Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Advice from Alice Hoffman

So I have no idea what is going on recently.  I just can't seem to get myself to write.  I know that I am busy but I am busy every semester -- lots of students, lots of essays, and lots of things that just have to be done.  This semester I am teaching a night class on Monday nights that goes from 7:00 - 9:50 PM and I know that this one class is seriously kicking my butt.  It is not just the late time slot - it is also just a combination of me being tired from teaching and working all day to interacting with folks who have had similar (if not worse) days.  I just can't seem to get the class at the point where the class is both fun and serious.

So I need to remember to write, something that gets lost in the midst of teaching and just living life.  I am also not reading as much as I usually do and that definitely needs to change.  A few weeks ago, I walked across the street to Left Bank Books (the fabulous independent bookstore across the street) and discovered that Alice Hoffman (one of my favorite contemporary writers) had written a new book called Survival Lessons.  Apparently, she had breast cancer about 15 years ago and she just now compiled some of her thoughts on being a "survivor."  Not only was this an "easy read" (at about 83 pages), but each section of the book had one of those little "aha" moments for me.  So perhaps this would be a good "bridge" in getting back to writing!

First, Hoffman starts by establishing this super cool reminder about how bad events are "important" in your life: "There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights.  I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other.  This is what makes us human" (vii).  This is obviously a pretty simple thing to say but I think this helps me better grasp the whole "why me?" mentality when I am feeling down (whether I am bummed about my body and breast cancer or I am bummed about my job).  She ends this chapter with the saying, "There is always a before and an after.  My advice, travel light.  Choose only what you need most to see you through."  Hmmm ... Perhaps this resonated with me because I am probably carrying too much crap in my life (the abstract luggage like "Can I do this?" or "Am I a bad person?")

In a nut shell, there were some many tiny pieces of advice that Hoffman suggested throughout the book to folks who want to "survive" (whether it is post breast cancer or pretty much any other traumatic life event) - here are just a few more that I liked:

"Make time for old friends" (page 20)

I need to do this more!  I have been so blessed to have amazing people in my life.  I know that I love it when I get a surprise card in the mail from an old friend.  I need to work better at being this kind of friend to all the wonderful people in my life.  How in the world did I get so darn lucky?

"When you help others, your own troubles aren't as heavy" (page 45)

I volunteer every week at Hope but I want to do more.  Hoffman is right when she says that we feel better by helping other people.  Even when I am working with a student and that "aha" moment happens, it is a joyous moment for me just as much as it is for the student.  I need to concentrate on the feeling, especially when I am feeling like I am not making a difference.

"Don't worry about wasting [time].  It belongs to you" (page 59)

It does, doesn't it?  I have lived with this Protestant work ethic my entire life that makes me feel guilty for doing nothing.  You know what I mean -- just vegging on the couch and practicing the whole art of doing nothing.  But that is so hard to do!  But I need to get over that.  Sometimes doing nothing is the most productive thing that you can do.

"People say no man on his deathbed ever said he wished he had spent more time at the office.  I disagree ... When your work brings you joy, you cannot get enough of it. .... If you don't feel this way about your current work, take the time to make something beautiful" (page 63)

I am not 100% happy in my job anymore.  I am not sure what it is -- I know that I am yearning for new challenges though I am not sure what those new challenges are or need to be.  Maybe I need to apply for that opening at SIU -- it would mean a HUGE change but maybe change is something I need right now.  But, then again, what if it's a mistake?  What if you are just being tested to determine if where you are at right now is where you should be?

"If you can forgive someone, I highly recommend that you do.  It will be like losing twenty pounds.  Maybe even two hundred and twenty pounds" (page 70).

Forgiving is not easy.  But it is an action that I have control over (especially since I haven't figured out how that whole mind control over other people think works yet!).  So I need to do it often and not carry the burden of feeling hurt and/ or angry.

Hoffman has wise words here.  Simple, but they hit the mark of something that I have been feeling myself and haven't been able to articulate.  So I am going to take stumbling on her new book to be a good thing, even maybe something like a karma-like moment!

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