When the Blocks Become the Gifts

angel cardsThe 90-minute massage was a birthday present from my oldest sister. My birthday was in January; this is the kind of fabulous gift that’s easy not to use. I tried to schedule the massage nearly a month ago, then got hit with some weird fungus on my back — not great massage material — followed quickly by a flu that took me out for a solid week.

Then I was hoping we’d be able to do it on a Friday afternoon or even a weekend day, so that afterwards I could enjoy that bonus extra awesomeness of not having to gear back up.

After exchanging several missives with Annie, the massage therapist, we settled on Monday afternoon. Not ideal, but get over yourself, I told myself. It’s a massage, it was a gift, and you set your own hours. (Sometimes I need a good talking to.)

That Monday was today. Still is, in fact. The massage was scheduled for 2:30. I arrived five minutes early and sat in a nondescript hallway listening to the watery sounds of the noise machine next to the “Massage in Progress” sign on the floor by Annie’s door. After about 15 minutes, I heard laughter and voices.

Annie came out to wash her hands while her client changed, then a second time when she was ready for me to come inside. We chatted for a few minutes before she left me to get undressed. I told her I’m working a lot and also writing a lot and also loving all of it, even the hard parts. She has warm, brown eyes that smile, and she listened attentively. Shen she left the room, I turned over an angel card before stripping down.

Sisterhood Brotherhood. My people. Connection. Community.

The smell of essential oils of some kind or another, so illicit in our household, greeted my nostrils the moment I walked into the studio. Annie has worked on me a couple of times before and we’ve opted to not use any oils,  to reduce any risk of Mani reacting to me (particularly nut-based oils can cling to the skin long after washing; and mast cell disease can be so intense that even after I dry massage, I showered and threw all of my scent-soaked clothes in the wash).

Well, it turns out dry massage is better for releasing fascia, and oh lordy, could my fascia use some releasing. I’m guessing she spent at least an hour just working on the line from my foot, with its tender adrenal point, all the way up through glutes. (As an aside, I am such a word dork; I just Googled “glutes” and then “gluteus,” first to make sure I was spelling it correctly, and then for the etymology; it’s Latin for “rump”).

My mind was doing its predictable walkabouts, even as I followed instructions and took big yawning breaths, exhaling as she applied the kind of deep pressure as I prefer. It’s not a “no pain, no gain” kind of thing, but I do love that sensation of being a little worked, a little sore, and a lot loosened up.

I had what I was sure were some great ideas, and even came up with a little mantra so I would remember them (they weren’t really that great, after I was back in clothes and in my car, driving home — kind of like the ideas you have right on the edge of falling asleep that lose their shimmer in the light of day). I remembered some things and even had fleeting moments of alarm; all of these were, of course, related to work and money and planning and being on top of my shit.

And then I slid down the table and turned over onto my back. Annie unhooked the head rest and placed a stone on my sternum. Its weight felt good, like an assurance. You are solid. You are safe.

I felt the heat of her hands over my face, then over my throat. She shifted them now and then in ever-so-subtle movements. And finally, I drifted. I drifted into that dark expanse, where you see shapes and even visions behind eyelids, where you enter another dimension beyond thought, where there truly is rest, and — in Annie’s words — health.


When she finished, I thanked her and told her that had been some kind of magic. Then I asked her if there had been anything else, beyond the physical body, that she’d noticed. “Your throat and head,” she said, “that really felt like where there is so much health.” I voiced my surprise. “Really?”

I told her that was interesting and kind of amazing, since historically, those have been my barriers. Always with the tight throat, the voice swallowed, and the head overtaking the body. Not anymore. “That’s where your wisdom and perspective are, which you’re using now in your work.” Another wow moment.

She left the room then, and I took a minute to stretch and get up before getting dressed. I jotted down the ideas that had seemed so important before. And then I chose a second angel card before opening the door.

