Posted by: scintillatingspeck | November 24, 2015

Asking for help.

I think I’m ready to do some asking, now.  It doesn’t guarantee any particular response, or even any response at all, from others.  It does allow me to articulate my thoughts more fully, to engage at least individually in the important work of figuring out what might happen next and how I can prioritize things.

I don’t think broadcasting this via my blog (or via Facebook, or any other online platform, for that matter) is the key component of asking for help.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about broadcasting as hiding, in fact.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve been avoiding Facebook—not because I want to be disengaged, but because I fear that at times, it counter-intuitively creates conditions that lead to disengagement.  I might have more to say about that at some point soon.  I want to emphasize, though, that I don’t see this blog post as an end point in asking for help, but rather a starting point, a way to give myself a little extra oomph in approaching individuals directly, or perhaps opening the door to people who might want to offer some ideas or encouragement.

I’m partly inspired by a friend of mine who finds it very, very hard to ask for help, and is willing to make that fact plain to me.  Who here also understands that it’s even hard to acknowledge that asking for help is hard?  It’s so &$^%ing hard!  I felt it would be important not only to ask for help with a specific issue (yes, people, I will get to it, and I will stick to ONE issue) but to write about the hurdles in asking for help at all.  I have a wee suspicion that this is a widespread problem in a culture such as ours.

Why is it so hard to ask for help?  What are my fears?

  • I fear that I’ll be perceived as weak and not having my sh*t together.  The truth is, I don’t feel like I have it together nearly as much as I would like.  If I am honest with myself, I can also see that I’m not as much of a mess as my most insidious demons would like to harass me about, but I’m also lacking some key resources and support.
  • I fear that I’ll be perceived as all neediness and no strength, as if it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.
  • I fear that I’ll feel really vulnerable and this might manifest itself in some ugly ways, like getting snarly, or saying/doing other embarrassing things that make me feel like a toddler.
  • I fear that nobody will respond or want to help and I’ll feel unloved and abandoned.
  • I fear that somebody will respond in all the wrong ways.
  • I fear that I will radically increase the chances that I’ll go into a downward shame spiral, even though I believe that needing and asking for help is not shameful.
  • I fear that people will be disgusted when I continue to have needs and either burn out or avoid me entirely.
  • I fear that people will forget that I want to help them.  I fear that they won’t ask for help themselves, and I’ll be the dumb-ass putting myself out there while they don’t.  I fear that they’ll think I’m not capable of helping, just because I have my own needs, or because they perceive me as weak.

Well.  Do you think we might be living in a highly individualist, competitive culture or something?

OK, onwards to the request for help.



I need help figuring out a strategy for moving forward with my book.  I want to identify each and every hurdle that’s facing me, and see if those hurdles are surmountable or not.  If not, I will need to identify a strategy for dealing with that, too.

It’s striking me that this is a bit similar to some previous challenges on this whole trajectory.  When I was launching my Kickstarter campaign, I had somewhat of a strategy but no assurances of any success.  It’s still astonishing to me that I pulled off the fundraising AND the three-month, cross-country trip in 2014.  While solo parenting a 7-year-old.  While negotiating and carrying out the separation process with my husband.  While unschooling.  While doing it all on a financial shoestring.  It had a huge, HUGE impact on my life and the lives of my family members, and we’re still processing everything.  I don’t want to forget, though, that I pulled off some stuff that I wasn’t sure was possible.

It’s clear that I was naïve about what would be involved in writing a book under my current circumstances.  The other stuff (fundraising, budgeting, long-distance traveling, camping, parenting, trying to be a decent guest, etc.) I actually had some experience with, even though, all combined, it pretty much kicked my ass.  Writing a book is something I’ve never done before, not to mention a deeply personal book about my life.  It doesn’t help that I seem prone to severe shame episodes about the fact that I have not yet produced a book to present to my financial backers.

What are the hurdles I can identify so far?  I’m a little tempted to separate them into categories (like logistical hurdles, emotional/mental hurdles, book-writing-process hurdles) but I’m going to resist that inclination, since they all seem to bleed into each other.  I need help determining how to prioritize this list, given the other priorities in my life.

