This past Monday night I did something I’ve wanted to do since I was probably six years old – I went to my first pottery class. Why it took me until almost age thirty-nine to get there I don’t know, but I suppose it was a mix of ambivalence and fear. And a poor sense of priorities as I battled against my obligations. You know how that goes.
When I was in elementary school my dad bought me a mini pottery wheel that I’d asked for at some point in the fall, either for my birthday (in November) or for Christmas. It was just a little toy that probably couldn’t make anything worth anything, but I was so excited to finally have it as my first introduction to ceramics. The problem was, it required clay or some other part that I didn’t have (and that my mother couldn’t afford), so I waited for a few days until I was to visit my dad for the weekend. He could fix my problem and I could be on my way.
I remember only a little bit about this particular day – one that is so poignant in my life story. I remember my dad coming to get me as he always did. I remember gathering a few things and bounding out the front door, my new pottery wheel in hand. I wanted to be extra careful with it by holding it tight, my young brain reasoned. I didn’t want to put it back in the box.
And then I remember that before I even made it to the burglar bars enclosing my mother’s front porch, I dropped that pottery wheel onto the concrete in a dramatic smash. It cracked. It wouldn’t turn on anymore. It was irreparable and I knew it immediately.
And then I cried heavy, heavy tears.
I never got another pottery wheel, so I just filed my interest away somewhere and let it simmer as I moved through adolescence and young adulthood. I would go on to try different things like decoupage and photography and crochet before being lost in the drama that is being a teenager. And as an adult I’d learn to cook and bake, and to create beautiful (and mostly edible) things out of nothing but a few bare ingredients. But I never forgot about pottery.
"Some day," I would say to myself.
When I had a complete and total meltdown a few weeks back (about my life and my career and my struggle with time), my husband eventually asked me what all I still wanted to do that I didn’t seem to have time for. And one of the first things I’d said was that I still wanted to take a pottery class. I’d also said I wanted time to watch my handful of shows on Netflix (The Kominsky Method, Grace and Frankie), and to watch my old black and white movies on TCM, and to have a garden, and to learn how to sew again.
"Let's start with the non-TV stuff," he said.
Within a day I’d looked up pottery classes near me, but the problem was that most of them took place during the day - and I’m the sort of person who has to, you know, work a job during the day. I finally found a school that had evening classes but was disappointed to see that they were all waitlisted. Okay, I thought to myself, as soon as the next paycheck comes in I’ll pay my $50 to get put on the waitlist.
Two weeks or so passed. I could have paid the $50 before the paycheck, by the way.
In the midst of yet another breakdown, which I've been having on the regular lately, I decided that this was it. No more stalling. No more fear. It was a Sunday evening and I went to the website to sign up. I looked at the calendar and clicked on the Monday night option (ages sixteen to adult) so that I could get on the list. “This class has one spot open,” it read. I blinked. Really? It wasn’t waitlisted any longer? ALL of the pottery classes were waitlisted. Maybe it had opened up to me because it was time?
But when I submitted my information to try to pay for the class, the nice computer rejected me with a message that said I was going to be put on a waitlist. Disappointed, I clicked “OK” and prepared to wait until my time came. Then I put down my smartphone and stumbled backward into the blackness that I’d been swimming around in. It had been so, so heavy lately.
The next day, with the fog of those emotions still heavy on my heart, someone from the school emailed me to apologize for the incorrect system message – there was, in fact, an opening. And would I like to go ahead and pay? I would have 48 hours to decide or they would release the spot to someone else.
I hesitated for a moment. Isn’t that the silliest thing we do as humans? We long for something and then we’re at the cusp of getting it, and we shrink backward in fear or self-doubt. It took me about an hour to overcome that discomfort but I pushed through, paid the first month’s tuition plus a $50 deposit in case I bailed mid-month, and timidly called the number to ask if I was to show up that night or to wait a week.
“Oh yes you can come tonight if you like,” a nice man told me in a slight accent. “Or you can wait a week. It’s up to you, but we have you signed up.”
“Okay. Well I guess I’ll come tonight. What do I wear? What do I do? I don’t know what to bring with me.”
“Let me forward you an email the teacher sends out for her new classes. It’ll give you more info about what to bring and when to show up. I definitely wouldn’t wear any clothes you’re attached to! And bring an old towel and an apron if you have one. We have some here but they’re first come, first serve.”
I read the email he forwarded me. I got my old clothes together, and my old towel. I paced a little bit until it was time to go and then I hugged my husband, who told me to at least act excited. But coming into situations where I’m the only new person is extremely uncomfortable for me. I feel like there’s a spotlight on my head and the old shyness of my youth comes back as if it had never left. My immediate reaction is to panic and want to flee.
