The Reunion, Part Two

After she read the piano reunion story on my blog, my mom pointed something out. Something that changed either everything or nothing about the emotional experience I’d had just hours earlier: We didn’t have a Steinway & Sons.

The baby grand at The Arbors had never been my piano after all, and what I perceived — and at the time wholeheartedly believed — to be a reunion with a childhood instrument was nothing of the sort. At least not in the way I had imagined.

At first, this struck me as almost desperately funny; there I had been, weeping, playing my heart out, on a keyboard it turned out I had never so much as laid hands or eyes on before.

But then, something else fluttered into me, something akin to shame. I felt sheepish, as if I’d done something wrong. Did I need to recant what I’d shared about how moving that thirty minutes had been? Was there something like a lie, a hint of fraudulence, tied up in my story, now that I had learned the truth? Other questions swam past, too: What had happened to the piano my parents had donated there? Where is it now?

Needless to say: All day, I’ve been considering perception.

I believed it to be my piano. Clearly I wanted, even needed, for this to be true. The experience of playing it had given something back to myself, of myself. In sitting down in that empty room, at what I thought was the piano that had witnessed me grow up, in doing so in the place where two of my grandparents lived their last years, time reached around its own body, performing a bind of sorts, clasping its own ends together and holding me safely inside that gentle grasp.

The tears that spilled weren’t, ultimately, about the actual piano, but for everything it had represented to me over the years, from earliest childhood to adolescence, to young adulthood and motherhood, through death and divorce and becoming and remarriage. As my hands hovered over and moved across those keys, something in me settled, as if the waters in me had quieted, revealing depths I’d always known were there.

It is said that we see what we want to see, and this may be a fact. For nearly 11 years, I was married to a man, devoted to our commitment and growing a family together. Coming out shattered that, but it didn’t make my life a sham. It took me some years to fully believe and embrace this, to let go of guilt or self-doubt, and not to punish myself for having lived an unconscious lie.

Deception is not the same as ignorance. Had I written about the piano reunion with the knowledge that came later that it wasn’t the piano of my youth, that would’ve been manipulative and dishonest.

But my experience had been authentic, untouched by any such knowledge, and this leads me to believe that the reunion stands. Maybe it was a reunion with some cherished part of my past, myself.

And in that case, my perception provided me with a potent gift, the gift of believing in meaning and memory, in the power of presence and practice to witness us as we grow and transform over the years.

In the end, the piano itself is nothing more than a symbol of time’s passage, of returning to roots and of letting roots go, of arriving at a place that exists only within, where the music has always lived, like an underground spring with no name.

Thoughts on Conformity & Cherry-Picking

“I attribute much of [my] self-discovery and resultant empowerment to Jena. To the space she has always offered me and so many of us. A space inspired but not overly scripted, a space accepting and not conforming.”

Emily Nichols Grossi wrote these words late last week, in a beautiful statement about returning to the Get Your Muse On group.

For a long time, I thought I was cheating by not bringing more scriptedness and convention to my work as a coach and a group leader. It felt easy, and therefore surely I was getting away with something, right? (Like the board chair who once told me, when I was a 20-something executive director of a nonprofit with a newborn trying to find my way, that I was “cherry-picking.” Ouch.) Starting to trust that this was actually a legitimate and sincere approach to connecting with and supporting people’s growth continues to be profoundly freeing.

Yes, some folks bring all kinds of forms and evaluative exercises to the table. I am just not one of them. For me, showing up as myself, being real, and trusting my intuition — these are my power tools. I used to be afraid of using them, as if they might cause harm to myself or others. But what I’ve found is that the more harmful thing is to deny what I’m good at. When I do, I make it about ME instead of about YOU. Ironically, this is where my ego gets all in a twist. When I’m just here doing my thing, that’s when I can get out of the way and just appreciate the gift of calling this my work in the world.

So here is what I want to say to you:

Trust the parts that come easily to you and question the ones that are always a struggle. It doesn’t have to be hard to “count.” Fuck conforming. Come be you and write from that place. The world needs your voice now more than ever. Go ahead, pick all the cherries.

* * *

Do you love writing but long for a place to practice and play with other fabulous and non-conforming humans? Come get your muse on. Madhuri Pavamani, author of the paranormal romance trilogy “The Sanctum” (St. Martin’s Press) calls the Muses “the best place on the internet.” Join us today.

Hey, Wanna?

Do you go through periodic fits of unsubscribing from a zillion emails you don’t even remember signing up or simply no longer find inspiring? ME TOO.

If hearing from me from time to time — about upcoming writing groups, new offerings (I’ve got a few in the works!), and occasional discounts, giveaways, and other fun — is something you value, please take a moment to subscribe.

If you receive any kind of error, it means you’re already subscribed. This is not only a gesture of mutual trust and reciprocal respect; it’s also an ethical and legal matter.

Blech, that word. “List.” I know. It makes a lot of people get cringe-y about the marketing side of things. To me, though, this doesn’t feel like marketing. It is a genuine HELLO. It’s my hand reaching across miles and time zones and virtual nothingness to touch yours. It’s a “Hey, wanna?”

Every single time you reach back, every time you read or share a blog post, leave a comment, or say yes to spending time together sharing your writing practice, I pinch myself. Just ask my wife, Mani. (As for saying yes — check out this recent blog post, The Art of Trusting Yourself.)

July begins one week from today (?!), and with it the next round of Dive Into Poetry (not just for “poets”) and a two-week group called Blossom (not just for “writers” — are you sensing a trend?!).

I’m writing in fits and spurts these days as my own way of showing up and navigating life, and am so so thankful for the hot summer sun and Mani’s return to health and the season of swimming at Puffer’s Pond and a break from school buses and making lunches.

I’m also doing more and more one-on-one work, with folks who want witness and support for writing + life. And I’m slowly making my way through a memoir about surfing (which in part inspired this short post: The Art of Writing the Waves.)

THANK YOU for taking the time to read this post and to subscribe to my newsletter, if you choose to respond with a YES.

I’m crazy grateful for this growing community, more than you know. If you’ve already subscribed to Fierce Encouragement (for Writing + Life), yay and thank you and you are all set! If you haven’t and would like to hear from me in addition to reading here, please take a quick second to subscribe.

I’ll sign off with Shabbat Shalom, big love, and a song that did my soul some good this past week.

p.s. I had so much fun recently making an actual menu. No matter where you are on your writing + life journey, there’s a seat for you at this table.


Some recent reflections from writers: 

“Jena brings together like-minded people, inspires them, and lifts them to do good work, perhaps their best
– Tricia McCallum

“Anything Jena creates (program, course, retreat, poem, blog post, essay, BOOK) is going to touch me (and teach me) in ways I might not even imagine, and, she does, indeed, attract (and inspire) the most amazing writers on the planet. No, really. YOU!”
– Sue Ann Gleason

“For a woman who has never felt like she belonged anywhere, this space has been a gift.”
– Khadijah

“I’ve no words that can convey the depth of my gratitude. This class has restored my confidence in my ability to communicate on paper.”
– Kadena Tate-Simon

“A writing haven.”
– Amanda Shoemaker

“Jena Schwartz is so…it’s hard to put into words. Smart? Yes. Deep? Yes. Funny? Yes. REAL? Yes, very real… And she is such a damn good writer. I am grateful for and to her.”
– Meghan Leahy

“You got right to the issue in my writing and my life.”
– Laura Scappaticci


Dancing Boys + Red Poppies :: June 12, 2016 :: Pulse :: Pride :: Power