A week or two ago, I had a memoir chapter submission due to my writing coaches. A threesome of writers, this particular configuration has been submitting to each other twice a month for about a year. You’d think it’d be old hat by now but when I attached the document to the e-mail I’d written, I felt incredibly anxious. I was reluctant to click send.
Reluctant isn’t quite the right word. I was scared.
Sure, I had these feelings when I first started writing memoir. What would my family of origin think if they read…? What would some of my business associates think if they knew…? A few years ago, during one such crisis of faith, I procrastinated writing, cleaned my office instead.
Deep in the bookshelves, I found an old journal. Coffee-table book sized with a red cover–a bright blue Post It flagging a page about a third of the way through–it beckoned: Open me. Open me. Open me.
When I did, I found a note I took from a therapy session almost twenty years ago: Dr. Y says I need to kick my father out of my bedroom. I remembered that session. My therapist was speaking metaphorically, encouraging me to date people I liked regardless of whether or not I thought my father would approve or, more likely, vehemently disapprove. I’d played the rebel so many times; it always ended in heartache.
Suddenly, I had an idea. I opened the door to my office and ushered my family of origin out. Figuratively, of course, they weren’t really there. Love you guys, I said but you’re not welcome here. This is where I write and you are not my audience.
Afterward, I felt so free wrote a bazillion words about the things I’ve always wanted to write about but had been too worried what my family would think. I made tons of progress in my life, and my business, and my memoir once they weren’t there, brooding. I cried a lot too but that’s not what this post is about.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting with a different version of the same problem, only harder. What will my sons think? What about my very private husband? In my minds eye, I saw their smiling faces, felt their unconditional love for me. Could this change that?
I couldn’t click send. Instead, I called my friend Meg. Once upon a time, we lived together in Florence. She’s the closest thing I have to a spiritual advisor. Like Deepak and Oprah in one person who curses and smokes, Meg’s an artist with a big numbers job, a perfectly symmetrical face, long–once blonde–brown hair that reaches way down her back and the kind of green eyes that make me wonder if she was a lioness or a tiger in a past life. I sometimes call her when I have an existential dilemma, an artist’s problem.
She’s no scaredy-cat.
“Do you remember when I took that art restoration class in Florence?” she asked. “Remember how skittish I was working on those dry, brittle, pieces from the 1500’s? I thought they’d turn to dust with one false move.”
“Of course, I remember,” I said and Meg continued.
“I thought Giovanni, my professor, would guide me through, tell me what to do but he didn’t speak a word of English. He didn’t teach me how to but he taught me something I’ll never forget. And it’s what you need right now,” she said.
“Lay it on me, I’m ready.”
“Giovanni paced the classroom; he walked up and down looking on over our shoulders while we worked. He’d stop behind me every now again. One hand across his body held close, the elbow of his opposite arm propped up on it, he’d finger his chin in that teacherly way while he thought. He always said the same thing, always the one word.”
“What was it?”
“Yes, courage. Courage to write what you know you must. Never mind all the other stuff, all the chatter.”
I clicked send while I still had her on the line. “I did it, thank you,” I said.
“That’s good,” she said. “And in your next draft, go even deeper. Show them your marrow. Show them your f#*%ing marrow.” She said and I heard her take a drag.
We hung up shortly thereafter but you want to hear something funny? I didn’t tell Meg this but I’m reading a memoir called Marrow: A Love Story.
The synchronicity is proof; the universe rewards action.
My courage muscles might’ve been a little sore but I kept working them. Within days of clicking send, I met with a couple of people I trust and shared my newest vision for The Clementina Collective and when they offered to help make it a reality, I said yes.
Stay tuned; you’ll be the first to know.
In my personal life, I took a dear old friend facing some truly human shit with amazing courage to lunch. I didn’t know what to do for him; a fruit basket seemed woefully inadequate. When we said goodbye, he said he hadn’t intended our conversation to be so heavy. It was in that moment I knew what to do. I offered to be that friend who’s always down for a heavy, no matter what.
In the week that followed, I pedaled faster, doubled the mileage on my bike rides, and encouraged my clients to go farther, faster, too. Next thing I knew, three days in a row, gratitude showed up in my inbox, in my mailbox, on the phone.
First, a testimonial from one of my memoir writing clients (she’s already written two business books) saying she’d set out to write a book that showed people what others had done to her and ended up metabolizing her past, taking responsibility for her actions, discovering her truth, and learning to love herself unconditionally.
Priceless emotional and spiritual results, if I do say so myself.
The next day, I got this letter from a speech-writing client:
Hey Clementina! I have thought of you many times since we worked together writing my “talk”, and I just wanted to write you a note and tell you how grateful I am. I want you to know that I feel so liberated since writing, and I feel like I owe it all to you. I was terrified to write anything that did not come without scientific “backing” or someone with “credentials” saying it first, and that is why I regurgitated so much of what I had read in the beginning. Each time I spoke with you, you were so kind and encouraging, and it gave me courage!
Thank you. The world needs more people like you. I am so thankful that I followed my heart after last year’s HPS live and I contacted you to help me. After we would talk, I would feel so positive (even though the little naysayer in my brain would tell me that I had paid you for that)-it didn’t matter, because I felt like I could do something!
I cannot tell you how awesome that feels after feeling “broken” for so long!
I know I need lots of improvement, and I need to build my self confidence up, because I am still a big weenie-but I actually told a complete stranger that I met on our camping trip that I was a writer when she asked what I did (I was a little shocked to hear myself say that)! I still have a hard time believing that- but I have finally made a commitment to myself to write “something” EVERY. SINGLE. DAY! Thank you Clementina! You are so awesome! I love you, and I thank God for you! I pray that you are blessed abundantly in your life! Keep doing what you do, because you make this world a brighter place! -L.K
Can you believe the bit about courage? I think one of the reasons I love to write memoir is because life is so full of writer-riches, I don’t need to make stuff up. And, it never ceases to amaze me that I’m always teaching what I need to learn.
On the third day, I was surprised to find a package from Scotland. Inside, two gorgeous, artist-made, journals and the following note from a friend I haven’t spoken to all summer:
A place for your thoughts on your life’s journey. Keep writing.
I was thrilled. Encouragements to keep building my book and my business seemed to be everywhere when I showed up to a scheduled phone call with one of my techie rock-stars. She was over the moon. A few months ago she invested $2,250 in herself and hired me to help her amp up her resume, her Linked-In profile, her interviewing prowess. She needed to get clear on her unique selling proposition. Her first choice just made her an offer: A bump up in title, a huge increase in salary, and—get this—$22,000 just to say yes within forty-eight hours.
How’s that for a tangible, financial, return on investment?
Courage begets courage.
And if you still think being able to talk about yourself, what you do, what only you can bring to the world is a luxury you don’t have the time or the money for right now maybe its time you think differently; maybe, it’s time you made an investment in yourself. Maybe it’s time you believed in your own true story, mustered up the courage to start writing it down with someone who can help. I’m excellent at sorting juicy oranges from rotten apples. Oh, it’s not nearly as obvious as you might think.
And speaking of juicy oranges, your presence at The Clementina Collective means the world to me. I believe courage is a collective effort. I hope to have empowered you with some here but don’t—not for a minute—think that you don’t give me courage too. Knowing you’re here, knowing you’re reading, knowing you need me to show you the way, to help you get out of the shadows and into the bright light of day where you can grow keeps me writing, taking bigger risks, and dreaming up and acting on my plans to make The Clementina Collective a place where better writing and better writers get bigger, better, juicier results.