Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Hunting Butterflies: Guest Post by Dallas Wilt

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Today’s guest post is about an identity crisis. And butterflies. It’s about women – figuring things out.

From Dallas Wilt:

Last summer, I found myself on a hike with some women I admire. They are funny, they are driven, they are successful in their fields, and they are generous with their time. Because we are acquaintances but not close friends, the talk turned to past careers and future goals. They asked, “So what are you doing now?”

This question has been asked of me at least 100 times in the 10 years since I sold my company, and I have never answered it the same way twice. One of the funniest responses I have ever heard to that question was when one man asked another, “So what do YOU do?” and he replied “About WHAT?”

I’ve never had the guts to give that reply, but it sure would be great!

Another hilarious moment came when I was sitting next to a friend who is also a stay-at-home mom. We were hosting a luncheon full of company presidents and their significant others. One of the female presidents turned to my friend and said, “So what do YOU do all day… SHOP?” Because English was not the asker’s first language – and she grew up in another culture entirely – I’ll cut her some slack, but it really did make me much more sensitive as to how I might phrase that question in the future. And when I run into my friend at the grocery store, we have a good giggle as we look at each other and say, “So what do YOU do all day… SHOP?”

But back to the hike… because these women seemed genuinely interested in my well-being and we had several hours ahead of us on this long walk, I took a minute before responding. I dug deep and these words came out: “I’m hunting butterflies. You know when you get that feeling in your stomach and you’re just so excited to get up in the morning and go do the thing that causes those butterflies? That’s what I’m trying to find.” And I thought, “Wow, did I just say that out loud? Do they think I’m losing my marbles?”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. For the first 20 years of my life, butterflies came easily… school was challenging, performances were abundant, and the constant positive feedback was all the propulsion I needed.

The second 20 years brought even more butterflies as I spread my wings and became an entrepreneur, a wife, and a mother. Honestly, there was so much frenzy during those years that the butterflies must have been the only way I survived.

The next 10 years brought opportunities to give back to the organizations that gave so much to me, and I was delighted to serve on several boards, countless committees, and multiple fundraising efforts. Butterflies abounded.

But I’m done with all that, so now what?

Unfortunately, you can’t fake butterflies. They’re either there or they’re not.

And so I hunt. And I read. And one of the best books I’ve read in a long time that really explores this age-old concept of identity crisis is Mary Laura Philpott’s “I Miss You When I Blink.”

As I read the book, I had to keep looking at the cover to make sure I hadn’t written it. Seriously, this woman and I are the same person (she’s just younger and cuter). We went to similar colleges, had the same first job, have lived in the same cities, and feel the same way about punctuality, perfection and picking up everyone else’s dropped balls. “My name is Mary Laura and I’m addicted to getting things right.” Ditto. Every chapter I read provided more and more similarities. I finally stopped counting and decided that we just needed to go to lunch… which we did, thanks to an introduction from Jennifer Puryear! I was not surprised to find that Mary Laura is just as engaging in person as she is on the written page.

There are so many quotable passages and relatable nuggets in the book that I can’t possibly write them all down… you just need to read it. Mary Laura is coming to speak to my book club in January, and the club organizer summed it up perfectly when she wrote, “This may be the universal women’s experience book. I’ve cried over it, but I’ve also laughed so hard that I’ve lost my breath. You’ll love it!”

I couldn’t have said it better. There’s one chapter called “Lobsterman” that had me shaking so violently with laughter that it woke my sleeping husband (which is payback for the time he kept me awake laughing at the naked wrestling scene in Borat while I was 9-months pregnant and trying to sleep)!

This book could not have come to me at a better time, as I hunt for my butterflies and struggle to make sense of the Groundhog Day that has become my life. Seriously, I’ve started measuring my worth in the number of times I can load and unload the dishwasher in any given week without completely losing my mind. Because Mary Laura’s story is so similar to mine and this book is resonating with women (and men!) young and old, I realize that I am not unique. And because I am not unique, I am also not alone. That provides me some comfort.

Although I don’t have an answer for what I’m going to do next, I’m putting one of Mary Laura’s nuggets to work immediately: “Deciding what you won’t have in your life is as important as deciding what you will have.”

I am saying “no” to things I don’t really want to do and cleaning out clutter, both internal and external. I’ve rolled off of every board (this is a healthy thing for the boards, too) and I’ve cleared my calendar to the best of my ability. I’ve granted myself the time to soak up all that the “sandwich generation” has to offer, including spending precious time with my parents looking through old photographs as they begin to downsize, and precarious time with my daughters, teaching them how to drive, how to cook, and how to become decent humans. I’m working on my golf game, and I’m enjoying watching my girls play: I get a monster dose of butterflies as they stand over a putt in a tournament. I’ve redoubled my efforts at preserving my family’s history through scrapbooking and organizing things into Shutterfly books for posterity (wait…there’s something there… I’m now getting my butterflies from Shutterfly)!

Before I even so much as title an essay, I check for copyright infringement, and, in doing so, I ran across another cool book by artist Klea McKenna called “The Butterfly Hunter,” which began as a photographic installation of a vast butterfly collection she inherited upon her father’s death.

