Abandoning the Quest for Balance

Your career goals and your home life compete for your attention.

Just this morning, before reading my Chani Nicholas horoscope, I said to Mani: “I feel like I’m a stay-at-home mom and running a business.”

This is true. Both are true. And I wouldn’t have it any other way — I am grateful every day that I can shape my work life around my family’s needs, without having to negotiate every small thing with a boss. I am grateful that my work has grown roots.

At various moments in my life, people have basically warned me about making things hard, or at least harder. Coming out, getting divorced, stepping into a brave new world beyond the closet and perceived security of nuclear family — a harder life. Self-employment (also beyond perceived security of traditional employment) — a harder life.

What I have found is so very different than “harder.” What I have found is that ease is part myth, part privilege, and part luck of the draw. There is no “easy” life. There is no “easier” path. No choice is without consequences, and yet so often we focus only on the (feared) consequences, not even getting a chance to find out what else could lie on the other side of a risk taken.

The chasm we leap into is usually not as deep as the one we might be settling for when we stay stuck in situations — relationships, careers — that require us to contort our psyches and bodies in painful, often invisible ways.

My career goals and my home life are so utterly intertwined. To experience these as competing would be detrimental to both. I’ve all but abandoned the popular quest for balance and accepted that some days, I feel like a rock star, and other days, all I want to do is nap and play with the puppy. I do not think twice about eating leftovers, ordering pizza, or having spaghetti for dinner three nights in a row. As long as we all have clean underwear and the bills are paid and we are spending time together, I’m good.

I do not adhere to a strict routine. I write on the fly (like now). I read all of the writing in my groups and offer feedback as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. I don’t exercise as much as I would like, but I’m also not at war with my body. Yay.

How much is enough?

Last night, Pearl needed help with his math homework. I needed help helping him. Thankfully, Aviva came to the rescue and explained how to simplify equations to the both of us. We watched some cute little kid videos. Everyone said “I love you” to everyone else before bed.

How much is enough?

I have ideas but know I need to carve out time — intentional, protected time — to play with and flesh these out, so that they can become new offerings to people who might wish to explore writing as a creative practice and a means of greater self-knowledge. I see this as utterly connected to the wellbeing of our world and the dismantling of oppression. Once again, the “parts” cannot be separated from the whole, nor can we do and be everything at once.

Two or three years ago, my wife could barely stand long enough to stroll the aisles of Target. As I write, she’s getting ready to go do some work. There is a rhythm to our lives once again, one I missed desperately and feared would not return. There is something to not taking normalcy for granted.

I just watched a short clip on an Instagram account I follow. The woman has lung cancer and has been sharing her experience. A few months ago, her message was simple: “Love yourself. No matter what.” She said the one thing she was feeling regretful of, as she hovered in the uncertainty of illness, was being hard on herself for all kinds of stuff.

I’m not sure how I got here. I could go back and reread, retrace the bread crumbs, and try to wrap it all up with a pretty ribbon. But you know me — that’s not happening. I will do what I always do: Hit “post” and call it practice. Share and call it showing up. No big lesson or message to impart, just me, and real life, and words and being and a brand new day.

These Birthdays Go to Eleven


On the 14th of this month, I’ll turn 44. The fact that my new age is a multiple of 11 is making me irrationally happy. Rather than celebrating a big round number like 40 or 50, turning 44 feels special.

Why?

That’s easy. I was born at 11:11am.  Eleven is my number.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per se, but there is something in the air about this year. It feels big and a little bit tingly in my chest, like when good news is coming and you don’t know what it is yet.

It feels slow and steady, like the mountain goat that symbolizes the Capricorn sun I was born under on a cold Buffalo morning.

It feels like trust and keep going and a deepening of the path I’m on, after so long of trying to get footing in my life, belonging in my body, and clear purpose in my work.

It feels like conviction and commitment and a claim to being all the way here. And it feels like writing-wise, a year to reap some of the benefits of so many years of practice.

This morning, I found myself thinking back on turning 22 and 33, and realized both were pivotal in my writing + life.  Since I geek out on numbers and patterns, I couldn’t help but get excited about this and its implications for turning 44.

