What The Portico Experience Has Done For Me

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Amid the drivel and minutiae of social media, one subject that will eventually emerge whenever I choose to access it is the practice of gratitude.  At the writing of this post, there were 37,916,065 references tagged #gratitude.  When an idea or thought becomes so familiar like that, it’s very easy for it to become unfamiliar.  Repeated exposure to a good thing without concerted consideration can lead me to miss the original intent.

Gratitude is a fairly new practice for me. And I use the word practice intentionally. Much like practicing my guitar in the hope that I will achieve some improvement, gratitude has a similar process for me. It’s a little like this:

I like to play my guitar. I don’t work it.

In order to become a more grateful person, I seek to play with gratitude rather than work at it.  It still requires intentional effort and discipline on my part, but the outcome has been so much more fulfilling.

April 15 begins the fourth season of my little culinary project called The Portico Experience. It all began at the onset of the pandemic, when the entire hospitality industry was shut down. I had no job at the time, was recently widowed and in a state of trying to figure out what my next step should be.

This was not the place in life I had dreamed of. I didn’t craft a plan to go broke at age 55. Instead, I had envisioned creating a little enterprise of original restaurant concepts.  But none of that turned out.  I let a lot of people down in the process. And bankruptcy was the only way out. A very unfavorable way out, I might add.

But the Phoenix began to rise from the ashes in May 2020, when I received the first request to cook again. It was for a couple celebrating their anniversary when their original plans were disrupted by COVID. Photos posted on social media, combined with word of mouth referrals led to 38 opportunities to cook for guests that summer. One table per night. All in my backyard.

The Portico Experience in full summer color.

Without too much boring detail, 2021 provided 75 occasions for guests to dine. Last year I topped 90.  And thus was how a full scale micro restaurant was born. I have titled it, The Portico Experience.

For me, gratitude is not about being thankful for all the bad things that happened. I don’t wish for anyone to experience bankruptcy, or to lose a spouse or watch multiple businesses fail. I’m not glad those things happened. But I can be grateful for what those things produced in me.

All of us have experienced unfavorable circumstances. Loss is chief among them. My friends who have had to bury a child will describe it as hell on earth.  They want their son or daughter back. They are not thankful for cancer, or car accidents or suicide.  This is not how gratitude works.

Gratitude and Grief can coexist. They can be interwoven, not necessarily independent of each other.

Gratitude makes room for Grief.

Gratitude and Grief make odd bedfellows. They are not mutually exclusive. But Gratitude knows when to be quiet so Grief can be expressed.

I’m not grateful my wife died. I’m not grateful I lost my businesses. I’m not grateful I couldn’t make a final payroll. I’m not grateful that I owed so much to so many.

Even writing this brings back the inescapable pain of each experience and circumstances surrounding them.

But I am grateful for what germinated from those deaths.  The seed that is buried in the ground has to die in order to become something new.  When (not if) something in my life dies, I must grieve the loss and be watchful for what will emerge.

The Portico Experience is one of those resurrections for me for which I am full of gratitude.

In 2007, I became a chef and opened a restaurant because I wanted to create a space where people could connect and reflect.  I wanted to support that goal by serving simple, memorable food and drink that was handcrafted, with seasonal products. I think I accomplished that. But the demands of the workload and unpredictability of the market created a difficult burden to bear.  Even though it was hard, I would do it again in a minute. The intangible profits came in the form of the people who worked alongside me and the guests who still remember special moments at that place.

Chef Kevin Shinn

Fast forward to 2023 and The Portico Experience. I’m a chef once again, doing the same things I described above.  I feel like I own a restaurant again, but I am doing things now in my tiny little backyard space that I could never have done in the traditional restaurant setting.

  • I couldn’t have served one table per night.
  • I couldn’t have allowed you to stay all evening because I would have had to turn your table twice.
  • I couldn’t have curated your experience personally and specifically accommodated your dietary restrictions.
  • I couldn’t have hosted you, cooked your food and served your meal with a deeply personal touch and made you feel uniquely cared for.

I am not grateful for the losses that got me here, but I am grateful for the opportunity to transmute those painful circumstances into relational gold.

I am experiencing more joy in my work than ever before, and for this I am grateful.  