Her words in the book’s introduction really spoke to me too: “I have thought a lot about preservation, and what it means to try to preserve something – an insect, a person, a story. As I gently touch and photograph these butterflies they shed colorful wing scales, lose antenna and limbs, dissolve into my hands. As with so many things worth preserving, it seems that the act of examining them makes them disintegrate.” Powerful and true.

And so I hunt. And I preserve. And I try to do something every day that makes someone else’s journey a little easier.

It turns out that butterflies are – everywhere.

You just have to sit still long enough for them to land on you.

Jennifer always asks me what my theme is for the New Year, so here it is: Be still enough for butterflies.

I’m also going to be brutally honest about what I’m doing, like last week when I had my laptop open at a coffee shop and was actually dressed in grown-up clothes. A former business associate pointed at the computer and said, “Hey, what are you up to these days?” and I said, “Well, right now, I’m emailing my child’s golf coach about a calendar conflict.” So basically I’m doing nothing and everything all at once.

Like – butterflies.

*       *       *

Dallas hunting rainbows in Colorado

34 Comments

  1. Having had many different fields of endeavor and learning long ago the disrespect given to non-earners, I generally ask a stranger, What are you working on? It’s pretty safe.

  2. Beautiful post, beautiful butterfly. So glad I sat still long enough for it to land. Thank you! Just what I needed to read this morning.

  3. I always love hearing from Dallas. I recently visited with a new acquaintance who asked, “What do you like to do when you have free time?” I thought it was such a wonderful way to sidestep potentially fraught topics like work or children and really get to know what makes a person come alive.

    But if you’re on a hike with smart, open-hearted friends, diving into the deep end of these identity questions is healing and hopeful. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Thanks, Mary! I always love what you have to share too. We are lucky to have a friend that gives us a great outlet for our musings!

  4. Beautifully (perfectly) articulated, Dallas!! And yes, I, too, laughed out loud reading Lobsterman and thought, “I need to laugh like that more often.”

  5. Dallas, great great post. Really hit home to me.

  6. What powerful words – I loved reading this honesty. It’s so interesting (and kinda sad!) that we women must justify to others how we spend our days.

    • Thanks, Kate. It was really fun and very cathartic to write! It honestly poured out of me in one sitting…lots of pent-up honesty in there!

  7. Dallas, I’m surprised you haven’t heard me ask everyone, even income producers, “What do you do for fun,” because that’s way more interesting than what they do to “pay the bills”. Love you girl.

  8. Dallas I so enjoyed this and it left me pondering about what is important. Thankful for our family to have your friendship. Can’t wait to read that book!

    • Thankful for your family’s friendship, too, Beth! You’ve journeyed with me through most of those years!! You will LOVE this book and so will Britt (it will remind you both of me for sure!) Hugs to all.

  9. You said it soul sister. Love you!

  10. Dallas – I loved reading your post. It’s thought-provoking, just like Mary Laura’s essays about all the complexities that make up our identity. The “hunting butterflies” image is perfect as well. And I like what other commenters said about, “what do you do for fun?” or “how do you like to spend your free time?” Thanks for your honesty.

    • Thanks, Paige. Your writing is giving a lot of people like me the courage to put ourselves out there a bit more…”Come on in,” you say, “the water’s fine!” Thank you for that gift.

  11. Thank you for this. I got the opportunity to enjoy some Monarch butterflies this weekend. What a treat to coincide that experience with this reflective and timely post.

    • Thanks, Lawrence! Jennifer added the lovely pictures of butterflies to the post, and they added so much, didn’t they? She’s phenomenal like that.

  12. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing this post Dallas.

  13. Great post Dallas. So honest and thoughtful. I too loved Mary Laura’s book. Can’t wait to continue this conversation. Thank you!

  14. Terrific Dallas! Thank you!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth! Mr. Young would have wanted me to have a stronger first body paragraph, I’m sure, but at least I’m using something he taught us! Hope to see you soon!

  15. soooooo good, Dallas! you have beautifully expressed what has been on my mind this last year or two. so many of us are looking for something to give us butterflies. and Mary Laura’s book is fabulous. I know firsthand the only thing better than reading it is listening to HER narrate it on Audible. I gave a copy to my 25-year-old daughter making her promise to start reading on page 173! everyone should also check out “Penguins with People Problems”, it had us laughing so hard I got a stitch in my side. (and yes, before submitting this comment, I had to go back and make sure I only put one space, not two, between my sentences…)

    • Thanks, Mary Jo! I can’t wait to share “Penguins” with my girls…especially now that I know how clever Mary Laura is! But, my high-school typing class has made one space between sentences a non-starter for me. Old dog. Old tricks. Love you.

  16. This was such a relatable post. I struggled when I went from corporate life to motherhood, but then I settled into the rhythm. Now that my son is in high school and driving, I find myself a little aimless again. Thank you for the observations and the book suggestion.

    • Thanks, Maribeth. I’m so excited for you to read the book. It’s the most relatable thing I’ve read in a while! There’s even a part about teenage drivers (which I’m about to have too.) Enjoy!

  17. An inspiring, eloquent post. When I grow up I’d like to write like you!

    • Thank you, Heather. When I grow up, I’d like to take photographs like you! Oh, and the 20 other things you seem to have mastered!

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