To Write or Not To Write

I was catching up with a very special friend from college this evening when she asked me something that I can’t stop thinking about. “Do you still blog?”

I was disappointed to reply to her that I do not. And then I wondered why.

My reasons? Medical school is busy. Writing takes time. And one reason that shouldn’t matter but really does: I’m not sure anyone reads my blogs (except family and a couple really sweet people who also blog, including my friend Chip’s mom, who actually is a lot like me).

While my motivation for writing has never stemmed primarily from the feedback I get from readers, my thought that blogging is no different from journaling leads me to journal rather than blog.

So, here’s an experiment: If you did or would like to read my blogs (content: spiritual, emotional, meaning-of-life-ish), then comment on this entry. If I know people are listening, then I will definitely start posting again.

If not, then I’ll stick to journaling 🙂

 

Returning to Write

It’s 11:30 PM on a Wednesday night. I am a second year medical student. I was in class from 8 AM to 5 PM and studied the rest of the day because I am beginning to prepare for my life-defining STEP 1 board exams. I have a final exam this Friday. I need to be up at 6 AM tomorrow.

I do not have time for this.

But isn’t that what I’ve been telling myself for the last five months? Isn’t that the reason the last blog entry I posted was in August of 2015? It’s not even 2015 now.

I have written this many times before, and I will do so again:  I need to write. Perhaps I don’t need to write to survive, or even to do well in medical school, or enjoy a wonderful holiday season with family and my soulmate. Perhaps I don’t even need to write (at least not in this capacity) to be successful in my career or “change the world.”

But I do need to write to be completely me.

As I push into the late hours of the night, ignoring the voice in my head that tells me to go to bed so that I can get up early enough to go to the gym before class tomorrow, I feel it again. Maybe it is just relief from writer’s block, or euphoria at the end of a long day of being productive (at least by medical student standards). But, being me, I prefer to label it as something much bigger.

I receive a daily email from Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Catholic priest whose writings never fail to inspire me. Yesterday, Fr. Rohr wrote about love and divine intimacy.  He wrote,”Fullness in a person cannot permit love because there are no openings, no handles, no give-and-take, and no deep hunger.”

We need love-from other humans and from the Divine- because we are incomplete. Or maybe we are incomplete so that we will depend on love. Either way, the message is clear: we need divine intimacy. As humans, we crave God. I believe that we all search for God and find God in different places. Call me a heretic, but I also happen to believe that many of these places are correct, even if they are not religious by common standards.

As I found myself compelled to write tonight, unable to sleep because something or someOne was tugged at my heart, I remembered the words of Father Rohr. And as I began to write, I felt myself caving in, opening up, breaking into pieces. I became vulnerable, like a flower that gets rained on or a puppy that opens its eyes for the first time. I felt my rough edges begin to be filed away. It felt like I’d found water in a desert.

When I write, I am able to reflect and remember and savor and wonder and imagine and relish in my gratitude for what is and what is to come. I am able to dream and hope and pray and beg and grieve and let go. I am able to emphasize moments in my life that are worth emphasizing and forget those worth forgetting. I am able to breathe and become the closest I’ve gotten to meditation. I feel accepted and cleansed and forgiven and embraced. I feel one again. How can this not be a form of divine intimacy?

I’m not implying that my words are sacred or even worth reading, but I do know that the process of writing them, for me, is a process that allows me to connect my intellect with my soul. And, somehow, this process always brings me back to God.

I will not make a resolution to write every day, for it should not be yet another task to check off my long to-do list. But I will allow myself to bask in the peace that writing gives me more often.

 

Skip the Tantrums

I was not born with a positive attitude. My mother informs me that I cried continuously during the first two years of my life. After that, I began throwing tantrums when the opportunity arose. My earliest memory might actually be one of these tantrums, which always included the same few steps:

  1. Life didn’t go my way.
  2. This greatly disappointed me .
  3. Disappointment turned to overwhelming emotion.
  4. I handled the situation by screaming until I vomited.

As I grew older, the things that upset me changed. Life not “going my way” became synonymous with me not reaching the lofty goals I set for myself. And #4 changed from vomit-inducing screams to fits of sobbing and, later, to pouting.

When I was three and four, this would happen whenever I couldn’t read all the words in my Ameila Bedelia books (remember those?). My mom would tell me that I was doing great and encourage me to keep reading, but I would have my fit and then begin the entire book from the beginning as a method of self-punishment. I still do not know where I got the idea to punish myself, because I was never even spanked as a child.

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When I was in kindergarten, I began learning to write words and sentences. My teacher held a parent-teacher conference with my mother to inform her that I would “fall out of my chair and cry on the floor” every time one of my backwards letters had to be corrected. I’m not sure where this idea came from…

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When I was six, I decided it was time to teach my baby sister to read. She was one. She was uncooperative. I decided to try harder. My mom had to tell me that I was not allowed to give Flynn reading lessons until she was “old enough.” I was heartbroken; all I wanted was to make her a child prodigy. It didn’t seem like too much to ask.

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After winning the school-wide spelling bee in both 4th and 5th grade, I got second place in 6th grade. I proceeded to sit on the sidelines of a kickball game and mourn for the entire afternoon of PE class. It felt like my life was falling to pieces.

