Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda…

What a month it’s been, what a week! Ok, what an amazing summer, for me to take stalk, explore new roads (literally and figuratively) and to look at a lot of things with new eyes. Coming out of some dark, personal times in the winter, I’ve needed to really take a fresh look at a lot of things and figure out what I want, how I see things ahead of me, where do I go from here. All the details don’t really matter, as they so often don’t. If that were the only thing that has begun to sink in, that would be good. That lots of other things have become illuminated is icing, fucking icing man. (I know, language. But, if you’re reading my blog, you get what you get and hopefully you can look past those areas where I still stumble.)

I’m beginning to see that being in the dark, so to speak, is a great launching off point. There aren’t a lot of options, if you don’t want to be in the dark anymore: Turn on a light, or just get used to stumbling around bumping your shin on things. Right? I know, that sounds a bit blasé  (or is it cliché) and I know that when I’ve been stuck in the mud, I do not appreciate similar advise: “Just shift your thinking”, “change your attitude”, “look on the bright side”… etc.  It isn’t always that easy, and it’s particularly hard to hear these Hallmark verses, when you’re feeling just the opposite. Some times the mud really sucks you down and getting out is just about impossible. All those dinosaurs didn’t die, stuck in the mud, because they just didn’t try to get out. And I hear some of you already: yea, but we’re not talking about real mud, this is figurative!  Ok, but I think the mud in our heads is often far worse!

So, there I was digging in the dirt, working through stuff and feeling stuck, with the lights out.  I don’t need any pity here, it’s just the fact. It was bad. And I realized: I just don’t want to be here (in this space) anymore. Where is the f’ing light switch?!  Step one, grab on to the amazing life lines that a few precious people tossed me. Sometimes, love gets through even the darkest places and it’s enough to just help you open your eyes again. Thank you dear, amazing friends and family who knew that and jumped in the water to help, and have hung around to make sure I’m still floating. From there, being a pretty independent person, I set out to figure out how not to be in that place EVER again. And something amazing happened: all kinds of new doors started opening. Amazing doors and wondrous things began presenting themselves.

After a few months of being stuck with my writing, I sat back down and wrote a very powerful new chapter for my book that harnessed all that dark, sticky stuff and put it to use. My writing group told me it was one of the best chapters I’d submitted. I knew they were right, because when I was writing it, I could feel that groove, that mojo flowing back. It felt gooood! I started looking at older chapters, things I’d thought were done, and began re-writing, and those too got better feedback. Let me be clear, my writing group kicks ass!  I mean: they kick you in the ass.  The members are sharp writers and readers and they rarely mince their words. The fact that we all have each other’s back, softens the beating some times, but when they don’t like a chapter, a phrase, a sentence, a comma (!), I hear it. It makes each of us better writers and while I’ve had to throw away a lot of my babies (translation: let go of and remove writing/story lines/etc.  that I really thought were good, but no one else did!) I trust my writing posse. So, to hear from them that what I thought was good writing, sounded that way to them too, really felt great! I could feel myself climbing out of the hole.

There are lots of details in between but really the next big step came when I threw caution to the wind and took off for Montana. Those two weeks of being on my own; listening to my own thoughts and instincts; letting go of things that needed letting go of; being open to amazing adventures and interesting people; and being ok with just being alone for a while, was so eye opening, so freeing. I had a computer, I could write every day, and I did. I wrote 4 new chapters and got lots of editing done on the book and the blog became a new outlet and focus. Even if only a couple of people were reading (and some days, none), it felt good to be putting it down.

I could also plug in at the end of the day and and chat with people who wanted to share the adventure or connect with me. There is something very pure about sharing thoughts and experiences without the facial expressions, the interruptions, the physicality:  stuff that face to face conversations can sometimes bring. I know that there is something missing there too, but for those two weeks, it was really special to tap in to new friendships and get to know people on a different level. There were days when I was alone all day, but then someone would be there at the end of the day, to say “how’s it going?” “tell me about…” or just share some piece of their world. It was magic. It was delicious.

