50 Roads #2 – THE ROAD OF UNBECOMING
I admire people who can change direction swiftly and not look back longingly at where they were. I am in awe of people who can let go of things that are long past their due date or date of usefulness without making it into a big emotional thing.
I am not that person.
I can’t stand it when something beautiful is done, and I have to work really hard to not take it personally when something that was alive and thriving one day, with so much possibility ahead — dies or moves on seemingly overnight, and that big possibility in my head is just gone.
We have all of these imaginings in our head of what the future is going to be with a person or a project or a dream or even a plant. And sometimes things just die or move on when you’re smack in the middle of planning a future with them. I really really really can’t stand it when something beautiful is done. It feels like a knife in my heart.
A person needs to be able to count on beautiful things staying alive, right? Right? I mean, how else can we prove that we are valuable if we don’t have beauty and loveliness and wonder and excitement alongside us at all times?
It was that way with everything for me, even flowers that warn you on that plastic tag stuck in the soil. They say ANNUAL. That means you get to have them for ONE GROWING SEASON and then they are done. They just die and disintegrate and turn back into soil. It’s so rude. I always thought that maybe if I was nice enough, they wouldn’t be so rude to just die when we had so much of a future together. So, I’d plant annual flowers and even when that growing season was over, it felt like a personal insult and a complete rejection when they would die. After I’d spent so many months building a relationship with them, giving them everything I had. Every Spring I would plant thousands of flowers all over the ranch. In pots on the deck, in pots on the grass, in the dirt, in the garden. In hanging pots, in cracks in boulders, in old rusty containers. Anywhere that a visitor to the ranch might find a place to sit, I would plant some flowers. I especially loved to put them in surprising places. I would paint words and loving sentences on rocks and hide them in the pots or next to the pots. Surely that would make the flowers want to stay! I loved to make surprises for people to find later, and I would even find them years later on just the right day. There were never too many flowers. Just about very time I went to the grocery store, I would throw a few more little black containers of perky colorful little blossoms, ready to be somewhere in the sunshine, in my shopping cart. I would go home and plant them wherever they would grow. And then I’d have this love affair with every single one of those flowers as spring warmed into summer, and all the way into the lingering warmth of September and October.
And then the frost would come.
And overnight, dahlias, zinnias, petunias and all of their pals would literally turn black from the frost. And they’d wilt and die within hours like we hadn’t just been dancing together the day before.
So rude. So devastating. It seemed so impersonal to them, like it was the most natural thing in the world for them to be a blossom one day and the material for compost the next day.
Didn’t they care about me as much as I cared about them?
Because I often worked hard to defy nature, in just about every part of my life. Maybe if I worked hard enough, they would stick around. Maybe a miracle would happen and they just wouldn’t die. Maybe my love would be enough.
So I had a whole routine of watering, deadheading and talking and singing to them. I would cheer them on when they grew and I would apologize to them when I accidentally pulled off too much while trimming them. When I had to to go out of town, I would obsessively send text messages to my sons or Marq asking if they remembered to water my flowers. My heart would beat fast and I’d melt into lovesickness when I’d look out the window and see Marq with the big gentle rain sprayer attached to the hose, carefully watering the flowers all over the deck. It was the most romantic act of love to me.
Well, that frosty morning of death would come every year and it was devastating every single time. I would cry every single time. I would feel angry and insulted and betrayed. I would even cry when giant branches would break off of the trees in windstorms, afraid it was going to kill them. There were more than 50 trees on the ranch and some of them were very very old. You can’t just replace an old tree. There are things you have to say goodbye to, knowing that there will never be anything there again that was exactly the same.
This same way of bargaining with nature extended into ANYTHING in my life that was beautiful. I kept every piece of clothing that was beautiful, even if it didn’t fit anymore. I kept every card, every letter, every gift that was ever given to me. I kept every notebook I wrote anything in. Dishes, blankets, sketches. Anything my kids ever made. I couldn’t stand the thought of anything beautiful not being in my life.
You can imagine my dramatic devastation when my children moved away from home. We won’t even go there yet. And when my dad died. Ugh. Every day, I still hate that he’s not alive anymore.
So when I had to start going through 30 years of belongings, and cull the herd of my beautiful proof of life, it felt like such a personal attack, such a rejection. It felt like I was going to disintegrate right along with those dead, black flowers. It didn’t seem to matter how much love or care or time I had invested in anything. It all felt so incredibly personal.
As I look back, it’s embarrassing how I behaved when we had to get rid of most of our belongings. I had to do it in stages. And I cried a lot. I tried to bargain and rationalize why I needed to keep things. I’d make piles of stuff that I was certain that my children would want, or friends would want. I mean, I sacrificed so much of my life for all of this stuff!
In the end, nobody really wanted my old stuff, aside from a few things here and there. Turns out, it was me who had the problem.
And the problem was that I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t let go of unfinished possibilities, good-intentions-never-fulfilled or things that had graduated to the title of “good memories.” I didn’t want memories. I wanted ALIVENESS. I wanted everything to come back to life somehow. I wanted everything that was EVER good in my life to be within arms reach so that I would be okay no matter what happened next.
In truth, I was always afraid that nothing good would happen again and so I needed to hold on to what was good before.
And the biggest truth of all was that I wanted PROOF that I did something valuable once. I wanted PROOF that I had gathered the things that make a person valuable in our culture. I wanted PROOF that I was valuable and worthy of a beautiful life.
