Dancing with Change: A Mini-Memoir

As you may have guessed by now, the December and January posts on this blog are more about issues related to my current life than about the subject of memoir per se. That’s because Stuart and I are in the midst of major post-mid-life changes. Of course, these changes are relevant to the subject of memoir; we often chart our life stories from one change point to the next. As I consider going back to writing my childhood memoir-in-progress, what jumps out at me, like stars in a constellation, are points of change in my “one wild and precious life.”

Our current changes were precipitated by my joining the more than 14 million other Americans who are unemployed. Last July I lost what might have been the best job in the world, at least for me. I didn’t want to write about the change until I could tell you the ending of my story, but now that we are half-way through a series of decisions about place, family, work, and home, I thought I would share a few thoughts with you.

Many people have asked me why I am not angry about losing a perfect job. My answer varies depending on the light I can see at the moment, but here are a few reasons:

  • because I sense that God has something different and better in mind for me
  • because I love the people who made the decision to change, even when I don’t agree with them
  • because no one else controls my attitude and my values. No one else grants me dignity. I think of little Ruby Bridges walking to grade school in Little Rock, and I keep walking through life’s school myself.
  • because God has given me the gifts of gratitude, friendship, family, faith. I feel both more active and more passive than I have ever felt before. Creative ferment flows right now. Today I found a quote that explains the feeling well.

Jane Friedman, one of the best experts in the fields of social media and writing, put up a short quotation from Carl Jung today that she has permitted me to copy below. It seems so fitting for any memoir writer, since it focuses on the beauty and power of accepting what is. You could call this attitude love and forgiveness. You could call it detachment. No matter what you call it, it’s a powerful force in my life right now.

Carl Jung

From an essay by C.G. Jung, where he quotes a patient:

“Out of evil, much good has come to me. By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality—taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be—by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers as well, such as I could never have imagined before. I always thought that when we accepted things they overpowered us in some way or other. This turns out not to be true at all, and it is only by accepting them that one can assume an attitude towards them. So now I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow forever alternating, and, in this way, also accepting my own nature with its positive and negative sides. Thus everything becomes more alive to me. What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to the way I thought it ought to!”

Do you agree with this quote? Have you ever experienced something similar in your own life? Please share.

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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26 Responses to Dancing with Change: A Mini-Memoir

  1. Great posts lately; love this one and the quote. I have been writing in my book so much about this, essentially how hard it is to be grateful in the moment, with all of its cares, but how in retrospect things were great. Incidentally, Jung’s memoir, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” is wonderful. He was from a long line of ministers and had many amazing psychic experiences, I learned reading it. You know, every time Freud fainted—famous incidents, I gather—it was in the presence of his ex-disciple Jung, who believed, unlike Freud, that God is in the depths, not just evil.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Richard, I read Memories, Dreams, Reflections some time ago and remember resonating with many of those psychic experiences. I continue to find his work helpful in explaining what can be explained of many of life’s mysteries. Thanks for your kind words. It’s time for me to go check out what you are up to also!

  2. Jerry Waxler says:

    That is a lot to adjust to, Shirley. It’s not just about being angry at the change, but about letting go of an important part of yourself. You worked long and hard to achieve that part, you reached it, like the top of the mountain, and now you must climb again. It’s a really powerful experience for humans, whether Sisyphus, or any hero who must get booted out of whatever was comfortable and then gird up loins (whatever that means) and move to the next adventure. It’s all part of the amazing journey. There is so much to say and share, I will stop talking now, and will look forward to your book(s) on the subject. Keep writing!

    Jerry

  3. jzrart says:

    Shirley, Would it be alright for me to direct people who read my blog to your wonderful post today? I am 68 years old and have been through big changes myself. I have come to the same conclusions as you have. Thanks for your wise words.

    Joan Rough

    • shirleyhs says:

      Hi, Joan, welcome to the comments section of this blog. So glad you found me. Of course you may share! Jane Friedman said that you can even cut and past–so long as you include a link to the blog itself as a courtesy to the writer. I know I am privileged not to have to have a full-time professional job anymore and realize that other people in the 14 million of unemployed MUST have a job. And then there are millions more who have jobs but hate them. If this post helps anyone discover a way through pain of loss or gives someone courage to fly out of the nest when it is time–then if was well worth writing!

