I debated for awhile the subject of "Part 5". Do I write about the joys and challenges of moving across the world, and how that influenced the evolution of this book? Do I write about the roller coaster of collaborating with other artists in an effort to manifest my vision & my art? These topics may appear on this blog, but not today. I have landed, instead, upon a subject that we can all relate to.
I have been at home, sick with a virus, for a week now. I don't know about you, but illness often sends me into a time of self-reflection. Brooding, as it were. In between Netflix binges of course. In one particularly introspective moment today, I found myself wrestling with a familiar opponent known as Self-Doubt. Familiar to more than just me, I am certain. That is, do you know anyone that has not doubted themselves at some time or another?
This, for me, is often presents itself as a fear of failure. This fear has long since accompanied me on my journey as a writer. As I was pondering this concept (where it comes from, how to get rid of it, why is it such a pain in the ass, etc.), I realised that it was silly of me to fear failure when I have not first defined the antithesis of failure: success.
How does one define success? Do we listen to society's standards of such things? Is it about money? Recognition? In my musing I came across an old journal entry that, lucky me, contained a definition of success that I had penned down a while ago. It just so happened to touch on the very subject I had been wrestling with: that pesky Self-Doubt. So, I thought I would share it with you. It starts like many of my "ponderings" - with a question:
Who are the great successes? The one's who stay true to themselves. The one's who are not driven by market demands, only their Artist's demands. Even more difficult, the one's who do not doubt. I do not mean doubting one's abilities; such as your ability to rise up in society as a household name. (That, if it happens, is a by-product of your true success.) It is only natural to doubt your abilities from time to time. What the successful artists of this world do not doubt is their worth and worthiness. Their true selves.
I do not mean staunch individualism that protests "Me against society! Me against the system!" The system and society are irrelevant in the face of artistry. Aligning with your vision, co-creating with other artists, following your excitement - here is where the relevance lies. Here is where my focus must be for true success. Success by the world's standards? That may or may not be part of my personal success. That is, again, irrelevant.
If I have succeeded in staying true to myself, if I have not forsaken the integrity of the Artist within me, if I have sought excitement, love, joy, & passion in every moment, circumstance and decision, then I believe I have honoured my father's legacy as a writer. Failure, in the light of following my joy, is not possible. If that is not the definition of success for Gretchen Lindemann, then I don't know what is.
What's your personal definition of success?
Sunday, 10 September 2017
"I'm sorry," I murmur to my 28-week-old patient in as gentle a voice as I can muster, "I'm sorry that every breath is a struggle, I’m sorry that every touch seems to causes you pain. I promise it’s helping, but I’m sorry it hurts. You’re so small, so delicate, but you are also resilient beyond understanding.” I know it's not my fault, my apology is not one of personal responsibility. I'm apologizing for Mother Nature, and the fact that we're getting in her way.
Mum shows up, wheeled in by her husband. The look on her face tells me this is the worst day of her life, and also that she has more love for this little person I'm murmuring over then I could ever comprehend. I have no children of my own and I cannot possibly understand.
I try anyways, speaking softly to her and giving her what I hope is a sympathetic and encouraging smile. "Hello, my name is Gretchen. I’m the nurse looking after your little one today.”
“Hello.” She attempts to smile back at me. Her husband wheels her over to the cot. I lower it so she can see her baby better. She puts her hands to her mouth, eyes filling with tears. “He’s so small.”
I try my sympathetic encouraging smile again. “Yes, but he’s actually a good size for his gestation!” I’m trying to sound encouraging. She doesn’t respond. She can’t take her eyes off her baby.
I trudge onward. “I know this is not what you had planned. But your little one is in good hands." Does she think I mean myself? I mean the whole team. Shit. I can tell he's only half listening to me anyway.
“Am I allowed to touch him?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say.
I open the isolette door for her.
She reaches out, an IV in the back of her hand. She's trembling as she strokes his head. "Is he going to be okay?"
No clue. How could I know? How can I possibly know if your baby will survive, let alone be "okay"?? Deep breath. The first thought won’t work for a response. Let’s try the second one.
"Right now he's stable, and we will know more as time goes on. He's had a rough go of it so far, so he's a little quiet right now."
Stop while you're ahead, Gretchen. First of all, what does “stable” mean to her right now, really? He's ventilated for goodness sake. Without that machine he would last a matter of minutes. Don't make promises you can't keep. Is that really why he's quiet? Or is he bleeding into his brain? Or was it the hypoxic ischemic insult his brain most likely received in the birthing process? We won't know until he gets a cranial ultrasound.
"When can I hold him?" his mom asks.
"Hopefully tomorrow. We just need to make sure he's stable and replace his umbilical lines with a PICC line."
"I thought you said he was stable now. And his what-lines?"
I back pedal and spend the rest of the next hour explaining and reassuring, without promises, while also going on about my duties. Each task of mine designed to sustain this baby's life. Eventually my patient’s mom decides she’s in too much pain and too tired to be up anymore, and her husband wheels her back to her room, on another unit. I’m secretly thankful, because now I can focus fully on the tasks at hand, without having to explain every move I make. I look at the clock. Three and a half hours to go.
By the time my 12.5-hour shift is over, I feel like “butter scraped over too much bread”. (Thank you, Tolkien, for that ever-so-applicable imagery). My energy is thin; stretched. I'm afraid a strong breeze will blow me away into a million little pieces, leaving me lost in the wind.
I get on my bike and begin pedaling home, trying to keep my focus on the road. As I cycle I can feel my Artist stretching and yawning, waking up after having been put to sleep by beeping monitors and too many medical terms.
"Can we write when we get home?" She pipes up with a voice like a small child asking for pancakes on Sunday morning.
“Write?” I reply, incredulous. Is she insane?
“Yeah, you know, putting words together to form sentences, sentences to form ideas, ideas to form stories?”
I don’t appreciate the sarcasm. “I know what writing is. It’s very nature is what makes it impossible right now.”
“But it’s been sooooo long!” she whines. No pancakes today. Even though it’s Sunday. Mommy’s too tired.
“I know, I know… I miss it too.” I feel what she’s feeling. Starved for art. Creative atrophy. It hurts in the most exhausting kind of way. “I’m just so… I don’t know. Drained.”
“Can you just switch your nurse brain off and me on?” she asks.
As if it’s that easy. I take a deep breath and sigh louder than necessary, getting ready to pedal up the last hill before home.
“I’ll tell you what. We will just rest tonight. Find something that perks both of us up. We need to refill the well and take time to transition out of work mode.” The too-quiet 28 weeker crosses my mind. I shake my head as if to remove the image. “What do you say?”
“Ok! I have an idea. How about we eat way too much chocolate and peanut butter as soon as we walk in the door?” My Artist suggests.
“Done!” I say. I like this plan. “And then?”
“Um… lie on the floor and thank our lucky stars for two days off?”
“Yep. This is a good. What else?”
“Watch Netflix because watching stories is the next best thing to writing our own.”
“Alrighty. I think we can manage that,” I reply. “We should feel right as rain tomorrow for some writing.” Inside I know that’s not true. I know it’s going to take at least another day of well-filling before we can get into the creative groove. But I don’t want to tell her that. I’ve already refused her the pancakes.
“Yay for writing! I can’t wait,” she says with enthusiasm.
“Me neither, my little Artist,” I mumble. I can hear the fatigue in my voice. “Me neither.”
As I arrive home, I turn my mind away from the fact that I’ll have one day of creativity before the next work stretch, and onto the chocolate that I’ll soon be consuming. Whiskey will go nicely with some chocolate, I think to myself. Yes, that’ll do just fine.