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Little Deaths

It’s fall, which means things are dying. I’ve been working on shedding some of my least productive practices and mindsets.

I’m working on a book and realizing that, for the first time, I am not writing defensively. I am not writing in hopes that smart people will think I’m smart. I am not writing to prove that I’m a “real journalist.” I am really trying to make something that comes from a deeper place, something that is intellectually courageous but also soulful, immersive, irresistible. Sometimes you let an old way of working die, and no one but you can perceive the difference. And yet, it’s huge. It can change everything.

I am shedding the automatic “yes,” as I’ve written about in previous columns. In fact, I’m starting to really notice when I say no gracefully and firmly, and celebrate myself for it. I’m even turning down paid work, which is really counterintuitive for me. I have been in disbelief for so long that I actually earn a living doing what I love that it’s made it hard to trust that it won’t disappear if I have the gumption to say “no.”

I’m letting friendships die. This one is hard. God, this one is so hard, but I’m learning. I’ve never really understood how anyone you have truly loved could ever leave your life. I remember after a soul-crushing break-up in my 20s I would look at a T-shirt and think, “How could I have ever predicted that I would have this stupid T-shirt longer than him?” Losing people for one reason or another who are still walking around in the world seems so emotionally violent to me. But I also understand why clinging is a kind of violence. It’s not only painful, but denies the basic law of nature — sometimes birth is followed only by a fertile death.

Speaking of which, I had big aspirations to be a gardener when I moved to Oakland. I was going to study under my neighbor Louise and really learn how to tend to the earth and, well, I’ve grown nothing. Which I guess means that I’m not really letting anything die but my own fantasy of myself with dirt under my fingernails. The same thing happened with my fantasy to play the blues harmonica. And the one where I make beautiful, crusty bread at home. Maybe these aren’t dead forever, but for now I won’t keep adding them to my to-do list or beat myself up when they don’t transpire.

I’m shedding that little part of me that desperately craves completion. Sometimes Maya turns the last page of a book before I finish reading the words and I just let it happen. Sometimes she needs me when I am half of the way through an email and I just shut the computer. This is way harder for me than it should be. I guess parenting is an awesome lesson in letting go, even with the tiny stuff.

What little deaths are you welcoming this fall?

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