So with this, I invite you to consider dining with me this season in The Portico.  It’s not just a meal. It’s a complete culinary experience for an entire evening.  Not only does it include a personalized menu of food and drink, it includes space for you, my guest, to slow down and relax with your friends and allow the conversation to flow into meaningful places.

I keep a box of Kleenex by the table for those moments that become moving and turn personal.  One woman told me at the end of her meal shared with four lifelong friends that this evening was one of the top five moments in her life.

That compliment gives me yet another chance to practice gratitude. Not grateful for the pain, but very grateful for what emerged from it all.

To find out more about The Portico Experience, email me at 55degreesUS@gmail.com

I hope I can serve you soon.

KS

My Starting Point for Growth and Change

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Social media has its myriad of ills, but to be fair, it also has a few cures.  I can waste a lot of time scrolling through reels of beagles and ornery dogs, but occasionally I come across a tidbit of wisdom that makes me pause and pay a small receipt from my otherwise diminished attention span.  

Am I better for it?  Maybe. I don’t know. Who knows? Who’s counting?

I guess I could obsess over the data that is tracked about the minutiae that is provided to me in my statistics tab.  But where does that lead? Am I better for knowing the average eyeball gaze at my latest typewriter post?

As a writer, I hope that my words will matter. I hope someone will find something I said meaningful, or better yet, lasting.  But that is a metric I can’t change or control.  I can’t tell you what to feel from my writing.  I can’t make my words mean to you what I want them to mean. I can only choose to publish the words I have written or leave them be and never tap them out on the keys of my Remington Quiet-Writer.

Have you ever wondered why we share words and quotes we find inspirational?  Ever wonder why they have a “share” button to click on every post?  We read something that resonates and impulsively feel the need to click it? Or repost it for our followers to see?

Why do we do that?

I consume lots of content that is intended for self-education (a term I prefer over self-help). I have a few YouTube therapists that I check in with regularly.  Their perspective is informative and it resonates, but does it do me any good?

So what makes a word like that effective?  Am I just posting words that produce a warm feeling?  If so, I’m ok with that, but I think what I really want is to be a part of producing change.

Even this morning, the algorithm gave me a recommendation of a video titled Three Things You Can Do Right Now To Change Your Life. Like Hank with the ball, I bit on it quickly to see what the author had to say, to see if it was a rehash of everything everyone else has to say.

I found his advice reasonable and resonating, but I couldn’t tell what I felt was missing from his presentation. So I sat with it and decided to write to see if I can put words to the feeling.

He even qualified his three points as being unique to other motivational speakers and that nobody else will tell you this advice.  

Yet from my experience, I still felt there was something missing from his counsel.

I’ve been on an intentional road toward emotional health and restoration for a few years now.  The collapse of my business was its impetus and continues through the other losses I’ve experienced since then. In this time, I’ve immersed myself in countless videos, messages, sermons, sound bytes, quotes, poems; you name it. All of it intended to help me become a better man.  But none of it was as helpful as this unearthing that unfolded in front of me in 2020.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Nothing was ever going to improve until I addressed my pain.

2020 was the year I began work with a therapist that understands trauma and pain.  LIke Haley Joel Osment said in Sixth Sense, “I see dead people,” she sees broken people.  She saw things I couldn’t see in myself, and the chief of what she saw was the pain I was carrying of which I was not aware. This was when the lights went on and real change began to take place.

Until I confronted the pain I was unknowingly bearing, my goals were a moot point.

All the books. All the videos. All the journaling. They all finally started to come into focus as I no longer viewed them through the blurry spectacles of pain that obscured everything I saw.

My weight began to decrease as I connected the dots between how I ate and how I felt.  My eating habits made perfect sense in light of the pain I was dealing with. I felt bad, therefore I ate to feel better.  The numbers added up.

I’m a chef. I know food. I know how to cook. I know how to prepare a delicious meal.

Didn’t matter.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Goal setting didn’t matter. Dreams didn’t matter. Discipline didn’t matter. Aspirations didn’t matter.

The pain was all that mattered. And that pain was demanding to be soothed.

It was apocalyptic.  

I like this word better than epiphany. Apocalypse is easily misunderstood. It’s usually applied to the end of days or the prediction of catastrophic events of the future.  But its simplest definition is to reveal (literally, to pull the lid off). An apocalypse is a revelation, an uncovering of what is underneath.

