I’ll just go ahead and confess. I read horoscopes. I like to have my astrological chart drawn up, whether it’s by friends or professionals. Part of me is curious about what the future might hold, and a bigger part of me just wants to know if things like the position of stars and planets might actually have some pull with us, in the way that the moon causes tides.
So on February 1st, I read a monthly horoscope that proclaimed the following:
1. February 9th will be a fantastic day for you–a game changer.
2. After that, life will generally suck until April 23rd, when Mars is no longer retrograde.
Back in the summer, an astrologer told me something very similar (at least to #2). I had forgotten this until I went back and read the notes I made, curious to see if the two predictions overlapped.
Now of course this also makes me wonder if we read this kind of thing and then set a self-fulfilling prophecy in motion: Do I read this horoscope that says my life will suck, and then it does because I expect it to? Or is there some shred of truth to the prediction?
Either way, this last month (or three, if we’re being honest) has been trying in a hundred different ways. It’s been one step forward and two giant leaps backward for so long that I can hardly remember when it started. At the center has been this book project that’s driving me crazy–everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, every step of the way. One of my former professors would call this a “humbling experience.” I consider it grounds for an ulcer. But then I have to remind myself of all the things I’ve ever told my students, about how all these things we think of as “failure” really aren’t. Or if they are, they have to happen to make us stronger, more creative, more substantial people. There’s a great interview with Ira Glass that speaks to this idea, and reminds me that all of these stumbling blocks (the printing plates are bad, the woodcut didn’t turn out right, I ran out of time on Tuesday, I didn’t order enough paper, those pressure prints look like vomit, this is not my best work) are just part of the process, and they don’t mean I’m a failure.
Lately I feel like every daily irritation is the direct result of a pin being stuck into a little Lauren effigy, wreaking all sorts of havoc on me. I have this habit of compiling lists of all the things creating chaos in my life–I finally have a press, but it’s missing parts, I can’t seem to finish this book, I’ve got no time to make art anymore, I’m tired of working two jobs to pay for a house I don’t live in, I wish I had time to travel like my friends, why can’t I lose 20 pounds when those people on “The Biggest Loser” lose 100, I’m 33 for god’s sake and should have my life in better order, etc, etc. Often this is triggered by something like the form you fill out at the massage therapist’s office–you know, the line where it says, “Do you have sources of anxiety in your life that might be contributing to your pain? Please describe.” Oh, the irony.
And when I’ve beaten myself up enough and am in a significant funk, my mother says something like, “I saw on Oprah the other day that this is when it helps to make a list of all the things you’re grateful for. And if you’re stumped, start with ‘breathing’.”
Moms are good for this sort of thing. They have that wisdom that comes with having survived most if not all of the same struggles you have, and come out on the other side, proving that it can actually be done, that “this too, shall pass.”
So now that I’m worked up enough, I’ll make a list of ten things I’m grateful for.
1. I’m pretty healthy. I get along fine, and most everything works the way it should.
2. I have a pretty amazing family that is about as supportive as anyone could hope for.
3. I have some pretty incredible friends, even though we are sometimes separated by hundreds of miles.
4. My sense of humor. If I couldn’t laugh at these things, I’d really be screwed.
5. I have a job that I like.
6. I get to make books. I get to tell stories.
7. I’m surrounded by creative people who inspire me.
8. I’ve been in love.
9. I’ve had my heart broken. Now I get it.
10. Once upon a time, I wrote a book. People seemed to like it. It seemed to make kids smile.
This was an experiment, to see if starting that list would really cheer me up, because seriously–it’s been a why-do-I-bother kind of rough month. I can say now that when I look at this list (which could go on and on really), those things that have been driving me nuts are outweighed by the good in the big picture. Yes, they are little thorns, but I’ve got far more to be grateful for than to be irritated about. And I’m trying hard to look at it this way: it’s not about the things that happen–it’s about what I do when these things happen.
That’s not to say that I won’t have my grumpy pants on again this week, because I very likely will. But I’ll keep listening to things like that fabulous commencement speech that Steve Jobs gave to the grads at Stanford, and I’ll keep making that list. And I’ll probably call my mother.