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While these stories might be cute (especially with the added picture), the sad truth of the matter is, I never fully grew out of this pattern. The things that triggered my disappointment in the world and in myself evolved over time, as well as my method of self-expression and ability to keep my pouting in private. But my tendency to be overly-sensitive about life’s disappointments (and my inability to be perfect) remained.

During my year of chemo, I learned to let go of the little things and focus on the big picture. Fighting for your life will do that for you. But I shamefully admit that after over four years out of treatment and back in “the real world,” many of my habits have returned. I am often overly-emotional, I tend to catastrophize, and I strive for perfection in myself and in the world around me.

Though I currently have no real problems to worry about, what helped me see the happier side of things when I was in chemo may help me (or all of us) now: gratitude. And maybe, if I focus on what I am grateful for over time (like my amazing future husband and wonderful family and countless opportunities), it will be easier to skip the tantrums.

Hunger

This morning, the Homily at mass spoke to me.

The speaker was a bishop from out of town, visiting on his vacation. The Gospel reading was from the book of John, a story in which Jesus, once again, referred to Himself and his teachings as bread for which we hunger. It reminded me of how often we, as people, hunger for God and try to satisfy ourselves with other things.

Whether it’s money or fame or attention or academic prowess or body image or substance abuse, people try to so hard to quench the very human craving for something more–something better. And all the while, what we truly need is there beside us, free of charge, waiting for us to notice it. All the while, what we truly crave, we have already been given long, long ago.

I want to be more aware of my tendency to satisfy myself with replacements for the ultimate satisfaction. Being thin, shopping, publications, recognition–none of these are worth my efforts in the end. Isn’t strange that the thing we truly need the most in life–God–is the only thing in life that is completely free and ours for the taking?

Finding Balance

The hardest part of medical school for me has not been the amount of material I’ve had to learn. It hasn’t been the fact that no matter how long or how hard I study, I will never know all it. It hasn’t been learning to accept that so many of my classmates are smarter than I am. The hardest part for me has been finding balance.

If I knew that after medical school, or even after residency and fellowship, my life would slow down, then maybe I wouldn’t care about balance. Maybe I would sacrifice everything in order to study all the time and attempt to learn every minute detail in my textbooks. i know that this is not the case, though. I know that once I graduate I will start residency and live with my wonderful future husband who will be my husband. Once I get used to being a wife, I might become a mother. And if there’s one thing that my Mama has taught me about mothering, it’s that it never ends.

Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly grateful for my education and for my future career. I wouldn’t choose any other career, even if I thought I could fail at nothing. If I could make endless money without working, I would still become a physician. But I also know that if I fail to take time to find joy in other things, to relax recharge and love and be loved, nothing feels good anymore.

I am trying to work things into my medical school schedule now because I know that it will help me in my future when things are even busier. I also know that if I don’t fake the time to enjoy all that is around me here–all of the people and the strange new weather and the Minnesota accent–it will pass me by too fast.

The Stranger’s Advice

I recently went to a few small book signings for the book that I wrote and published with my grandfather, “Why, God? Suffering through Cancer into Faith.” One of the book signings was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at my grandfather/coauthor’s church. As Grandpapa and I sat at a large wooden table and signed a tall stack of our books to hand out, a lady walked up to me and started talking to me as if we had been friends for decades.

This stranger was short and blonde and spunky, wearing loud colors and probably some hair gel to keep her spiky haircut in place. She had crazy earrings and look of determination in her eyes. She paid for two books, and though I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember her name, I do remember what she said to me.

“You have a gift, Maggie. When you write, people feel and understand. You are able to communicate with people in a way that others cannot.”

I perked up and focused all of my attention on her. She became more serious as she continued, her smile fading.

“But do you realize what that means? It means you also have a responsibility. Use this gift. Don’t ever stop writing. You still have much more to do in this world.”

And then she walked away, and more people were there in line, waiting to get their books signed.

My encounter with that lady was several weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about what she said to me. While it would be incredibly flattering to interpret the experience as a huge compliment of my work, I have begun to think of it as something else. Though my writing has taken me many places thus far, the most important place it has taken me has not been publishing or book signings or even fundraising. The most important place my writing has taken me is inside of myself.

When I fail to write, I fail to process. When I fail to process, I fail to notice. When I fail to notice, I fail to be grateful for all that around and within the world and myself.

Maybe all of us have different ways of connecting with ourselves and with our God. Maybe all of us have different ways of worship. I like to think that it would be way too simple for all of us to connect with reality in the same way when we are all so very different. What I do know for certain, though, is that my year of writing during chemo brought something out of me that I would rather not ignore. I do not simply enjoy writing; writing is what opens my soul. It is what allows me to exist in the present. It is my zen, my pathway to enlightenment, my hidden sanctuary.

As a promise to myself, and with a new blog as a system of accountability, I intend to write at least every other day. I cannot guarantee what I will write about. I cannot guarantee it will ever be profound or witty or interesting or even grammatically correct. However, it will be me, coming face to face with myself, the only way I know how–putting words on a page.