There are times when the message I get from others sounds a bit like: “Wow Pepper, you’re talented in many ways. I’m puzzled by the dislocation between your potential and appearance of intelligence and ability contrasted with the strangely chaotic and limited life you’re actually leading.” Or maybe lately it’s more like “With all your visible advantages, why are you still struggling at your age?” No one has ever said it in these exact words, but I know the dischord is there, and I know many people I’ve connected with have been savvy enough to see it.
I’ve been working on my mental health my entire conscious life. There’s been recurring depression, terrible self esteem, self cutting (briefly), issues at school, despair, co-dependency, mrrood swings, various anti-depressants, and a whole host of bad choices. I labored for years assuming it was hard because of the traumas of my childhood, but I don’t hold that belief any longer. I grew up poor, daughter of a single alcoholic blackjack dealer in a desert scrub town. Billions have had it worse than me so there’s no excuse for not healing and succeeding anyway. I’ve been wounded untold times by others both accidentally and otherwise, but over the long haul, in the aggregate, no one in my life has abused me as much or often as I have, inside and out. Sadly, we’re always within reach of the abuser within, and I’ve seen too many others from all backgrounds suffer similar painful experiences thoughts and cycles of self destruction. Being human is complex and challenging, and society imparts profoundly bad information about emotions, identity, and self care. The vital achievements in this private war have been knowing, forgiving, accepting, and loving myself wholly. I’ve had to rigorously practice being gentle to myself within, and re-framing traits and tendencies I’d formerly judged, denied, and vilified. I’ve had to consciously embrace my true full self and stop labeling certain aspects as weak, unacceptable, or unworthy – and more recently reduce my habit of applying labels throughout life, to myself and others.
For the past six years I’ve mothered two children and nurtured a never easy but always passionate marriage, while doing freelance marketing, editing, and web design jobs to pay bills, and creating marketing plans, business models, and identities for 7 or 8 different business efforts along the way. I worked at Tumbleweed for two stretches, and taught a total of 18 workshops to TH people all over the country. Oh! And let’s not forget the intermittent bouts of insanity where I ALSO try to be some kind of local shopping slow food organic gourmet comfort food creator edible garden designer crafting mamma and all around super citizen. And don’t forget giving my fabulous and deserving friends and family some attention, watching Maddow, reading Elizabeth Gilbert, Alice Walker, and Naomi Wolf, and constantly bettering my self control and emotional health through self directed studies in neuroscience, Zen Buddhism, positive psychology, quantum physics, and a rainbow of self help and productivity resources. There are also (always) sporadic short lived ventures; learning salsa, growing hops, teaching myself guitar, exercising efforts.
Along the way I learned of the 10,000 hours theory of excellence, which posits the highest levels of achievement are reached by those who put in the time. Background studies of high achievers in diverse fields suggest that in many disciplines an average of about 5 years of conscious full-time practice are needed for mastery. Those with appreciable talent will likely become astonishingly good at their skill by that time. The only practice I can see where I’ve put my 10,000 hours in is writing. It also happens to be my greatest personal therapy and one of the few things I do naturally no matter what; depressed, blissed, stressed, obsessed. As a recovering perfectionist (yes it’s a sickness; in me it feels like my OCD switch is stuck on and my reality check filter is off – a state I sometimes don’t recognize until I’ve passed far beyond the point of diminishing returns) I have a hard time putting effort into things that can’t be brought to an acceptable level. So writing it is, I thought. And still think. Among my other work, it makes sense to take the thing I do best and most consistently, through all kinds of emotional upheaval, and find a way to make money with it, so it can become one of the trickles of income keeping us going. Because I’ve become pretty good at it. Right?
My tiny house obsession coincided with tremendous (ongoing) surges in self publishing and social media marketing and adds its own dimension to my struggles. I want to be influential, to spread beneficial ideas, and with available resources and options I have the power to do so in ways I’ve never had before – if I really … really … want it. I’m filled with long held desires around designing and building my own home, and beliefs around environmental concerns, sustainability, affordable housing, and social justice. If I share our experiences genuinely and regularly and they speak to people, we’ll develop an audience. With that comes the possibility of becoming semi-famous in a niche. Do I want that? Not as such. But without at least some fame, influence is limited to a smaller scale. In the grand one taste universal sense, a beneficial impact on a small circle of people is just as valuable, but in my simple monkey brain numbers mean greater good for more people here and now. Of course if we’re out and public with our stuff I know there will be haters, they’re always around. I’m at peace with that I think (theoretically).
