Permission. This word keeps popping up throughout the landscape of my life. It haunts me in the books and articles I am reading and continues to echo in conversations with my peers. Just last week, a friend noted, “Ugh. You said the P word.” If this word is so determined to reveal itself in my psyche, I best wake up and take a deeper look at what is happening right under my nose.
“When are you going to give yourself permission?” This question came from a talented, new friend of mine. She is part of my writing club, and while I have only seen her in person twice, she has already had a profound impact on my thinking and writing. I tend to talk without thinking and spill out all my emotions, but she is gentle and slow to speak. I can see in her face that she is thinking, rolling the words and ideas around in her brain, scanning any situation with a keen artist’s eye. She doesn’t miss a thing. And with one question, she can blow my world wide open, heightening my awareness and understanding of myself. Yes, she is that good.
That evening, we had just read a piece I wrote about motherhood obligations and the natural tendency to seek an occasional escape from the weight of responsibility. There was a line about permission slips needing to be signed. My friend saw something more in my simple prose. When would I give myself permission? What did I need permission to do? How much time had been wasted waiting for this permission? The questions gained momentum in my mind. I needed to pull this issue closer to the surface.
I was born a rule-follower. A straight A student always aiming to please. My life followed a timeline, and I never strayed from the plan. I made people happy. My life deserved a nice, conservative golf clap. But now in my late thirties, that response has become lame and void of true feeling. I desire hooting and hollering, crying, yelling and deep down belly laughing - the kind of response that doesn’t seek permission. I want my life to summon an unsolicited, soulful and boisterous standing ovation.
How can I authentically allow myself to feel and experience life in this grander, uninhibited way? One step must be to wake up and recognize the areas where I am relinquishing control of my life. Thus, the process of unearthing instances of permission-seeking suddenly springs open Pandora’s box. I have sought permission as a parent, questioning my maternal instincts to raise my children the way I best see fit. I have sought societal permission in the manner I dress and groom myself - playing it safe with modest, conservative “teacher clothes,” makeup, and tidy, tame hair. I have sought medical and “expert” permission concerning exercise and caring for the body I inhabit, often to my own detriment. I have sought family permission to follow or abandon certain positions within my career or other job opportunities. I have sought indirect permission from my children for the way I divvy up my time and partake in soul-feeding activities that occasionally infringe upon family time. Most recently, I sought permission from my colleagues to step around to the other side of the desk, back into the role of writer.
The list goes on and on. I have sought unofficial permission from my parents, my husband, my teachers, my coaches, my bosses and even my friends. By seeking the blessing from these people, I have relinquished my own control and power over my life. In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg explains that writing is “about trusting your own mind and creating a confidence in your experience.” As a writing teacher, I agree and recognize myself in her words, but in my personal life, I falter when opportunities arise to “trust my own mind.” Failing to give myself permission is a direct result of not trusting myself. When I am seeking someone else’s blessing for my actions, I am discrediting my own judgment and ability to make important decisions for myself. Paralyzed by fear and self-doubt, I am dependent upon someone else telling me it’s okay and giving me permission to move forward.
The good news is that the tide is beginning to turn. With every conversation and increased time putting thoughts to paper, I become more awake and in tune with my ability to “create confidence in my experience.” This summer, I got my first tattoo, and while this small word on my forearm is tame by any tattoo standards, it is a grand gesture and symbol of intentionally seizing the reins of my life. I did not seek permission. I wanted it, so I got it. I will forever wear the evidence of this metamorphosis branded on my right arm.
To an outsider, I can see how this phase could be misinterpreted as late onset rebellion. She was good all through her early years, so she is rebelling in her thirties. I get that, and perhaps there is some truth there. I prefer to think that I am finally waking up. I am finally listening to my own voice and trusting my gut; learning to turn an inward eye instead of looking to others for permission. Why should I wait for others to believe in me and edge me forward when I can move along so much faster by cutting out the middleman?
At our last writing club meeting, my perceptive friend suggested that I turn my latest writing into a bigger project. “What about a memoir?” There it was. This simple question tossed out in casual conversation sent my mind spiraling and unlocked a sense of long-awaited relief in my soul. I have ALWAYS wanted to write a memoir. Since early adulthood, it has been my absolute favorite genre to read. Mary Karr describes memoir as “a single person trying to make sense of the past.” I find comfort and great fulfillment in watching a writer unfold their past and draw meaning from their journey and experience. For years, I have wanted to explore my own past through writing but felt that a memoir might be overly ambitious or pretentious. My friend’s question opened up that gate and seemed to be the permission I needed. To think of all the time lost in the waiting, but there is no time like the present. I can write the book I want to write, even if only my husband and a few close friends ever read it. Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Self discovery and realization are their own rewards. I will continue to pay attention to where and when I am waiting on permission to act and write my own story, but in the meantime, I will get to work on my memoir.