And nothing survives an apocalypse and stays the same.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Water From the River That Isn’t Supposed to be There.

I recently purchased a vehicle, one that I never imagined I would own.  Not that it’s extravagant or far nicer than I deserve. It’s just different. A make, model and color that I wasn’t looking for. Not even close.

Buying the vehicle was the end of a personal experiment that I began over a year and a half ago. (you can read the story here) It was a decision that was part of my faith journey. In July 2021, my car had mechanical failure, putting me in a position to repair it or get a new one. I chose a third option. I decided to wait and enter into a conversation with my Maker about it.

So how do I pray about something when I don’t have to? I was not in a place of desperation or dire need. I had the financial means to replace the broken down car. So why did I go a year and a half without owning a vehicle?

All I can say is I have a tendency to do things a little differently. I like to look for what I can’t see. I like to imagine what doesn’t exist. My drum beat is at times in compound meter.

The Asbury Revival falls into the same category for me.

In my previous life as a collegiate pastor, I was praying towards a certain end. I wanted to see spiritual awakening on my campus. I joined the prayer gatherings, and if there wasn’t one, I organized it.  I had an image in mind of what the Hound of Heaven wanted to do. And that vision looked alot like what played out at Asbury University.

In no way do I think what happened there was illegitimate, false or even dangerous (as some critics say). I only saw images and heard a bit of audio, but it all looked and sounded like a move of young people that yearned for something more than what they had been handed and beyond where they had been led.

But then the crowds showed up, along with the media outlets and every religous podcaster with an iPhone. (I can’t help but wonder where they all parked and took a leak?) Throngs of folks who had a similar yearning or just severe FOMO wanted in on it and to see for themselves.

And why wouldn’t they? It was an unusual event, and it scratched an itch for both believers and naysayers who wanted positive or negative affirmation for the spectacle.  Had I been in the area, I’m sure I would have wandered in.

As I said, there was a time when this would have been the manifestation of what I had been pursuing during my 18 years serving on the college campus.  But I hold a different picture in mind now. And I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing Asbury in order to grasp something more.

It is good that you grasp the one 
And do not let the other slip from your hand. 
For the one who fears their Creator
Will end up with both of them.

--The Preacher

I’ve been attached to Isaiah 43:19 for nearly 40 years. Or I should say it’s been attached to me for that long.  Ever since I was a young man of 18 years, when I first discovered the scriptures, certain passages have seemed to have leapt off the page and clung to me. And I could never shake them from me. These words are among them:

See, I am doing a new thing!     
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a roadway in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

There are plenty of scholars who would immediately stop me and tell me I am taking this out of context.  I know this because I was taught to think this way 40 years ago.  But faith has a way of shaping me and realigning me, away from the rigid and narrow certainty to which I once subscribed, into a more wide open space of beauty, freedom, awe and wonder.

I now get to ask new questions.

“What does new look like?”

The movement in Asbury isn’t new. Some say there have been eight in the history of the school. And they tend to look the same; a standard meeting that turns into an all day and night vigil, with prayer, worship, repentance, healing, forgiveness, etc. And it goes on and on.

And it doesn’t diminish the movement that is burgeoning there.  It’s just not the new thing I’m being drawn to watch and wait for.

For a year and a half. I had my mind set on a Ford F150, preferably red. I drove one for 18 years. I knew they were reliable. My father was a Ford guy and his dad was a Ford mechanic.  This is why I was reluctant to consider anything else. I had my mind made up. A red Ford truck was the end-goal.

When my auto dealer friend called me with an option I hadn’t considered, I turned him down. It wasn’t a Ford. It wasn’t an F150. It wasn’t red.

A few days later, he called me back, apologizing for being pushy, but recommended I come out and at least drive it.

I drove it off the lot two days later.

So did I compromise? Should I have held out for what I had my heart set on? Was I bending and giving up?  At the time, yes. But the answer now is definitely no.  It took someone who knew me to suggest a different option I had never considered.  Someone I trusted.

Faith is being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I don’t see.  I’ve learned to put my desire for awakening in that category.  We know what it looks like when a movement breaks out in a meeting on the campus of a Christian university. What about at a movie, or in a city park. What will it look like in a drag show or on a dorm floor?  Or simultaneously in individuals listening to the same song, at the same time, all around the world?

