I got this quote in an email from a fellow MIA member yesterday morning, and I haven’t been able to pry it from my brain: “I bargained with life for a penny…only to learn dismayed, that any wage I would have asked of life, life would have paid.” The author, Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948), was a poet, literary critic, and compiler of anthologies. She was also the only female founding member of the Poetry Society of America, and she worked on the editorial staff of the New York Times for ten years in the early 1900s, as well.
I know it sounds crazy, but I feel immense pride when I think about women who were writing, publishing, and professionally employed in journalism before my grandmother was born. I know that Jessie Rittenhouse was a pioneer. She got her degree, went to work, and became well-respected in a male-dominated, intellectual field in a time when what she was doing was the exception rather than the rule. I am impressed by her gumption and wonder what might have made her choose such a non-traditional life for herself. After all, she didn’t bother getting married until she was 55, and she never had children.
I have a feeling that perhaps she did not so much intentionally choose that path as her talent and drive chose it for her and along the way she merely continued to raise the bar for herself. I examine the excerpt from her poem and I think that she clearly understood that she was the architect of her destiny. Her successes, taken within the context of the time period in which they were accomplished, were a direct result of her asking more of her life than her contemporaries were likely asking of theirs. While her college classmates were keeping house, she was hanging out with Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot and reviewing their poetry.
I think the reason that I am so affected by Ms. Rittenhouse’s poetic words, however, is because they embody the entire reason I started this Moms Into Adventure group. I realized it was time for me to ask more from life. I started down a different path than I originally had mapped out for myself and for a while I felt lost, but then I realized that my slight shift in direction didn’t have to mean that I had necessarily sacrificed all my dreams for myself. I still had those dreams. I still wanted those things. I was just traveling a back road to reach them.
When I think about what I want out of my life before it’s all said and done, it goes beyond having family. I know. I know. Having my beautiful and precious family should be enough for me; our culture indoctrinates us early with this idea, and I feel a tad bit uncomfortable knowing that I need more. I’ve always been a bit on the greedy side, though. I have perpetually asked life for more than a penny’s worth and now can say in all honesty that I am happy with who I am. When I ask more from myself, I rise to the occasion. When I want something, I find a means to get it because I am nothing but absolutely determined to have my way. When I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, I somehow find a way to pull myself out of the chasm. I refuse to believe that I can’t have what I want. It might take me longer than anticipated to get it, but I will get there. I know it. When it comes to my dreams and goals, I have patience and perseverance.
You can gain none of life’s prizes without being brave and perhaps ruffling some feathers along the way. You know Ms. Rittenhouse’s mother was constantly railing on her: “You’re an old maid. Why don’t you settle down? Get married and give me some grandchildren already.” But her determination to walk her own path and ask for more than a penny’s worth made her powerful. Asking life for what we want is always a worthwhile venture, even if it means we encounter some opposition. I’ve long said my greatest fear is getting to the end of my life and realizing I’ve lived someone else’s. So, I’m going to continue asking for the things I want from life. I’m betting I’ll get them, so I’m going to be bold, up the ante, and enjoy taking home the whole pot.
We’ve gotten a lot of snow the past week here in Denver, so instead of going to yoga today as planned I could not pass up the opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh powder snow. If the perfectly clear, beautiful blue winter sky wasn’t reason enough to get out, I noticed that no one had yet taken their snowshoes or skis out onto the open space field behind our house, which meant I was going to get to break a fresh trail. I have always loved making my mark in the snow and, since I was born a penis-less female, using snowshoes is the closest I come to peeing in the snow and marking my territory.
It was a balmy 6 degrees when the hyper border collie and I headed out. The thing I have always appreciated about snowshoeing is that it’s such a good workout that I am rarely cold for long. And, sure enough, it wasn’t but a few minutes until I was huffing and puffing and already unzipping layers of Smartwool. I planned to do the 4-mile loop the dog and I usually hike. It seemed like a reasonable and attainable goal. I snowshoe fairly often, but I usually head out on paths that have already been trodden down somewhat. In fact, I had completely forgotten how much work it is snowshoeing in fresh snow. I was stopping far more frequently than I had planned, just to catch my breath. The dog, completely unaccustomed to my taking breaks, enjoyed every last second by flying off in different directions with total freedom.
