new shoes

At the end of my 30 year teaching career, I often dreamed of shoes. In these dreams, there were usually piles of shoes in some obscure place, old ruins in a post-apocalyptic world, or elegant mansions with hidden staircases and multi-doored corridors. There were random assortments of other people’s shoes, a great menagerie of shoes – which I would eventually sort, steal, borrow, or wear. Sometimes I wore only one shoe and the other foot went bare; sometimes I had a different shoe on each foot. There were complex situations with people involved and obstacles to overcome; therefore, the proper shoes were an absolute necessity. I felt anxious about taking them, or trying them at all. Occasionally, I had to be stealthy and decisive, swiftly choosing before it was too late. The shoes were just sitting there unused. It was clear that I had to do what I had to do.

Moccasins, stilettos, and high tops continued to visit my dreams for months. One day, I shared my dream with a friend, and I realized that the shoes held a divine message. It was time to walk around in someone else’s shoes. It was time to grow. It was time to strike out from the cozy life I had been living in the roles I had known for a very long time. Raising my sons and teaching high school English was coming to a close. My youngest child was near high school graduation. My career, while forever interesting, held little in the way of expanding my experience of the world. Tic Tock. I wasn’t getting any younger. I was weary of the rigidity and small-mindedness of this old role. I had simply become too wild for the conformity of the public schools. I was tired of trying to fit in. I never felt that I really did fit in, and my own shoes were worn through.

It was not a great stretch to imagine wearing new shoes in my awakened state. I had been privately dabbling in other worlds for awhile. But those other worlds did not pay the bills. I was a writer, but I wrote for free. I was a new painter, but come on. I spent years developing my spiritual path, but that knowledge felt so personal.

Today, I supplement my meager pension (retiring at age 55 has provided half of a full pension), with lots of new shoes. I paint at home and sell my art in a local gallery. I also enter my work in local artist exhibits. There are endless possibilities. I still keep a spiritual blog. I am an editor of a magazine for a spiritual community. I teach creative writing classes to adults. I tutor kids in their homes and coach individual novice writers. I can do all this because I am brave.

Today, I work 15 hours a week instead of 50. I just get by like I always have. I get to have lunch on my deck or take a walk on a whim. I can sit in my robe until I finally realize I want to get up. I get to be what I really am all day long. I don’t have to keep my self, my past, my beliefs, nor my language under wraps. I can say fuck whenever I wish and no one has to like it. I can put out an offering to the gods and cast runes or step barefoot onto the clover-laden lawn and call upon the earth’s energy.

Some days, I don’t wear any shoes at all.

Just Be Yourself, Whatever That Means

People often say, “Just be yourself!” Forgive me when I scoff at such a flippant remark! For there are great excesses of bold and subtle contradictions in this world. Who I Am is not only constantly changing, but sometimes straight up bad.

When people do a very bad thing, they say, “That is not really who I am.” And I argue that perhaps that is who you are, not wholly, but come on, partially, right? Our true nature is going to be capable of harm. The sooner we understand this, the more we will forgive ourselves and get on with the show.

Just be yourself. But, you know, not that part.

Just be yourself, but maybe just a bit better.

Just be yourself. But you will have to pay.

Okay, but additionally, can someone tell me who I am?

I am relieved to say that I have started to figure it out. And I conclude that in all my efforts to become a defined individual, I have arrived at the humbling fact that I am so much more like everyone else. That is a comfort. There are some unique fractions, sure. Yet, just being myself is basically recognizing that I am not as special as I once believed, and also, the only way to be my own snowflake is to sometimes lift myself up and away from all that society deems worthy, to defy the social constructs and admit in equal measure that the constructs are there for good reason!

So the search continues.

Let us begin with identity at the base levels, including labels and names and adjectives.

Typical American White Girl, privileged and yet honestly traumatized. Menagerie of European ancestors…Celtic, Nordic, German, French. Solid healthy Minnesota stock. Origins in the lumber industry of a river town. Also from a string of writers, artists, scientists, pragmatists, not always conforming, but not altogether oddballs either, passionate people, and plenty of educated smartypants.

We tend to be intelligent but neurotic. What can I say, it’s an uphill battle to overcome ancestral anxiety. Plus, we are largely brave, expressive, and sometimes overconfident. Knowing this about myself can help me to negotiate the crazy part of me, the part that suffers because of Who I Am. I giggle a lot, but sometimes I cackle.

Who I Am is also fluid. I am lazy when it comes to errands, procrastinating when my gas gauge is on empty, or there is little real food to eat. God help me if my tires are low. Seriously, if I were a billionaire, I’d have my own personal errand runner at my beck and call. Errands feel so meaningless after all.

I am highly motivated to charm people into doing what I want. Should I embrace this under the umbrella of being Who I Am?

When I wonder about others being who they are, are they refusing to behave in ways that are inauthentic, saying one thing but hoping for something else. Do you agree to things that suck your soul? Do you even understand what depletes you? Are you trying to laugh when you know it’s not funny? Do you work hard at playing to everyone else’s needs?

Sure, Being Myself can elicit humor, silliness, creative beauty, a thoughtful choice of fashion. There’s got to be something original and heartfelt in there. Yet, always I am toning it down so people will stay in the room.

Be Myself? Huh. I’m not so sure you know the ramifications here. If I am entirely Myself, people will experience a lot of curt replies, a shocking level of brutal truths for which they will likely retreat. And I will tell you things you won’t want to believe, like how I have this psychic ability, and I don’t care if you agree.

Being Myself will, in effect, annihilate half the relationships I hold dear. Because my true self is fantastically insensitive, impatient, and exhausted a lot of the time.

I know My True Self is capable of unconditional love, a fierce love, and a impenetrable loyalty, but also a senseless and grueling war. Deep down, I wish people would completely accept me as I am, but then they would have to understand that half the time, I know what I am saying is absurd. I don’t even totally believe everything that I say, since my brain is already considering the alternative. I wish to be given credit for seeing all of it when all you hear is half of it. I am not saying I am full of untruth, just that I am fully aware that my truth is flexible and I like it that way. You would need to allow my eternal right to change my mind. I’m only saying, when you suggest people should just be themselves, be careful. If you profess that you are capable of accepting people as they are, be prepared.