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!

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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.

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Writing Without the Woo

Photo: Erik Witsoe

I just shared the last greeting and invitation of the fall session with my Jewels on the Path group. Closing out 16 weeks of witnessing writing + life concurrently unfolding with a dozen women around the country leaves me… verklempt.

This week, I asked folks to share thoughts on this phrase: “I am a writer.” You’d be amazed at how many people who write are reluctant to claim this, reserve it for the “real” writers who are well-known, widely published, making money, yadda yadda.

The responses were deeply moving.

One person crossed a threshold recently, when she shared a deeply personal piece outside of our group with her wider community — and found that the reactions to her words were affirming, far-reaching, and intimate all at once.

Another shared this: “I feel more like a writer with every passing week.”

From free-range lists of 11 things to installments of memoirs-in-progress to freewrites exploring the here and now to weeks when life happened and writing did not, the courage to keep meeting the blank page, to keep going, to share and be seen, to ask for the kind of feedback that would most serve the process rather than most “improve” the writing — all of this has filled a secret Facebook group and made it into a living, breathing space of community and creativity.

Whew.

Nick Cave writes, “The artistic process seems to be mythologized quite a lot into something far greater than it actually is. It is just hard labor.”

I would tend to agree with this. When you strip away the woo, what’s left?

Sitting down, showing up, starting. I do believe in mystery, but I also believe that there is no substitute for simply doing the work. It’s where all of the learning happens. It’s where we get to challenge the things we thought about ourselves, about our writing, about our stories, about what’s possible.

To my Jewels, and to everyone who has practiced writing with me this year, thank you.

To you, friends who witness my own process of showing up and being a real life person who writes, thank you for being on the other side of the words, and for your steady kindness and encouragement.

Let’s keep being here with and for each other in 2019.

Looking for a safe haven for your writing practice and process in the new year?

There are THREE SPOTS remaining for the next session of Jewels on the Path, a 16-week intensive for female-identified and non-binary writers, beginning January 7, 2019. Come learn more or feel free to contact me with questions.

Bittersweet


Three years ago, I started a membership group called Get Your Muse On. At its peak, it had about 40 members who actively shared weekly intentions, freewrites, and other creative shenanigans. Friendships blossomed, confidence deepened, and many a birthday limerick has been shared.

After a few different incarnatons, I made a decision this week to officially retire this group. I closed its doors to new members quite a while back, and those who remain are close-knit and committed to staying connected. But the participation and engagement aren’t what they were and rather than trying to return to something that had its day, letting it simply be what it is — a sweet gathering place for friends who love writing — seemed like the next right step.

But letting go and allowing change to happen is not easy for me. I suspect this is true for many of us. It’s bittersweet, maybe a little scary even, to acknowledge that a thing has run its course.

As we move towards the solstice and new year, I’m feeling this energy so intensely. I’ve heard from more than one person in the past few days that they are feeling exhausted, moody, tapped out. The holiday season can drain our wallets and our spirits, as much as it’s supposed to fill our hearts with joy and sugarplums.

I was chatting with a teacher of Pearl’s last night about her holiday plans. She said her grown kids have very different food preferences, so she didn’t yet know what kind of meal she might prepare on Christmas day with them. I said something about images of families sitting down to eat, everyone at a table — how images like that can be so… she finished my sentence for me: Oppressive.

Yes. Images like that invariably make us feel like we’re failing at something, when in fact we are actually living real lives, where not everyone wants to or can eat the same things, where not everyone wants to or can be at the table, where not everything is happy and bright.

Groups like the Muses are havens from these expectations. As I write this, I realize that this is true of all of my work — the writing groups, the coaching, even working with folks on books. Having room to show up as we are, to write without worrying about being good, to say what’s really going on in our lives and hearts, to name what really happened in the past, all of this is how we get free to take up more space in the world and ultimately share more of ourselves.

More of ourselves, please. The world tells us a lot of things. The world tells us a lot of things about what being a writer is supposed to look like.

I got a(nother) rejection yesterday. It’s an essay I wrote a year ago and originally submitted to the New York Times Modern Love column with a wish and a prayer and not-so-secret high hopes that this would be the One.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. It was one of many. After the NYT rejected it, I kept sending it out. So far, not even a nibble. There’s a high probability I will choose to post it here and on my blog. That’s my way. That’s what I mean when I say “keep going.”

The end goal is not a perfect meal, a Rockwell painting, a slam dunk, a bullseye, or bragging rights. The end goal is to be here, to live fully, to take risks, to show up, to listen hard, to love well.

Last night, Pearl was awake with a tummy bug (he’s currently finally sleeping on the couch next to me). At one point, hoping he’d be able to rest, I told him to try counting his breaths, from one to ten. “If you lose count, go back to one,” I said.

I’m always going back to one. I had a zen teacher at one point who wrote about this, and it’s true. We’re always trying to get somewhere else.

