Cloudy with a Chance of Global Uprising

For Aviva

Foul mood overtakes the afternoon
despite the laying on of hands
and all good intentions
Fire belly eclipses tender heart
forcing eruption of vitriol through veins
a revolt with no room for shame
a dam useless against this mighty flow
like blood flowing like pussy riot
like do not fuck with us women
like you can’t disappear us that easily
or at all like No means No like my body
my choice like Black Lives Matter like
I’ll show you my papers when you show
us your tax returns like no I don’t want to
hold hands across the aisle not today
not tonight not tomorrow where were you
reaching for mine for the last eight years
Exactly
Compassion and kindness do not mean
not angry no they mean angrier they mean
business they mean this is not a test
they mean we will not be silenced
they mean your lies will not protect you
from the people they mean we cannot
be bought or gaslit they mean light
so bright your darkness will swallow you
whole they mean we will rise up rise up
I was quiet all day
Didn’t watch the news was determined
not to give it my two minutes not to throw
in my two cents not to throw in the towel
on hope my anger rises because hope
and anger are brothers because my love
and my anger are fraternal twins
because I am a mother whose grandmothers’
cells live inside of me whose children’s
cells live inside of me whose grandchildren’s
cells live inside of me because weeping
and this anger are not opposite
and I will oppose I will defy I will cry
I will become something violent
though I thought this is not my way
I thought I am a peace seeker but how
can I seek peace when on Day One
you strip me from your pages
write us off write us out speak in shallow
teleprompted sentences to vapid applause
My daughter cried all day
because Business as Usual slapped her
in the face because climate change
is 50 degrees in January because her body
bleeds and you say she belongs to any man
who would I can’t finish that thought
Eclipse of positivity because good vibes
will not save us now no now it’s time
to listen to the people who’ve been saying
this for so long so long too long rise up
listen to us we will not become your sheep
nor will we satisfy you by tearing each other
apart no we have to come together
we have to channel this anger
that could power a nation
keep the lights on all night and through
the warming winters
energy coursing through the body
live wire current sweeping away with it
any last vestiges of playing along
an unwinnable game
gloves off let’s be all in all of us
all in and in it together

Surfing Ocean and Sky: Mary Oliver, Whitman, and Synchronicity

And here we are, gliding along the last days of the year. Taking (time) off is all the lovelier for its strangeness.

And here we are, gliding along the last days of the year. Taking (time) off is all the lovelier for its strangeness.

The first dream happened in the afternoon. It was Friday, December 23. As we do most days, Mani and I took a nap after lunch. But before I tell you this dream, I need to tell you about part of a conversation I had that morning, with a long-standing writing coaching client who has also become a friend and beloved human.

We wrap up our hour-long call, then linger as we often do. We talk a bit about what kind of support she needs for her writing as we begin 2017, and I mention some of the things that are on my mind around my own life and work.

At one point, she says, “If I may…”

To which I respond, “Please do….”

And so she tells me that in the year we’ve been talking every single week by phone, she in her home office and me in my kitchen or living room “office,” she has somehow never before noticed the framed photograph that now catches her eye. It is a picture of the sky. Big, expansive, vast, wide-open sky.

I take a breath and tell her how perfect it feels, like a reading I didn’t even ask for. I joke that I should be the one paying her, rather than the other way around.

And then she says something so beautiful.

You are the sky. And you are the ocean, too. We need you.

I sit with this for a moment, tears in my eyes. I feel the impulse to deflect it, to say something funny or self-deprecating. But I don’t. I take it in. And then I thank her and say, “I need you, too.”

**

A few hours later, Mani and I crash hard. I intend to rest for maybe 45 minutes or so, but when the timer goes off on my phone (the alarm doesn’t work, so I’m always doing the  math and setting a timer), I swiftly swipe it off without resetting it. It’s in this next interval of sleep that I really go under.

I find myself in a dream where I am body surfing the most glorious waves — they are huge, powerful, and generous without being scary or threatening, and I am moving at the speed of ocean. Then I am soaring, too, over sand — it lifts me like air and I feel like I’m flying, unbridled, one with sky, salt, sea, and land. Not a single object or obstruction stands in my way. At one point, a guy on a bike approaches behind me, and I just let him pass.

(Later, there is some confusion — it seems this incredible experience has deposited me in the student center at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley and I have to figure out how to get back to Amherst.)

But that part of the dream — I want to call it a passage — was extraordinary in its embodiment of movement and being.

I wake up and realize what has happened, what I’ve experienced.

I was the sky. I was the ocean, too.

**

The next day, Saturday the 24th, we pack up for a mini vacation I’ve surprised Mani with for the first few nights of Hanukkah, to an Airbnb in Cambridge. We get there in time to pick up some groceries just before everything closes for Christmas. The place we’ve chosen is perfect — small but clean and cozy, smack in between Fresh Pond and Harvard Square.

