Are You Paying Attention?
Our circumstances change and so do we. The trick, I’m finding, is to pay attention to when a door closes…for perhaps it is only when we truly accept that, can a new one open.
In November 2009, I gave a presentation called Wake Up to Your Dreams to a group of writers about my experience of writing my first book, A Widow’s Awakening. After I had finished speaking, a man asked me to explain in more detail about the ‘awakening’ process…“Because so many people,” he said, “seem to be sound asleep.”
I paused a moment before answering, thinking how best to articulate my perspective on the concept of awakening.
“The day after my husband died,” I said, “I remember noticing how slowly my parents seemed to be speaking to me. In fact, right from the moment I was told of my husband’s fall, it felt like I was functioning on a different level than everyone else…almost as if the shock of his imminent death had launched me into a heightened state of awareness.”
The man who’d posed the question nodded, so I continued. “I remember being really irritated with people in those first few days. It was as if my soul inherently understood the significance of my husband’s death – but everyone else around me just seemed stunned. I felt like screaming, ‘Pay attention to this!’ And it became clear to me very quickly that I had to write a book about the experience.”
“So do you think people need a tragedy, or something really significant, to wake them up,” he asked, “particularly in regards to the importance of pursuing their dreams?”
“No,” I said. “I think there are plenty of people living their dreams simply because they chose to do so and then took the necessary steps to achieve their goals – rather than being forced to do so after experiencing some tremendous loss, tragedy or life-altering event.”
The man shook his head. “I don’t agree. I think most people need a pretty loud wake-up call. It seems to me the vast majority of people are so asleep that they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them…or in them.”
In hindsight, I can hear the angels laughing.
For the very next day I got another powerful wake-up call that hurt like the dickens…but it wasn’t in the form of a tragedy. At least, not a real one.
It was a play.
I’m really starting to suspect the universe communicates to us through the mediums that will have the best chance of catching our attention. As a playwright and lover of the theatre, it makes sense that it would be a play that instigated a major life decision.
Maybe it’s a little like listening to the radio…we tend to listen to certain stations, so although we may flip between two or three different ones, the universe likely won’t send us an important news bulletin on a station we never listen to.
At any rate, the play was about a twelve year old girl hiding out in the boiler room of her junior high school. It was a one-act, one-woman play where the actress played four different characters: the twelve year old girl whose parents were recently divorced, the school janitor, the girl’s grandpa and the new wife of the girl’s dad.
The actress playing the four characters put on different masks and outfits and changed her voice and behaviour to convey which character she was, at any given moment. And isn’t THAT a metaphor for how we often live our lives?!
Anyway, about two thirds of the way through the play, the girl was so distraught that she was screaming at us – the audience – about her dreadful experience over the weekend of having to go to her dad’s wedding. She had a ruler in her hand and was waving it at us, as she got angrier and angrier explaining the humiliation of having to wear this horrible dress with a huge bow on her bum.
I howled with laughter at this image. But something didn’t feel quite right. I mean, although I was laughing out loud, it felt as if a whole bunch of emotion was…stuck behind my eyes, in the best way I can explain it.
Then the girl went on to say, through tears, how livid she was at her dad for leaving their family and how lonely her mother would be now and how she wouldn’t get to see her dad very much anymore and how he obviously didn’t care about her feelings…
I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was bawling – and scarcely stopped for two days.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
– Franz Kafka
In my case, the axe was a play.
When the performance ended, you could’ve heard a pin drop in that theatre. I wasn’t the only one impacted. I turned to my mom in the seat beside me. She took one look at the tears streaming down my face.
“What have I done?!” she cried. “Look how hurt you still are over the divorce! What could I have done better? That damn father of yours!”
“Mom,” I said, “let’s go get something to eat.”
My parents divorced when I was six. My dad remarried a couple of years later. The catch was how he told me the news: he picked me up one day and casually announced, over his shoulder to me in the back seat of the car, that he’d got married over the weekend.
Thanks for the invite.
“You cried for days,” my mom told me over dinner after the play. “You were so upset that my boss sent me home from work to care for you.”
I didn’t remember that.
I do know my dad didn’t intend to hurt me. He just made the best decision he could at the time. But looking back on the incident now, I think the best word to describe his behaviour is: indifference.
And I guess I’d buried the pain resulting from that indifference – until an annoyingly effective play brought it to the surface.
After dinner, I went home and cried some more. Although my dad lived with me at the time, he happened to be away that week – which was probably a good thing.
The next morning, I woke up feeling significantly better about that matter, having cried it out of my system. But then I proceeded to start crying again.
“Oh for Heaven’s sakes,” I snapped at the fireplace, “now what’s the problem?”