It was amazing to just be alone so much. I felt like my mind was free to ramble over the mine fields I’d been trying to get around, through, over… when you’re alone, you can’t talk it out or run it ’round and’ round. You have to just sit with the discomfort or the grief  or uncertainty, and wait for it to subside or, if you’re lucky, resolve. You also don’t have the pleasure of sharing the good things, the wonder and appreciation of a place like that. So, you get to listen closer to your own feelings.  In the wide spaces of Yellowstone, I let a lot of things go. I think. It’s hard to know for sure yet, but it feels like some of the fog has lifted and I feel lighter. That freedom to just turn left or right; ride that horse or not; take a stranger for a ride and get to know an old man with a story; face my fear of bears and so many other monsters… it was all there for me to explore. No one there to tell me that it wasn’t wise, or that there is another way to do it, or to just talk me in or out of anything. It was liberating to trust my own instincts and have it go well. Or, when it didn’t, not feel like the world would fall apart. If you make a mistake in the woods and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

I was barely home and it was time for my 30th h.s. reunion. When I think of all the insecurities and anxiety I felt initially about going to this event, and then look at all the wonderful things that came out of it, I could burst. I have rediscovered friendships that I foolishly let slip out of hand. Years of living away from the place where I grew up put barriers up that we didn’t work to climb over. How sweet to see the love that is still there, with  people who have known me through so much. The new people who have come in to my life and expanded it with colors and textures that make me smile, even as I write this. Being in Scituate, my home town, again, and not feel haunted was something I did not anticipate. I realized that I have come to terms, finally, with the fact that the family I loved and thought would always be there, is gone. Those who have not died, have changed so much that our lives barely cross anymore. For so long that hurt me and I yearned for all that had once been nurturing and safe. This time, I could see clearly that I have yearned for what I thought we were, when I was young and didn’t understand how life changes us all. That family is not there any more and it helps me see more clearly what is there, what is real.  It was sweet to sit with my wonderful cousin and talk about these things, with honesty and integrity and no more longing. We have both grown up… finally.

It’s not that there weren’t some sad moments:  missing so many people (my grand parents particularly) that once filled my life and defined so much of how I defined myself.  I haven’t let go of all the woulda, coulda, shouldas that I’ve carried through the years. But this time, they were with me, and I felt less encumbered by the shouldas that I used to dwell so much on. Shoulda spent more time with them when they were here. Coulda come back more often. Woulda, but I was raising young children and driving from Michigan to Cape Cod every summer to be with my family. I clung to that sense that we all needed each other to continue being whole.  Once my grandparents were gone, I began to really see that it can’t be all on me to go there, and if I don’t then there is little left. Being there, on my own, was freeing: to look at it all honestly and just let it go. My grandmother is gone and so is the family she tried to paint for us all. Her house is still there, but we all moved on and are left with Christmas cards and occasional emails or Facebook comments. It’s ok. I coulda been upset about this, but  as I sat by the beautiful marshlands where I once played and felt nothing but joy, I let that too go.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda, IS.

Dear friends made room, met me, on the one and only day I could make it work and we filled the time with so much love and laughter that all the Couldas that didn’t work out this trip, faded to the back. Neosporine for the soul.  I wrote some more, and I got to read!  In the midst of all this cartharsis, the blog was Freshly Pressed and 7,000 people read my post.  As I was finally crawling clear of the hole and feeling lighter and happier, hopeful and excited, empowered,  I found myself hugged by thousands of strangers (nearly 400 of whom took the time to write to me as well) who seemed to celebrate with me that I was finally finding MY voice.  A voice free (er) of  self-doubt and guilt for all the woulda coulda shouldas I’ve been carrying around for so many years.  Seven thousand people (a number that turns me inside out still!) read my words, and they liked me, they really liked me  (as Erica, at WordPress so cleverly stated).  It was an electric jolt of validation and reward with uncanny timing, an amazing dollop of whipped cream, on top of my big custard pie of happiness. Incredible things have opened up from that and I’m excited to see where that all goes. When school starts, I will be editing the manuscript and taking opportunities offered. I can barely wait.

Ok, so things in life don’t just spin from dark to bright in a couple of months, without some residual stuff to work through. I get it. I am processing it now and finding new bearings. I know myself well enough to know there will be some days when all this good mojo slips out of my hands a little. There’s still the geyser theory to contend with. Wink, wink. But, right now I am holding on tight and enjoying the glow. Enjoying the shiny bits that are new and wonderful right now, that I’m still exploring and getting to know, and letting go of people and things that just don’t nourish me.  I’m  open to new friends, new experiences and really enjoying the great friends here who have been helping me stay afloat while I ran in circles.

There are the woulda, coulda, shouldas that hold you back and mess with your head, and there are the ones that spin you round, shake your world up a little, but open doors and brighten your perspective… make you want to jump in and make them happen.  I’m embracing those for now and letting the others go. And that, feels really good!