I have to sit on my hands not to reach out to everyone I know in the Boston area, knowing that this time is ours alone and trusting that 2017 will bring opportunities to connect with friends, perhaps offer readings from my new book, and lead workshops. Ideas percolate and I let them, without racing to write anything down.

I share a picture on Facebook of the most fabulous display of Christmas lights, with these words, alluding to yesterday’s dream:

lightsI’m sitting in our Airbnb (not the house in the photo!) eating chipotle chicken mac & cheese from a Whole Foods take-out carton, on a quiet street in a neighborhood filled with lights. We had a festive family dinner last night, and now my kiddos are with their dad and his family up in Vermont. I took a nap this afternoon and had an extraordinary dream–so vivid–in which I was body surfing ocean, sand, and sky. I may have to write about it.

But for the next few days, the plan is to read, rest, and just be. The darker the night, the brighter and more beautiful and essential these over-the-top lights seem to me. I’m so grateful for this community of friends and writers–you know who you are, but I hope you also know that you anchor me and bring so much meaning, purpose, connection, and joy into my life.

**

The next morning, I make us coffee and sit down to start reading “Upstream” by Mary Oliver, a gift from my parents. I reach page 23, an essay called “Of Power and Time,” a timeless piece of writing that I will return to again and again for the rest of my days. I underline at least 50% of it as I read, beginning with the opening lines of the second paragraph:

Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in. 

She writes of the ways in which not only the world interrupts us, but how we interrupt ourselves, something she calls “a darker and more curious matter.”

I take a picture of these lines and text it to my writing friend, who gets it right away and responds in kind:

Jena – THE SKY!!!

I haven’t yet told her about the sky-ocean-sand surfing dream. My sense of contentment is sudden and complete. In this moment, I have everything I need.

contentment

Later in the same essay, I nearly burst out crying and laughing at the same time. I have just put the final touches on my third, self-published collection of poems. After some deliberation, a title poem rose to the surface and gave the book its name: Why I Was Late for Our Meeting. I wrote this particular poem last summer. The meeting I was late for? A coaching call with my sky-writing friend.

Page 30:

If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

I am momentarily dismayed not to have read these words in time to include them as an epigraph to the new poems. And then quickly, this is replaced by an immeasurable sense of joy and synchronicity. Because really — how marvelous is this, to be dipping into the same reservoir of knowing, as a poet I so deeply respect and admire. I tell Mani I must find a way to give her a copy of the book!

**

That first night in Cambridge, I dream a statement. It goes something like this:

To ask questions and not assume — this feels like love.

I wake remembering it — almost. The wording is off a bit, but the meaning is clear. I don’t know how the speaker was in the dream, though those of a Jungian persuasion would argue that it’s a moot point; the whole dream is the dreamer.

I pour a second cup of coffee and return to the window seat to  keep reading. I reach the essay called “Sister Turtle” and read, on page 57, this line:

To enjoy, to question–never to assume, or trample.

Oliver is writing about “the responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently.” I shudder slightly, as if I’ve been caressed by the softest touch. Once again, I know I am right where I need to be. Later, in “Some Thoughts on Whitman,” she shares the first lines of his glorious “Song of Myself,” a poem I first read in its entirety nearly 20 years ago, when I entered an MFA program and lived not two miles from where we’re staying.

I celebrate myself, 
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. 

Whitman’s poetry is incantatory — a word my grad school advisor assigned to my work, much to my delight — and intent, as Mary Oliver notes, on “[forcing] open the soul.” She goes on:

He was after a joyfulness, a belief in existence in which man’s inner light is neither rare nor elite, but godly and common, and acknowledged. For that it was necessary to be rooted, again, in the world.

**

I mark this passage and write “lineage,” underlined twice in the margin. I am of and from this belief; it drives my writing and my work. To be flung wide open, unguarded and real. To keep turning over the stones and jewels, never knowing where some shard of light may be revealed, even when the task seems redundant and questionable. To crouch by the edges of my everyday life, as Mary Oliver does near her beloved Blackwater Pond, “utterly quiet and half-hidden.” To coax soul from its perch and into my open palm. To insist on light — mine and yours, common, acknowledged, and essential.

fresh-pond-1

There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning. – Mary Oliver

The second morning of our getaway, I go for a run around Fresh Pond. I pay for it later; my lower back is not happy with me. But it’s worth it at the time. Kids on scooters riding ahead of the grown-ups, lots of people with their dogs, and pairs of friends or couples all circumambulate the pond in holiday-week leisure. I am glad to be alone but among them.

