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Everything exacts a payment. Is that even fair?

My friend Melissa is mourning having to put her beloved dog to sleep recently. She had a rough time this week, and I wasn't hearing her.

After I realized what had happened, I felt horrible about hogging phone time. Then I found a story online about how we love our dogs more than our people, or at least we are able to grieve our animals more effectively than our people.

I don't know what the article said because it was behind a pay wall.

Of course that annoyed me, because I wanted to share something with Melissa that might have provided a measure of comfort.

I can't, because I don't make enough right now to pay for every single subscription that demands money for the right to read their stuff.

That got me thinking.

First, for all of us writers (as well as allus working stiffs), we need to get paid. At least for people who take our writing seriously, do it for a living, it's hard enough to pitch stories that get rejected, and then we have to work our butts off to build an audience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

In some cases, the platform where we do that makes a tectonic shift, as happened on Medium, and writers who were earning a decent living can be put on the bread line again.

But I want to go larger than just the demand to pony up pennies for articles.

At a deeply interpersonal level, my father put his approval behind a paywall. The price exacted was to tolerate his abusive, angry mouth as he drank, or else risk being written out of the will. I did call him on both his mouth and his drinking, and I did get written out of the will.

Ultimately, having paid that price, I was also able to begin to uncouple the addiction I had to my father's approval. That process is years in the making, and I'll return to that in a sec here.

As one of my readers here wisely pointed out, what a statement about my father. He's hardly alone, lots of people place their love and approval behind impossible paywalls, making us leap and jump and dance for the slightest morsels of perceived acceptance.

In such ways we are starved of what we need most, especially from ourselves.

If you want a certain kind of life quality, chances are it's behind a paywall, such as living in that neighborhood, being able to afford buying from this store, being able to afford this designer, that car, whatever.

You could make that analogy about a great many things. Everything in life is behind some kind of paywall, especially when it comes to things like gaining perspective, personal growth.

Penny Nelson and her husband had to put in one hell of a lot of work to sell and relocate; she's now living much closer to town and family, but had to give up the farm and the animals and her beloved gym. A form of payment.

We exchange X to get Y. Sometimes we may not want to make the payment, especially if it requires that we change our mind.

I forfeit my high-falutin' opinion of myself and my opinion in order to be humbled by the vastness of what is, and in doing so, am deeply moved and graced.

That humility enlarges me, but to get there, my ego has to take a vacation.

While there are aspects of this which can be frustrating, such as being unable to share certain articles because they're pay-walled, I have to do the same thing myself. I do it right here on Walkabout with the tiers. Certain readers get certain material at X levels and so on.

Over on Substack, the same thing. So much of everyday life is behind a paywall in ways that I didn't consider until that particular article's PAY FIRST stopped me cold.

It struck me how the idea of "paywalling" had such a broad application if we could see things in that light, how there is a payment made for each thing, how we need to make an effort if we are to get something.

In a land where we want so many things for free, the idea is anathema to us.

In one of my favorite horse movies, Seabiscuit, actor Chris Cooper, as legendary trainer Tom Smith, rides up to a barbed wire fence for the first time. That fence puts up a paywall to his freedom, a man who had spent his entire life riding the West without boundaries. It was indicative of how the world was changing.

And still is. It's expensive to be alive. Expensive to have just about anything, from decent housing to healthcare. Expensive to drink clean water, breathe clean air, all of it.

Life exacts a price for granting peace, as Amelia Earhart wrote in her profound poem, Courage.

The greatest payments are our time, our attention, our commitment to the work of personal growth. That's the hardest, for it asks of us to be willing to be in discomfort, often great discomfort, as we face our egos, our closely-held beliefs, our need to be right and far more.

To look at how we show up, what we say or write, the lies we tell ourselves and others without realizing it; those are payments. Those can be deeply disconcerting, which is why many of us avoid looking too deeply.

When we can address these things and be humbled by the greatness of what we don't know, when we can be in love with not knowing and graced by how much the world opens up to us when we leave our egos at the door, miracles happen.

For whatever reason, this week I got trolled by three different people who intended to do as much harm as possible. Who knows what on earth is causing such people to actively track down strangers and shame them for no reason other than to cause harm.

Doesn't matter.

I was barely into the first sentence when it became obvious what the rest of it was going to say. Those people are blocked without my having given their toxic words access to my world. I have enough trolls inside my head without giving them more ammunition.

Years ago I couldn't have done that.

The payment I've made over the years is to stop taking things so personally, to have room in my heart for people to be in that kind of pain, and to just block them and back away. The world will always have its share of haters.

If you are visible, the hate will intensify. It worsens by many orders of magnitude if you are female, a person of color and famous.

These are people not willing to make the payment to grow, to make their own lives richer with friends, to do the real work of building community. That isn't a judgment. I've been in that dark place myself. Sometimes I still go there.

I don't think there's ever a time when we aren't susceptible to such feelings. But if we are willing to invest the work, we get better at coming back from the brink of where they take us.

These are big ideas and worth considering. There is something to the notion, that nothing comes to us for free, for all things there is something given. The greater the value of what is given, perhaps, the greater the effort required of us to obtain, experience and feel it.

But for one thing: do we put our own love behind a paywall? Love for ourselves? Do we keep upping the bar, saying I'll only love myself when..... and then as we get closer, we up the ante again?

I've done that. My father modeled it for me.

Do we believe others should have to work for our love and approval, like my father? Do we require people to prove their love to us? That's a good challenge that I'm putting in my brain pan to simmer for a while.

I believe, certainly in my case, that those feelings of never being enough are tied to such messaging.

Doesn't make me right. But if above all things I value personal growth and the building of healthier perspective, those beliefs, ideas and habits that I harbor which don't serve all need to be challenged.

Just being able to calmly block a troll without feeling personally attacked is a big deal. The journey to get there was a long one. Worth every step.

There are other, bigger payments to be made, too. I've made a great many of them with the help of the people who read my work, share thoughts and ideas, call me on my bullshit and otherwise invite me to do better, be better.

We do none of this alone. And whatever the time it takes, it is always worth it.

I hope your spring is evolving like mine, full of Oregon grape flowers on the hillsides and sunshine dotted by rainy days like today. Plenty of time to still think and consider, then go outside and celebrate.

Oregon grape on the coast Julia Hubbel

Thanks so much for reading my. Please note that I will be moving Walkabout to Substack later this year. I sincerely hope you move with me, and I will keep you apprised. Thank you for your support and your comments, as always.