Free To Stay

When Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God came across my desk, I thought, “Interesting, but probably not a real candidate for an Author interview.” I put it aside without opening it. Then I saw Geneen on Oprah and realized what a mistake I had made. And no, not because Oprah was now championing her book as the only way to understand one’s struggle with weight, nor because the book went on to become a huge bestseller, but because Geneen talked about eating the way I thought about writing. As she put it, everything we do is a portal to how we live our lives. When I saw she was coming back through Seattle, I jumped at the chance for an interview, and the result leads this month’s issue.

What surprised me was how beautifully written the book was, and how Geneen had as much to say about the writer’s life as she did about bulimia and dieting. For instance, Women, Food, and God is Roth’s eighth book. At one point in her career, however, she looked up and realized it had been six years since she had written a book. This puzzled her, but she understood that she had to make peace with the fact that maybe she wasn’t a writer anymore.

I know it is said that you’re a writer if you have to write, and as a rule I would say that this is true. But I think it is equally true that we must be willing to consider the possibility that we don’t want to write. At my lowest point, when my work was bringing no money and very little happiness, I asked myself, “Do you actually want to do this?” It was the first time since I’d begun that I’d dared to allow “no” to be an answer to what was really an un-askable question.

I think some of my trouble to that point was never permitting myself to say no.  As if that is all I’d ever been looking for – a way out.  As if I had not chosen to write because I loved to but because it was the best I could come up with and having already invested so much time and energy there was no longer an option of turning back.  In this way, I had allowed myself to become a slave to something I loved.  So I opened the door, and asked, “Do you want to leave this place called writing?” And so, finally free to leave, I was finally free to stay.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Original Slavery

Slavery has found its way back into the news lately. If you missed it, Virginia’s Governor declared April Confederate History Month but neglected to mention slavery in his proclamation. There was much furor and I think he apologized. It was a myopic mistake, but I have some sympathy for the Governor. No one talks about a man’s pettiness and bad temper at his funeral, so why not the same for the antebellum South?

The Son’s and Daughters of the Confederacy will have to answer that question on their own. I have always thought that slavery was just the most extreme manifestation of a universal human vibration—namely that there is a right and a wrong way to be. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves; everyone wants to believe they are valuable and that their life has meaning. But how does one know for sure that one’s life is valuable and has meaning? Wouldn’t it be simpler if value and meaning were like a fixed point on a graph, or a suit we can wear? If it fits, if we arrive at the appointed place, we need no longer wonder.

At which point we all become the stepsisters in Cinderella, cutting off our toes and heels to fit into the glass slipper. In the time of slavery, poor whites, of which there were a great many, were said to be able to feel better about themselves because at least they weren’t black. This is how strong the desire to know unequivocally that we are at core good runs within us—we might place an entire people in the box of Less Than to avoid the shifty truth that our value lies beyond the measurable.

Freedom and equality are exactly one and the same. On the day you wake up and decide you want to write, you cannot begin by first asking what is the correct thing to write and what is the incorrect thing to write. Everything must be on the table, from romance to epic poetry. Otherwise, you are merely seeking the world’s approval. The world already approves. The world approves of all free people, because nothing lights the flame of originality within us like the sight of someone else living authentically, free of the first and original slavery, the belief that we were somehow born lacking and that life is a roulette wheel we can only pray spins our way.

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