22

I was working full-time at what by all rights was a plum job to have landed not long after graduating from college. But by the spring of 1996, the daily commute from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to Lincoln Center, which my office overlooked from the other side of Broadway, had lost any shred of romance and become a schlep. There were a few failed attempts at dating. I was lonely and inhibited, and I longed to go disappear into the world without a clue as to what they meant or how it could look.

I met Deborah Digges, a poet and memoirist who lived in Amherst and taught at Tufts, on Memorial Day weekend of 1996. My parents had invited her over for brunch, and it was there at the round oak dining room table that I first heard about Bread Loaf, a writers’ conference in Ripton, Vermont. She would be teaching there that summer, she told us, and encouraged me to apply for her workshop.

I can still hear her sing-song, “Bread Loaf for you!” I loved her already, and set my sights on Middlebury in August.

By some small miracle, I was accepted. And rather than doing the logical thing — using a week of vacation time to attend — I quit my job. I paced around Central Park for two hours t hat morning, screwing up my courage into something like a voice, and told my boss I would be leaving in July. (Mind you, this was early June, and I learned an invaluable lesson that summer: Never give that much notice. It’s torture for everyone. Read more about that experience if you wish.)

That decision changed my life and became the foundation for my writing in ways that would take many years to become evident. I learned more from my time with Deborah, at Bread Loaf and in the six months or so after when we remained close, than in the entirety of my MFA program.

33

On January 7, 2007 — one week before my 33rd birthday — I started a blog. I named it Bullseye, Baby: A Place to Practice.

Practice what? That, my friends, was the title of my very first blog post! (Read it now, if you want. I’ll wait here.)

That month, I embarked on a 15-week writing class in Vermont. It was called Women Writing (for) a Change, under the guidance of a poet named Sarah Bartlett. One evening per week, we gathered, wrote, and shared. Our voices filled a candlelit room. We ate chocolate. We cried and laughed. We came from all different backgrounds and brought our true stories to the page.

I began to take my writing practice seriously, giving myself the blog as a place to show up and drop into whatever was happening in that moment, or to synthesize a swirl of thoughts and activities that, as a working mom with two small children, threatened to subsume me.

I had a single reader for the first 11 months, and then, seemingly out of the blue, a flurry of comments when our dog Juke was dying wrapped me up in a newfound sense of writing community. I was finding my people. I was finding my voice, on the page and in the world.

44

Two days before the new year, I submitted an essay to the New York Times “Modern Love” column. The odds are not exactly forever in my favor, but I am not indulging the overdone, doomsday, “there’s no way they’ll publish it” trope. We all know the statistics, but whatever — you gotta play to win, and if it wasn’t clear by now, I’m in this for the long haul, and not just to get published.

What began as a place to practice became a place of community, then refuge, then livelihood; writing and sharing is the foundation for pretty much my whole life now. And this — this is what I dreamed of and didn’t for the life of me know how to make happen.

I don’t know what this new year, this new multiple of 11, will bring in terms of writing + life, but I have a good feeling about it. Could be the fact that supermoons will bookend the month of January (fun facts: did you know the supermoon looks 1/3 brighter and 14% closer than other full moons)?

Or that I’ve always been a big fan of birthdays — mine and everyone else’s (but especially mine, lol).

Maybe there really is something in the air, as evidenced by nothing but that sparkly sensation I get at the top of my head, in my chest, and in a slightly mischievous twinkle in my eye when something good is coming and my intuition is ON. You better believe me when I say: I’m here for it.

And if the something good is more of what is already here– writing, practicing, showing up, not waiting to get it right, not worrying about being good, and connecting with people near and far in beautiful, true, and unexpected ways–I’ll take it.

Yes, it’s all a bit woo-woo. but I’m choosing to believe that the multiples of 11 carry an extra dose of mojo, depth, and clarity. Stay tuned — because you already know I’ll be writing all about it.

P.S. On a whim, hours after writing this, I checked the word count. You won’t believe it: It’s 1,111 words.