I drove through the cold and rain to that rickety old 150-year-old house that had been converted into an art school. I parked my car, fumbled my way inside the door, figured out where I was supposed to be, and did okay in the end. The teacher – probably in her early twenties – got me settled in a corner and I plodded my way through my first experience with clay.
And it was glorious.
Now, I don’t think things are glorious very often. I don’t use that word ever. But the experience I’d built up in my head since the day I’d smashed my mini pottery wheel was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. The feeling of the clay between my hands was exactly as I’d imagined. It was as difficult as I thought it would be, and as easy as I thought it would be, too.
And so what I see now is that I came into that studio depressed, lost, cold, sad. And as I sat there and let the wet clay run through my hands, my fingers depressing it in the middle and then later pulling up the walls, all of those feelings just melted away. I even lost track of time.
Two of my balls of clay ended in a collapsed mess, but one of them became something more after about 45 minutes of slow work. I, Elizabeth, had made a legit saucer in my first class. It was symmetrical and beautiful and ever so gratifying. Mostly because I’d turned a ball of clay into something else.
I think this is symbolic of a theme I’ve had lately in my life. It’s a new word that I’ve learned and it’s called “transmute.” To transmute means to turn something into something else, like turning negative emotions into positive change. And I think this clay was part of my current experience of transmuting old pain and trauma into something beautiful, which is expressed in one way via my upcoming book. Turning clay into a saucer was just another way. I not only changed the clay, but I changed how I felt inside.
This experience (and others) have taught me that you should follow those ideas that you have been “thinking about doing” for a long time. If something keeps popping up in your psyche, it’s probably something you ought to do to achieve some sort of transformation. Maybe it’s just to help you get through your life in that moment, or maybe it’s to move you to your next stop in your journey. Sometimes, I think, it’s to help you discover a hidden talent that you didn’t know you had and that is part of your purpose here on earth.
After ping ponging my way through a career, I still believe the only way to figure out who you are and what you’re meant to do is to try things – especially the things that nag at you. Teaching was another one of those things for me. So was photography. So was copywriting. So were novels.
I’m glad I tried them all.
And I’m sort of hopeful that I’m a closet potter and that this experience will end in my own home studio one day in my spare bedroom. I imagine the second half of my life as me writing my books and speaking/teaching a bit, but also creating art and tending to a garden and taking pictures of nature. It’s good to dream, because you can only achieve things that you have actively identified and strive toward.
But even if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay. For now I’m going to use those Monday nights to let my feelings dissolve into the spinning clay. The transmuting of a ball of stuff – in my hands and in my heart – into something different. Something better.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in spring 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase, sign up for my mailing list.
It's 2019 and we seem to be racing through time. Are you aware of all the noise? And are you also aware of how it might be derailing your life?
I grew up in a less digitally connected world and I’m so grateful for it, because it gives me something to strive toward as I try to remember what “quiet” is. When I was a kid we had a television with 13 stations on it and only one of our two household TVs was color. I remember everything went off the air at some point each night, with a patriotic theme song and a soaring fighter jet, and then a screen that dissolved into snow or vertical lines.
Forced quiet time, every single night.
I remember phones attached to walls that were used only when you wanted to have a conversation. I remember letters sent in the mail that you would sometimes have to wait a week to receive. I remember the newspaper that arrived every morning with updates and coupons and cartoons, and that my grandmother would read quietly with her coffee.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, I remember not having a smartphone or a laptop (or even reliable Internet service), so I turned on the computer only for specific purposes like typing a research paper or checking email once a day. I didn’t use it for time wasting like I do now.
I know most of us look back nostalgically on history and talk about “the good ole’ days” and how much slower things were “back then.” But I feel like it’s really true right now because when I look at the world over the last decade or so, everything is just so fast.
We have fast Internet. Fast cars. Fast shipping. Fast news cycles. We have so much information coming at us every second of every day that, if we don’t consciously try to tune it out, we can get swept up in the swirl. And once our time gets sucked away by these digital worlds, we stop focusing on what we’re supposed to do and who we’re supposed to be.
I struggle with this noise a lot. For the last few years I’ve made extra effort to find my way back to a quieter life so that I can focus on the real business I need to do. My biggest obstacles, historically, have been anxiety (and my need to fidget when it shows up) and the “connectivity” that seems to come at us from all directions, all the time.
Case in point: If I want to communicate with my friends, I have to maintain a connection to my smartphone because people don’t live down the street or even in the state anymore. Nobody has time to visit or call, so we shoot off quick messages in the small gaps of our days and we expect others to respond within a certain amount of time.
Second case in point: If I want to understand what’s going on in the world, these days I have to log into a news site or turn on the TV – I can’t just pick up the paper off my lawn (although maybe I ought to see how expensive it would be to go back to that). Picking up that smartphone or turning on that computer then exposes me to a barrage of news stories and commentary and an endless supply of “breaking news” about this and that and everything in between.