So I’m letting the Muses group go as an “official” group. I’m making room, without having to rush in to fill it. I’m honoring the relationships I’ve come to cherish and know will endure, without clinging to the past.

Change happens. Stomach bugs happen. Rejection happens. Real life happens. And the writing? It happens, too, in the context of all of this. The minute we stop trying to get it right, the minute we start believing who and where we are is good enough, so much opens up. Room to breathe opens up. Trust might even make a guest appearance.

Back to one. Everybody now. And as for the Muses? You know who you are, and I love you all 4-ev-uh.

Boundaries, Conflict, Forgiveness — Oh My!

Photo: Oscar Keys

When you ask a question and the answer is no, that means the conversation is over.

“No” is not an invitation to push back, argue, convince, emote, cajole, or complain your way to a different outcome.

The time you spend fussing about doing a thing is often how long it would’ve taken to get said thing done.

You can accept not getting your way without a meltdown.

“No” does not mean, “I don’t love you.”

“No” does not mean, “You are unlovable.”

“No” does not mean, “I’m angry at you.”

“I’m angry at you” does not mean, “I don’t love you.”

“I’m angry at you” does not mean, “You are unlovable.”

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Interpersonal conflict is part of life. It is absolutely unavoidable. It is something many of us are terrified of, unskilled at, and reactive to.

Making mistakes is also an absolutely unavoidable part of life. No matter how conscientious, thoughtful, mindful, caring, and considerate you are, you will have blindspots. You will misjudge. You will say a thing or ask a question or make a request and later think, what was I thinking?

That is the moment when learning begins.

That is the moment when a voice in your head is very likely to start up, likely with something harsh and berating, such as, “You idiot!”

That is the moment when your heart may start racing, when your bowels will loosen, when your hands will get sweaty. Fight, flight, freeze, fawn — one or more of these will appear in a nanosecond and your body will go into a system of red alert.

* * *

I recently made a mistake. In the moment, it didn’t seem like a big deal, though I could feel an undercurrent of pressure and rushing that should’ve been signals if I’d been paying closer attention.

Person A wanted to join Persons B and C for an outing. (My role: Intermediary between these parties.) Persons B and C had preexisting plans, that weren’t 100% ideal for Person A. Person A pushed on me to ask Persons B and C if they could change their plan to accommodate this.

Had I been more in tune with my values at this moment — such as respect, connection, trust, and honesty — I would have told Person A, either you can change YOUR plans in order to join Persons B and C, or you can let it go.

Instead, I caved and asked Persons B and C if they could change THEIR plans.

Why did I make this decision? Because this is real life: Messy, stumbling, incurably imperfect. If only we could see the whole picture in each and every moment.

Then came later. Because of going to an event 45 minutes later than planned, all the involved persons missed the highlights of the event, which Person C in particular had been looking forward to for months, perhaps even longer. Person C was hysterically sad. (It may be noted that Person C is a very young person, whose sadness was not unreasonable.)

And so it was that Friday night, I received a text from Person D, telling me how hurt she was by my asking Persons B and C to change their plans to accommodate Person A.

In a word, it sucked.

In another word: I made a mistake.

And there was no way to undo that, no way to go back and change it, no way to fix it. All I could do was take responsibility, notice what I wished I had done and said instead, and apologize six ways to Sunday for my poor judgment call.

Would the relationships all be ok?

Of course, that was the fear.

In a word: Loss.

Person A wrote a card with a very sweet drawing and put it in Persons B, C, and D’s mailbox.

I invited Person D to go for a run the next day. We met up in the driveway and gave each other a hug. We talked about how much we mean to each other. We talked about our families of origin and how we learned (or didn’t learn) to meet conflict, anger, and hurt feelings.

Persons B, C, and D forgave Person A and me. We all learned some things.

* * *

“No” means no.

“Yes, this is how that will work for us” is not an invitation to negotiating alternatives.

Boundaries are healthy.

Relationships worth keeping can withstand some conflict.

You cannot control another person’s reaction. We all bring whole lives to our responses to things, and there is almost guaranteed to be other stuff going on that may not be visible to the naked eye.

You are allowed to be angry.

You are allowed to feel hurt.

You are allowed to be scared.

You are allowed to make mistakes.

You are allowed to apologize. But it is not up to you whether or how your apology will be received. Not every song has a nice major chord of resolution at the end.

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You are not required to learn form these experiences, but your world will be richer and your relationships stronger if you do. And there is no avoiding them, lest we live in a fragile, entitled state of needing everything to go our way.

Friends can become family. Family is not a guarantee of closeness.

Anger and hurt are inevitable and normal parts of being a human.

Forgiveness is a choice, not a duty.

Communication takes effort.

It’s worth it.

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Want to spend 2019 exploring how small but mighty words (like “honesty” and “courage”) show up in your everyday life?

Join me for Truth: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values.