Or none of the above.

Start With The Pain

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

I have an occasional practice when I eat lunch at home. I flip on YouTube and scroll through their recommendations based on what they think I would be into. They get me pretty good and fill the list with gardening, food related documentaries and how things work. I typically don’t click on anything more than 5 minutes long, but Intervention drew my curiosity like a smoldering dumpster fire.

Intervention is an AMC production that follows people who have a severe substance addiction. The premise is the same. Meet (add name of family member) who consumes (fill in drug of choice) per day and can’t hold down a job. Now meet friends and family who are very concerned and want this person to get help. Each one interviewed describes the person as loving, wonderful and full of life and they hate to see (____) throw their life away.

The show is fairly predictable, which is why I find it fascinating.  Everyone involved is focused on the addiction, even to the point of being angry about it. An intervention is eventually staged and the behavior is confronted by a group of people in hopes that the person will change.

My fascination with the show is what gets overlooked and I watch for it in each episode. It only takes about five minutes to reveal the real story. In the interview with the addict, the reason for the addiction always gets exposed.

The pain.

It’s the pain from verbal abuse, of rape or incest or other childhood trauma. It’s consistent in every story. The once bubbly, happy child has become a shadow of that former self. 

But the attention is diverted away from the pain and all the focus is on stopping the behavior.  And that’s why it doesn’t always work. Just Say No is well meaning, but terribly misguided.

The pain is why the woman drinks six bottles of wine a day. It’s the pain that drives a man to keep stealing to obtain fentanyl.  The pain propels the addiction. In this way, the substance becomes secondary, merely a consequence of the unresolved inner turmoil.

And the pain is accelerated and fueled by shame. The addict feels the agony of it all.  An intervention that does not go beyond the substance toward understanding what pushes it will likely fail.

To best help the addict, start with the pain. Find the pain and you find the problem.

Emotions as Messengers

I’ve been feeling lonely lately. But to be fair, I think I’ve been lonely for a long time. The difference between then and now is my ability to pay attention to what is already there and begin to dialogue with it.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

There was a time growing up when I couldn’t be lonely. It was too dangerous to feel that way. As a little boy growing up in rural Oklahoma, I had no neighbor kids to play with, therefore I was alone much of my early childhood. I learned to play alone. I learned to get along by myself. It was a skill that served me well in the pandemic. While everyone was freaking out about being isolated, I reverted to the skillset that served me as a child.

I knew how to get busy doing things. I knew how to be productive. I painted my house by myself. I began writing music again. I started a podcast (Spotify) or (Apple). I indulged my interest in plants and gardening. I started working out again and losing weight.

I traveled. I wrote a lot. I started a business by accident that is now in its fourth year of growth and development. I got busy and stayed busy.

But underneath it, I was still lonely.

My outward busyness was an effective shield to hide the inner condition that my heart was feeling. This stragegery worked until it didn’t.

I’m grateful for the forces that shaped me growing up. Big Kev is a direct beneficiary of Little Me being shrewd and smart enough at an early age to figure out what it was going to take to survive. I would not be the man I am today without those influences.

But that doesn’t mean I have it figured out yet.  I am older and wiser now and have perspective on what the young version of me had to face. Little Me was not able to sort through complex emotions like loneliness. But he was savvy enough to persist and keep it together.

It’s up to the adult version of me to go back and revisit the past and remember what loneliness felt like.

I’ve discovered that this is not an intellectual process. I can’t think it through. I have to feel it. If I don’t, my adult choices won’t make sense.

Alcohol was my drug of choice in my darkest season of depression and self-doubt. It helped me drift off to sleep when my body was wrecked with stress and fear. It was effective medicine until it wasn’t.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

I started feeling guilty that I was drinking so much, but I wasn’t that interested in stopping. I didn’t put the two and two together that drinking wasn’t my problem. It was only a symptom of something deeper that needed my attention. My life and everything I had worked for was on a downward spiral towards an eventual abyss.  

Shame was my problem, not the bottle.

Once I connected the dots between my shame and subsequent destructive behavior, the solution came into focus. 

As any normal human, I want to feel better, and I’ll use whatever I have at my disposal to achieve that end. That’s not hard to comprehend. This kind of clarity helps remove judgment and is highly effective in countering shame.

