8.13.2016

The Art of Letting Go in Life and Art

When this year began, I knew it would be a year of letting go. How much I’d need to let go of, I didn’t know, but I knew inevitable changes were coming that would force me to face losses of different kinds. That these losses would happen within the same week was a surprise—and an awakening to new beginnings I never could have imagined or planned.

At the end of June, we lost our beloved cat Charley Noble. He had been diagnosed with cancer four years ago and had been defying the vet’s prognosis year after year. Until this spring, when he just couldn’t keep fighting any longer. Charley died in my arms at home on a Monday morning. He’d waited for me to come home from a workshop the night before and then spent the night in my arms. Saying goodbye to our sweet boy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it was his time. It was our time. To do what had to be done. To hold, comfort, and let our beloved cat go as he took his final breaths was a precious and rare gift. So I let him go.

That Tuesday morning, movers for an auction house packed and removed more than 300 pieces of furniture, crystal, silver, glass, china, collectibles, linens, and jewelry from our apartment. These were items that had been collected by my parents, then left to me after they died. These were items my parents had meant to deal with for years—many items even had brittle post-it notes on them, “To sell” in faded pencil, my mother’s distinctively messy handwriting. But the collections became too much for them and so these items came to me. Until this year I couldn’t find the strength to deal with them and thankfully, because my apartment has storage space, most of these items could stay stored out of sight, out of mind. But the knowledge that I would have to deal with them was always in the back of my mind—and that nagging feeling created in me a sense of anger—towards my parents,  towards the items, towards the work I knew was coming to sort, organize, and decide what to do with each and every item. 
It was only earlier this year that I was ready to allow the anger to dissipate, to allow myself to detach from the emotions and the memories. To do what had to be done. What had to be done was to let these items go. So I let them go.

On Thursday morning I met with my trainer Jay at the gym. I was feeling raw from the events of the past few days and couldn’t keep the tears at bay. “I just need you to push me today,” I said. And with a bear hug and a “Let’s do this,” Jay pushed me and I worked out. Before our hour was over, Jay asked me to weigh-in. I’ve been consistently losing weight, getting healthier and stronger since February 2015, but I didn’t know what the scale was going to show me that week. It showed me that I’d lost forty pounds. Pounds that had been slowing me down. Pounds that had been insulating me. Pounds that had been scaring me. I achieved a milestone that week. Did what had to be done. So I let them go.

That week finally over, I was at once exhausted and elated.  And one week later I was out of town teaching a writing workshop with lots of focus on revision. And what is revision? Isn’t revision of our work a method of allowing ourselves to recognize what needs to be changed and adjusted, to do what needs to be done, and to let go? Of course it is. Writers do this all the time. It's often the hardest part and the best part of the writing process. Letting go for the sake of finding the best possible whole. 

Letting go is sad and letting go is freeing.  Living over-weighted by weight for so long; living in worry and sadness for so long with Charley’s illness; living in anger and angst for so long with inherited items I didn’t want--I can’t shake the notion that letting go of all of it had to happen at the same time. It’s all interrelated and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the letting go without somehow experiencing all of it at the same time. Coming out the other side my home is changed and I am changed. I am freed. I am sad. I am happy. I am whole. 









(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc

53 comments:

  1. Thank you Emma for this thoughtful and helpful meditation on letting go. It's not something we do easily, but once we find a way to let go of whatever's holding us back it truly is freeing. And sometimes sad. Best, Tara

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  2. Beautiful Emma. And so true. This is what we have to do again and again, our whole lives, in so many ways.

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    1. Yes, we do. Thanks, Suzanne.

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  3. So touching and eloquently expressed--no surprise, of course. I have always found that the courage to let go of things that don't serve is signals the universe that we're ready for something new and more exquisite than we could have imagined. I have been fighting this truth for a little while, and your post is a wonderful and buoying reminder. Love it! And you.

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    1. Love you, L. And here's to reminding one another of all that's important. Always. xo

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  4. My heart is filled with so much Love and appreciation. Thank you for sharing your wise, beautiful words, Emma. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment.

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  5. Loved every word. There is something here everyone can relate to one way or another. I'm so sorry about Charley Noble. Thanks and hugs from Oregon!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Robin.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this, Emma. I have long believed in, written about, and experienced the energizing, joyful freedom of letting go. The resulting journey is well worth it...Best to you.

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    1. Letting go can indeed be energizing, you're so right, Carol. Thanks for your comment and kind words.

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  7. So sorry to learn about your cat, Emma. Losing pets is so difficult.

