I Used to Think

I used to be afraid to take time off.

Now I realize that the more frightening thing is what happens when I don’t.

I used to be afraid to dissent.

Then I watched RBG and learned the power of the dissenting voice.

I used to be afraid to say no to my kids.

Now I say no when I’m clear, and sit with my discomfort of displeasing them, in the name of something bigger, usually involving self-sufficiency and/or safety.

I used to be afraid everything would just crumble.

Then I found out that I could survive and keep going when it did.

I used to be afraid the work would dry up.

Now I practice coming back fully to the present moment and not letting my fear stories run amuck.

I used to think I should only share posts that were amazing.

Then I just started sharing writing as I wrote, without the amazing part.

I used to think other people were racist.

Now I know that racism lives in me, because I grew up in America with white skin.

I used to think I wanted to have a sexual experience with a woman. You know, just once.

Then I realized I was one million percent gay and my whole life flashed before my eyes like in a movie, and all the longing and searching made sense.

I used to look at what other people were doing enviously, achingly.

Then I started learning about the insides of other people’s lives, and saw that the grass is never actually greener once you get up close to it. It’s all just grass.

I used to be good.

I used to be nice.

I used to be a kid who loved eating.

Then I stopped eating. Then I learned to love eating again.

I used to be afraid of taking up room.

Now I see that that shrinking and narcissism live on the same spectrum, and I don’t wish to inhabit either extreme.

I used to believe you had to have a degree or certification in something in order for it to be legitimate.

Then I hung my first shingle and not a single person asked me about my credentials.

I used to need everyone to like me.

Now that is not a priority, though I still struggle with it sometimes and worry about being enough.

I used to think I had to be endlessly positive and bright in order to be my “best.”

Then I learned that the people who love me love me even when I’m feeling depressed, lost, doubtful, angry, confused, or sad.

I used to be a lot of things.

Now I am also a lot of things.

I could not be this me without having moved through every single one of those moments.

Nothing is wasted.

Everything counts.

We’re here to grow.

On Having Your Shit Together

Having shit figured out is a red herring, a mirage on the horizon in our peripheral vision that keeps us questioning what we’re seeing.

It’s not over there. There is not there, there. The whole idea of a person having their shit together makes it sound like life is this neat and tidy thing you can sort into static categories of fixed states.

What would that even look like?

Our shit is constantly changing.

And yet, there is some shit that really matters to you, right? Those are your values. Your priorities. I think the clearer we get about that stuff, the more we can roll with external changes, and the more those external changes can feel aligned with who we are and what we know to be true in the midst of so much uncertainty.

But this notion of having our shit together? It’s a sales tactic.

For the past five years, I’ve paid self-employment taxes on a quarterly and annual basis. Does that mean I have my shit together? Our government certainly doesn’t have its shit together.

I love being organized and on top of things, and in many ways I am these things. And there is also so much shit I don’t get to. A to do list that snakes from one day to the next. Does this mean I don’t have my shit together? No. It means I am alive.

May I never complete my to do list, not before my last breath. And even then, I’ll exist in some new form, beyond shit and no shit, beyond waking and dreaming and sleeping and thinking and creating.

What is beyond?

How did I get from figuring shit out to existential questions before morning light?

The thing with end times is that they aren’t really the end. What will come after this moment of chaos and crumbling?

Last night, I had a beautiful moment with Mani. This weekend is the seventh anniversary of the weekend we met in real life for the first time. It was my 38th birthday when we had the one-night stand that would become the rest of our lives — many of you know that story already.

I looked into her eyes and had this vivid image of God sitting around and suddenly jumping up with a great idea, a light bulb moment about us finding each other. (As an aside: Does God say, “Oh my God”?) “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?!” God asked godself in my imagination. In God time, that was just a few minutes ago. Life is long and short and bound and timeless. If “God” is not your language, substitute “Dog” or your deity of choice. The Universe will also do nicely.