Clarity. Of purpose, of voice, and of mind.

p.s. Thanks, Ris.

The Roar Sessions: Marian Kent

Using My Words 
by Marian Kent

Marian Poetry!

“Help Me, Erica Jong”

my name was Snidely Green.
Today, it’s Guardedly Optimistic:
Requiring External Validation.
My real name is Mama, Mama, Mama!
Tomorrow, it will be
Bellowing My Poems From That Rooftop.
My secret name
is Tender Roots
Toward a Half-Century
and Wondering
How I Got Here.

Nearly twenty years ago now, before love, before family, before most of what is now, I found myself shut down and not accessing my true self. I wasn’t aware of it. I was just going along.

Occasionally I would experience a lucid moment in which the real me came to the surface, and meeting resistance from those closest to me, I would push those thoughts back down. Usually with a note to self like this is the path I’ve chosen or I signed up for this and it will be this way forever.

Still in my young thirties, I was flat-lined, plateaued, in a trance. Sighed and kept going.

I had dumbed myself down and mostly numbed myself as well.

The spell was broken one night while I was driving home from work. Michael Chabon was being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. As I drove and listened, I was completely blown out of my complacency.

Here was my favorite novelist, talking in the exact same way he writes, smart, funny, passionate, articulate, and with LOTS OF BIG AND WONDERFUL WORDS. Like, this guy does NOT DUMB DOWN. Not at all.

I had read all of Chabon’s books, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a truly fantastic, beautiful, and challenging work about which he was being interviewed. But it was Michael Chabon’s voice, his spoken words, just talking, answering questions about his book and his life, that reached me. I remember sitting there in my driveway as the interview ended, considering what in the hell I would do next.

Hearing that interview set in motion a series of events over the following months that upended everything I knew and completely changed my life’s path. For the zillion-times-over better.

What I am so grateful to have learned from Michael Chabon, or what, really, he reminded me, is that It Is Important To Use Your Words. To speak truth to power, if you will. Don’t dumb down or squelch yourself, not for anyone.

I remembered the quote from Audre Lorde taped to my refrigerator but not actually seen in a long, long time: I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Fast forward to May 2016. May is my birth month, and this month, I turn fifty years old. Fifty! What?

This year, I was privileged to attend a Michael Chabon reading, and to thank him and present him with copies of my books. And with a bit of tremor in my hands,

I’m learning
how words are magical
how writing them down
gives me superpowers
how reciting them aloud
makes the flush rise
from my core to my face
as a woman perched
on a folding chair
watches my lips
intoning verse
I know by heart
by read from the page
just to be safe

(“With a Bit of Tremor in My Hands” from Heart Container)

Even approaching fifty, sometimes I still require reminding. Sometimes I revert to my lucid incantation: I will use my words. I will use my words. I will

Write the moon and the stars
and meditation variations
write the songs of horseflies
on compost butterflies lighting
the reediest mullein spike out
back write hope
write the rings
in your maple tree stones skipped
across open water
or hurled in anger
write protest
write songs
rhymes marching shouting cracking
frustrated tears voices
cracking the sidewalk
cracking buckling splitting wide
engulfing voices in awful arrogance
demanding averting but still
but still
you must write it all down
write the abstract crazy
the real of it all
the blood the beaten down how
can this be
the shot how many times of it all

(“Shot in the Back” from Heart Container)

Yes, I must remember to use my words. Because now the stakes are incredibly high. My children are watching.

My notebook falls open
to a page of ballpoint pen drawings
by my son, who had been sitting
on a curb waiting for a parade.
My own scratchings scarce, inspiration
is welcome when it surfaces.
Who could fail to be moved
by his steady requirement to draw now,
on this curb, on a restaurant placement,
a napkin if that’s all there is?
(Put this in your purse, Mama.)
My children remember the admonishment
of an artist to never stop drawing,
evoking this advice constantly
and with reverence, as though told
from on high instead of under a tent
at the Westhampton Fall Festival.
Obviously, this is a good thing,
a lucky thing, a moment’s one-off words
etched deep in the psyche of youth,
the notebook that is life’s pleasure,
treasure a mother hopes
will be unearthed over and over,
the mind’s riches providing sustenance
for a lifetime of waiting on parades.