  4. shirleyhs says:

    Thanks, Jerry. You are so right about the pattern evident in my life–and in all lives. We keep getting booted out of the nest! But that’s how we learn to fly. I think I may have sounded like there was no internal conflict for me above. There was, and you put your finger on the cause of it. I had worked all my life to be where I was, so there were huge identity issues. But fortunately my identity is much less tied to my job than to my reason for being in the world. At one time I confused these two. At this advanced age, I am much more able to see my work and be less concerned about having or not having a job. Thanks for the encouragement. This was a great comment to read this morning.

  5. I wanted to add that something someone said to me recently applies here big time: “All change, even good change, is first experienced as loss. And it must be mourned.” I think it is true, when you think about. Someone who wins $10. And while the old life was uncertain, too, it was known and didn’t feel so uncertain and scary.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Yes. I have experienced this mixture often in the last months. The number of good-byes we have said have sometimes seemed overwhelming. My mother recently moved to a lovely apartment in a retirement community. She chose the move and recognized how superior the new arrangement will be to her old house. But she told us to stop telling her how wonderful the new place will be/is. She experienced the change, first of all, as loss. Another universal, archetypal, pattern. Thanks for adding the quote–a good one.

  6. shirleyhs says:

    Found this fragment from Steve Jobs’ commencement address a few years ago. “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

    I love the idea of replacing the heaviness of success with the lightness of beginning.

    I offer a prayer for Steve Jobs with this post. He is beginning again to face life after Apple. Perhaps this period will be the lightest of all for him. I truly hope so.

  7. friesengroup says:

    Change is part of my life. My quote is, “Change is the only constant.”

    Here are my personal reflections – things that I know for me:
    each day I can reflect and choose my viewpoint
    endings and beginnings walk hand-in-hand
    being told one is being courageous can ring hollow
    change and loss are neither good or bad – they just are
    fighting against “what just is” causes suffering
    faith is the experience of willingly living beyond what is known
    grace and hope show themselves in the love of family and friends
    and, that love is sufficient

    May you continue to encounter faith, hope, and love on the journey,
    Kathleen

    • shirleyhs says:

      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes–for all of your hard-won wisdom shared above. Thank you, Kathleen, for this generous response. I hope the readers of this page make it to the comments section.

      I am grateful that I welcomed change, even as a girl embedded in a community that was trying not to conform to the fast pace of change in the outer world. I have learned from both my embrace and church’s resistance. I wonder why and how that was? Such questions drive memoir writing. 🙂

      • shirleyhs says:

        Kathleen sent me this message on Facebook, which I asked if I could add to this conversation. Here’s a wonderful poem by David Whyte. The last line especially will leave you with something to ponder longer and may remind you of Adrienne Rich’s Diving Deep and Surfacing:

        The Well of Grief

        Those who will not slip beneath
        the still surface on the well of grief

        turning down to its black water
        to the place that we can not breathe

        will never know
        the source from which we drink
        the secret water cold and clear

        nor find in the darkness
        the small gold coins
        thrown by those who wished for something else.

        from: Where Many Rivers Meet

  8. Shirley, excellent post and I love that quote by Jung. I had not read it before. I have long been a believer that in accepting what comes to us, we are able to find the treasure in it. It’s not always easy, of course; loss and pain are still loss and pain, but once we’ve healed we’re usually stronger, more compassionate, more whole in some way. Once we’ve accepted that a door is closed, we can look around to see the new ones that are opening to us. Thank you for your post — wonderful reminder to me to be more open to the present.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Dear Amber, welcome to 100memoirs.com! Your comment has enriched this conversation. Change really is a dance, not a straight line. Sometimes, you have to move in all four directions before you can move forward! But if we listen to the beat of the music underneath our lives, we can always find our way back again. And then the loss and the pain transforms into beauty.

  9. Melissa Jantz says:

    Thank you for sharing this quote, Shirley. It speaks to so much of what I’ve experienced having a son with autism. We’re in the midst of our own change, moving from Goshen to Lancaster to get better services for our son, Ethan, this past June. We are enjoying being near family again, but I miss many people who became dear to me after 15 years in Goshen post college. I’ve struggled with living a life that is different than what I expected after receiving Ethan’s diagnosis of autism when he was three, but we continue to surrender, as Jung talks about, to our new reality and find light in the midst of a different path we probably wouldn’t have chosen but are learning much as we walk it.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Melissa, thanks so much for sharing your own dance with change here. I have been inspired by you, trying to imagine what it takes to parent in your circumstances and also identifying with the pleasures and pains of embracing a great new community while leaving many loved ones and places behind. I am grateful, again, for Facebook and blogging, which allows me to stay connected with former students. You have a tremendous spirit, Melissa. That was evident the first time I met you. Lets continue to weave our stories into God’s story together.

