Facing Fear and Robbing Banks and 93 Days
I have a cold. It’s one of those colds that makes getting off the couch and going up the stairs to bed seem like a trip to the moon.
I wasn’t sure I could drive to Berkeley this morning. I imagined myself falling asleep at the wheel and slamming into one of the six thousand trucks hurtling down 880, but then I thought about how I feel when I am with Pam, and I pulled on my shoes.
Being with someone who understands you is like a spa date in Tuscany. Pam and I talk usually at least once a day on the phone and we meet every couple of weeks in Berkeley to refuel. We love to laugh and to think and to learn. We both ask and live questions. We both say yes to life in our own sedate and wild ways. We feed off each other, and we figure stuff out. Pam helps me be more Anne, and I help her be more Pam. We see each other in ways we don’t always quite see ourselves, and so we are able to mirror wonder and love in healing and what often feels like magical ways.
We hear from the people who came to our February adoptee retreat on a daily basis. They write to us individually or as a pair in texts, on Facebook, in emails. They tell us what is happening in their lives. They tell us about their successes and struggles. Mostly they are saying We connected and it matters so much to me.Each message is a gift, and Pam and I recognize the miracle of connection. The grace. People are quitting jobs, getting tattoos, taking risks, finding their tribe, making art, writing books, speaking out, parenting in new ways, living a wider range of possibilities, taking better care of their bodies. They even came together on Facebook and created their own book group. They show me what happens when you confront your fears—you get to dance with amazement.
Pam and I have a special place we land in Berkeley when we meet and brainstorm and plan. It’s called Mission Heirloom and I can get Bullet coffee and Turmeric Spice Tonic and gluten-free savory scones that take all morning to eat because they are so…complicated. (Okay. The real word is dry, but I want you to love this place as much as I do. Just take a sip of liquid after each bite and you’ll be fine.)
We were there earlier today. This place is a couple of blocks from the big brown house on Milvia Street, the nest where we hold our adoptee retreats, and the whole neighborhood has quickly come to feel like home. Pam was typing on her computer and I was typing on mine, and my cold was a memory, except that I had to think about it to remember. Mostly I was thinking about how hopeful I am, how excited, how eager to see what we will do next.
Now I’m at home in Los Gatos. After working together in Berkeley this morning, Pam and I started taking selfies and we wrote a description of our New York and London retreats and we went for a walk and ended up high above the city at the Claremont Hotel where we sat in the bar area and looked out over at the San Francisco skyline. We talked about my 93-day project and Pam said that it was either like I was a boat or I was in a boat, I forget, and that I was always on adventures, seeing how it felt to do different things. She’s so flipping smart. That’s exactly what my life is like. I’m always checking out how people, places, ideas, and objects feel, how they float my boat.
Here’s the thing. I was barely sick when I was with Pam earlier today. I went from almost not being able to get off the couch to laughing and working and walking around Berkeley and I saw, once again, how complicated it is being human. When I was growing up, I learned the way to get out of doing things I didn’t want to do was to get sick. This is a particularly clever way to minimize your own needs and preferences. Just say yes to everything and be agreeable and don’t make waves until you get a fever or a sore throat or a headache. Then no one can blame you for not participating. You are sick.
I am suspicious of my body and mind right now. I’m thinking they are anxious about this upcoming 93 days. They are afraid I’m going to change. They worry because I don’t have a definite plan. They are afraid of losing control, of suffering, of not getting what they want. They are afraid of failing.
How can you both listen to yourself and ignore yourself at the same time? For thirty years I listened to my brain tell me I wasn’t good enough to write a book and then I ignored that voice and I wrote the book, and yes, it was a fight. It wasn’t like my mind just quit and applauded me to the finish line. It kept me informed of my problems and weaknesses, but I had brought in the big guns: commitment and community and a deaf ear, and so I ended up winning that battle.
My friend Joe Loya would sometimes have to pull over to the side of the road before he robbed a bank because his body would shut down. He’d listen to Comfortably Numbuntil he remembered his fury and regained the power in his arms and legs so he could get down to business.
Fear tells us No. Stop. You are better off at home, on the couch, watching Chef’s Table. Now, maybe that information is helpful if you are doing something illegal that is going to get you thrown into jail, but maybe you don’t care about jail and you really, really want to rob a bank. You have to find a way to override Brother or Sister Fear who knows how to bring you to your knees even when you are driving.
So part of my 93-day project is to clean myself of fear. I think I am afraid to change, to completely claim my own sense of self in the world. As an adoptee, in particular, it is almost unthinkable to be wholly yourself because part of the unspoken deal of adoption is we will take you into our family and you will be one of us. That means please pretend there was no life before this one, no other you, no other parents, no other names, no other set of roots. You don’t even have to be adopted to have made a deal like this. It’s called trying to fit in.The trick is that in the fitting, you might have contorted yourself and lost your way, lost yourself.
So, who knows, maybe the answer is to take 93 days and to do a project called 93 Ways to Inhabit the Power of Your Own Being just for the fun of it. Just because I can. Just because I want to see what happens.
I want to float my boat merrily, merrily, merrily, because life is but a dream.
And fuck it. If it’s my dream, I want it to be good.