If anyone walked by our table at the restaurant, they would most likely have noticed a very focused group of women fully engaged in an intense discussion. Our dinner conversation moved methodically around the table as we discussed one topic en masse. Usually most of our dinners have no unifying theme -- we save those for workshops and book clubs. However, on this particular evening, we consciously decided to talk about what we are working on. What's our next project?
When the first guest mentioned she was researching a book -- her first book -- we were all so excited for her. Questions about her process, her idea, her discipline, her deadline, her fears were flying around the table. No surprise we were predictably channeling our own discomfort as we tried on "her project" to see if there was a chance there could be a fit. We all tried to be supportive and non-judgmental (after all she'd never written a book before), and we were polite, to say the least. Was there anything we could do to support her, we asked? "Not yet, not yet -- moral support would be sufficient." We collectively sensed she'd had more than enough time in the "hot seat" so we moved on to our next guest.
The next guest swallowed deeply, her eyes welled up a bit and she admitted that she had no idea what she would do this fall. She had just celebrated a big birthday and she had taken stock of her accomplishments thus far. She was unimpressed with herself. Actually she was sure she'd squandered her adult life and had nothing to show for it. Oh yes, of course the kids are out and doing fine -- but what about me? She had done plenty of volunteer work but that was not a source of pride to her. She was not ready to go to work per se, her husband was in transition and she couldn't commit to steady hours, as they might be moving. She was sad and we of course understood her situation. "Well, let's forget about what's realistic for once -- pretend it's one year from now and you're sharing your new project with us -- what would you be telling us about? -- don't worry if it's doable or not." She perked up and smiled -- she had an answer to that question. This was a start!
And suddenly it was my turn. I started to sweat, a bit -- "is anyone else hot?" I peeled off my sweater. With all eyes on me, I slowed my heart rate with a deep exhale (masked as a giggle) attempting to bring myself into a "chill" state. But I wasn't feeling chill. I actually wasn't sure I wanted to share my next project with the others. I had just signed up for a class at the Harvard Extension -- an evening class that because of its late hour, I wasn't even sure I could get through. (Never mind whether I would be creative enough to do the required assignments.) I wasn't even sure I would stick with the class because maybe the teacher wouldn't be right for me. My mind was running out of the classroom, away from dinner table before I'd even walked into the first class. "Well," I said bravely -- "I've signed up for class but I'm not sure it will work out." The questions started firing in on me -- "what class, what night -- how come that project-have you always wanted to do that-do you have a specific idea for your project?" My support group was making me weak in the knees -- I had no answer that felt certain.
Then I woke up -- I was in a deep sweat with an accelerated heart rate. I had been having an "angst dream." You know, the first day of class and you show up without your shirt on -- or you can't find the classroom. Or, you walk into the classroom and you are the age of everyone's mother and they look at you sympathetically. Wow, I'd been dream teaming, bringing a supportive group of women to my dinner table to buttress me up a bit about my decision to take a course that required more than passive listening... and it had turned into a nightmare.
As I lay in bed wondering about my imagined women's dinner group I started to relax a bit. I clearly needed to share my plan with my friends in "real time" vs "dream time." I knew that I needed my women to feed me their encouragement and to help me move forward. Adrenalized by my fears, I knew that picking this course was a good idea -- a challenge, something that woke up my senses and I wanted to be pushed this semester -- to create. But I couldn't do it alone... so I grabbed my iphone and called my girlfriend.
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