I was a PROOF hoarder. I was a relentless coaxer of all things past their due date . . . if I just do it right, I know I can revive this.
So there were piles and boxes and bags and hangers filled with pedigreed PROOF of who I had become.
And then the FROST SEASON of my life came, and it was time to UNbecome.
Just like those flowers in the pots. When this relentless season of life came, the old me died. And I wasn’t ready.
The August before we left Idaho, my daughter Madi came over every day and asked me if I was ready to go through my clothes. I kept procrastinating. We had planned a one week stretch where neighbors, friends and strangers could come and rifle through our stuff – an estate sale of sorts. It was days before that deadline and I still had not found the strength to go through my lovely lovely lovely clothes, boots, shoes, bags, belts and jewelry. So one night, Madi showed up, set up at least 8 tables out in the driveway and came inside and started hauling my stuff out to those tables. It was getting dark, and so I told her we would do it tomorrow. She pulled her car to where the lights pointed to the driveway and shined her headlights at those 8 tables and started going through 15-20 years of beautiful costumes. Yep, I’m gonna call them costumes.
Just like with everything else, I tried to make excuses for why I needed to keep almost everything. About every 10th piece, I would say… “okay, I can let that go…” We weren’t making much progress.
So Madi started doing something to make me laugh. She held up a ridiculous skirt and said “Mom, no.” In a tone that helped me realize that this skirt was SO not me anymore, even though I’d worn it during a television interview years before — PROOF that I’d done something valuable. And then she put the skirt on. And then she did it with a shirt, again, held it up and made a cringey face and said “MOOOOOM, WHAT? WHY? no.” Even though I remember buying it in New York City on a trip where I landed an amazing licensing deal. What other PROOF did I have that I’d done something amazing once? And another skirt. And a jacket, and a swimsuit coverup. She held them up and then put them on over the top of whatever she’d put on last. And then she found a wig, and put that on. She put on crazy tights and wild hats and just layered it all on top of the last thing and just kept layering and layering and layering clothes that I thought I just had to keep.
It was a ridiculous fashion show out there in the glow of her headlights.
And I was laughing so hard because she is just so funny, and so frank, and such a relentless let-goer.
Then I started to cry because I could see that this is what I’d been doing my whole life. Hoarding proof. Hoarding future possibilities. Hoarding armor and coverings and padding and something to hide behind. Something to announce my value. Something to make me worthwhile. And I’d layer it and layer it and layer it until I was unrecognizable under it all.
I had over 120 dresses, 0ver 70 pairs of jeans ranging from size 4 to size 14. I had more than 45 pairs of boots. Countless earrings, bracelets and purses. It took most of the night to sort through it all and Madi stayed with me the whole time. I kept asking her if she wanted to keep things that I thought were particularly valuable. And she just kept saying…”Mom, no.”
Well, we finished going through everything and I did keep a few boxes for myself. Coats, and a few pairs of boots and some jeans that still fit. I kept things that were practical, but I didn’t keep much because you can’t fit very much in an RV. I kept a few very special things to be stored for someday. But in the end, I ripped off the bandaid and let most of it go.
And over the next few days, I hid in my RV parked in the driveway and watched out the window through metal blinders as strangers stuffed my PROOF into big black garbage bags. $10 for as much as you can stuff into a bag. I’d watch them rifle through my stuff like it didn’t mean much at all. And discard some of it and tightly stuff the things they wanted down into that thick black plastic. It was a reckoning. Nearly 30 years of my PROOF OF VALUE drove down that little dirt road in the cars of strangers and neighbors.
In the end, I kept t-shirts, jeans and flannel shirts. But I didn’t heal this problem for a good long while – it’s been 2 years and it’s taken almost that long to get to the root of my need to hoard PROOF OF VALUE. After the black bag bonanza, I didn’t have much to cover myself up with. So instead of covering myself with clothes, almost immediately I started to gain a lot of weight, I needed SOMETHING to cover me up if I didn’t have proof of value anymore.
I was trying to disappear.
So that was when I started learning about Unbecoming. What I know now is that I was MOLTING.
-to shed old feathers, hair, or skin, or an old shell, to make way for a new growth.
“a caterpillar molts its skin”
-to fall out to make way for new growth.
“the last of his juvenile plumage had molted”
In biology, moulting, or molting, also known as sloughing, shedding, or in many invertebrates, ecdysis, is the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body, either at specific times of the year, or at specific points in its life cycle.
Molting is an incredibly ugly process. It’s the messy, raw, painful initiation into Unbecoming.
And you can get really caught up in how much it feels like a tortuous death. You can convince yourself that this is the final chapter because it feels like you are literally dying. And you are.
But you are dying because it is the ONLY WAY to make space for what wants to be born next.
It’s a long and difficult process. It feels cruel and senseless and meaningless. It can trick us if we don’t understand what is actually happening. So many things are like that.
The Road To Unbecoming was a humiliating, naked walk through dead flowers and outdated sparkly frocks.
I was Unbecoming SO THAT I could finally BECOME. It was a long time in that chrysalis though. And I will talk about on another road.
So, dear fellow molter….
What old skin are YOU carrying around that it’s time to shed?
What is YOUR PROOF OF VALUE that you’re afraid to be free of?
I dare you to slough off that old skin and see what’s underneath.
And thanks for traveling The Road of Unbecoming with me.
Tomorrow, Road #3 is The Road Where We Parted Ways.
I love you, I love who you are becoming as YOU UNbecome.