I look forward to reading more.

    • Jeanne says

      Judy. Thank you for your response. This being only my second post, I find myself with so many questions…how much editing is enough? Should the writing try to be more than deeply personal and have resonance for a larger group? Is it better to write plainly with control and avoid the use of adjectives? I am compiling a list.
      Again, thank you for the support. One never knows, at least I don’t if a writing piece is good enough to post. All I do know is that the process is creative and enjoyable as is the reading of all these stories.

      • Judy says

        Jeanne, take a look at the FAQ & Guidelines at the top. Hopefully it will answer your questions. My understanding is ‘just let it rip.’ But as Hazel & Ilana remind us, let it peculate. Line editing & craft are not a part of this blog, however, both Laura Davis or David Carr provide those services, as well as workshops. This is truly a supportive, non-judgmental community that nurtures the creative process and gives supportive feedback. I hope this helps and I look forward to more of your posts. Keep writing and posting. :)

  15. Bobbie Anne says

    I wish I had risked getting my eggs frozen while in a unstable relationship with a alcoholic abuser. I have had an unborn baby. Yet I wish I risked having another baby. That baby would be over 20. I’m still in the relationship. I wish I could end the relationship without being hurt emotionally and physically. I’m scared of this risk and I don’t have a safe place to go. As my chiropractor said “Antagonistic people don’t leave you alone. They follow you. There are two books made into movies . One is ‘Black and Blue’ by Anna Quinlan and the other is “Safe Haven’. I’m tired of being abused but the risk of what might happen is too great…

    • says

      Bobbie Anne, I’m so sorry you feel trapped and unable to change your life and your circumstances. That’s how all abused women feel before they get out. I understand the fear and the risks you face, but I also know that you deserve more.

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