The RealTimeRealTiny blog was my way of diving into writing regularly by sharing the process of building one tiny house on a real time basis, and I haven’t met my own expectations for it from day one. I grew through it, because that project represented an awakening for me as an entrepreneur; my first venture under the leadership of the newish and somewhat improved me, capable of forgiving myself, examining my errors, and making a plan for doing better next time. It was the dawn of a diverse sustainable entrepreneurial venture with a vision, long-term goals, and infinitely branching possibilities. My businesses were and still are a choose-your-own-adventure where I’m writing my story and making my choices as I go along, but all scenarios continually present me with options I couldn’t have predicted were possible, much less write myself. (Or perhaps it’s a frightfully expensive role-playing game, and the GM isn’t even talking to me – I just keep rolling the dice, choosing what seems best with what I know, and making the most of what comes of it all.)
After I formalized our tiny house business and dubbed it Bungalow to Go I made a new site and a new blog, but again my productivity has never matched my desire and certainly has not added up to anything gratifying and compelling enough to gain many followers. Why? Because above all else if you want followers, you must finish what you start, do what you say you’re going to, and keep publishing quality work regularly and consistently. Real artists ship. Or publish. Or whatever. “But you said you write all the time!” you exclaim. As much as I’ve tried to get out of my own way, I keep putting (and sometimes accepting from others) restrictions and mandates on what’s supposed to come out of my creative time and in revenge my slippery brain just utterly refuses to do what I tell it to, spreadsheets and schedules be damned. In the deep down dream factory of my soul, “supposed to” is a toxic death knell to creative endeavors. Internal resistance puts untold pressure on my already limited time – I keep having fits where my mind boils furiously with thoughts and ideas unrelated what I’m trying to work on. They’re so loud and fast I have to dash off quickie post-it lists to get them out of my mental space so I can get back to work. It makes me slow and less than thrilled with my results.
So altogether, it’s been a challenge to do the blogging thing well, and I regret that because I’m so glad when I do it. I’m happy with the way the whole exercise feels in my brain. I have a written conversation with a handful of invented readers, composited of my nearest and dearest. My “dear readers” are always attentive, interested in whatever I care to share, and receptive to new ideas. They’re diverse enough to encourage me to be thoughtful in exercising brevity, ordering my ideas logically, using clear syntax, and keeping the “talk” conversational; but I just know they’re going to receive what I write with warmth and openness. It’s a therapeutic feeling we don’t encounter enough in daily life.
Full disclosure; this issue is about more than being busy or distractable. It’s some fundamental creative law at work. One thing I’ve learned over years of experience; the more fully and accurately I express myself the more satisfying the outcome. I love to be specific with my language, but I don’t have to be more specific because this is one of those rare principles so universal it doesn’t need to be detailed further. I can’t separate my writing urges into acceptable and unacceptable topics, reject the unwanted, and expect them to continue. To pick the desired fruit I have to let the whole garden grow. The reason I CAN write even when I can’t do anything else is that I’ve let it be an innate expression of my total self. The second I deny that and try to narrow the channel of what I’m allowed to express with it, the urge pops like a shiny soap bubble and I’m left with a palmful of slime.
My writing practice for some time has been letting whatever comes flow without much conscious intervention. It lets me write a lot – how much of it is good or useful varies, but at least I have a good chunk to work with at the end of the day. If I spend the same time resisting and forcing myself back to something my wild horse mind wants to turn away from I could spend all day yanking on those reins. I remember a story of gentling a shy horse by walking it in an arena in circles around and around a triggering object so it comes into and goes out of view repeatedly in small glimpses. It seems like a gradual approach to less attractive work is more effective with less effort than fighting myself. While monetizing my writing is an essential part of my business plan, I can no longer deny a big part of my desire to write comes from the need to be known, to connect with the world outside, to further my emotional healing, and to formulate and express my conscious development and evolving worldview. My answer is to publish anything and everything. This blog, bearing my name and witness to my journey, will not be restricted to any particular set of topics, or be written to please anyone other than me. My core intention for now is one of treating myself with a careful blend of acceptance compassion and encouragement without allowing any excuses and without resorting to painful and inhibiting judgement and rigid expectations.