I write from my own experience. I write this way in part because it is cathartic and helps me to unravel my often tangled, knotty existence. I also write this way because I believe in the concept of Autoethnography, a form of qualitative inquiry that requires the researcher to put their own experience under the microscope in connection with whatever topic they are studying. In other words, since I am interested in the idea of creating self-sustainability (a sustainable existence at the individual level), I believe that it is imperative that I explore and determine how to understand this concept through the lens of my own, individual life. Whatever patterns I discover from my study, I try elucidate those patterns in a way that makes them clear and accessible. I then share these patterns in my writing in the hopes that they may speak to other people who are also at a place in their life where they wish to create more balance, authenticity, and well being.
I believe with all my heart that it is possible to create a sustainable world—one that can handle the interactions of so many complicated beings and systems—with a bottom up approach. In other words, if we begin by requiring each individual person to think about and embrace a life path that will bring them balance, health and well being, and joy in a way that does not compromise the right for other people, beings, and systems to exist in their own balanced way, we just might save the world.
It is always with this idea in mind that I approach my writing and my life. This perspective shapes my interactions with other people and inspires my reading list. Of late, I have been most inspired by the writings of Claire Dederer and Elizabeth Gilbert, two writers and authors who write from their own experience and incorporate research and teachings from people who have been their own source of inspiration.
Am I drawn to female authors in their 30s and 40s because I happen to also be female and in my 30s? Perhaps. I find that I can learn a great deal from the insights they have shared about their life experiences in a way that I have not been inspired by read authors of other genders.
I imagine that I am not alone in feeling this way and that it works both ways. I vividly recall the information that was communication a conversation that transpired on New Year’s Eve 2010, to which I was part witness and part participant.
I was living in Gustavus, Alaska at the time. Gustavus was and is a very small community of mostly transplants from the lower 48, who seemed to have moved to this tiny town in part to escape the culture and speed of life in other areas of the United States, to be close to wild nature, and to be a part of the kind of close-knit community that is rarely found in the rest of the world in the wake of technological innovations.
I was talking with a Gustavus resident who was well-known in Gustavus and all over Alaska for books he had published, most of which had been written in a first person narrative. I had read a book he wrote about the Gustavus, Southeast Alaska, and a famous photographer who had been killed by a bear several years before, and I had found the piece particularly moving. It is a book that most people read when they move to Gustavus. Those people who stay and create a more permanent life in this wilderness community tend to have a well-loved copy on display on a shelf in their home.
I started writing creatively and in a first person narrative shortly after moving to Gustavus in the previous summer. Because I looked up to this author so much, I was curious what he thought of my own writing and if he might offer any helpful advice as I moved forward. I had therefore recently shared some of my own writing with him.
On this particular evening, I happened to be near this author and a friend as they were discussing a book that had recently been published by a young woman living in another part of Alaska (Homer, maybe?). It was quite clear that these two authors (both men) were not impressed by this woman’s book. I cannot recall if they had actually read the book or were averse to reading it simply because it was written by a woman who was several years their junior.
What can I possibly learn from a woman in her 30s? What can she teach me about life? My once hero writer said to his friend.
I stood there, stunned, questions already flying through my mind.
Did he really just say that?
Was he so certain that he had nothing to learn from anyone who was not a white male in his 50s (60s?)?
What must he think of my own novice writing from my perspective as a 30-year-old woman?
I was horrified, but I still walked up to them to say hello and ask if he had read the pieces I sent to him.
He had, and his advice to me, which I remember quite well, was the following: I think you would make a great travel writer.
Travel writer? I blanched on the inside but did my best to remain calm and friendly on the outside (at least, I think/hope I did; I am not always very good at maintaining a poker face).
Yes, being a travel writer could be great and is a respectable career choice, and his delivery was friendly and spirited enough. However, I knew this suggestion for the actual insult that it was. His words were like an apple that had been genetically engineered to look perfect but have zero taste. It looked red and perfect and delicious on the outside, but one bite revealed the mealy and flavorless fruit within.
Travel writer my ass, I thought to myself.
I never asked for his advice on my writing again.
Don’t misunderstand me. When it comes to critique, I welcome it even though it isn’t always easy to stomach. I don’t seek feedback from only those individuals who will tell me exactly what I want to hear about my writing.
I have just been learning over the years that sometimes feedback people provide comes from a place of fear or resistance that has arisen in their own minds from their own personal experiences. The feedback they offer, therefore, might very well have less to do with my own skills and capacity to succeed than it does with their own limitations and biases.
What I find very interesting is that the feedback that tries to confine and limit me tends to come from men. Over the years, many men have informed me that I have to choose one passion and path in life because I will ultimately fail if I choose more than one (i.e., if I want to be a successful songwriter and musician, I have to give up writing and studying to become a yoga teacher).
Also interesting is that it is the people in my life who have called bullshit on this advice and have encouraged me to continue to pursue any and all passions I feel called to embrace have tended to be women.
My favorite response came from my husband’s daughter when she was 18. It involved an expletive (or two or three), along with deeply heartfelt words of inspiration that I could be and do anything I set my heart to. I dearly love this woman and am thankful for her continued support and encouragement, which seems to come at the moments I need it most.
Despite warnings of unavoidable failure, I have continued writing, composing music, and studying and teaching yoga. I have not made a lot of money in my pursuits nor have I achieved celebrity status, but I do feel a sense of pride for my dedication and perseverance. I also know that I have made a difference in the lives of people who have read my writing, people with whom I have compose songs from stories, and people I have met both in my capacity as a student and teacher of yoga.
I have also learned and been inspired by the women authors who have followed their passions and written about their experiences. I am indebted to them and to those women (and men because there are many) who have encouraged me and reminded me that I have much to offer the world.
As my husband reminds me on a regular basis, Life is long. There is no rush.
When I compare myself to other people and the work they are doing, which seems much for successful in the way that is embraced by western culture, he responds, They are doing something completely different than you are. You aren’t the same. You have unique gifts, and you are sharing them with the world. Plus, you are pursuing different skills, like meditation and spiritual well being that they are not working to develop. Have patience. Everything happens in its own timeline.
He is right.
I have begun to recognize that my own definition for success runs counter to what most of the world requires. I also have come to believe that this is ok. I can be successful in my own way, at my own pace, and in my own time.