There’s no turning the page, there’s no last page, and there’s no placing of the newspaper into the wastebasket so that I can go on with my day.
I had a bit of an implosion last summer after I gave away too much time and emotional energy to the negative comments on one of my LinkedIn posts. After about 24 hours of watching comments roll in, I’d become angry and frustrated and was engaging in self-defense. Eventually, about 36 hours in, I just deleted everything despite its popularity because the toll on me was too high.
I then closed my LinkedIn app, slammed my phone down on my nightstand, and went to take the shower that I’d meant to take an hour earlier. And as I was getting my towel off the rack and rounding up my pajamas from the closet, I thought about how much time and energy I’d wasted on a single social media post without any eventual payoff. The post was now gone.
How, Elizabeth, did you allow this to happen again?
Those sorts of implosions are usually what lead me to finally pull back and find some quiet. I took a break for the weekend and stayed away from both social media and the news, but of course by Monday I’d timidly logged back in. Messages had piled up, posts had piled up, and I felt like I was behind on something that shouldn’t even matter.
I'm slowly learning to let all that noise be.
And this is really important because I’d been feeling frustrated about how much energy it was taking for me to get through my days. I was feeling like I didn't have anything left to do the things that mattered to me - things like writing and cooking and gardening and reading.
But you know what? I was giving my supposedly non-existent energy and time away, too. I was laying on the sofa feeling physically drained but also scrolling my smartphone and wasting my thoughts. I could have been reading a book. I could have been journaling. I could have been meditating and finding some quiet, which might in turn have helped my physical wellbeing.
But instead, I was succumbing to the noise.
I think being aware of this struggle is step one, but then step two is actually doing something consistently to remedy the situation. I'm finally working my way through step two after a long time on the hamster wheel of step one.
What have I done differently? I've started a practice of being quiet. Sometimes this takes the form of sitting for 15 minutes of meditation in the morning. Sometimes it takes the form of a walk by the greenbelt to listen to the birds and the bugs. Sometimes it takes the form of making a conscious decision to put my smartphone away for a while - including turning off the notifications. Sometimes it takes the form of playing ocean waves on the Bose speaker I bought for myself about a month ago.
When I do these things I'm pulled back into the present, and into what I'm supposed to be doing with my minutes and hours and days. It's a really good reset and a way to figure out if I'm on course or off, and where I need to go next.
How do you protect yourself and your time? How do you make sure that all the noise doesn’t keep you from living the life you truly want to have?
You are given a finite amount of years on this planet, so spend them wisely. Making a conscious effort to find some quiet is a good first step toward figuring out what your true self actually wants you to be doing.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in spring 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase, sign up for my mailing list.
It was a regular day just like any other, probably a Tuesday. The sun was low in the sky and my stepson was home from elementary school. We’d just finished a family dinner at a long, wooden kitchen table and I was clearing the plates while my little boy sat on the bench, legs kicking, probably doing some homework or play fighting with some plastic figures.
I can’t remember any of this part exactly. Because what I remember is what came after it.
My then husband was a former Army soldier who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He’d recently enrolled at the local community college with his GI bill while I, already a college graduate, played breadwinner and mom and wife.
I remember a gnawing feeling of unhappiness that had gone on for several years by that point, but I couldn’t allow those feelings to bubble up because things were just the way they were. That was the end of the story. And anyway, I loved him. He was my husband and this was my life.
Aren’t so many women this way?
“I’m going to go meet some friends to study,” he said as I was washing the plates in warm, sudsy water. “At the Chili’s over by the Home Depot.”
“That sounds good,” I said, drying my hands and stepping away from the sink. “I’ll see you later.”
A kiss. A wave. Just like any other day.
But it wasn’t going to be like any other day.
I’d noticed that he’d been staying late in art class lately – to work on some of his pieces, he’d said. I’d never questioned it because I never had a reason to. Why mistrust a person who I’d been with for more than eight years, and who had made a promise in front of our family and God that he’d love me forever?
But as the hours ticked by an uneasy sensation sprouted in my gut. I gave my stepson a bath, we finished his homework, I read him a story, I tucked him into bed. And as it got even later my stomach churned violently, perhaps sensing what was to come.
I decided to call him in an effort to quell the anxiety. I’ll just see when he’s coming home, I’d thought, not wanting to be an overbearing wife.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. “Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.”
“Hey! It’s me. I was just checking in. Could you give me a call back? I was wondering where you were and what time you were coming home. I’m starting to get a little worried about you.”
I hung up. I waited. I paced. It gnawed.
An hour or so passed so I called him again. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. “Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.”
I hung up. I paced. Now I had to think. Think, think.
I dialed the number again.
“Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.” No rings this time. Just voicemail.
