Today I’m spending an 18 hour work day up in Salt Lake at a massive comic convention. I expect to have no brain for blogging, so I thought I would re-share this essay that still matters quite a lot to me. This is a post I originally wrote in 2011 and then revised for my book Cobble Stones 2011. You can find the paper book in our store for only $5. We also have it in e-book form for $3.
Red Shoes and Wishing
“You’re allowed to want things,” I said to myself. I didn’t quite believe it. If I began wanting things then there would be conflict between the things that I wanted and the things that my husband or children wanted. The simplest way to avoid the inevitable conflicts was to remember that what I wanted most was my family and to either let go of, or fold away, the other things. So I pressed myself small, trying to take only the spaces in our lives which no one else was occupying. I got quite good at it. Unfortunately the process squeezed from my life those things which re-energized me. I was less and less able to meet family needs because I had less and less to give. It came to a crisis, and I formally told myself, “You’re allowed to want things. Even if they are silly. Even if they are impractical. Even if logic dictates that you’ll never have them, you’re still allowed to want them.” I breathed a big sigh and tried to believe it.
I was out of practice at wanting things. It took time for me to remember how. I began by creating small things, a pressed flower picture, a clean space in my house where my things could live. The process is ongoing. I’m still seeking which things call to me, feeling the call, and then waiting patiently to see if my brain will explain to me what these symbols mean. My long-neglected Amazon wish list has begun to fill up. I don’t know that I will actually buy most of these things, but collecting the list of wishes has been fascinating. I can see how the physical objects are actually representations of qualities I want in my life. The stationery box with all the little compartments appeals to my sense of organization and to my connection with the teenage letter writer I used to be. The journal with the faux aged leather cover speaks of connections with things that last and with words. The movie Julie and Julia appeals to my desire for transformation into something stronger. It isn’t things I want so much as qualities. If I happen to acquire the things, they can serve as reminders to seek the attached qualities, but I can accomplish this without spending money if I am mindful.
Layer by layer I unfold these pressed-together parts of myself. Each layer unfolds some new thing I want as a part of my life. Some of them are quite surprising. One day I discovered a desire to own red shoes. I’m mostly a brown and black shoe person. I like being able to wear shoes with many different outfits. Yet I wanted a not-at-all-sensible pair of high-heeled, red patent-leather pumps. Not any particular pair, or rather I haven’t yet found the perfect pair. But I’m looking. Red heels are for women who are beautiful and unafraid. They walk confidently, with their flash of color which often doesn’t match anything else they are wearing. They are like one of those Japanese paintings with a single spot of bright color as a focal point. Dorothy wore red shoes, and they gifted her with the ability to travel home. Other fictional red shoes danced their wearer to death. I feel cautious about red shoes, but I am allowed to want them. If I find the right pair, with the right fit, at the right price, I will buy them. In the meantime I will try to gift myself with the qualities that are represented by red high heels.
Allowing myself to desire things has led to conflict. I’m learning to live with that. I’m learning that sometimes the process of navigating a conflict is better than creating a peace which only exists because everyone is careful not to bump in to each other. I’ve been surprised to discover that three quarters of the conflicts I must navigate are me against myself. Howard and the kids are quite happy to shift around and make space for me. I have a hard time making space for myself. I agonize over which desires matter more, where I should spend my efforts, what I should do. My frantic scrambles to get it right disrupt the flow of what could be. Many of my wish list items, and my growing collection of quotations in my journal, carry themes of peace and courage. “Be not afraid,” I am telling myself in hidden ways. “It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to fail. It is okay to be ordinary.” But also, “Seek beauty. Seek small happiness. Stop. Breathe. Feel.”
I am trying. I’m collecting more things on my wish list to see what qualities my deep self would like to have. I’m also watching for the right pair of red shoes.
I recently read this essay aloud at a symposium. I sat in front of the audience, three years after writing this, wearing red patent-leather high-heeled pumps.