Juana at Fundació Joan Miró en BCN

Welcome to The Spain Inside

Juana at Fundació Joan Miró en BCN
Visiting Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona during Spring 2006. PHOTO CREDIT: © J.B. Heffron 3/14/2006

Welcome to The Spain Inside. This blog owes much, including its title, to the Alejandro Amenábar film Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) starring Javier Bardem as Ramón Sampedro, a Spanish fisherman who became quadriplegic after a diving accident in his mid-twenties. He spent decades campaigning for the right to assisted suicide.

Say what???

No, this isn’t a blog about ending it all. Far from it. Oh goodness, where do I begin?

The Sea Inside refers to many things, not only the constant emotional churning and grief over what had been lost, but also the strong current of dignity and courage that compelled Sampedro to decide for himself how his own life should be lived, even if in his case that meant deciding to no longer continue living it here on earth. The message that continues to resonate with me years after seeing this film is the idea of personal dignity and courage to define that for oneself.

For the past year I’ve been seriously considering the following questions:

• What does it mean to be kind to oneself?
• How does one stop wholly defining himself or herself based on the opinions of others and instead cultivate a healthy sense of intrinsic self-worth?
• How do you truly feed your own soul?

Unexpected changes in my career in the past few months have also motivated me to seek out a self-directed creative outlet, which I hope this blog will be. For nearly 30 years I’ve been good at meeting and typically exceeding the expectations of others (Win the competition! Be the best! Right the sinking ship! et cetera.) This was especially true in my most recent professional role, one in which I collaborated with other creative people. This role was largely a support role though, one in which I solved problems and handled tasks, all in service of facilitating another person’s creativity.

I was really good at it, and I enjoyed pleasing the people whose projects I facilitated. For several years I found the collaboration challenging and exciting, but eventually there came a day when I realized I wanted to contribute more, to shape the story, and to have a real hand in the projects’ creative direction. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so I voiced to the “powers that be” my desire to contribute more. I thought I would be able to grow over time in that environment by shouldering more creative responsibility as I remained in my role, and that over the course of a year or two I might move up in this way (as I had witnessed past colleagues do.)

Then came the curveball. I was informed that I would have to separate entirely from my former supportive role in order to move into the more challenging but less frequent work. There would be no more transitioning as past colleagues had done. To this day I’m not sure whether that conversation ended with my being vaguely promoted or being fired in the most flattering manner possible.

But moving forward means living with the consequences, even the unanticipated ones, and being able to accept them. Yet I must admit that for several months now I’ve been struggling because I no longer have the work which through which I had wholly come to define myself. I wanted to write more at work, and wasn’t able to. Now I found myself with time to write—whatever I wanted!—and also the realization that I had no idea what I wanted to say. What else did my Sea Inside contain other than frustration and confusion? Cue several months of questioning and self-doubt before arriving at a brief moment of clarity.

One evening I just started writing in my journal, and this came to me:

“I’m not crafty, I am not a cook or DIY maven, and I like plants but certainly not enough to write about them. Bluntly, there is nothing “Pinteresting” about me. […] The only thing I am really passionate about is Spain. Bizarre, since I’m only passionate about it from afar. When I lived in Spain I got the distinct impression that it really didn’t care too much for me.

I guess that my passion for Spain is an aspirational one. I see qualities in its culture that I would hope to emulate in my own life: an appreciation of art and beautiful poems and literature, and an emphasis on having experiences versus buying things, and strong family ties. I admit this is a largely romanticized and stereotypical vision I hold, but hey, it’s mine. Spain is not like me. It isn’t uptight or overly cautious. Spain doesn’t concern itself with saying the politically correct thing; it has the courage to be what it is. And more than anything I admire that Spanish culture seems less concerned with “making it,” and (at least to me) it seems to value its own inherent worth and doesn’t concern itself too much with the opinion of others about it.

[…] How do I feed my soul? How do I find peace with myself and learn to find my inner Spain, my passion and pride and self-worth? Is that the idea? Maybe that is it! Find my inner Spain! Spend time each day interacting with something Spanish and writing about the joy it brings me. Yes!”

The idea is to find my inner Spain without needing to go there, and to hold onto whatever that means to me. The Sea Inside. The Spain Inside. Yet this late night epiphany was immediately followed by a wave of dread and self-doubt. What if it’s stupid? What if I embarrass myself? What if? What if? What if?

I started to worry that this whole thing was too self-indulgent, a little too been-there-done-that, Eat, Pray, Love. But you know what? Maybe the point is that self-indulgence isn’t necessarily the enemy. You can’t feed your soul and simultaneously deny yourself everything! (Well, maybe Mother Teresa could.) You know what else? I actually enjoyed reading Eat, Pray, Love and (conjuring now my little inner Spaniard) I don’t care if people judge me for it!

Well… truth is I do care, but I’m trying not to care quite so much.

To hold myself accountable, I forced myself to tell a friend about the idea, and guess what? She was gracious and kind and encouraging. It really helped having that little bit of encouragement from someone else, and here’s hoping that I continue this journey and along the way learn to encourage myself.

Miró sculpture at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, MI
Reunited and it feels so good! Joan Miró sculpture at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, MI. PHOTO CREDIT: © J.B. Heffron, 7/1/2014

Besides, there are at least three people in my life who address me as Juana. There’s got to be something Spanish in here somewhere, right?