Through the intense work of a therapist, I started to confront the shame, and the habit of drinking began to release its grip on my soul. I was doing the work. I was addressing the real problem.

As an emotion, loneliness is no different to me. It’s unwanted and undesirable. And I can deal with it by staying busy or finding another soul-numbing drug.

Or I can see it as an invitation. 

I get to invite loneliness to have a seat and begin a conversation, however difficult it may be.

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

New Music: New Frontier

Finally ended my hiatus from vehicle ownership last week. Titled this song in honor of that decision. It’s in 5/4 time. This signature intrigues me and I decided to explore it.

I’ve added it to my playlist called Songs From The Cellar. Click to hear other songs in my archive.

New Frontier – Songs From The Cellar – Kevin Shinn 2023

Finding a Reason to Change

Last Sunday night, I made a last minute decision to go to jazz. I had worked all weekend and had a vehicle at my disposal, I thought it was a good finish line to cross.

New cars have so much going on in their complicated digital dashboard display. I’m a simple man and somehow managed to get by for years with just an analog speedometer and a gas gauge. Now I don’t always know what to look at or pay attention to. I didn’t realize in the 21st century that I needed to know the temperature of my transmission fluid, and the optimum fuel usage while I’m going uphill backward.

About mile marker 420, a warning popped up on the center of the display indicating that the left rear tire was low. Assuming I could ignore it, the air pressure meter kept ticking downward, going from 30 PSI to zero in a matter of seconds. There was no way I could keep going. I now had a problem to deal with.

Providentially, there was a rest stop I pulled into and started digging into the rear compartment to find the spare. It was a complicated assembly, because the subwoofer was bolted onto the interim rubber donut, but at least it came out in a straightforward fashion. The jack was in a logical place and not under the hood or front seat.  It was about a 15 minute delay and I was back on the road to sit with LeRoy and the crew for the second set.

The flat was an unwanted, unwelcome disruption.  Pulling over on the side of the interstate in the freezing cold is never a choice I would make. This much is obvious.

Like it or not, I had to deal with it or I wasn’t going anywhere.

I’ve had my share of flat tires along the way. Some occurred in my driveway where they were easy to change. I’ve only had one blowout in my life, which was scary and unsettling. There was a time the lug nuts were frozen onto the wheel and I had to call AAA. But in every case, the process was the same:

  • The disruption required attention. The flat wasn’t going away by ignoring it.
  • The attention required action. Being aware of the problem wasn’t enough. I had to get out and do something about it.
  • The action allowed continuation. Taking time to address the disruption put me back on the road and this is where I ultimately want to go.

I write regularly about my work in grief therapy and recovery. My process began three years ago with a major disruption, the death of my wife of nearly 30 years. Little did I know how that disruption would lead me to discover more unsettling truths that would require further action on my part. I had to start paying attention.

I know some people process difficult life circumstances differently than I do, but I know I am one who needs the guidance of an experienced soul to help me pay attention to matters I’d rather ignore. And since I’m not paying the therapist fee just so I can keep going back to the office and talking, I’m looking for ways I can take action.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but sometimes the action needed is simple.

And simple doesn’t equate to easy.  Like changing the flat, the steps are straightforward and haven’t changed that much since I was a kid with my dad teaching me how to use a bumper jack to raise the old farm truck. The lug wrench and lug nuts still function the same. The opposite tires still need to be chocked. But the tire isn’t going to change itself.

I had to take action.

So why change the tire? Why bother? Why not wait for someone else to come and take care of it?

I did it because I wanted to get to a better place. I didn’t want to stay stuck.

I want to move forward.

The Smartphone and Attention Span Apnea

#UseFewerWords by Kevin Shinn

I have been diagnosed with three distinct and separate sleep disorders. The first sleep study registered 39 episodes an hour. This meant I woke up every two minutes during the overnight observation. Normal people don’t experience this, which is why you can wake up refreshed and have a full day of energy. This is not my reality, but it is something that I have begun to address through CPAP treatment, but more importantly, a mindfulness towards my body and what is happening within it.

Through this practice, I’ve self-diagnosed a new condition. I call it Attention Span Apnea.

In a similar way, my attention is disrupted several times an hour by my iPhone. And I feel it’s having an analogous effect on my mental well-being.

