I think this is the longest I’ve gone without one of my own writing groups in months. It’s the second shortest day of the year. When things are going better, are you more likely to say, “it’s all uphill” or “it’s all downhill” from here? I think about these things. Especially when I need to write but don’t know what I need to write about. While I’m at it with the non sequiturs, the girls and I had dinner with my parents tonight.
Pearl wrote them the sweetest thank-you note, saying she appreciates everything they give her, “even the Little Schoolboy cookies,” which my mom always offers her over at their house. “Love you guys,” she concluded before signing her name. Why is it I’m so moved by manners and gratitude? Probably because the lack of these drive me batshit crazy.
I’ve written almost 3,000 words of a fiction piece, and it is so fucking fun. I can see why fiction writers get such a kooky reputation; I could happily spend all day discovering the worlds of these characters, and looking up key details, like what year Thelma and Louise was all the rage. As I wrote on Facebook a few days ago, it feels like wearing a cloak of invisibility as I silently row into the dark waters of some other woman’s life.
I have held four “Discovery Sessions” so far in the past several days with women who’ve taken my Mini Memoirs class, with two to go this week and next. Each session lasts for two hours, is as unique as the person on the other end of the line, and leaves me feeling jazzed and excited and like I’m exactly where I belong. We dive into a constellation of values, intuitive conversation that always seems to lead us to places of, well, discovery.
The idea here is that these are the basis, the foundation, for 12 weeks (or longer) in the new year of dedicated writing time, of sitting asses in chairs, creating structure, being accountable, writing shitty drafts, having fun (gasp!), and seeing what shapes the stories want to take. You know, the ones that hold a knife to your throat, to paraphrase Sandra Cisneros. I fucking love this work. You know how I can tell? It does not leave me exhausted and depressed. On the contrary, the more I do it, the more of it I want to do.
The night before my period started last week, I had what is more or less a predictable monthly meltdown. When I feel that way, it’s like there’s no space big enough and no solitude solitary enough–and I am learning how to get it up and out sooner and in the presence of another human. I become afraid of saying things out loud. What if it’s not quite what I mean? What if I just don’t know exactly what I need or want or how I feel about something? Mani listened in that way that only she can and always does, reminding me that I am allowed to change my mind. And that she is not going anywhere, not even when I think I’m being insufferable. My god, the relief.
Later that evening, Pearl and I went to a Solstice celebration at my niece and nephew’s Waldorf school. It was beautiful, an hour of a capella and harmony and haiku and light. I left feeling quiet and so much more settled than earlier in the evening, the storm having passed. When I glanced at my phone as we walked back to the car in the dark, watching for big puddles from a rainy afternoon, I saw that Mani had emailed me the latest poem from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, aka the Velveteen Rabbi:
You are the one who sees me.
Please see me in soft focus.
This mirror shows only
what’s shameful, worthy of scorn:
every flaw magnified
and stripped of holiness.
As imperfect as I am, how
can I find favor in your eyes?
Yet you watch over my planes
as they take off and land.
When life feels unbearable
you make laughter well up in me.
When I wake from bad dreams
you gentle my pounding heart.
Your voice quickens my pulse
and mends my broken places.
Your steadfast kindness
dissolves me like salt in water.
Help me believe you see me
more gently than I see myself.
The “you” in this poem may be God; indeed, Barenblat includes a note: “In Genesis 16, Hagar names God as אל ראי, which can be rendered as ‘The One Who Sees Me.’ This is another in my ongoing series of poems of yearning FOR THE BELOVED.” And I also knew, as I read and couldn’t wait to get home to her, to my wife, that “you” meant me, for Mani, and her, for me. The poem felt like both an offering and a request.
The next morning, I started bleeding. And for the millionth time said something about how I really should start keeping track of these things in my calendar so that the big dramatic crying-in-the-car times don’t catch me with my pants down quite so completely. At least I’d remember, Oh riiiiiiight. Hello, hormones. Hello, long slow runway to the peri-menopausal skies. But no. Every single month is blindsiding. And then by Saturday I was bleeding heavily, and yes, apparently I just wrote that.