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  8. I loved this post on "letting go" and the irony of thinking, "it's a keeper."

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    1. Ah, thanks so much!

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    2. Well put, I Punt. I pinned this as well.

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  9. Touched me to the core, Emma. This year is a big one for letting go for me as well. Every year I pick a word to live by, or at least keep in mind. This year's word is loosen. Let go, but also, let in.

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    1. Wishing you all the best as you let go and let in, Wendy. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. Thank you for that. I'm in a huge year of change as well.

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    1. Good luck with all your changes. Keep the windows open to let new things in. Thanks for your comment.

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  11. Emma so sorry to hear about Charley Noble. As always, your words inspire and motivate me!

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    1. How lovely of you. Thanks, Angela.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and touching piece, Emma. I'm going through the same sort of thing and your words brought me comfort. It's a rocky process. Wishing you the very best.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Good luck with your process and journey, Helen.

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  13. Twyla Dawn Weixl8/15/2016

    The beauty of a cat is partly that they don't cling to things either. Your cat left you no “items“ to deal with, just beautiful memories. Your words have encouraged me to be sure I don't leave my only child with any of my hindering baggage.

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    1. You're so right about cats. Thank you for your kind words. I was an only child - which makes the letting go of inherited things harder and easier at the same time. Best wishes to you.

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  14. We've never met, but I feel like I want to give you a hug and a high-five.

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    1. Sounds great! I look forward to a chance when our paths might cross for that hug and high-five. Thanks, Wendy!

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  15. Beautiful post, Emma. To put it simply, it feels very human. Thanks for sharing your words. And I like the title. ;)

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    1. Thanks, Kristin! It's all very human, absolutely. I'd rather experience all life has to offer than stay insulated from experience.

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  16. Sangeeta8/15/2016

    I agree with all the comments—what a touching and beautifully written post! Charley Noble was so lucky to be a part of your life, and vice versa.

    By chance, did you refer to something like THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP to help you let go of your parents' possessions? It seems to hard to decide what to keep or toss something based on if it "sparks joy"—especially when it comes to books.

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    1. Thanks so much, Sangeeta. I know of that book, but I haven't read it or looked through it at all. I have been able to do my own personal version of the method, though, by asking of every object or item, "Is this something that I need to make me happy and will I use it and get joy out of using it?" And if it's a NO, then off it goes.

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  17. Nice. And very appropriate to my task of revision. Saving "deleted sentences" in a file so I can get them back if and when I need them. Which, I probably won't!

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    1. Saving deletions is a fine idea. You never know... Most won't go back into the manuscript, but a few may indeed find their way into another story! Possibilities!

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  18. I'm so sad to hear about the loss of your beloved Charley Noble. Thank you for a beautiful post and a fantastic revision workshop. Am in the process of doing some letting go in my writing thanks to you:)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words about Charley. And cheers on your revision work! So glad you got a lot out of the workshop.

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  19. I'm so sorry for your heartache in losing Charley Noble. We are on the edge of losing our 19 year old beloved Sally Po. Letting go is really tough. As so many others have expressed, it has, indeed, been a year of drastic changes for us. Letting go of loved ones and comfortable places and desires/dreams of what life should be. Thank you for relating all this to writing. As I come out the other side of letting go, revisions are to be a priority and, as you stated, there's some letting go to do there, too. Hugs and blessings as you move forward. :)

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    1. And to you, Rene. Thank you for your kind words. Wishing you peace during the letting go journey so the letting go yields something new and wonderful.

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  20. Hi Emma - I'm so sorry about Charley Noble - and so grateful for this post right now as I sit here with my beloved cat Stretch who has defied prognosis since day 1, when he was diagnosed with heart disease. Eight years of no symptoms, when they thought he might maybe live four, and now he's had heart failure twice in the last two months and is also down, unable to walk, with extreme pain in his legs from some mystery illness or infection that no one can diagnose. He's on a cocktail of meds and while he is lionhearted and so very strong, like I suspect your boy, I don't know if he will make it through or not. This comes in a year where my dad has been very ill and possibly dying and a dear friend was very ill and close to dying. It comes in a year with the loss of two of my main creative icons Bowie & Prince, and with many other quite huge things going on. It has been a year filled with living, in all its life-ness. I am so thankful for and comforted by the beauty in the reminder you have written. Thank you for sharing it.

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    1. Oh, Lori, you are having quite a time of it--thank you for sharing so honestly in your comment. As you say, the life-ness of life. And it's not for the meek. I wish you strength and peace as you tend to all that needs tending, yourself and your creativity included. Thank you.