  • Time.  Clearly, time is finite.  Currently, the bulk of my time commitments involve parenting/unschooling my 8 year old and attending to our basic necessities.  There is a lot more detail I could go into, but I’d rather not do that here and now.
  • Money.  Also finite.  Of the funds that were raised through Kickstarter, approximately half were spent on the trip, and another half is being held in reserve for printing/shipping rewards (i.e. the book).  I did not budget for anything like child care, or editing, or help with writing, mostly because I wanted to set a fundraising goal that I thought could actually be reached.  Although I’m earning a small amount doing some part-time work from home, it’s small.  Lily and I are dependent on Tom for income, and that income covers two households, and no, it is not a six-figure income.  You can probably figure out that I am not flush with cash.  I think it was in August or September that I posted something to Facebook, asking for help finding writing support, and I was fairly devastated to realize that almost all of the suggestions involved paying money that I don’t have.  Please bear that in mind if you are tempted to write something like “Here’s this great writing coach.”  I respect that there are wonderful writing coaches and such out there who are deservedly seeking to be paid, but unless you are willing to sit down with me and reexamine my budget (what whole swaths would I cut out?  The electric bills?  The one paid homeschool activity Lily still does?  The internet connection?), please refrain from suggesting stuff that costs more than, say, $10-20.
  • Concentration.  It has not escaped my notice that my concentration has frequently been shot.  I think this is due to stress, depression, insomnia, and parenting.  It is almost impossible to write when I can’t concentrate enough to string a sentence together.  I find myself looking for rare opportunities when I’ve had enough sleep and feel calm and balanced enough and also am not distracted by my child.  This doesn’t happen a lot.  (However, it is happening right now, which is why I’m seizing the chance to write this blog post!)
  • Emotional regulation.  I resisted calling this simply “depression” although that certainly falls under this heading; I just hate the word “depression” and other associated “diagnoses.”  I’m sure you can find other writings on this blog where I rant about that.  Regardless, it’s a hurdle, and one that I’m trying hard to address on a daily basis.  I’m pretty darn sure that this would need to be near or at the top of a prioritized list of What I Need to Address.  The point is, when one is depressed, nothing can effectively happen.  Not even staying alive, sometimes.  I need assistance from people who agree that “staying alive” is a top priority.
  • Feelings of vulnerability.  This writing process is bringing up intense feelings of exposure and fear.  I need strategies for dealing with that.  I need help with managing fears about potential backlashes or discrimination in the future.
  • Self-doubt.  I don’t know if I can actually do this.  I find myself doubting my writing skills and whether I have anything useful or eloquent or important to say.  The inner gargoyles sometimes get the better of me and don’t shut up when I need them to shut up and let me write.  They are mean little bastards.
  • Wanting to protect others.  A lot of the stuff I need to write about involves other people and intimate details about our lives.  Some of them I can make pretty much anonymous, by changing names and identifying details.  Others I can never make anonymous, like my child and my husband.  I need help managing this.  I need to be able to write freely and then make determinations later about how to present the material.  I desperately wish I had an editor.  I have no money to pay an editor.  I’m not willing to accept volunteer editing offers unless I am sure that it’s a good match.  I would take choosing an editor as seriously as choosing a spouse.  I may have to be resigned to the idea that there will be no editor.
  • Confusion about scope.  I have devoted a lot of thought to trying to figure out where my story begins and ends.  The beginning, in particular, is elusive to me.  Clearly, it doesn’t start when my trip starts—it starts quite a while before that, because I need to get into all the reasons why the trip/project felt so immensely urgent.  When I composed the text on the original Kickstarter page about why I wanted to do this, I had a whole bunch of HUGE life questions, and I don’t feel I can address each one in totality—it would turn into the Jen Encyclopedia.  Egads.  NO, that is not what I want.  I need someone to talk to, confidentially, about the arc of my life, and which pieces make sense to include in this book, and which don’t.
  • Continuing struggles with theme(s).  My elevator speech about this trip/project has always centered on themes about home, community, and connection.  I feel like I am continually reaching to refine it even further, to zero in on the most relevant theme, lest it become impossibly broad.  The closest I’ve come so far is something like intimacy or intimate connection but in the context of a culture of dissociation and disengagement.  I need to flesh this out more in dialogue with someone I can trust.  I want it to be the touchstone I can return to, throughout.
  • Confusion about audience.  I have long been asking, who am I writing this for?  Writing advice is often about getting clear about who your audience is, and writing for them.  Clearly, a lot of this writing process is for me, but it can’t only be about me since I want to actually publish it.  I want to talk to someone about this.

Alright, dears.  I have come to the end of the time I have to devote to this, today.  May it be sufficient.  I request your help, of any degree or type.  You can respond to me in comments on my blog, or privately by email (scintillatingspeck at gmail dot com), or by calling me on the phone, or Skyping (jen.hartley), or letter-writing, or (gasp) talking to me in person.  If you comment on Facebook, I will not see it, so please don’t.  (One of the other issues I wanted to ask for help with is whether I should consider using Facebook again to a limited degree, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

I’m grateful for your witness and your presence in my life.  Paz y amor.



  1. Asking for help IS so hard. My personal terror about it usually revolves around “what if they say no/can’t do whatever it is either” — not because I fear the vulnerability of putting myself out there but because I fear the scarcity of resources. The specter of leaving things undone and having needs go unmet is the ghost in my closet.