(“Waiting on Parades” from Heart Container)


Marian_Kent1Purveyor of pretty words and superheroic verse Marian Kent lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts with her husband and two children. Her third full-length poetry collection, Heart Container, was recently released by ALL CAPS PUBLISHING.

Marian’s earlier collections are SUPERPOWERS or: More Poems About Flying (2013) and Responsive Pleading (2012). You can find a great quantity of Marian’s poetry and other missives at her website: www.runawaysentence.com.


The Roar Sessions is a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices. Please note that the views and opinions expressed in these guest posts belong to each author own and do not necessarily reflect my own. All Roar Sessions content, including photos, belongs to the respective contributors. Read them all.  

The Roar Sessions: Nicki Gilbert

Nicki_ImageWriting My Way Up
by Nicki Gilbert

It was an unremarkable October morning. Nothing to distinguish it from countless other October mornings, except I don’t think the sun was shining as it usually does in October. Gray, dreary. Unusual for October, but I didn’t much notice or care given that I was in a gray, dreary state myself.

I dragged myself out of bed that miserable morning, shuffled down the stairs, my flip flops barely leaving the ground (I do hate the sound of shuffling flip flops). I dejectedly made breakfasts and school lunches, and sent them out the door and down the street, with an audible sigh of relief. Dragged myself and my flip flops back upstairs.

I found myself, a few hours later, hunched over my phone hurriedly typing a Facebook message to a woman I’d never met and didn’t know. Still in my car with the seatbelt on, I frantically typed these words to this stranger: “…really enjoy your writing… wonder if you’d take a look… not sure… don’t know…”

Feeling very loser-ish and almost despairing, I hit send and unwrapped myself from the cocoon of the car. The fog was starting to lift. Just a teeny bit.

The day could not have been less wonderful. Less great. Less brilliant. It wasn’t even an ordinary, unremarkable day. It was a shitty day. They’d been going on for weeks, those shitty shitty days.

I longed to be somewhere and someone else. Somewhere I didn’t wake up in the morning and have to toast waffles and make cream cheese sandwiches and curse myself for unknowingly using the last square of toilet paper.

Somewhere I didn’t hate the sound of my own voice, pitched high with annoyance as I told them to “hurry up” and “brush your teeth” and “you’re going to be late.” Somewhere I didn’t hate the sound of their voices, as they nonchalantly chatted to each other, ignoring my constant, frantic reminders. Oh how I wished they would leave already!

I longed to be someone other than a mom, a wife, a nag, a caring friend, a woman trapped in this deceptively unfeminist time. Yes, you can have it all, if all is cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping and exercising and Target runs and teacher conferences and doctor appointments and endless carpools and mommying and losing yourself in the mind-numbing minutiae of every single day. A never-ending downward spiral of purposelessness and loss of self. All for you.

It usually takes a painful jolt when you hit the bottom to realize how impossible it is to live this way. And there’s nowhere to go but up once you’re at that dark, stinky bottom.

She wrote back, this woman I didn’t (and still don’t) know. She is a writer I admire and follow online, one who writes with honesty and truth about things I understand: parenting, living away from family, death, love, friendship. She is a writer and editor for a site I enjoy and wildly imagined writing for myself.

It was an unremarkable morning in October, except the sun was not shining as it usually does. And I had hit the very hard bottom.

Nowhere to go but up.

She was mildly encouraging, the anonymous editor, but very rushed and not at all bothered with my personal angst and insecurities, with my trepidations and desperations. She didn’t care that I was struggling to find my way. She didn’t care that I was a stay-at-home mom or that sometimes I didn’t eat for days at a time and always enjoyed one cocktail too many. She didn’t care at all.