  10. Shirley, I have been reading and re-reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections and have found hope in Jung’s wisdom while living through the separation and then to my surprise the redemption of my marriage. What seemed the worst thing to have ever happened to me, even following the deaths of my mother, sister and father in that order, turned out to be fodder for my memoir: the writing of that book saved my life–even if few people ever read it–it brought me through. In this way, the making of something other from the wound can rebuild a life–and in my case, a marriage.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Mary, what an inspiring story you have! I am not surprised that Jung’s memoir has helped you to understand how the valleys and shadows of life relate to the mountain top experiences filled with light. So glad you commented and shared this story. I also recommend your blog (click on Mary’s name) for those who may have interest in learning more.

  11. Shirley,

    Thank you for the lovely response. I feel we are kindred spirits–both of us having been educators on the college and graduate levels.

    You also have the book somewhere in a forgotten pile, I suspect, as my publicist tells me she sent it to you some time ago. It’s entitled (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story. Why not pass it on to someone who might like to read it if you’re not doing reviews of memoirs anymore. I’d love for someone to find hope in the series of lyric essays I wrote in this memoir of the struggle that rewarded and that helped me answer the tautological question: Who am?

    I have been thinking lately of Rabbi Hillel’s well-known comment and wisdom: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” And so I went on that journey and still journey on that road of discovery.

    Sending my best and hoping we will stay in touch: I am a subscriber to your blog, as you know, and I recommend its intelligence to others.

    Mary

  12. shirleyhs says:

    Thank you, Mary. I regret that I was not able to review your memoir, but I was able to pass it on, and hopefully the wisdom in it is circulating through the world. Reading 100 memoirs is easy. Reviewing 100 memoirs well is not, and reviewing, alas, was one of the things I needed to cut back on in the last seven months.

    I do hope to stay better connected now that I am settled into a new place. Thanks for reaching out! You and Daisy are teaching me how to be online kindred spirits.

  13. GutsyWriter says:

    Shirley, I think it’s wonderful that you were able to work at something you loved; so many never get that chance. I also believe you are fortunate you love to write. What better gift than to have time to pursue your passion. Now you can finish your memoir, publish and promote. Just came back from San Diego State University Writers Conference where the focus is on meeting editors and agents. What another fantastic experience for me. Enjoy this next stage and I cannot wait to be at your book signing for your memoir.

  14. shirleyhs says:

    Sonia, so good to see your face and read your comment. Thank you. I love the idea of being grateful for past opportunities and focused on the present moment on the way to pursuing my passions in the future. That’s exactly the way I see it. So many people hate their jobs. I haven’t loved all parts of any job, but I have loved every job itself and learned from my mistakes, I hope. What a blessing. All my jobs were hard in some ways, but as long as I was learning, I was happy.

    And, yes, writers are lucky people. I’m so glad that you had another good conference experience. And I do hope to get back to memoir writing myself soon. Do tell me all your progress in the last months. I guess I’ll go check your blog to see what’s up! Let’s stay in touch.

  15. Monica Manning says:

    Shirley: Thank you so much for this forthright post and for this blog. I’m excited about what you are creating.

    I wish I had known of Jung’s comment early in my career when I was laid-off as a community college faculty member. It took me years to discover that the layoff wasn’t at all as important as what I chose to do with it. The experience led me to take much more direct responsibility for how my life would unfold, still recognizing that all kinds of circumstances would shape the choices I had before me.

    Two lessons that I have gained from others support Jung. Kathleen Norris said in her first book, Dakota: “Resisting change does not recapture the past; it loses the future.”

    More recently, in the Northwoods Sangha that I attend for meditation, we often return to the phrase, “This is the way that the world is.” It’s wonderfully helpful mantra on those nights when I wake up wishing things were different!

    Best wishes on your writing. I know, as always, it will be something you are doing that will make the world a better place!

    Monica

  16. shirleyhs says:

    Monica,

    So good to find you here and to read your wonderful words. Thank you for sharing how you own closed door led not only to meaningful work but also to liberation through accepting that “this is the way the world is.” I am sure that quote you cite from Kathleen Norris is underlined in my copy of Dakota, but you know how it is with quotes. We can appreciate them in whole new ways after certain experiences. Come back again and visit. I would love to stay in touch. I know I could learn a lot from you, again.

  17. Pingback: Leaving A Mark | One Rich Life

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