And in my imagination, I heard a tiny voice whisper, “You can move on now.”
“WHAT?” I yelled.
“IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON!” the voice in my head yelled back, tired of the gentle approach. “YOU ARE DONE HERE. YOU HAVE DEALT WITH ALL YOU NEEDED TO AND NOW YOU CAN LEAVE.”
I looked around my familiar living room with new eyes. Why am I still living in the same neighbourhood I grew up in? In the same house my husband and I bought? I am a 41 year old widow living with my father in a big city in the prairies. Is this what I signed up for?
For the short term, yes…but now that chapter was coming to a close.
My dad had moved in three years ago and had been a tremendous help to me with my home, yard and dogs during a period when I had a lot of other demands on my time.
So, as I continued to cry my way through that Sunday morning, I realized that even though it had taken my dad thirty-five years to come back to me, in his own way he had…when I needed him most.
I guess dislodging all this childhood stuff must have made room for a long-buried dream to bubble to the surface because my next thought wasn’t about the past. It was about my future. And, for the first time since Saturday afternoon, I smiled.
A couple of hours later, I called my mom. “I’m moving to the coast,” I said. “At long last, I’m gonna be a writer by the sea.”
I told her the details I’d worked out so far, including selling my home in the spring.
“Why don’t you just rent it out,” she suggested. “In case you change your mind.”
“Because I’m a widow and my husband’s not coming back,” I heard myself say. “I live in a house for a family and I’m obviously not having one. So why would I want to keep the door open to a life that was slammed shut nearly a decade ago?”
Silence. Then, my mom said softly, “You’re right.”
“I know I am.”
“What about your dad?” she asked. “Where will he go?”
“He’ll be fine,” I assured her. “We’ll find him a new place to live.”
Three months later, my dad moved into his own digs, happy as a clam to be on his own again. Three months after that, I sold my home and moved to a cute little bungalow by the sea.
All because of a play…sure glad I was paying attention.
Maryanne Pope is a playwright, screenwriter and the author of A Widow’s Awakening. Maryanne’s next book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams will be released in Sept 2012. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc and the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.
Coming Full Circle
What if the moments of the greatest wounding in your life were also places where the Divine crossed your path and the unquenchable dream of your life was born? Imagine seeing a pad of paper lying near you with nothing drawn on the page but a circle that is not closed. Purpose, ultimately, is the drive to close that circle.
- Dawna Markova, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life
I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of coming full circle…what it means to me, why it might be important and what one is to do when a circle is complete.
I figured the best way to explore and articulate my thoughts on this concept would be through the eyes of a special someone who had been watching me from afar: one of my first writing mentors, Shirley.
Shirley didn’t teach me what to write – or how to write. Rather, Shirley simply allowed me to write. And she did this by teaching a workshop on the ‘freefall’ writing method, which is basically just sitting down with pen and paper and jotting down whatever comes to mind…no internal or external editing allowed.
I first met Shirley at the Alexandra Writer’s Centre in Calgary in 1997, after my husband John and I first moved back from BC as newlyweds. When John died from a fall three years later, I did some serious free-falling of my own in the form of scrawling down reams of rambling thoughts, gut-wrenching emotions and a play-by-play recreation of as many horrific moments as I could remember.
Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to turn off the internal editor in those early days – partly because I wanted to get the manuscript done right the first time (hah!) so that I could ‘get on with my life’ and partly because by editing what I was writing, I could pretend that I was somewhat in control of a situation – namely my mental state – that was, in fact, rapidly spiraling out of control. So by telling some future reader why John had died, I remained under the illusion that I actually knew myself.
It wasn’t until the seven-year editing process where professional editors gently guided me through the quagmire of my own words that the essence of the story, the life lessons and the meaning in John’s death were discovered…or created. Or perhaps a bit of both.
When I gave a presentation at the Alexandra Writer’s Centre in November 2009, about the experience of writing my book, A Widow’s Awakening, guess who showed up?
“I loved your book,” Shirley said to me after my presentation. “And I heard you’re giving a creative writing workshop here next weekend?”
Shirley leaned in towards me, beaming. “You’ve come full circle, my friend. You’re carrying on the tradition of sharing what you’ve learned as a writer . . . and that’s what it’s all about.”
I ran around the table and gave her a big hug.
And then, wouldn’t you know it, but it was the very next day that I saw the play – I, Claudia – that would end up changing my life. Six months later, I’d sold my Calgary home and moved to Vancouver Island.
When I look back now at Shirley’s comment, I can’t help but smile. She was right . . . I had come full circle. I’d returned to Calgary a student of writing; thirteen years later, I left again – as a writer and teacher of writing.