And for once, neither did I. I didn’t care that she wasn’t attentive or full of praise and validation. I didn’t care that she didn’t respond to my email, or follow up or check in. The password she sent so that I could log into the site and publish my work was all I needed to breathlessly climb out of that wallowing pool of self-pity, to leap off that ledge of doubt, to write my own soaring way through this new somewhere I found myself.

And just like that, I was no longer a mom, a wife, a friend, a carpool driver, a grocery shopper, an unhappy woman trying to find her way in a dark and twisty labyrinth that has no beginning and definitely no end.

What I became in that moment was who I am today: a writer.


NickiNicki Gilbert is a writer and country music lover who lives in the Bay Area with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. She writes a monthly parenting column for J. the Jewish new weekly of Northern California, and her work has appeared on NYT Well Family, Mamalode, Kveller and The Huffington Post. One of her luckiest moments as a writer was when she found Jena online. Read and follow her blog, Red Boots.


The Roar Sessions, a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices, began in June 2015. Read them all

The Roar Sessions: Andrea Jarrell

Yellow Warbler :: Keith Williams

Yellow Warbler :: Keith Williams

Roar for the Ages
by Andrea Jarrell

I’m hungover but not from drugging or drinking. Partying of a different kind. I go over the details of the night before: the sparkling conversation, the tinkling glasses. Did I laugh too loud? Shine too bright?  Kiss, kiss on each cheek to her and him and him and her and? Having too much fun to remember to reel myself in. Was I too big for my britches, revealing too much of who I am, forgetting to keep myself in check in the middle distance of my mind’s eye as if screening a movie ready to yell “cut” when my lines aren’t just right?

“It’s not polite to sing at the table,” my mother says. Caught now, my bright yellow songbird beats its frantic wings, searching for a way out of the dark tunnel of my throat. A whiff of light and sky somewhere up above, it flaps and waits just behind my tonsils. Suppressed but protected – as if pinned in a dentist’s chair, lead blanket shielding the possibility of future births.

For the longest time I was just trying to get back to my first-grade self. That audacious girl who introduced people to her mother through open car windows at traffic lights. First grade was long red ponytails and a basket on my bike with a small dog that looked like a fox. A first grader doesn’t think whether she’s brave or not. She just is. This first grader went from brave to not in a heartbeat that stretched from family of four to mother and me. A down-the-rabbit-hole fall from house to apartment to netherworld wondering how to rise again, how to return to my once brave self.

My boyfriend and I are in the grocery store. We’ve just moved in together. Progresso and Campbell’s soup cans on either side of the aisle, I think it’s safe to be myself. A muzak version of “Burning Down the House” fills the air with a beat you just have to move to. At least I do. My hips gyrate towards him and I lift my arms overhead, the pretty girl at the party enjoying her own flirty display. “Stop that,” he says, hushing and harsh. His eyes not on me but on the old man behind me watching. My arms hang loose and limp as we push the cart past frozen waffles, paper towels, boxes of dried pasta. It will take two more years to realize any man who wants to quiet my hips is not for me.

At first I sit in the back row in church basement rooms, crying like so many other daughters and wives, mothers and girlfriends. Months go by until I raise my hand. Tell my story, unremarkable yet mine. The girl with the long red ponytails shaped by addiction – father, uncles, stepfather, grandmother, boyfriend, husband and her own. The flutter of wings, slowly as if newly born, shaking off the wet, until, yes, I am singing. I am singing my heart out.

I go back to school, learning how to get my stories down on paper. I start a business. People seek me out. My voice is one they listen to. As my business grows, I think back to the early days when my husband and I rolled pennies and quarters, watching “Ren and Stimpy” and eating scrambled eggs. But now. Now we have enough in the bank to send our kids to college.

