They would have burned me at the stake

“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be someone.
Now I realize I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin

October 5, 2020

Last week I wrote about how re-reading my old journals brought to light a practice that has probably helped me through my darkest hours. During the 1980s when I was a single mom and worried about so many, many things, I would write down the mixed up, fearful things on my mind. The act of getting my thoughts down on paper was liberating and somehow helped me to navigate the dark waters of my life.

Throughout those pages, I also created bulleted lists of things that I wanted or needed. They weren’t things like trips to Europe or diamond tiaras, but answers to what I should do about an issue, or a request for overtime at my job, or perhaps to find a lost item. I was alone for the first time in my life, and my problems were not the type that one could chat about with coworkers, so my journal became my best friend.

Those were the days I would get up and catch a bus at six in the morning to go to a temporary job in Manhattan. Money was so tight that I could only afford a twenty-five cent banana for breakfast, and I walked thirty-five minutes each way in all kinds of weather to save the fare. Some days it would rain so hard that I called it a ‘two-umbrella day’ because I had to stop at Rockefeller Center to change from one to the other to stay dry. It’s odd the way we can look back on times of adversity and find that they are when our Creator annealed the steel that was to become our character.

As I said in My Own 800 Words, I was startled to see how many of the things I asked for did materialize, and there were a few that happened with such proximity to the request that I learned never to doubt that there is a Listener who always hears our call for help.

One of the first incidences I can recall in detail happened back in 1989, and it has become a touchstone to me. I had been fixing up some little nagging details around the house and noticed that I was missing a wooden door stopper. It was not the kind that you could just go out to the hardware store to buy, but was common in the 1920s when my house was built. I recall saying out loud, “I wish I had a stopper to match.” Nothing earth-shattering. A simple statement, and I let it go.

That night it rained like Noah’s flood, and the next morning the streets were full of flowing rivers of water and huge puddles that I had to step carefully around to get to the bus stop without drowning. As I passed a streetlight, something caught my eye, and I bent down to pick it up. There, in the middle of the road, was a wooden door stopper. I kid you not! It was almost, but not quite, like the others in my house. As I held it in my hand, I had to hold back the tears lest they ruin my eye makeup.

It’s hard to explain the joy which that one little piece of wood brought to me that dark morning and continues to do so till this day. As I sat on the hour-long bus ride, I contemplated how many other times my requests – or prayers- had been answered and I just hadn’t realized it.

Now, of course, I can look back on decades of events that happened so frequently for me that people used to ask if I was a witch. There was the time that I needed a back door – again, a wooden one – and an odd, custom made size that couldn’t be purchased in the store. I called and searched everywhere, but most doors were metal, or without windows, or horribly expensive. I didn’t have the money for a carpenter. Then one day before going to the market, I felt the urge to measure my old door.

Not five minutes later, I drove past a house on the highway that had some construction work going on and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a door. I made a U-turn, parked in the driveway, and asked one of the men if the pile was all trash. It was, and so I pulled out my measuring tape and found it would be the perfect size if cut down two inches. The men helped me put it into the back of my hatchback, and off I went with a kind of thankful daze across my face. “What are the odds,” I asked myself.

Here’s the pièce de résistance: When I got home, my eldest son was with a friend who just ‘happened’ to be a carpenter, and who had his tools with him. Within the hour, I had a brand-new door installed and working properly! His payment was a nice dinner.

What I learned was that I need to be precise about what I ask the Universe for. I once said, “I want to go to Paris with someone I love,” and I wound up going with my sister. We had a fabulous time, and I’m really glad my first trip there was with her, but the lesson was clear: Be specific. Be so minutely exact about your asking that there is no room left for interpretation.

So, what do I want today?

My own 800 words

I’m about to start the second of my 30-day writing challenges: A personal blog.

There is a wonderful television series that takes place in New Zealand called, 800 Words. The principal character is a journalist under contract to produce a weekly article for an Aussie newspaper. George can string together the most poignant Life Lessons by examining his own behaviors and experiences. He does this in – you guessed it – eight hundred words.

What I have learned over the past month is that when I purposefully sit down to write I can produce between 600-1000 words in an hour. Experts say that the best length for a blog is about 1700 words, so a decent post would take me a good two hours. However, considering that the average speed of an adult reader is 200-250 words per minute, and most people’s attention drifts if they try to digest something longer than a four-minute read, I think I’ll stick with George’s limit.

My second 30-day writing challenge will be to publish 800 words, once a week, on a life lesson that I have recently learned, or one that has bubbled up through my subconscious. I wonder whether George (or the show’s producers) starts with a theme in mind, or if he/they just let it develop over the course of a few days. He always finishes the last bit of his story at the eleventh hour.

In my case, I get sudden bolt-out-of the blue ideas that many times go unnoticed because I am up to my neck in another project. Yet what I have also found is that a lot of my writing seems to occur when I am not even thinking about anything much at all. The hum of the vacuum or the sound of water as I do the washing up after dinner seems to be the time that these ideas come fast and furious. I’ve tried using a recorder or keeping note pads and pens handy throughout the house, but nothing seems to work as well as ‘Morning Pages.’

Now that I am in the company of a lot of serious writers from the Unchained Writers Group, I see that Morning Pages, walks in Nature, journaling, sketching, meditation or prayer is very important to them as a way of calming the inner demon that would wreak havoc on us all. Personally, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past fifty years without therapy, drugs or some form of distraction without seeing my thoughts on paper or on a computer screen.

I could always tell when I had neglected my Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron named them in her excellent book, The Artist’s Way. I would feel disorganized, confused, overwhelmed, or what my mother would call being ‘at sixes and sevens.’ After decades of filling dozens of notebooks and creating thousands of electronic documents, I realize that journaling is one of my most comforting and illuminating pastimes.

Comforting, because I use several techniques to express myself, and when the session is over, I might produce anything from a paragraph to dozens of pages. Sometimes I bullet my thoughts; other times I fictionalize a story with someone other than myself as the main character. I’ve recently started to include photos, sketches, or flow charts. I love the fact that there are no rules; you can’t do it wrong. And although I may have to ask my sister to burn my books like Virgil or Jane Austen, when I’m gone there will most likely be no one who would take the time to slog through all my to-do lists and pages of complaints.

But here’s the interesting part: those books sat untouched for decades in a box at the back of my closet. I would sometimes remember a difficult or exciting event in my life, and I’d go looking for a particular volume. I found comfort knowing that whenever I’d read a passage, I could recollect everything in minute detail. But I never took them all out to read – until this past month during my first 30-day challenge.

What I saw as I leafed through those journal pages made the hairs on my arm stand on end. Peppered through my entries were ‘wish lists’ of things I wanted to do, see and have. Many of them were so far flung I probably never thought they would happen. But every night, I would write down what I needed – whether it be someone to paint my house, or a couple of hundred to fix my car, or an answer to a problem. Every night I envisioned myself getting what I asked for. And I often did. It was almost uncanny.

My mother often quoted from the Bible. The one from Matthew 7:7 was perhaps the most important one: “Ask and it shall be given.”

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