As with all my writing, I write to address something in me. I almost always speak in the first person. And I don’t try to direct advice without including myself in the exhortation.

Just like Sleep Apnea, I’m taking steps to address my Attention Span Apnea. And my first treatment is to renew my practice of journaling.

I’m not one who thinks everyone should journal. But I would recommend everyone to become more mindful of their body.  Journaling is a way I process information. And for purposes of this blogpost, I offer an example of a recent entry.  It’s akin to baking or cooking. I can tell you how, but I’d rather show you. This is how I journal.

I hope this resonates with you. Thank you for reading my work.

I feel the need to recover my attention span and creativity.  I used to journal constantly, oftentimes daily. I have numerous binders full of notes and thoughts. I was diligent with the practice, but somewhere along the way, it has slipped from my hands.

I would guess the smartphone has a lot to do with it. It's easy to grab and fritter away a few minutes here and there. But what do I have to show for it? Fewer journals filled.

But a full journal is an inadequate goal.  Instead, a full heart seems a better outcome.

And so here I sit, afraid I’ve let a main thing slip.

Every person in this coffeeshop is on a device of some kind. (I estimate there are 25 people.) Heads down, scrunched over, thumbing through microsecond images and unknown information. And to what end?  But I can’t speak for them. It's not my place to judge. It's my place to turn the question inward.

I can feel my attention span shrink. I feel like I have become dependent on my phone for far too much. I can’t bring myself to look at the data on how often I check it. I’m sure I would be embarrassed.

So I start today, trying to look at my current habits, listen to my body and at the same time, watch for manifestations in me.  The recent chest pain at night. Is that cardiac in nature or is it stress related. After my doctor visit, I tend to think it's the latter. Is it a by-product of a reduced attention span and loss of patience in my body?

Even right now, I’m getting restless, wanting to get up and move around, look at books or my phone.  I can’t sit still as long as I used to and its time to ask why and pay attention.

Clarity of Fear

#usefewerwords by Kevin Shinn

Fear.

There are plenty of synonyms.

Afraid. Scared. Frightened. Upset. Unsettled. Terror. Panic.

And so on.

Fear might be the first emotion experienced outside of the womb. To be born is to encounter a disruption of state. For a baby to move from a warm, fluid environment into the sudden shock of breathing air and seeing light, it’s easy to imagine how this transition would provoke a feeling of danger. 

And danger is the reason any fear exists.

I would describe myself as a fearful person. Ever since I can remember, I was afraid of the dark, afraid of tornados, afraid of my house burning down. I was afraid of adults, especially teachers. I was afraid of bullies and coaches, who sometimes were the same person.

And now as an adult, it has been helpful, whenever I encounter fear, to go back and remember how I was taught to deal with it as a little boy. I still hear clearly:

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Go back to bed.”

This is what I was told when I was scared at night. But this is language and message for one with adult reasoning, not a child.

Children don’t know there is nothing to be afraid of. If Santa Claus is real in their minds, so is the monster that hides in the closet. Simply telling a child to not be afraid is like expecting a baby not to cry if it is hungry.

Children need to be taught, not told, what to do with fear.

As one constantly dogged by fear, I’ve had to return through guided work to young places in my memory and remember what that fear felt like.  I’ve discovered it feels alot like it does as a grown man today.

The fearful-adult-in-me grew from the fearful-child-in-me

And I can’t redo my childhood, but I can be aware of how it has shaped and influenced my fearful emotions today. To heal and become a courageous adult is to remember that I am still living as a fearful child.

Learning to Feel Clearly

Use Fewer Word by Kevin Shinn

I have a gift.

Even to print those four words as the opening statement seems a little audacious, maybe even haughty.  They have been difficult to own. But it’s apparent I need to press toward this awkwardness and pursue the meaning behind the discovery.

To say one has a gift is to imply being in possession of something special. And the thought of being special can get beaten out at an early age. Anyone who verbalizes this outloud is subject to ridicule. So my reticence makes sense to me out of experience.

I consider myself a very average person from a very average heritage and a very average upbringing.  I was not a very good student, ever. Throughout grade school, high school and college, I made mostly C’s. This performance was considered on the report card as average.

I don’t aspire to fame or fortune. I don’t seek to be popular. The accumulation of money never seduced me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I stay in my average house the remainder of my days.  I like its quiet beauty that I have crafted within its four walls in the thirty years of living there.