On one of my oh-too-many stops to catch my breath, I started thinking about my desire to blaze a trail today and how I’ve come a long way from my high school days when I was a truly devoted follower. My best friend was the leader, and I was happy being in her shadow (which was considerable since she is 6 feet tall in bare feet). In high school, I wanted to be able to camouflage myself, to fade into my surroundings. There’s a photo of me in the yearbook that comes to mind. The camera was pointed right at me, and I ducked my head and stared at my schoolwork as if I could disappear into it. I remember that girl as hesitant, reticent, and fearful. Definitely not a trailblazer.
Now that I am older and have more miles in my own skin, I’m a bit less concerned about whether or not I blend in. It’s not that I want to stand out necessarily. I just don’t care if I do or not. Other peoples’ opinions of me matter so much less than they used to. And, that makes it easier for me to be my own woman, to do what I want, and to move forward in my life unabashed. I may not be a true female pioneer like Amelia Earheart, but I’m closer to that adventurer now than I’ve ever been before. It’s not always easy. In fact, just like breaking a fresh trail in snowshoeing, sometimes making my own way is much more work than I imagined it would be. But, at least the path I create is uniquely mine, and that has to be worth more than just running with the pack. There’s something about breaking out on your own. Each step is a new beginning and the possibilities are limitless. It takes your breath away.
I know that most of my blog entries are about life-giving adventures, the kind that we want to undertake. And, that’s as it should be. We should focus on things in life that we want to achieve. We only go around once; we should make the best of it. Sometimes, however, there are other risky adventures we should undertake, ones that make us uncomfortable. These are emotional risks. Funny how some people find it easier to jump out of a plane than to say something important to a loved one.
Earlier today, I was sitting in my office doing some work and listening to a playlist of John Mayer songs I put together for a friend who had never heard of him. (I promise that my friend does not live in a cave in Afghanistan.) At any rate, as the songs were on in the background, “Say” came on and I got choked up…again. That song gets me every time. I suppose it’s because I so heartily believe in the song’s message: “You better know that in the end it’s better to say too much than never to say what you need to say again.” This is my mantra. I’d rather say a bit too much than to say nothing and risk regret.
Now, this is not to imply that it’s easy for me to do this. It isn’t. I struggle with the spoken word constantly. I speak in fits and starts because I am keenly aware of how razor sharp words can be and how quickly they can inflict seemingly irrevocable damage. I’ve spent my lifetime crafting written words because I can control them. This is why I prefer texting or emails to phone calls. I can go back and edit. I can rearrange my thoughts, cut the parts that might be misconstrued, and carve my words into a clear and concise communication. And then, when I feel I have drafted a genuine and appropriate message, I can hit Send with confidence. It’s all so tidy.
But, let’s face it. Life isn’t tidy, and it rarely gives us the opportunity to design perfect messages in difficult situations. Sometimes words attack us, and even those words precisely chosen can strike a chord we don’t appreciate. Then, instead of taking the time to recognize our true feelings of hurt, we lash out with anger and confusion. Sometimes we even take it so far as to sever a relationship rather than putting ourselves out there again to explain our point of view and work towards a solution. Sometimes we think we can’t handle any further pain, so we send something that was entirely fixable off to the relationship scrapyard and move on.
While I understand it’s in our nature to avoid pain, I sometimes wish we were more brave. I think that the best relationships are the not the ones that are never tested but are the ones that are tested time and time again and survive. To have relationships like that, though, we have to be willing to take emotional risks and go on adventures of temporary discomfort. We need to take the time to say what we need to say, and we have to afford other people their chance to express themselves while keeping our mind open and our mouth shut. It’s know it’s scary, but avoiding emotional pain is tantamount to avoiding life. It’s no way to live.
It’s much easier complain than it is to compliment or to be sarcastic than it is to share. But, if we don’t put ourselves out on that proverbial ledge occasionally and go on an emotional adventure, we risk everything. The lyrics to that John Mayer song are always with me. As stressful as it is for me to open up my heart, I don’t ever want to find myself in a situation where I regret not having told someone how much they meant to me. Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a minute of it being too proud or too fearful to say something genuine to someone you care about. They might reject it and you might get hurt but, then again, they might not and it might be the best risk you ever took.
“Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open…say what you need to say.”