Note:  What holds you back? What would you change and what are you grateful for? Are there woulda, coulda, shouldas in your closet too?

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Daily Observations, Honest observations on many things, My world, Women's issues and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda…

  1. Jill says:

    Powerful post. It’s nice to mend and heal. It used to be painful for me to return to my hometown, but a few days ago, returning from a road trip my husband, we passed through. My heart was free of baggage. My loved ones have dispersed mostly to California and the hometown has grown and changed. It was OK.


  2. JT says:

    One day we will look back, it’s coming, and I am ok with it. The woulda, coulda, shoulda’s are either regrets or victories and as you so aptly mentioned letting go I think is the beginning of letting those regrets go so there is room for the victories!


  3. Michele Monteiro says:

    Once again incredible! I “shoulda” got to the reunion as I’m sure we would have enjoyed our time. I will do my best not to wallow but my heart hurts for the friendships that developed during that time that I wasn’t a part of. I often say “its about the journey NOT the destination” and am feeling like I missed a big part of my journey. I too have a ton of fears, doubts and insecurities that paralyze me. There was a time in my life that was much clearer than it is now and I long to get back there but am having a hard time putting one foot in front of the other. I know from past experiences that “willingness alone doesn’t get the job done”. I supposed you’d call it stuck in the mud and I’d say I’m just not sick and tired of being sick and tired yet – which blows my friggin mind. How I can know that the otherside is so freeing but I just can’t get myself there uggh! I do take comfort in knowing that I must be learning something (which won’t be revealed until I’m on the other side) while sitting in the mud! :))


    • The stuck thing sucks. I can’t say I’m mud free yet, but it feels really good to just get to the point where I knew that I could not be there any more. Not one more minute. The steps were small until I took a couple of leaps forward. Right now, where I’m sitting, I feel relieved to have taken the risks. Hope you will too Shelly. It’s just not worth wasting the time on…! Hopefully, the next reunion will be sooner and we’ll all continue to move forward. 😉 thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and for your comment.


  4. Doug says:

    Dawn it is awsome the way you can express yourself in your writing. Good Job.


    • Thanks Doug. I appreciate you coming back to read more! If I could just write most things, I’d be better off over all… it’s when I open my mouth that I get in trouble! ; ) The edit, cut and paste and re-read options make all the difference! Thanks for reading.


  5. Brian says:

    Try as we may to shed the things that might have been as we tell ourselves “I’m over that, time to move on”, it’s all those couldas, wouldas and shouldas that make us what we are today. No need to dwell too much on the past, but it’s all chicken soup for the soul. I mean really, what fun is there in getting it right all the time.


  6. Valery says:

    You hit the nail right on… What i’m struggling with now is trying to share this hard- learned knowledge/experience with the next generation. Without coming off as preachy. It hurts to see them learn the hard way. Brings on the inevitable guilt trip, too. I can’t help being reminded of my grandmother for whom “woulda, coulda, shoulda” were all swear words!


    • No doubt my kids don’t read this or listen to what I say most of the time… Middle Man did read the ode, as I gave him license to edit… but otherwise, I’m talking to myself most of the time. Hence the blog! A place to say it and see where it lands or resonates. I do believe that we all need to make our own journeys and mistakes and hopefully come out ok on the other side. As parents, we just hope that there’s no irreversible damage! Thanks for reading Val. xox


  7. Ahhh, reunions…some are good, some are not so good. It sounds like yours: good. Mine: not so good.


    Mine was a 20th, and it’s probably important to note that I am still local. But wow: The INSECURITIES it brought out, ones that I thought were dead and buried — like, 20 years ago. At this point, I wish I hadn’t gone…

    I’m so glad you had a different, wonderful experience. It sounds like it’s been quite a year for you! Here’s to continued discoveries — we all need ’em! 🙂


    • What a bummer! I have to stress that my 20th was NOT such a great thing either. Same deal: lots of insecurities and then I basically clung to the people I already felt comfortable with (a small group) and did little to expand the experience. As noted in the post, the FaceBook page really helped open up a lot of pre-reunion connections and clear the air. It really did change the whole feel of things. I think, too, that at 30 years out, the playing field was leveler. We had all had enough of old stuff and were mostly ready to just connect.

      Yes, quite a year indeed! Good, bad and ugly… right now, I’m grateful to say that things are looking up. 🙂 I feel optimistic and excited and that feels very good! thanks for reading Mikalee! I’m a fan of your stuff and honored that you took the time to read mine. 🙂



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