Saturday, February 18, 2012

How to Live Less and Live More

I'm hyperventilating this morning... experiencing the kind of frantic, angsty, jumble of longings in the pit of my soul, in the depths of my heart and mind, that I believe only a person over (close to?)40 can truly understand.

It's a sensation, a voice, that screams from a place deeper than I can pinpoint,

"I want more! I want to be more! I want to do more! I want to matter more!"

I sit here, listening,

because I have no choice. I am unable to block it out.

And, honestly, I don't want to block it out, because it motivates me.

And yet,

it paralyzes me, too.

Because, the truth is, I don't know how to do that. How to be more. Or, even, for me, what that more is.

The world is filled with people who do extraordinary things. Some of those things are huge -- like inventing the iPod (iPhone, iPad), like completing an Ironman triathalon, like trying to swim from Cuba to Florida, non-stop, at age 60+, without a shark cage, over and over again...

Like inventing cures for illnesses,

travelling to war zones,

or leaving a body of brilliant work behind.

And, some of those things are quieter, more personal in their nature or impact.

Like donating an organ,

rising above a disability,

or helping a person in need.

All over the world, as I sit here and type, people are doing extraordinary things,

and I can't help but wonder how to contribute.

To make my life less ordinary.

Don't get me wrong: I feel blessed. I feel downright lucky. And I have problems I rise above, and ways that I push myself, and try to contribute to the world. Just like we all do.

But, none of it feels, what? Big enough? Important enough? Like it matters?

I have this overall feeling that I'm wasting time.

That I'm just not making the most of it.

That, the ride is spinning by, and I'm missing the big brass ring.

Part of me knows I need to learn to be okay with this.

To accept a life more ordinary.

But I feel like there's this treacherous balance, too -- to accept life for what it is and grow old gracefully (haven't got a clue how to do this yet, mind you), while not becoming complacent.

As some of you know, Diana Nyad is a personal hero of mine. At the end of that video above (shared with me by my friend, Christopher Tasava, thank you!) she poses the question, paraphrased from the poet Mary Oliver*,

"So, what is it you're doing with this wild and precious life of yours?"

I want so badly to be able to answer that.

To shout from the rooftops that I'm making it count.

That I'm contributing.

That I'm giving it all I can.

More than anything, I want that.

I want to be more.

And, I want to matter.

But sometimes, it's paralyzing.

Because, I'm not sure I even know how.


*The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?


  1. thanks, tess. it's nice to be understood.

  2. possibly my favorite blog post of yours ever. no words. just wordless relating......xo

  3. Gae, the last few blogs have been tremendous. For some reason, what you have written has hit me at the right time in my life. I SO get this.

  4. this is so beautiful, and i'm aching right along with you.

  5. thank you, Lori, Mike, Christine.

    This post has gotten more hits in one day than almost any other. I must have struck a chord. It's nice not to be alone, but frustrating to know so many of us are feeling paralyzed. I know for me, in the spring and summer, the expanse of the open water gives me more goals, and a renewed sense of accomplishment. Although, those are still personal goals and not one's that affect the greater universe at large. I also believe some of my frustration would melt away if I could get a second book sold. Then I start to create a body of work out there. Of course, I have a reputable smaller press willing to put my work out and I feel closer and closer to making that leap. I also know, no matter how many things I accomplish, I will view others' accomplishments as mattering more. I am raising two terrific young men. Seriously, they are smart, kind, funny, gentle, amazing boys. How much credit would I be able to give someone ELSE for that, but not myself. And yet. And yet. Lori, if you're reading, and you hone that journal entry, and I had permission (hint, hint), I would love to share it here.

    Love to all my readers, commenting and quietly reading.

    - gae

    1. funny, Gae. I just saw this. on a day when I'm feeling like I don't matter beyond my little world. you can publish my journal entry as is if you want. or I'll edit it. your choice. what were you thinking?

  6. Gae, I am only commenting as an outsider regarding your emotional state. But, I can see you are reaching deeper inside your soul and heart. I feel we have yet to see your best work. What I mean is you have yet to write it. I look forward to that day when this work is published.

  7. Gae,
    Love this post and I absolutely get it. I'm a mom to two young boys, a teacher of fifth graders in my sixteenth year in education. And yet, sometimes I truly have that same dialogue running through my head, do more, be more. I want to write but am afraid to. Stepped in by starting a blog and putting some of my writing out there. Scary, but worth it. I'm in awe by what you do, if that helps at all.
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Michael, that is a nice thought. That my best work is still in me, and not Swim Back to Me, now sitting i a drawer. ;)

  9. Katherine,

    See? A teacher who feels the same way, when, by your very job, you contribute so importantly over and over again!

    This is what I keep trying to remind myself -- that longing is what pushes us to do more! That's a good thing. If it weren't so heavy with, well, longing. ;) And, for me, a tremendous sense of my own aging.

    As for being brave enough to write, so glad you've started. It's not an easy path once you decide you want to get published, but the connection with readers is OH SO rewarding. I'm here to help if you need any. <3

  10. You definitely struck a chord here, too. But I suspect that those of us who can relate to your post are far harder on ourselves than others ever would be. There is more to come - as long as you don't like that inner voice psych you out.
    You matter already. And I know you still have a lot to do with "your one wild and precious life" and I can't wait to see what it is.
    (By the way, I'm working on taking some of my own advice here. :)

  11. Cindy makes some wonderful points, too.

    Yes, Gae, trust me on this. Your best work has yet to be written. You're growing as a writer if the blogs are any indication and I think they are.

    It's not the way you're written the blogs. It's how you are measuring up what is important in your life -- what motivates and strikes you emotionally.

  12. Oh Gae...I hear you loud and clear. "So, what are you doing with this wild and precious life of yours?" is a question that scares the hell out of that I just can't answer comfortably. I so relate to that aching for wanting more. And I can't wait to read more from you!

  13. What a wondrful post, I so feel where you're coming from, such questions and musings have been following my every waking moment in recent months. I'm not sure how to continue growing as a person but I'm trying as clearly you are. It's all we can do.

  14. Don, if only we could all tell each other. ;)

    Erin, nice to have you here. Let me know if and when you come up with a reasonable answer. :)