Anyway, we first connected via email in a moment of flux — spring, 2009. Ten years ago! Imagine several rivers swirling and eddying, where it can be impossible to discern which is which in the confluence. Kind of like that. I was married with littles, with a coaching business and a sunny home office and a sweet house on a dead-end street in Burlington, Vermont.

My life was completely settled. She was in Phoenix, and something I’d written catalyzed a decision that would blow the doors off of her life. Little did either of us know that two years after that first word exchange, we’d wake up in each other’s arms.

You might think you have your shit together.

If you sweep your shit under the proverbial rug and the rug gets pulled out from under you, guess what you will have to sweep up? ALL THE SHIT YOU AVOIDED.

If you don’t have your shit together, welcome to being human and guess what, this doesn’t not mean you are a fuck up. Sheesh. Who instilled that idea in us, anyway? It’s toxic and false.

Where am I going with this? I need a second cup of coffee. It’s early. Today is my last day of being 44 so I’m taking stock, my friends. The hardest and most terrifying moments of my life are inseparable from everything I call a blessing today. Shit comes together and shit falls apart.

The best we can do is stay close to the ground, talk to the sky, the mountains, or wherever it is your help comes from. God isn’t a white dude in the clouds wearing a robe and mansplaining your life purpose.

No, God is in you. I see it in your eyes. I see it in mine.

11 things after the last Shabbat of 2018

1. The first half of today was a cinnamon roll project with Aviva. After four hours of mixing, melting, blooming, rising, kneading, spreading, rolling, cutting, and baking — we dug into what was perhaps the most delectable thing I have ever eaten in my life, not counting the white lasagna Mani made for my 40th birthday five years ago. I am talking foodgasm quality wow.

2. After that, a nap on the couch in the sun while Pearl played with our neighbors. V rested too, and Mani did some work.

3. The apartment was quiet and smelled like cinnamon, which is delicious unless you have mast cell disease, in which case you will spend hours in a different room with the doors closed because cinnamon is a mast cell destabilizer. We kept a kitchen window open for the afternoon and that did the trick.

4. Pearl and I went to the Mullins Center at UMass after my siesta. I have figure skates from a million years ago and we rented a pair for him for $5. Some friends were supposed to meet us, but they forgot, but we stayed and skated on our own for about 45 minutes. It was so fun. I need to do that more often.

5. We went over to the house of the friends who forgot to meet us and hung out for a while. They had picked up a few pizzas, so my steady diet of carbs remained uncompromised. Phew! Aren’t you relieved?

6. Aviva’s babysitting tonight and tomorrow, socking away money for her upcoming NYC trip and, a longer-term goal, a used car for next year.

7. I have fallen completely off the holiday card wagon. I feel both at peace with and a little sad about this and wonder if I’ll get back on it next year or ever. I keep thinking of the friends I’m rarely in touch with but think and care about dearly, and I worry that they don’t know it. Is this just what happens over time, or am I doing something wrong?

8. Yesterday we were talking about negative bias — that easy slide towards what wasn’t good. And we made lists of good things from 2018. I’m also reading a novel right now called “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” and honestly, it’s such a reminder to honor life.

9. As I was waking up from napping, I watched the clouds moving swiftly from west to east outside the south-facing living room window. It was peaceful and restful.

10. More WWII moments in the news today. These two men, well over 100 years old each, leaving such legacies. May their memories be a blessing and inspire us to be courageous: cnn.it/2VdFrlB and bit.ly/2GO7WDc

11. Only three days until we change out our Frida Kahlo calendar for our Harrison Ford Bulldog calendar. Yee-haw!

* * *

Join me in January for 11 days of writing 11 things, a practice Julie Lieberman Neale calls “a clarifying, liberating, surprisingly profound process.” Grab your spot here.

Power. Money. Success.

Morning walk. Sunrise. Moonset. A chat with the universe. Considering the new year and my lack of interest in resolutions. And contemplating the little internet game I did yesterday — one of those word search thingys where the first three words you see are your words for the year.