It’s in this average setting that I hope to nurture my distinct gift, and this will become the focus of my writing this winter.

The word clarity has stuck in my mind for the last five years, ever since I began to move through the most difficult season of my life.  It was so hard, I contemplated calling it quits. The pain of failure, loss and disappointment was becoming too much to bear.  The thought process of suicidal ideation made sense to my depressed mind.

I know this last paragraph is hard for some to consider me being in such a dark place. I look back on it with deep sadness, but I also made a commitment to myself to never hide or gloss over it, knowing someone who is feeling like I did might find a way out of that dark fog and into a more clear place of light.

Into a place of clarity.

Clearness. Transparent. Coherent. Intelligible. These are all synonyms of clarity.

When there is no clarity, misunderstanding will run rampant. In situations or circumstances where there is no understanding, everything can seem fuzzy or cloudy. This opacity limits movement and can eventually bring any hope for progress to a standstill.

I’ve had poor eyesight my whole life. I started wearing corrective lenses in third grade, and they were fitted with standard black, General-issue, birth-control frames, which is even more devastating to a nine year old than having bad eyesight. As I got older and my vision continued to decline, the lenses got thicker and thicker, which is when the reference to “coke bottle glasses” were applied.

Even though I hated wearing them, they worked as designed. I could go from 20/200 through my naked eye to at best 20/30 with correction. The ability to see took precedence over how I felt about how they looked on my face.

This morning, as with every morning, the first thing I did upon waking up was to reach for my glasses. I can wander to the bathroom without them, but sliding them on my nose and ears makes mobility much easier and safer. I’m less likely to stub my toe or trip over Hank’s ball because I can see something in the way.

This imagery helps me understand my gift and what I need to do to nurture and develop it.

There are gifts I wish for, but don’t have. I wish I was a gifted musician but my fingers don’t know where to go on the fretboard. I wish I could draw or paint, but my pen and brush strokes end up being clunky on the page and canvas.  I dabble in woodworking, but I’m not a gifted craftsman like the ones whose work I admire.  

In all this, I can’t focus on what I’m not. I have to pay attention to who I am.

I have a gift of encountering and befriending emotion.  I can sit with and hold feelings that can seem daunting and frightening to others. I feel emotion deeply and have done so since I was very young. So how do I see this as a gift?

To be frank, at first I didn’t. This was due in large part to not having an elder or caregiver that saw this as a good thing.  My sensitivity and depth was misunderstood. For that matter, I was taught that emotions were suspect, never to be trusted, because they would always lead to the wrong conclusion.  I was taught that the mind was in charge and feelings were to always take a back seat, or be hooked up to the rear of the train like a caboose.

In 2020, as I began my intentional work of recovery from grief and loss, I was given a book by a friend titled The Road Back to You. She thought I might find it helpful and so I gave it a shot.  I came to the chapter that seemed to make the most sense. Here’s how a person with deep emotion was described

“…[they] have a considerable emotional range, and they manage it by not speaking or acting on every feeling they have.”

The very first sentence of the chapter in a much trusted book on self-discovery of those who have a deep emotional life was negative. This was congruent with how I had been led to believe about my giftedness my entire life. This didn’t feel right. And I knew I needed a better path.

I jettisoned the book and began to write my own thoughts about the subject. Anyone who has followed me for a while has probably noticed a shift in how I write. I tried to be more courageous with my emotion and offer my experience to be witnessed. It led to a new focus in my writing called Use Fewer Words. I began to write as honestly as I could, as briefly as I could, and as clearly as I could. If I didn’t feel it, I didn’t post it.  I wasn’t going to waste my time presenting theoretical concepts that I had never worked through. Nor was I going to waste your time with matters that didn’t come from a deep well inside me.

It’s my desire to help others discover new, emotional clarity. I might even title this series, Learning to Feel More Clearly.

As I have done the inner work of discovery and recovery, I see my life differently. I see my emotions differently. And much like my eyeglasses aid my vision, I hope my writing will add a lens of clarity to the beautiful range of emotion we have stored up inside our hearts.

Holding emotion is my gift. And gifts are meant to be given away. I don’t expect everyone to feel like I do, or express their feelings and experiences like I do. If I did, it would cease to be a gift.

Thanks for reading.