Good Company: Embracing the Process and Doing What You Love
by Jennifer Paros
Many years ago, in my college days, I dreamt of a woman dressed superhero-style in red from head to toe with a big flowing cape. She burst up from the ocean in one awe-inspiring moment, a symbol of power and strength. At the time I did not relate much to power and strength – I saw myself as a small but good and intelligent entity with varying capabilities, positive and not so positive qualities. I certainly didn’t see myself backed and uplifted by an erupting force of energy. To me I was occasionally wobbly, and generally less confident in the world than I wanted to be. When I first arrived at college, I developed some agoraphobic inclinations and worked through a great deal of that fear-of-getting-out-there stuff, though remnants of that frame of mind could still get stirred up.
At that time I didn’t own a car and was sometimes dependent on Greyhound to transport me home for the holidays. The Greyhound bus station however was not just worn, neglected, and mostly unclean; in my eyes it seemed seedy and potentially unsafe. So I didn’t want to go there alone. But eventually life provided circumstances in which I pretty much had to. I was in a bind: my desire was to make the trip, but I didn’t want to feel so frightened along the way.
Then I remembered the red woman and decided to take her with me. She would be my traveling companion; I would imagine reassuring company since none was physically available. Just thinking this thought made me feel better. The fearful cast my mind had so easily thrown on the subject was now lit by this imaginary presence. And when I actually took the trip, the dark corners out of which terrible things might happen, in reality looked pretty empty.
The red woman symbol provided the means for me to “sit” with myself and become a quality companion. It gave me permission to show up more fully. Upon reflection, it seems I’d been attempting to send myself out into the world only partially present (an anxiety-provoking practice) with key strengths left on the shelf.
Recently I returned to working on writing projects I had set aside for a long time. I set them aside because I was tired of feeling lousy while working on them. Some, like hospitalized friends, I would visit from time to time. They were laid up, yes, but I still cared and would acknowledge this by happily writing notes on new ideas I had for how they could get better. But then the visiting would end. I loved and missed these stories; I still felt connected to these stories, but I was not writing these stories. I couldn’t keep myself from jotting down notes, but when I attempted to put them into the greater form for which they were asking, unhappiness set in.
I doubted my ability to fully write what I wanted, specifically to handle whatever questions and uncertainties were to come my way in the process. And they always do come, in creative work or any endeavor. I had developed resistance to the process. The process in writing isn’t just the writing part, it’s the not knowing part, and the not writing part; it’s the learning part and the listening part. I was looking to jump the process – everything but moments of clarity – and when I couldn’t, I doubted myself, caved and retreated.
For a time, when I was writing fiction, I didn’t realize I was (similar to my Greyhound days) attempting to travel without all of me present. I was asking the work to prove to me I was capable of doing it. But being and feeling capable is my job; it is my job to be a good companion to myself through all of the process.
Whether writing a story or finding our way home, the game is: show up, sit with the unknowns, and discover. When I enlisted the help of the red woman, she just sat with me at the bus station and that was enough. It is enough to be good company to ourselves – that steadiness and presence, that powerful acceptance of lags and lapses and not knowing is enough to help us create and return to the work we love.