Mine were: Power. Money. Success.

For real, that’s what I saw.

Mind you, right after that I saw beauty, health, and humor. But still, there was no denying it.

Now, you could rightfully say that kind of thing is silly and meaningless, and maybe it is.

And what I noticed was that I immediately thought, oh no. Power, money, success. Those are bad. That’s not what I should see or choose or want.

Then another thought immediately after that one: Why the hell not?

Staci Jordan Shelton writes and teaches a lot about binaries, and how they keep us small in our thinking and our actions. My internal response to those three words made me think of her wisdom.

Power, money, success — these are not “bad.” In fact, they are neutral. They are not the opposite of things that are culturally more agreeable, such as compassion, kindness, and gratitude. But that’s what we do — we pit things against each other and create false and arbitrary judgments rather than moving into curiosity.

So, I got curious. What could and would it feel like to quietly claim these words? What if power, money, and success were valuable and worthy goals? What if having goals did not have to equal striving and keeping up? What if inner and outer could work in concert with each other, smashing binaries and taking up more room in the world — for good?

That last bit is important. Power, money, success — these are not good or bad, but how we inhabit them, how we can lose ourselves to them, how we demonize or worship them, now that’s where the problems start.

But look at people doing amazing things with their power, with their money — and the whole idea that we are as afraid, perhaps more, of success as we are of failure comes to mind.

I have no definitive thing to say about this, only that I’m intrigued. I’ve spent so long shying away from words like these. Maybe it’s time to move closer to them, to ask them questions, to see what they have to teach me. Maybe not. We’ll see.

By the time I got home from my walk, I was thinking about quiet power. And how we equate noise with power, when really, you can be quietly powerful. You can show up powerfully in your days, away from the glare of social media, and have so many kinds of experiences.

We live in a bizarre culture of “influencers” and megalomaniacs. It’s so much more interesting out here in the world, with its morning light and its bus drivers and its handwritten notes and its conversations, the ones where you hash things out and don’t come closer to closure but maybe touch on something even better — connection.

I’m going to hang out here in the quiet some more, paying attention to what wants to be written, to shoulders that need squeezing, to snoring dogs and what happens we look beyond blame and defensive posturing.

I don’t know how healing happens, but I think there’s something to this, this power, money, success thing, this surprising yourself thing, this experimenting with different ways of being in the world.

* *

Spend 2019 exploring a single word each week:

Register for Truth: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values

The Most Wonderful Time

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
piping through the speakers at Trader Joe’s
as I imagine the many parts of the world
where holidays are not tied to capitalism,
where children don’t grow up on diets
of images of what and who they should be
or of what or who they should never deign
to dream of.

An evening walk in the darkest dark
on the longest night in this corner
of the spinning planet that is a speck,
a whirl in the print of some unfathomable
palm holding us but not holding us
reveals so many windows, lights,
leaving me to wonder what it’s really like
on the inside.

Divorce, death, disability —
these interfere with the fantasy of ease
and joy we are supposed to eat
like the fruitcake that one batty aunt
always brings and everyone kind of wonders
is it the same cake from last year
then says, good, good, we’re all fine, great.

It’s worth trying, you might argue,
at least put on a happy face
if you find this time of year oppressive
with its bottomless expectations of giving
and showing up and receiving and making
things pretty. Maybe. Maybe not, like the old
Buddhist story about the boy and the horse
or something like that.

To you without family, to you whose ex
has the kids this year, to you whose adult
children have other plans, to you who wake
every single morning with the ache
of missing, to you who fills the house
with cheer then disappears into the dark,
what can I say? Let’s blow this joint,
get a room, order in, watch old movies,
and burn nostalgia in the fireplace along
with all the wrapping paper.

Or better yet, here. Let me make us some tea.
We can sit here at the table as the solstice
slips by, reminding each other
the light always returns.