Over the years I have written about all sorts of personal struggles.
Sometimes I wonder why. Is it a way to untangle the strings in my brain and process them? Is it the need to have my voice heard? Is it some sort of pathological ego gratification?
Much of it is about being a reader. And my gratitude to writers. The ones who write with breath-taking honesty and whose words resonate, boinging around in my brain:
“Ohmigosh, you too!?”
That sensation of not being alone, not the first to be on a particular journey, to have a shared experience with someone who knows deeply, in their bones, what I’m going through.
That. That is why I write.
Publishing anything was put on a back burner the last few years. Certain indulgences just seemed other-worldly during that period.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” (Anne Lamott)
I’m back with the hope that something I write will make someone say, “Ohmigosh, you too?”
I was part of the generation, and Catholic to boot, that was taught to write thank you notes.
I’d stand for long periods of time in front of the cards at Wegmans — oh, how I miss Wegmans here in South Carolina! – the funny cards, the supportive cards, the irreverent-if-not-downright-risqué cards, the ones with amazing inspirational quotes.
But like many things that I knew to be so “me” – riding, cooking, reading, writing – the little delight of finding and sending cards was largely set aside during the disintegration of my marriage and my divorce.
Did you know that the human brain was wired for safety and survival, and not happiness?
We are literally – a word I use rarely — programmed to focus not on what brings us joy but that which brings us security.
Mulling over greeting cards would have been a bit like contemplating new drapes while your house was on fire.
But a few weeks ago, I stood in front of the card selection of an un-named store that I will only say is inferior to Wegmans, trying to find exactly the right cards that said, “thank you for standing beside me during the craziest and most challenging period of my life and look at me, I’m just fine, and I will never forget how grateful I am for you.”
Hallmark, take note. I was forced to go with something simple and pink and blank inside.
But as I drove home, pondering to whom those cards needed to go, and whether I had mailing addresses and stamps, I contemplated who else, or what else, should be on the thank you list.
Grit, thank you.
Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007.)
My sister and I had a chat about this one, prone as we are to analyzing things, about where our grit came from, and damned if we could be sure.
I suspect it has something to do with genetics, and a childhood with some adversity, but also with hope, one in which you were told, or you were able to observe, that there was a path to getting from Point A to Point B when the going got tough.
When I announced I wanted to buy a horse when I was 12 years old while my dad was unemployed, I wasn’t told no, but rather that I’d have to pay for him myself – okay, so there was a path. Babysitting gigs and cleaning stalls to pay for Benny.
Working a few part-time jobs, none glamorous, to pay for Cornell. Same.
Grit was just a muscle to be worked. An instinct, really. Dig down, pull up your boot straps, delay your desire for what feels fun now and keep your eyes on the prize in the distance.
Building a successful business. Make that two. Work first, play later. Fighting to keep those businesses and clients, including court orders to protect what is and was mine. Same.
Grit was making a decision not to ride because I couldn’t afford to get hurt, with no one reliable to run my businesses and earn money, and money spelled safety and security.
Grit was re-negotiating contracts with my biggest clients while facing massive uncertainty. Picking up the phone and calling them to have difficult conversations.
What is strange to me about Grit is that it has never felt optional to me.
And there is a price to having grit, to being the one who hustles constantly.
It is not all pom-poms and pats on the back. It is often borne of anxiety and a need for security and control and approval – ack, that’s not pretty – and it also sets one up to be exploited, even if unintentionally, by those who lack it.
Grit is a gift with a price tag.
It’s a trick, you see, a dirty trick that life will play. It will say, “Come on, just a little further, just a little more to do, and then, you will be happy.” And you will run off, out of breath, with your arms full, chasing some savage wish for a better life. But, be very careful, Bright One, because life is many things, and among those things, she is a trickster. She will tell you every time, that you must pay for later with your nows. And I will tell you only this: throw all you want into the wind but never your nows. Cherish them always, for that is the real secret to happiness. (Nausicaa Twila, Home)
So Grit, I’d like to thank you, but with all due respect, your role here in my life has been reduced to a part-time gig.
In 2021, I had an avalanche of events that my Uncle Pat would artfully describe as a “horseshoe up the ass.”
There’s no need to parse out what percentage was divine intervention, which fraction was serendipity, and what is owed to you, my compadre, Grit.
[You cannot call upon the forces of all you believe in, and some of which you weren’t sure you believed in, to beg them to help you, without also expressing your gratitude when they come through for you in ways you could not imagine. This is part of the deal, in my opinion. The gratitude “quid pro quo.”]
A series of doors opening that no one could have foreseen.
A call to Tom from a recruiter. My divorce settling, two years post-filing, on the eve of the trial we’d prepared for. An interview for Tom in South Carolina. Me, homeless, sort of, but not really. A job offer Tom could not refuse. A plan for me to stay on the farm while he rented and found a house. Finding the perfect house, with acreage, in horse country, while I was in South Carolina for work.
All in rapid succession. Dizzying.
A spreadsheet that showed that we could afford it, even if, even if, even if.
I’d become so accustomed to hustling, to what I earned never being quite enough, to carrying all the financial responsibility, to being convinced systematically that I was not enough, that I needed a whole lot of data to allay my insecurity.
“Tom, can we look at that spreadsheet again?” (Me, breathless, on the edge of panicky.)
The brain is wired for security, not happiness.
That happiness shit, for that you have to convince your brain the juice is worth the squeeze.
It was not, is not, an awakening. Or a revelation borne of a moment, what Oprah would call an “aha moment.”
No, it is like so much of life.
Chipped away at.
2021 was the year I spent putting the puzzle pieces of security together. A massive to-do list, the move, the house, the businesses, turning the new house into a farm with horses at home, and the transition back to being Patti Carey legally and spiritually – a broad I admit I kind of like, such as she is.
Grit, that imperfect gift, the one that has for such a very long time told me to suck-it-up-buttercup and fasten my seat belt, and that there would be more fun on the other side?
Not banished from the kingdom or anything like that, but rather given a comfy chair in a room with a remote and Netflix and told to chill a bit.
I know I’ll need her again. (I’ve always thought of grit as female. Go figure.)
But not right now.
I’ve re-wired a bit. A transition in progress.
I am safe.
As safe as any human can be in the midst of a pandemic, as a business owner, and one who likes to ride hooved farm animals with a flight instinct.
The universe, the tribe and my past have spoken. It is time to exhale, to live, to love, to play, to ride.
Thank you, Grit. That recliner, I swear, is super comfy. I’ll call you when I need you.