**

The third morning, I don’t run, but instead venture a few blocks up the street to a bakery that caught my eye. I bring my journal and sit writing, people watching, and caffeinating while Mani sleeps in a little.

I notice my slight anxiety about taking time “off” from working, and watch as my handwritten words unfurl across the creamy, blank pages:

Trusting people to wait for me. Trusting that the world won’t abandon me if I rest… Keep your hand moving, mama, and see what it is really like to be all the way here, deeply and without reservation. That is the practice. That is the work.

**

Speaking of trust, we decide to splurge and stay one additional night.

Now it is the evening of Tuesday, December 27. We’ve brought with us two canvas bags filled with magazines to cut up. At home, Mani does this somewhat regularly, but it has been ages since I did anything visual, and I’m out of practice. This is humbling and a good reminder of where many people are when they first approach my writing groups. Just start, I tell myself. And keep going, I add.

The first little while is awkward. I cut out words and a few pictures, not sure where it’s going or whether it will amount to anything I like. I glance over at Mani and she seems so relaxed, then remind myself to just stay in it without worrying about the outcome. After all, how can I hashtag things like “creative process” if I myself am unwilling to try new things?

After two hours, I am surprised and pleased and not a little bit amazed. I’ve created something!

collage

Come at evening or at morning. Come when expected or without warning. A thousand welcomes you’ll find here before you. And the oftener you come, the more we’ll adore you.

**

Dreams and images, words on pages written out of order, found right on time, speaking to each other across time zones and zip codes, climates and landscapes, decades of life, centuries, too. All of this happens as if in simulcast, where the linearity of time is illusory and really, we’re all here dipping our spoons into the same pot, sipping and slurping and stirring.

Since Sunday, I’ve read two books — the other was “The Light of the World” by Elizabeth Alexander — and indeed rested my body and mind so as to make room to listen to my soul. This has everything to do, for me, with my service to you, to the world. They are inseparable, neither endeavor complete without the other.

This balance is my lifelong… I almost wrote struggle. But no, that was before. Now, it feels like a gift, one I get to keep opening and giving away and receiving again, never the same twice, yet somehow also unchanging.

**

We’re back home now. The snow is really coming down, as predicted. Mani is doing a meditation beside me before we head over to Northampton, where she has her private yoga session and I will sit in a coffee shop, working on prompts for my next two-week writing group.

What will the new year bring?

Rest and work. Giving and receiving. Love and loss. Practice and outcome. Synchronicity and destiny. Not knowing and knowing. Ebbing and flowing. Ocean and sky, sky and ocean.

One unthinkable without the other.

Dive Into Poetry + Support Color of Change

butterflySitting at my desk this morning, taking a deep breath, and turning my attention fully to the words I’m writing to you. It’s a miracle, to sit here not knowing what I will say — and that with the push of a button, whatever comes will land on your screen. I say “miracle” knowing that it’s a loaded word, a word that’s easy to say but difficult to reckon with in the face of so much personal and political pain.

And still a world begins its furious erasure—

Who do you think you are, saying I to me?

You nothing.

You nobody.

You.

– Claudia Rankine, from “Citizen: An American Lyric”

I pause to look out the window and there he is, the hawk who flies over our house every morning right about this time. On November 19, I’m getting a red-tailed hawk feather inked on my left arm — it is a symbol of my devotion to my wife, and by extension, to my life — a life of truth and beauty, of voice and silence, of dark and light. A life of poetry and play and of fight and fierce determination. A life of white privilege and a call to justice deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. A life of it-gets-better and never-give-up. A life I feel blessed to get to share with you, through the powerful double helix of of showing up and letting the words come out.

We call this “writing,” and writing it is. It is also a vehicle for so many other life-changing byproducts. Writing might be the path that leads you back home to your own heart, or it might the way you find your voice out in the world. For me, these two are and always have been one and the same. What was missing for so long was company along the way, and now here you are. Here we are.

But that doesn’t “just” happen. When I put something out there and you say yes, when you write something and share it and I read it and witness your words, we are creating ripples in our own day, ripples that extend to the people first closest to us and then, because we are all interconnected, further out into the world.

“The most powerful force in the universe is an agreement between two people.” – Marianne Williamson, from A Course in Miracles

According to the Butterfly Effect, a tiny, barely measurable air disturbance from the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in China can ultimately result in a hurricane in Florida or prevent a tornado off the Indonesian coast. Apparently I’ve been pondering this for a long time; it was the topic of one of my earliest blog posts.

Since April, roughly 150 people have participated in the quarterly Dive Into Poetry party, an experience more than a few folks have called “life-changing.” For an entire month, you get three poems per week by yours truly in your inbox. You have the option of simply enjoying the poems and images as meditations or inspiration for writing privately, or to accept a spacious, standing invitation to play inside a supportive Facebook group. It’s low-stakes, high-touch, and inexpensive: Just $28 for the month.

