Tell Me, How Do I Live My Passion?

One of my chemo gifts from Maggie was this long-beloved (likely by many of you, as well) poem by Mary Oliver (sorry about the formatting, no idea how to get rid of the giant spacing between lines):

          The Summer Day

          Who made the world?

          Who made the swan, and the black bear?

          Who made the grasshopper?

          This grasshopper, I mean—

          the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

          the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

          who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

          who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

          Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

          Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

          I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

          I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

          into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

          how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,

          which is what I’ve been doing all day.

          Tell me, what else should I have done?

          Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

          Tell me, what is it you plan to do

          with your one wild and precious life?

What a perfect gift, since for weeks prior to opening this particular package, I had been exploring that exact question (not to mention the practice of being more present). For a good while, the question opened like a spring bud: glorious and inspiring, so full of possibility and hope. But lately, the question weighs on me like this east-coast winter weighed on many of you (not on me, I appreciated the fact that I was not the only one cooped up inside!); lately, the question feels heavy and dark, like a vast and sometimes hopeless unknown (or like one dark, cold winter day after the next).

What WILL I do with my one wild and precious life? More specifically, what will I do with my one wild and precious WORK life?

As I near the other side of breast cancer treatment, that question looms. How do I face the next phase of my life when I have no joyful clarity about my work-future?How do I compromise doing what I love to do—living the life of a writer—after vowing, as I faced death in a new way, to follow my passion? But how do I keep doing what I love to do when it will be time for me to get back into the game and once again bring home a regular paycheck?

How do I honor what I have learned these last months (what I am trying so hard to hold onto as I re-enter the world post chemotherapy: that life truly is short; that we can’t plan for the future because we have no idea what the future will bring; that we therefore have even more reason to savor the moment, live the moment, be the moment; even more reason to do what feeds our soul; that if we follow our passion and trust the universe, they will lead us where we need to go)? How do I honor all that while also being practical?

Which brings me to a new list of questions: Where is the difference between fear (“I need to take this work or I may not be able to pay my mortgage!”) and practicality (“If I take this work, I can pay my mortgage.”)? (Huh. Is there a difference between fear and practicality?? There must be… right?) How do I know when I am falling into an old, unwanted pattern of letting my fear guide me, versus responding to a practical need to make ends meet? And how do I balance the need to make ends meet with my unwavering, overwhelming desire to write—and not just to write, but again, to live the life of a writer. To get up day after day and spend my hours doing what I love to do (including “stroll[ing] through the fields… all day” if that is where the moment wants me; including being so present that I can see a grasshopper’s jaws move back and forth instead up and down); so that love and joy and passion and presence overflow into the rest of my doing and living and being?

flying off cliffTHAT is the one wild and precious life I want to live.

(Tell me, what is YOUR passion? What will YOU do with your one wild and precious life? I’d love a window into what feeds other people’s souls. Especially since I imagine that by sharing, we can help feed each other.)

7 thoughts on “Tell Me, How Do I Live My Passion?

  1. Blessings, Jenny, for asking those questions aloud. We all do at some time, but usually not as loudly as you.

    But here’s one suggestion: Edit other people’s writing. It’s a great gig – I’ve been at it for 27 years, and occasionally can take breaks for my own writing (if I had more discipline I’d put aside a few hours a day to work on my own writing before working on others’). There is an enormous world of self-publishing and it has a bad rep because those writers don’t appreciate the need for editors. (As do writers intending to submit to agents/publishers.) Reach out to them. Happy to orient you to getting started.


  2. Dear Jenny, Some morning thoughts about your quandary. You’re very fortunate to have found your passion. Many of us don’t ever find it or we find it very late in life. I believe there is a difference between fear and practicality. Fear is part and parcel of being human yet it doesn’t need to control us. There are choices and compromises to be made which can (and will) discourage us; however, I find what’s most discouraging is nothing in the “real world” but my own lack of belief in what I know on a deep level to be true for me. Thanks for opening up the discussion. Love, Jan


  3. Dear Formerly Purpled Hair Jen:

    It seem very obvious to me that your next “working” step, (the first working step in the rest of your life) after reading some of your beautifully written introspections on your blog, should be the story (as in a book) of your journey. It could take different forms and one that might garner some real financial success, because so many have to (or have) face cancer, would be, “A Guide to Getting Through and Being Cured of Breast Cancer.”

    That format really is familiar to you with the English tutorials you have already written and published. See where it could all lead to…
    love, Uncle Stirlin


  4. Jenny, I’ve grappled with this question my whole life — and am doing so now. I’m not exactly sure how to live my passion to its fullest expression, but I am committed to taking risks, exploring, always learning. I posted your blog entry on Facebook 🙂 xoxo Karen


    1. It’s not always fun, the grappling, and yet, I’m glad we’re taking risks, exploring, always learning– and it helps to be doing that alongside others!

      (Thanks for sharing on Facebook!)


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