I received a lovely e-mail the other day from a woman who took that same writing workshop of mine a year ago. “Thank you for inspiring me,” she wrote. “I’ve been working on my manuscript ever since and am now ready to find an editor. Can you recommend one?”
I leaned back in my chair and smiled. Full circle, indeed.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. She also writes play scripts, screenplays, short stories, articles and children’s stories. For details on Maryanne’s writing workshop, Telling the Tale; the Art of Writing and Self-Publishing Creative Non-Fiction, please visit pinkgazelle.com.
Right on Time
By Maryanne Pope
“Timing,” as the old saying goes, “is everything.” However, what I’m discovering is that trying to get the timing right is often beyond our control – and what sometimes seems like really lousy timing is, in retrospect, right on the mark.
When my dog, Sable, went blind 10 days before I moved from Calgary to Victoria in the spring of 2010, at first I thought it was horrible timing because not only was it extremely inconvenient to pack up one’s home while caring for an aging deaf and blind dog, it also meant that I would be taking her out of her familiar surroundings.
First would be the four day car trip with three different motels. Then we’d be living in a basement suite at a friend’s place in Victoria for six weeks, at which time they would be moving to a new home – without a rental suite. So then, after those six weeks, Sable, Soda (my other dog) and I would have to move again.
This meant that, upon arrival in Victoria, I would have six weeks to either find new digs to rent that would accept two German Shepherds and be suitable for a blind dog – as in a fenced yard and no stairs – or buy my own place.
When my friends in Victoria first told me of their change in plans to sell their home with the rental suite, I must confess my stress level went up a notch…and I found that out when Sable still had her sight. So when she went blind, I REALLY started to worry about where the heck the three of us would live, come the end of June.
But I did have six weeks to look. Not.
The day after I arrived in Victoria, Sable started crying and pacing. I rushed her to emergency. Her eye pressure had spiked again; the drops were no longer working. Four days later, out came that second eye.
Now, caring for a large elderly blind dog is one thing. Caring for a large elderly blind dog after major surgery is quite another. In the week following her surgery, I knew I wouldn’t be able leave her alone at home for very long nor could I take her in the car with me. This would make looking for a new place to live rather difficult, which pretty much left the four days between me finding out her eye pressure had gone through the roof – and her surgery.
Sure enough, it was during this grace period that I was driving down a street in Sidney when I saw a sign for an open house. I had my friends’ kids in the car and one of them went in with me. The realtor showed us around the cute little bungalow. When she took us through the kitchen and into the sunroom addition, my mouth fell open. It was perfect for my office! Two days later, I put in an offer.
From a timing perspective, it is only in hindsight that all this makes sense.
The temporary basement suite turned out to be an ideal place for Sable to heal because a) there were no stairs and it was a small, manageable space; b) I had three little girls helping me care for her and; c) she had my full attention because the big move from Calgary was done and we had our new place lined up.
When I started thinking about this move in the bigger picture, I realized just how incredibly good the timing was. My home in Calgary was a four level split…that’s at least twenty stairs. Now that Sable can’t see, she doesn’t do stairs anymore! If I were still in Calgary, she’d either be alone every night or I would be sleeping in the living room.
Plus, if I didn’t have an imposed six-week timeline to find a place to live, I wouldn’t have been looking very hard – and therefore probably wouldn’t have found my new home.
Speaking of which, it was on June 29th – nine years and nine months to the day that my husband, John, died – that I moved into my new pad. And get this: the movers had just finished bringing all the furniture and boxes into the house. Then they walked out the front door and I walked out the back.
I stood there a moment, in the middle of the yard, looking around and smiling. Then I looked up to the sky and said a ‘thank you’ to whoever might be listening – and then went back inside the sunroom where all my office boxes were now stacked. And there, sitting on top of one of the file boxes was John’s old Timex.
The only rational explanation I can come up with is that when one of the movers was carrying a Bankers box, it was tilted and John’s watch fell out of the hole where the handle is. If so, it’s strange that no one said anything to me about finding it. And I certainly hadn’t started any unpacking yet.
I picked up the watch and smiled…and in my heart, I heard John say, “Right on time, Pope.”
A few weeks later, I found this cute little wall-hanging in town:
It’s now in the kitchen of my bungalow by the sea
Now…one final note I’d like to add, as it would seem this little story just keeps on going. I originally posted this blog, Right on Time, in July 2010. In April 2012, I updated it for Weekly Words of Wisdom - and guess which company just sent a generous donation to the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, as the result of a promotion with the Calgary Police Association?
Maryanne Pope is an author, screenwriter and playwright. She is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the executive producer of the Whatever Floats Your Boat…Perspectives on Motherhood documentary. She is the founder & CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Incand the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.