But what does that mean? Did he turn the phone off? Did the battery die? Did he break it? What happened and why isn’t he calling me? He’s never done this before.
When you trust somebody you don’t jump right to the worst possible place. You move through the logical steps of what might have happened and you eliminate every single one of those before you begin to allow doubt to enter your mind. Before you allow truth to enter your spirit – which we often block out in the name of love.
Around 10:00 p.m. I pulled my sleeping stepson out of bed so we could go look for his father.
“Mom? Where are we going?” he said as he rubbed his eyes and shuffled with me toward the garage.
“Shhhh, don’t worry. We just need to take a ride,” I said as I buckled him into the back seat, forcing a smile as only moms can do. “It’s okay, go back to sleep.”
Thankfully, he did.
I drove wildly down the long country road we traversed when coming and going from the house – a rarity in the DFW metroplex – with tears streaming down my face and a pounding in my chest. I examined every ditch, every turn, desperate for an answer to the panic that was exploding inside my body.
I drove all the way to the Chili’s which, of course, was closed by then. The parking lot stood still and white except for one or two lingering cars, the sounds of crickets, and a panicked wife in a black Honda Civic.
I tried to call him again.
“Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.” No ring, no answer.
I drove back down that country road in utter defeat. The tears were splayed into a matted mess of makeup on my face, my heart was empty, and I felt like a cold shell of a human. I gently put my stepson back into his bed and then sat down on the sofa with my head in my hands.
I cried my soul into those hands until, sometime after midnight, I received a call.
“Oh my God, where are you?”
“I lied to you.”
“What? Are you ok?” I stammered to a silent line. No answer.
“Look just come home and we’ll talk about it when you get here.”
I waited, wringing my hands, pacing, wondering what he meant and still not knowing what was coming my way. In fact, relief was flooding my body in a blanket of warmth – because he was okay. He was safe. He was coming home and we’d figure out whatever it was he had to share.
“I was with someone else,” he said after walking through the door. “I’ve been seeing her for a while and I don’t want to be with you anymore. I want a divorce. I’m leaving.”
Gut punch. Open mouth. Nothing coming out.
Then he went to pack his things.
“What? No….” I’d lost air.
And then I was on my knees, begging.
And then tears turned into rivers.
And then I was crawling behind him as he packed his things, as he walked, as he left. And then the garage door closed and he was gone.
This is the worst day of my life, I thought to myself as I fell into a heap in the master bedroom closet. I didn’t know what to do just yet, but I wanted to make sure my child didn’t hear me crying my eyes out. So I went to the place with the most sound absorption and, in fact, the closet is still where I go to cry.
There are a lot of things that happened after that day. I lost my son. I lost my house. I lost my life. I lost my future.
I spent about a year floating around, void of identity, not knowing who I was outside of “Johnny’s girl.” We’d been together since I was seventeen years old and I was now twenty-six. Who the hell was I? What was I doing in this world, now that my future had been erased?
I remember calling a family member shortly after he left me, probably the next morning but it may have been in the middle of the night. I remember she said that sometimes the worst day of your life turns out to be the best thing to ever happen to you.
What rubbish, I thought. My husband has been cheating on me, I was too stupid to see it, and he just left me. Now I’m alone and I’ve lost everything. How could this possibly be the best day of my life?
But she was right, you know. I suffered a lot in my late twenties and early thirties. I was lonely, I was lost, I was unsure of myself, I was afraid. But I grew and I changed. I forged a life and a career for myself. I locked the memories of motherhood into my chest where I could treasure them for the rest of my life.
And then after a few really unsuccessful love affairs, I met a man in my early thirties who was the right match for me. I married him because I loved him and wanted to be with him – not because he loved me and I needed that in my life, like I did the first time around.
And I so often say to my husband, even now, “I’m so glad Johnny left me. You’re so much better as a husband, and he and I weren’t a match at all. I don’t even know what we had in common.”
I write my blogs and my books and my poetry to try to process life and to share the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Like that your worst day canbe your best day – in hindsight, of course. Because the worst day of my life actually unshackled me from an existence I was chained to. An existence that was not suited for me. An existence that I didn’t want, because I didn’t even really know who I truly was.
After my divorce I began writing. I began dancing again. I became certified as a yoga teacher. I made friends.
I learned what a margarita tasted like and what foods I actually preferred. I learned to sit quietly with my own thoughts and I overcame my debilitating shyness. I found some self-confidence that I’d never had and I gained some pride in my ability to overcome adversity.
I learned who the real me was for the first time in my life, and I got to embrace her with open arms.
And here I am, almost exactly 13 years later, being my best self. Sharing my wisdom with you in an effort to promote a book that was born out of the ashes of these experiences.
What a glorious day, indeed.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase, sign up for my mailing list.
Life Shows You Your Calling