Then boom, by today, Tuesday, I was back in my flow (ha – pun unintended) of writing, connecting, feeling that full-to-brimming-with-love thing that sometimes comes over me at the smallest of moments: Reaching over and touching V’s knuckles with my right hand while I drove with the left, for example, when she was tired and quiet and didn’t want to talk. Her letting me. The softness of her skin. How beautiful she looked to me this morning as we sat in the car waiting for the bus, rain pounding the metal. Her face a living blend of child and woman. And Pearl at her piano lesson, learning how to hear the difference between minor and major.
The difference between minor and major. That’s just it, isn’t it? When I’m premenstrual, EVERYTHING is major. Which is ironic, since major in this case would definitely be minor if you could transpose emotions into music. Are you following me? And sometimes it’s the minor stuff, the stuff of sad, melancholic, or brooding tones, that needs to be treated as major. When to brush something off and when to tend to it? The only way, sometimes, to tell the difference is to be aware, and sometimes (damn) I’m not aware until after the fact.
I just spent thirty minutes with Pearl, teeth brushing and book reading and snuggling. She was completely bundled up on the couch, under the soft new Chicago Bulls blanket I gave Mani for Hanukkah, to sit under during games. I uncovered her and she stood up on the little footstool we’ve been using until we find a coffee table we like (and can afford — expensive taste is a mixed blessing, I tell you), then wrapped her arms around me and pressed up against my chest. I hugged her back, tightly, appreciating the affection and physical closeness that I can’t take for granted with my going-on-ten-year-old who wants to be an uncle and a mister and all kinds of manly men. Then I went with her to the bathroom while she brushed and flossed, mostly out of fear of novocaine, and read to her until she was asleep (approximately twelve minutes).
Now I’m back. Where was I? I don’t know what I am writing tonight, only that the urge to come here has been pushing against my insides for days, weeks maybe. The more I write elsewhere — in the groups I lead, the fiction I’m only showing to a few humans until it’s waaaaaay further along (and then, who knows; I’m not making any plans) — the less I write here. It’s always been this way, an ebb and flow. But lately I’ve started wondering if I’ve forgotten how to just show up and write. I remember once — this was when we were long distance and had endured a particularly long stretch of time without seeing each other — confessing to Mani on the phone that I was afraid I’d forgotten how to have sex. She laughed and said she wasn’t worried. And indeed, things turned out beyond fine on that front — way better, for example, than riding a bike.
I’m not sure if I’m equating blogging with sex here… I’m pretty sure the answer is a solid, one-syllable no. Or better yet, hell no. (Is anything? Ok, admittedly that is a different post.) Let’s just say that sex, writing, and bike riding share a few things in common: You have to show up, follow just enough rules to be safe and throw the rest of them out, to be free.
My parents gave me an early birthday card tonight at dinner (they will be away in January when I turn 42). I like the bird on it, and the words, not to mention what my dad wrote inside: “We have a feeling you already know this!” I’m not sure I can claim any of these things — curious, fearless, transparent, willing to be & love being exactly who I am — all of the time. But whether I make or miss the mark, these are definitely among my intentions for how to live and work and love. For me, faith is the container for all of it. And trust is a verb, a vehicle for faith, the part I can do something about. Ease may encompass it all, at least in my best of all worlds and my favorite way to feel.
And if all else fails, just put a bird on it.
This post has amounted to something of a touchdown, not in the winning sense but in the touching down with myself sense. This is what I do. I row around in the dark — of a character’s life, of my own — seeing what my lantern will show in the long, quiet hours. Then I write it down, and show you, too. Sharing here is an offering and a request, just like the poem Mani sent me. An offering — of myself. My life, my heart. A request — that we keep doing this. Sitting down, showing up, writing, discovering, and connecting. In the dark, and in the light.
Happy Holidays. Thank you for being there.