Tag Archive for: letting go

Learning to Let Go

by J.M. Phillippe

A writer friend of mine told me that being in your 20s is all about unbridled optimism that anything can happen, while being in your 30s is about figuring out your limitations, and what really is possible. Limitations are hard, she said. But it makes life so much easier when you just accept who you really are instead of constantly banging your head against your own weaknesses, hoping they’ll stop existing.

When I was younger, I had all these visions about what my life was going to look like, and what the future was going to hold for me. I was sold on my own potential, something adults had assured me I had plenty of for most of my life, but I also found it paralyzing. I could do anything. I could do anything. And that meant I had to pick and choose and apparently be very very good at it or else I would be wasting all that potential.

Things in my life did  not go as planned. In fact, they keep not going as planned. I have spent a lot of time trying to fit myself into spaces where I just don’t fit, and even if I managed to force my way in, being in them would make me constantly uncomfortable, and completely inauthentic. And why? Because of some worry that I was failing to live up to something as ill-defined as potential?

I was talking about feeling stuck, overwhelmed by the potential of my story. “Over determination is the enemy,” my friend reminded me. She told me to stop trying to force it, to move back toward writing as play. It was almost shocking advice. I have spent a long time trying to embrace writing as work. Somewhere along the way I forgot that it is also supposed to be fun.

And that life is supposed to be fun — or at least not miserable. If I was working on not forcing things in my greater life, why would I then be willing to force things in my writing? I had to let go.

It’s scary to let go. It’s scary to abandon plans — or to at least pull back on the details. It’s scary to imagine that at best you can aim for a certain direction and see what happens. As in life, so it is in writing. All the outlining in the world won’t actually take your story where it needs to go.

More importantly, worrying about living up to the potential of a story — or of a life — is a great way to squander said potential. No one person can do ALL the things in life. The therapist part of me of course knows this, but the writer part of me often forgets it. The story will come when it comes, and how it will come, and it won’t be forced.

So that’s where I am these days — trying to learn the art of letting go. My hope is that my letting go this idea of unrealized potential I can start to better focus on what already is, what I am already good at, and what I already know. I can stop living in the shadow of what could be, and enjoy the light of what actually is.

I think I’d rather be in the light.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Everybody Plays the Fool Sometimes

by Susan McBride

Yes, I know I’m one day late for April Fool’s (aka the unofficial birthday of Blue the Kitty); but I think the topic of fools is so timeless it needs no official date. I’m not talking about pranksters or the fools who nearly run you off the road while drinking Starbucks and yakking on cellphones. Nor am I alluding to the political mouthpieces who never seem to give their pieholes a rest. Nope. Instead, I want to discuss a trait that I envy more and more the older I get: being completely unafraid to act foolish in front of others, something I don’t think most humans master until we’re too cranky and tired to care.

For a long time, I lived under the false impression that perfectionism was attainable and if you achieved it–or came anywhere close–everyone would find you irresistible and would want to be fast friends. Although when you’re born a smart ass (as I was), it’s very difficult to curb your tongue when there’s such an itch to add a punchline to everything. Shockingly, not everyone appreciates the fine art of wordplay, so I often found myself at odds with siblings and friends who didn’t “get” my sense of humor. What’s an impressionable girl to do? I tried my darnedest to refrain from saying things that might be miscontrued, no matter how much it pained me.

That training came in very handy in my sorority days and was invaluable once I became a real-live author at 34 (egads, eleven years ago next month!). When I was a newbie, fresh off the I-can’t-believe-I’m-finally-published bus, I tried super-hard to behave. I was as nice as I could possibly be to everyone I met. But after a few years and a couple eye-opening incidents where something I said or did was taken the wrong way, I began to realize that, despite my best efforts, I was never going to: (a) say all the right things all the time; and (b) be seen as funny and delightful by all of those watching me. It was about then that I said, “To hell with this.” I had to stop being afraid of every word that came out of my mouth. I wanted to live every moment fully and enjoy everything I did, even if there was a person or two (or three hundred) out there who didn’t like my tone of voice or felt offended by my word choice.

I do believe that turning point came after I hit forty, which seems to be a magical line that, once crossed, gives you the freedom to be exactly who you want to be. I stopped worrying so much about making a fool of myself, and it felt like finally breaking out of a tightly laced corset. If life is high school then I’d rather have fun being the goofy class clown than the perfectly presentable prom queen. I’m not talking about disposing of manners, merely not taking things so seriously. One of the best parts about writing is feeling like I have no boundaries. I love concocting characters who don’t always behave the way they probably should. I adore when they say things out of turn that crack me up. That’s how I want to live my life and maybe why I have a plaque above my file cabinet that says “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

I’d like to propose a year-round celebration of the good kind of fools who aren’t afraid to be themselves, even if that means looking stupid and screwing up once in awhile. Hey, as the song goes, “everybody plays the fool sometime.” I think I’ll do something foolish today, just so I never get out of practice.