As I look forward to the third quarterly Dive, I find I must do more. I must use my voice and work to affect change. Black people are being murdered and as a white person, it is my responsibility to do something about it.

That’s why between now and October 1, for every person who signs up for October’s Dive Into Poetry, I will donate $5 to Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.

Color of Change mission statement:

We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over one million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.

If you want more poetry in your life AND want a part of “championing solutions for social change [and] making society less hostile and more human for Black people in America,” sign up for Dive Into Poetry today and $5 of your registration will go directly to Color of Change.

Let’s raise and donate $500 by October 1.

That means 100 people signing up for a month of poems in your inbox. Because we have to change this. We have to fix this. And just like with the writing: Everything counts. Just as poetry is not for “real” poets, change is not for other people to make happen — and if we’re not audacious, who will be?

As a white woman, it is my responsibility to speak up, to listen to people of color, and to take action whenever and wherever I can. By joining me this October, we are making a powerful agreement — to acknowledge the impact of our personal choices and priorities — and how even, sometimes especially, the smallest of these either contribute to or dismantle systemic racism.

I hope you’ll join me. Because even if you are busy, even if you don’t want to be in a group — who doesn’t have time to read a poem three days a week, to pause, to look inward, or up, or around with new eyes?

p.s. I decided to “grandfather” in those who already registered, so we are already up to $84 towards the $500 goal.

Can’t Everlasting

empty-seat

Day began with bells from St. Bridget’s
Songbirds who are clearly morning people
Rocket fuel coffee and me on the hammock swing
I keep hoping the former downstairs neighbors
will forget to come back for.

With Jane Kenyon and dull right temple
headache and base of neck throb
the kind you want to rub a crystal on
like the ones my wife ordered, a chakra spread
for our more woo-woo days.

With daughter pilfering moms’ wardrobe
rocking the cute-boy look, backwards
baseball hat, with bleeding so heavily
I had to turn around not a block from home
With headache still not subsiding.

With Roar Sessions and good morning, writers
Hot hot sun and windows down, Diet Coke
Cool Ranch Doritos in the car pretending
I was on the beach topless preferably eating
the most American thing I could crave.

With business partner and mind if we cancel
Back into bed, splayed out like an outline
right arm up and left arm down, legs
akimbo, belly against mattress breathing
sweaty deep summer hormone sleep.

With attempt at doing day met by “can’t”
Twinge of panic (what if can’t is everlasting?)
Reiki Master woman I married, I ask her
Baby, can you help me? She can, she does
with so much love and more sleep comes.

Day ends full circle surrender to ride
not fight waves like these, not to try
to keep up when that feels like crawling
across hot sand, trusting nothing
will be lost by listening to the body

that knows what she needs, knows
only sleep will come as cure for ache
and waiting till too late always comes
to no good. Might as well let the day
have its way with you and the night
breeze in through open window.

Photo credit: Tom van Hoogstraten

Angel Posse Meets Story Sisterhood

typewriter

They don’t mind my writing about them and I don’t mind risking sounding like a religious fanatic or a woo-woo nut job.

I just spent the last hour writing a story about my angel posse, for one of the prompts in The Story Sisterhood. This new membership group of The Inky Path will dive deeply into a single theme every three months. For our inaugural theme “Gotta Have Faith,” already a group of really wonderful women from around the world has assembled to explore our stories, one week at a time, alone and together.

Though I’ve written about my angels many times before, today I wound up writing something brand new, something I would probably not have sat down to write had I not had some reason to do so. While this itself is a gift for me, such a huge part of the writing is also in the sharing and the connections that opens up between me and other humans.

So many factors at play. So much responsibility to bear. The whole “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” thing? I wasn’t sure I was buying it.

So when I say things like “I hope you’ll join us,” it’s not an empty sales pitch. Whether I’m referring to the writing groups I lead privately or the ones I co-create over at The Inky Path, what you’re getting is my heart, my whole self, and an expression of my deep and genuine desire to share some of my stories with you and to get the deep privilege of reading yours.

What you’re hearing is borne of awe at the alchemy of memory, writing, and witness.

And they are tough as nails, too. They never back down and they always have my back. My angels are my best friends. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I don’t know what I’d do without you, either. My writing posse. This beautiful and ever-expanding community.

If taking the time and creating the space to connect with your own stories inside of a truly supportive community of women calls to you, I hope you’ll join me and my inky partner-in-crime. Cigdem Kobu in The Story Sisterhood.

inkypath.com/story-sisterhood/

Registration is open through the weekend, then will close until late summer.

“This sisterhood is unlike anything I have experienced. It has unleashed many words that needed a meadow to romp in without fear.” – Terri Jackson