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  21. Hi Emma ~ Your beautifully written post spoke to me on so many levels -- losing a beloved pet is always so painful. But the portions on losing weight and letting go of your parents possessions really struck me. I don't want to leave my daughter in a place of anger, as you described here, because I can't get rid of possessions that no longer serve me, holding onto things for dear life. Your piece really hit home. And I am just starting the process of shedding the 25 lbs I've put on since starting a memoir. Padding to keep distance from the pain. You've inspired me. Thank you!

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    1. Hi, Carol, Thank you for sharing your story and for your honest comments. I'm so glad my words and experiences can inspire you. Keep going on your journey! You're worth it!

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  22. Emma - Dealing with loss and losing a pet is so hard. Looking for him, waiting to feel the weight of his head on your leg or lap, I have dealt with the same thing this year. It is a mix of such emotions - memories bring pain and joy - which really is life and indeed can be writing. Thank you for such a heartfelt post. I am glad you are making your way through it.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and kind words, Kim.

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  23. Dear Emma D. Dryden,

    I enjoyed your essay. I have been revising old and recent poems for a new book of poetry that is almost finished. My writers group has made excellent suggestions, and I have enough distance from the poems now to see them objectively and to make needed changes. I'm pleased that I have grown as a writer and can improve my work by being more specific and more concise. My new poetry book will be stronger because I have let go of weak words and lines.

    Best wishes!

    Janet Ruth Heller

    Author of the poetry books Exodus (WordTech Editions, 2014), Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011), the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990), the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006), and the middle-grade book for kids about sibling rivalry and discrimination The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).

    My website is http://www.janetruthheller.com/

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    1. That's great, Janet. Glad the revision and letting go process is empowering your writing and craft.

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  24. Emma, so glad you shared a personal post with us, it was so relatable. My Daughter in law was only a few weeks ago having a conversation with us about the minimalist life style. Sometimes circumstances force you to embrace it and other times it's a choice and I can see how freeing and peaceful a life like that, void of "extra's" that clutter our lives yet give no real pleasure, could be. Letting go also allows for welcoming in. Like you, we had to say goodbye to our beloved pet 1.5 years ago. After being there for 15.5 years, loving us foibles and all was heartbreaking. Yet a door was opened to a new puppy entering our lives, bringing a new love and so much fun into our world. I dread the idea of down sizing, selling our place, moving to a perhaps a small bungalow... packing, getting rid of the excess "stuff". On the other hand, I want to be free of so much of it. I have a collectors pack rat heart I fear, even in my work I see it, detail after detail added until the art is FAR to busy and complicated. I look at other Illustrators styles and so wish I could just be a minimalist like they. I'm working on that but once in, it's SO hard to pull back and STOP IT!:)
    A great reminder at just the right time for me, thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Christine, for sharing so much of your own self and process in your thoughtful comments. I'm sorry about the loss of your pet, but overjoyed to hear of the new puppy in your lives! It's SO hard to let go of clutter and excess. It's interesting you find that you "clutter" your artwork sometimes -- that would make a great exercise for you, to challenge yourself to leave more white space. Try it, push yourself out of a comfort zone, and see what results. That's what I've been trying to do too.

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  25. >challenge yourself to leave more white space. Try it, push yourself out of a comfort zone, and see what results<

    EXACTLY what I've been attempting Emma and it is TOTALLY a challenge!
    I start out determined... my mind focused, go simple! But once in my hand is saying, "Ya but...lets just add a few background details, some shading right here, clouds, yes clouds would be nice, some weeeee flowers on that kids shirt..." sigh:)

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    1. I'm thinking you need to apply the discipline of poetry to your artwork. Allowing less to be more; allowing story to happen as much in the white space as it does in the color. This is not easy because you of course do want texture and color and life in your artwork, while at the same time allowing the image to breathe...

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  26. This post means so much to me. Since my parents died nearly 6 years ago, I have been slowly letting go of things, and it has been a freeing experience. I have discovered a new me in the process. (I do miss them very much, but I look at life differently now, somehow.) I have found one this thought to be very helpful to me when letting go of some of their things -- this served its purpose by giving them joy at the time, and now it's time to let it go. I just read in the comments that you are an only child. We OKs (only kids) have a different attachment and relationship with our parents and with the stuff that remains of them, I believe. It takes time to let go. Peace be with you as you continue the process.

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    1. Beth, how lovely of your to share your experiences and story. Thank you. I think you're so right about how only kids (OKs!) process and contend with what remains after parents are gone, differently from those with siblings. Peace be with you as well as you continue in your process and journey.

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