Lessons in Loss and Letting Go
If there is such a thing as a soul lesson, meaning a lesson that a soul takes a human lifetime to learn, then mine is loss and letting go.
I’ve always had immense difficulty letting go of my attachment to whatever I’ve lost, be it a job, a relationship, even a favorite spatula. I’m serious about that last one. Around 2010, after I misplaced a green, plastic spatula that I had bought at a WalMart some fifteen years prior when I went away to college, I lamented for at least a year that it was gone forever. Then I found it one day while packing to move in 2012, rejoiced, and kept it until it broke some six years later. I was ready to let it go by then. Maybe because by then I had a new favorite utensil.
The big stuff is harder. It took me a long time, for instance, to come to terms with my parents splitting up, to accept that their marriage hadn’t failed, but ended. I’ve struggled in that same capacity with the loss of my novel-writing career—that it ended as opposed to failed. Not only that, but also, like my parents’ divorce, it was an ending I hadn’t asked for and had little say in. I spent two years trying to reverse it. Then I spent the next two years admitting it was gone and grieving it. Even as I came to terms with the loss, the question What do I do with my life now continued to be a challenge.
One thing I have attempted to do, especially this past year, is re-frame how I see writing as a career or a vocation or even a pastime, or how I might approach it differently should I choose to make a go of it again. I’ve drawn inspiration from everyone ranging from Simon LeBon to my friend David O’s podcast, The D Side, to my friend and fellow author Heather Grace Stewart’s tenacity when it comes to her own career.
Even after my husband and I moved back to Montana three months ago, I picked up a manuscript I had started late last summer, and was reveling yet again in word counts and exuberance that This might be good.
But the momentum didn’t last.
Neither did momentum for the new space-clearing business I’d started, nor the website that was supposed to include a podcast, webinars, and more.
Throughout most of April and May, I kept asking the question: What am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Should I go full steam ahead on this new business and step up my Instagram game and actively recruit clients (which poses a challenge during a pandemic), or should I adopt a Novel-Writing or Bust attitude, and climb my way back up that career ladder, rung by rung, no matter how high it goes into the clouds? Was it possible to pursue both simultaneously since they both fed my passions, even though I suck at multitasking?
Plus there was that pesky little issue of needing some income, the sooner the better.
During this time I took a tarot card-reading course for beginners with Radleigh Valentine, who just so happens to be one of those human beings I want to bear-hug should I ever meet him in person. In daily practice readings, I kept drawing the same card from Radleigh’s Archangel Power Tarot deck: Two of Michael. (If you’re a traditional Rider-Waite-Coleman tarot reader, this would be known as the Two of Swords.) The image on the card shows two unicorns on a beach, their horns clashing. Radleigh includes the possible interpretations on the cards themselves (which just so happens to be one of the reasons I love his decks and learning tarot from him; I also suck at memorization), and the first one was “It will all be if you just make a decision!” I tried one of Radleigh’s other decks: Two of Air. Same card.
During the class I asked Radleigh about it and he showed me how to do a reading to help me choose between the two possibilities (writing or space-clearing). Either my skills as a card reader were too amateur or my ego was still too tied to the outcome (my money is on the latter than the former)—I was terrified not only of making a decision, but also of making the wrong decision—but the readings seemed to be telling me I couldn’t go wrong either way, that they were equally good choices.
Which still left me paralyzed in terms of making a choice.
Besides, there was a part of me that really wanted the cards, or Radleigh, or some divine sign to tell me definitively that the choice was writing.
Then I remembered something that happened a little over twenty years ago. Following a breakup with a boyfriend—one of those losses that had truly devastated me—I had started to see an aromatherapy massage therapist who was also a registered nurse and clairvoyant. A couple of years later (way longer than my ex and I had actually been together), I was still having trouble getting over this guy, and I confessed this during my session.
“Is he your soul mate?” she’d asked.
Instead of responding yes or no, I paused and said quietly, cravingly, “I want him to be.”
That should have been a moment of revelation, but it took even longer for me to realize the full truth of that statement. Mark Manson describes it succinctly and bluntly: “If it’s not a Fuck, yes, then it’s a no.”
So in present time, I asked myself pretty much the same question: Is writing your soul mate? Is being a novelist what you’re meant to be doing for the rest of your life, regardless of whether it makes you another cent?
And my answer was the same as it had been for that guy all those years ago, said with the same longing: “I want it to be.”
There was my decision.
I had to come to terms with it. I had to detach once and for all.
But here’s the other thing: the other business also wasn’t a Fuck, yes.
Which left me back at square one. I so did not want to be back at square one. Especially not at 50 years old.
It’s possible that the message was there in plain sight, but I was still too attached to the question, and to that “I want it to be” to see it. Nevertheless, I grew increasingly frustrated and impatient and pressured to find work that was safe and sustainable during a pandemic.
Finally during a guided meditation, I practically demanded an answer. And I got one:
Your life purpose is to be Elisa.
Well, great. And who’s going to pay me for that?
But here’s what I’m finally understanding: When I was a first-year writing instructor in the university, my mentor told me that I had a special quality as a teacher that couldn’t be taught in a graduate class on how to teach. As a novelist, what set my novels apart from others wasn’t necessarily genre or characters or stories, but something you can’t teach in a class on how to write. Even while I worked concessions at our little movie theater in Boothbay Harbor, what made me enjoy my job—and others enjoy me—had little to do with how well I performed my tasks. In every case, the X-factor was me. I’m not saying that in a boastful or conceited way, but I believe that’s what the message is about.
What I do for a living doesn’t define who I am. Rather, what I do for a living is defined by who I am. In other words, what I authentically bring to any job, profession, vocation, and/or career makes it special. Meaningful. Impressionable. Valuable. Successful.
Whatever is next for me will appeal to my strengths and skills and talents and senses, and I will bring my authentic self to it. And because I will bring my authentic self to it, it will be “right” for me. Not my soul mate, not who I am, not something I have to fear losing. Because here’s the soul lesson in all of this. What I have lost in life, however painful, tragic, traumatic, etc. has never diminished who I am.
And who knows: maybe novel writing will be a Fuck, yes again someday. After all, I’ve still got that manuscript. And it still might be good.
7/7/2020 08:43:29 am
Deep exhale! Wow. Elisa, you have it. Right here. What so countless many of us struggle with ad infinitum! I know I identify with this journey and these questions, seemingly tied into our very survival, our creativity, our smarts, our potential for success!! Then to realize our life purpose is actually to be... ourselves. Treatises on ego and detachment are all good, but the longing is so real to put a name to it ( and possibly buy a spatula for it!) Instead we are this magical, fluid, expansive set of unique atoms and cells, who by our very nature, are somehow interacting and living out our purpose in this moment. You say it much better than I, but thank you so much for this gift of your perceptive honesty. I think you are doing wonderfully and just lit up a whole world of questing others! Fuck, yes!
7/7/2020 10:45:31 am
Barbara, your comment just made my day, week, and month. It was a sparkler of delight. Thank YOU! xo
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I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.