My song becomes a body song – dancer, wheel, half moon, headstand, handstand, flying crow. Audacious once again, I take to the sea. The Pacific Ocean laps over my thighs as my husband, son and I wait for the next wave. Belly to my board, Venus rising I stand, arms outstretched, fall, suit full of sand and surf, climb back on, paddle out, try again.

We rescue Hurley. He is a Chihuahua-Beagle mix that makes him both yapper and bellowing hound. Found in the Maryland woods, he was eking out his living on a beaver damn. At first, his ribs showed through his tawny close-cropped coat. Now he’s as fat as a little sausage. When we arrive home he rolls on his back, paws in the air bay-shrieking his delight. My husband says, “He can’t even.” And it’s true. Hurley’s cup runneth over. I sit beside him, perched on the steps of our entryway, stroking his velvety throat. Then together we throw back our heads. Our wild howls of love for this life of ours echoing and rising. We can’t even.

Andrea_JarrellAndrea Jarrell’s essays have appeared in Narrative Magazine; The New York Times “Modern Love” column; Memoir Journal; Full Grown People; Brain, Child; The Washington Post and several anthologies, sites and publications. Her memoir I’m the One Who Got Away will be published in 2016.


The Roar Sessions is a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices. Read them all

The Roar Sessions: Mindy Tsonas

mindy3New Moon Howl 
by Mindy Tsonas

The end of one cycle, the beginning of another. Isn’t it always the way?

It is fitting that today’s Aquarian New Moon is about experimenting and experiencing new ways of becoming, to embrace the discomfort that will carve new pathways into being.

It’s about devotion to always seeking your Roar and finding it deeply embedded within that space between comfort and friction. What is a roar, but an overt feral claiming? A way for others to hear your voice, but more importantly, a way for you to acknowledge your own life force behind it. To project your roar you must fully commit to the release, one hundred and ten percent, along with an unwavering belief in its trajectory… I am here. This is me.  

For many years in my work I stood in the crowd waving my arms, jumping up and down thinking, “Look over here! Hello!” My roar unsettled me, scared me even. I knew I had things to say, but I was afraid people might not want to listen, or even worse, that they would judge me. My voice lay quietly beneath my breath as I sought the safety of circles where I could mostly blend in rather than dare to put my own naked heart on the line.

I hadn’t yet learned that all the power lives inside the vulnerability. It took an earthquake inside my own world to fully understand what that kind of authenticity really requires.

When I came out to my husband in 2010, twelve years into our typical suburban ever-after marriage, my Roar was born. The lesson continues to be, the more I let go of holding back the more soundly and far-reaching my truth can reverberate. Truth is connection. Truth is intimacy. Truth is touching and illuminating the place from which your Roar arises.

I know now there is an achingly unmistakable difference between knowing who you are and speaking it out loud. Also, by working towards one, it inherently strengthens the other – truth finds voice, voice finds truth – a virtuous circle of love and light. Open dialogues build bridges of dimension and reciprocity that would otherwise never exist. Being seen and heard affects your story in the same way it did Dorothy the moment she stepped into Oz. It is an invitation, an invocation to full-on technicolor living.

This New Moon asks you to make peace with discomfort. To feel it, not fight it, and see where it might push you to rise in beautiful ways you never thought possible. Because your Roar matters, if for nothing other than the extraordinary gifts you’ll receive from allowing your own fierce vulnerability.

I assure you there is nothing more compelling or incendiary.



Mindy2Mindy Tsonas is a Wish Alchemist, a maker of creative mischief and sexual revolutions. She writes, paints, and conjures both the tangible and intangible to manifest meaningful conduits of connection and healing. Coming out inside of her 12 year marriage changed everything. Now devoted to wildly trusting her own true desires, she gathers women inside this magical kind of transformative core intimacy leading the way to daring new places of personal discovery. Follow her work and adventures at www.mindytsonas.org.


The Roar Sessions is a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices. Read them all