Being Present

Being a writer means I spend a lot of time living inside my head.  My body functions, but I’m often mentally multi-tasking; generating blog ideas while completing chores or lying in bed at night, scribbling poetry in parking lots.  I always carry a notebook with me to jot down lines or passages.  Other times I’m lost in the world of others, reading or musing over stories written by someone else.  In my teenage years, I let food burn while immersed in books.  I still don’t know how to navigate half the journeys I’ve traveled as a passenger dozens of times, because I’ve been lost in the pages of a book.  My father used to chide me about this tendency:  “You can’t live life through books, Pam.  Get out and go do something.”  I’d nod, and generally turn a page.

But I’ve missed knowing how to get places.  I’ve tuned in partially to conversations.  I’ve lost sleep.  I’ve chosen time with books and pen over time with people I care about.  I’ll never retrieve those moments. There are costs to being a writer.  When I mentally retreat, I am agitated and irritable when disrupted.  I don’t want to engage.  Sometimes words are like an illicit lover, summoning me away from duties, from reality, from ones who truly love me, leaving me needing ever more time away, another liaison, feeling guilty at wanting to spend so much time focused on my own desires. It’s like an insatiable parasite is leaching my life.

It’s not only words on paper that pull me away from the present.  Though my background in Psychology can help me empathize  with and understand others, and I can reflect insightfully, I struggle to confine my own voice and listen when I am excited about a thought or idea.  I catch myself finishing other people’s sentences, over-talking, assuming, turning the conversation during times when I should be asking questions, seeking additional information to understand more fully.

I know that voice is important to me and the need to create and share through words is part of my being.  As a woman, I’ve sometimes allowed that voice to be dominated through learned submissive behaviors, and in my thirties, I’m now more cognizant of that dynamic and even more reluctant to let go of the power of voice. But when I let that need for voice dominate my ability to engage with others, or stymie my ability to listen and be fully present, I’m allowing an internal, ego-driven, fantasy world to overpower connection to the physical world and to others.

Listening to the tragic stories of those who lost their lives in the recent tornadoes, imagining their last minutes reaching for family, trying to hold on to life, I am reminded the importance of being present in the moment.   Though we’ve settled in a bit more to our life after two years of living in West Virginia, I am so used to every life situation (jobs, friends, homes) being temporary that I still find myself retreating, fearing that connecting, attaching will only cause me pain with the next inevitable transition.  My internal world is so alluring, so comforting, so consistently available.  It is an easy escape.  It is also a place to hide from the fear of loss.  But in retreating into myself, I am already losing memories, losing time, missing out on moments to love.

Hearing about the 15 month old toddler who died as a result of injuries sustained during the tornadoes in Indiana, I find myself snapping out of that internal world to hold my little daughter a little tighter, to soak in her funny quirks and sweet toddler-isms, remembering that mental distraction severs me from the important and unpredictable amount of time I have with her.  Turning away from the computer or my own thoughts to snuggle with my husband, or to ask him questions when he tells me about something that happened during his day, I am choosing connection I can feel.  I am choosing relationships over self-isolating in narrative. The joy in those moments in which I am fully present with my loved ones cannot be replaced by words.  Words cannot fill an empty life.  In fact, only life can provide a foundation of meaning for the words I write.  It is a constant balancing effort, to be present, especially when an internal world feels safer and at times more fulfilling to an introverted writer.  But the practice of living in the physical world, of sensing and experiencing, of connecting with others, is real, and is the force behind all the words I could ever read or write.

Linking up with Shell at


14 responses to “Being Present

  • Kristin Barton Cuthriell

    I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jessica@Team Rasler

    I, too, have a tendency to let words pull me away from the present. So much so that I’ll find sometimes that my husband has been talking for 10 minutes (a long time for him anyway) and I’ve truly heard almost none of it. I’m trying so hard to interrupt less, tune in more, stay out of my head… but it’s hard. But I, too, hug my little ones close whenever I hear stories like that one. Life is far too fragile, isn’t it?

    • Pamela

      It is; and it is good to remember what’s real and in front of us while we have it! I’ve done that with M too, then shamefacedly said, “Um, I didn’t hear anything you just said…I was thinking about something…” Sigh. Thanks for commenting and sharing!

  • christina

    when you have a kid (especially), yeah you gotta be present. you have to. the last paragraph says it all for me.

  • Shell Things (@shellthings)

    It’s a balance between living life and writing about it. Sounds like you’re finding it!

  • Adrienne (@AdrienneSFTS)

    It really puts things into perspective when we hear about such tragedies. I too have a hard time calming down in conversation and being a present listener. I have that awful habit of completing others’ sentences too, and it’s something I’m trying to quit!

    Thank you for coming by and leaving such kind words on my recent post. 🙂

    • Pamela

      I do that also; partly to empathize or supply when people are struggling with words, when I should be patient and just wait until they find their own. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  • Friday Tapas: The Chilled Edition | What She Said

    […] In her post entitled Being Present, Pam from The Ripple Effect 2009 admits that being a writer means spending a lot of time […]

  • akismet-85fd13bbe48421f209c93d1f8f703c79

    I know that internal world well. It’s safe and alluring but it pulls us away. Striking a balance is hard, and I work on it often. Great post.

  • akismet-85fd13bbe48421f209c93d1f8f703c79

    I know that internal world all too well. It’s safe and alluring, but we have to find a balance. I am always working on it too…

  • Kristin Barton Cuthriell

    As I read over this post again, I must take the time to tell you how much I can identify with what you have said. As I write, I too, often detach from the here and now, not engaging with those around me. There needs to be balance. Being present is important, or we may miss things that we can never recapture. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Pamela

      Hi, Kristin! Thank you for reading and commenting. One good thing about writing is it helps you find some realizations through having that time to process. You are right, each moment is so fleeting and it is important to make choices about how we engage that we won’t later regret, as I have done on occasion when too wrapped up in my head! Have a great weekend!

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