    You wrote all this. Well done.

  2. Dear Jen, I’ve been reading your posts (and this one is especially wonderful in its clarity and depth) but haven’t been responding, except in my mind. I’ve been typing with one hand, my left, since I was hit by a car last month, so I’ve become very sparing with my written words. “Asking for help” moved me to write a reply that will be too short to convey all the thoughts it sparked. I’m glad you were able to pull all of that out of the depths and put it into words.

    The main themes, to me, are parenting, writing and relationships. And they’re so intertwined they sometimes strangle each other. That’s been my experience, anyway.

    I think the word “parenting,” while useful in some contexts, conceals much of the actual experience of mothers and stifles our ability to “tell it like it is.” Whether we are partnered or not (though each situation has its own parameters), women who are mothers experience, and usually internalise, a unique-to-women set of expectations and constraints. The inability to meet all the expectations and accept all the constraints while still having “a life of one’s own,” and an amorphous sense of guilt that accompanies this “failure,” are often at the root of women’s frustration, fatigue and depression. By homogenising the experience of raising a child under the rubric of “parenting,” current egalitarian parlance erases the fact that it is still most often mothers who take the responsibility for being the “primary caregiver.” I think you’re providing a wonderful growing up experience for Lily. Taking her on a cross-country trip (all the while homeschooling / unschooling and writing a book) was an heroic endeavour. It’s no wonder you’re feeling depleted. The reality is that the task you set for yourself is grindingly difficult without proper support, both financial and emotional.

    Writing. I think of it as my calling. It’s always calling me to express, in the finest, most accurate words I have, the feelings, impressions, intuitions, ideas, and insights that make up my world. For what purpose? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the hope that they will resonate with others. I think you know what I mean. I’m only beginning to learn how to give expression to those still inexpressibly painful things, which are the very things that need to be expressed because they are the things that are repressed. I’m also confronted by most of the hurdles you listed. Except for time. I’m retired, and time is one of the perks of getting old. It would be nice if one day I could support my travelling life with my writing. I was finally able to commit to the novel that it’s been my life’s desire to write (it’s had many beginnings), and planned to spend four months in Mexico devoted to writing it. And then, in one whump, my plans evaporated. The challenge will be to find (or create) fresh inspiration to continue writing it through the coming long, cold winter in Montreal, especially since it’s set in Latin America.

    Relationships are too big a topic for now, except to say that leaving Facebook was one of the best decisions I’ve made recently. I think it’s been over four months now. I’m a kind of loner by nature, and having raised three children mostly on my own, I enjoy my solitude; but my relationships with my close friends, my neighbours, and my sons are very important to me. I’ve come to appreciate them even more since I left Facebook. There’s a qualitative difference between the relationships I experienced on Facebook and even the daily exchanges I have with neighbours in the elevator. (I feel so lucky to live in a huge apartment building where most of my neighbours are immigrants from all over the world, mainly “conflict areas,” so there’s a lot of political stuff to discuss.) Since the accident, neighbours have brought me food, helped me to get into my harness (immobilising sling), and shown their caring in many ways. I get together with my two closest friends (until recently, three — one has gone travelling) for a potluck every week. To me, intimacy in friendship means, among other things, that we don’t have to completely agree on everything, but we feel comfortable with that. We love each other with an ever-deepening sense of commitment to each other’s well-being. It’s something we’ve worked on over time. Familiarity has bred content. (That’s the short version. The long version is considerably more nuanced.) I wish it were easier to express more, and better, what we feel in a few typed words.

    Keep digging deep into your soul, sweet Jen, and don’t fear what you’ll find. In my experience, it’s terrible, but survivable. Living is quite something, but it’s not what we’ve been led to believe it is.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you were hit by a car, Feral. AGH. And grateful that you’ve been shown care by those close to you.

      Thanks for your thoughts on the word “parenting.” I tend to agree that this can erase the particular challenges of mothering in this culture. I haven’t even scratched the surface on writing about my experience of that, nor about being a “single” mother (although that’s a really tricky term for me, honestly, but it speaks somewhat to my reality).

      It reassures me that I’m not the only one who wonders what purpose writing serves, but maybe it IS sufficient to note that it Just Feels Necessary. It just plain calls. When ignored, it won’t shut up. Maybe I’m being unfair characterizing it as this sort of whiny, demanding child, or maybe I’m just a mother.

      I am sad to witness your plans for the winter nipped in the bud. Wishing you extra gobs of inspiration and fortitude to write anyway.

      I think it’s great that leaving Facebook has been such a positive thing for you. It’s good to hear that you have such solid, satisfying, in-person connections, in addition to your cherished solitude.

      My soul… there will surely be more excavating but I think I might need to rest my excavator a bit, since my soul hurts so damned much.

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