A Letter to My Angels

Adam Jang | Tel Aviva-Yafo

August 8, 2018

Dear Angels,

I heard you talking amongst yourselves, hoping I’d choose to write to you. Well of course, here I am. I won’t say this letter is overdue,  but it does feel timely and in some deep way necessary. Mostly I want to say thank you and make sure you know that my #blessed and #grateful are not masks. I couldn’t conceal the truth from you if I wanted to  and I don’t want to, so we’re all good there.

What I do know is that blessed and grateful are not fixed states; they do not cure migraines or make the sky rain cash money. But they are a solid place to stand and a soft place to land, and in writing my 11s tonight, I realized that so much of this life feels like a profound privilege. The fact of this would be and is enough, but moments like this one when I am aware of that privilege in such a quiet, felt way are especially special.

You really are always there when I need you. It’s not that I don’t always need you, but there have been long stretches in the past year or so of functioning to some degree on autopilot and in “go” mode. I think late spring and early summer — somewhere in that turn of season — the degree of cumulative exhaustion verging on burnout became clear.

I hesitate with my language as I don’t want to be melodramatic. The bitchy voice of my inner critic says, “For fuck’s sake, it’s not like you’re living on the front lines of oppression, woman.” Factually, she’s right. But these last several years brought me to the far edges of my inner reserves of strength, stamina, faith, and resilience in very real ways.

I remember crying to you — literally sobbing in the car and all the way up Mount Sugarloaf on a fall day. Was that two years ago or three now? Oh, the miracle of years blurring, or having enough distance and perspective that it no longer matters if that was 2015 or 2016. I was so tired, so wrung out and wrought, so lonely and scared. And in that state it was tempting to look over my shoulder at a long-gone past or ahead into the great unknown with the ultimate fear: What if things don’t get better?”

It took everything I had to keep going, to stay present, to keep loving but without abandoning myself. I did not do any of this perfectly, but I did do it — with your constant help.

And when I cried out in June or July and said I am desperate for a break, a chance to slow down and tend to my own overlooked heart, you were there — just as you are there every day from dawn to dusk and even through the night while we sleep.

So yes, I am writing to say thank you. I like that we keep being in this together and I’m especially appreciating the chance to reconnect with some neglected parts of myself this month, parts I really love and enjoy, parts that have become dulled or squeezed out these past few years by hustling so hard and connecting almost exclusively through screens.

I am not forsaking technology or social media by any means, but I am noting my unwillingness to sacrifice myself on those altars. And I am going to need you as close as ever as fall comes, seasons change again, the kids both enter new schools and stages, and Mani continues to heal and get her life back.

Stay close, angels. I feel you. I love you. And I’m here. Let me be a vessel.

Yours,

Jena

p.s. Can you help with the headaches? Oh, and thank you for sending some really exciting and unexpected work opportunities my way this month! You rock my world.

* * *

Dear Reader: Have you checked out my Patreon page. For as little as $3/month, you can support both the Community Writers’ Fund for lower-income writers AND my work on a Fierce Encouragement BOOK. Come check out the tiers for joining this membership community and the awesome benefits you’ll receive, including weekly writing prompts, writing group discounts, coaching sessions, and more. Feel free to contact me with questions. I’d LOVE to share this new space with you. xo Jena

The Darker the Night… Reflections on 2017


The past few days found me in a funk. Nothing major, but sometimes that makes moods even harder to bear; you feel like you should at least have a reason for being irritable or sad. But this was free-floating, hormonal, and seasonal, with nothing to do but try my hardest to just stay with myself, not be a jerk to my wife and kids, and self-manage as gently as possible until it passed. (Would it pass? This is always the question. And the answer is always the same.)

Emily Dickinson must’ve experienced many a similar mood. After all, she’s the one who wrote:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

This morning, the sun is shining on the newly fallen snow. It is falling in shimmery drifts from the pine boughs just outside my bedroom windows, and the southeastern light looks like something pure and hopeful. I may not be super psyched to dig out my car later, but there’s no denying the particular beauty this season offers in moments like these.

Perspective is one of the first casualties – temporarily, thank god, of the kind of mood that hangs out dangerously close to the border crossing into depression. It’s more like a white-out; driving snow, limited visibility. I’m relieved and grateful as I sit down to write this morning that the sky seems to have cleared and I can see a bit more clearly again. A tiny sparrow dive-bombing a snow drift 100 times its size; a hawk overhead, sun illuminating its underside; and room to breathe.

Yesterday, room to breathe felt more difficult to come by, even though nothing externally was really all that different than this. That’s the thing with aliveness. We must learn how to sit with ten thousand states of being, some ecstatic and others downright sucky. Squirmy, uncomfortable, climb-out-of-your-skin, and ever so easy to want to draw your bow and aim the sharpest arrow for the person closest to you.

If you have a spouse or partner or kids, yikes. You may become convinced it’s their fault, in ways that may not make an iota of rational sense. Or you might start pummeling yourself with darts, instead, losing sight of your amazingness, convinced you’ve fucked it all up, failed at everything you’ve ever tried, and are, in three succinct little words, a lost cause.

Ouch.

It can really, really hurt, this place of scary driving conditions. Probably best not to go out. Maybe a good a time to clean the bathroom, sweep the kitchen, plow through stacks of papers where even the stink bugs found safe harbor when the cold weather came.

Meditation may tell us to sit with these difficult emotions, and the cushion is definitely one good place to practice surviving them and observing the shitstorm passing through your mind and body like a short-circuiting machine. I also believe there are many ways to meditate, and sometimes being in motion and touching the real, tangible things in my immediate sphere is incredibly grounding and can help me come back to a more forgiving heart.

This morning, I woke remembering a film reel of disturbing dreams. Mani brought coffee. I plugged in the twinkle lights. And as I began to wake up and feel my way into a new day, I realized something: I felt better. I noticed on Instagram that several friends had created “best nine” photo montages from 2017, so I decided that might be a fun exercise. As I scrolled my camera roll through hundreds of images, something beautiful occurred: I began remembering and letting myself really appreciate the fullness of the year that’s coming to its end. The sense of not-enough-ness that plagued me the past few days dissolved in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.

Concerts with Mani – Laura Marling, numerous kirtans, Ben Sollee, Iron & Wine, and Regina Spektor. An overnight to NYC with Aviva. Swimming at Puffer’s Pond with Pearl. Two writing retreats, one in Amherst and one in Wisconsin, and a summer writing group down at the Nacul Center, back when it was still light out as we wrapped up at 8:00pm, and more than a dozen online writing groups. Visits with friends, tears, outrage, words, typewriters in town, and all the ups and downs that make a life a life. Seasons changing, bodies changing, relationships changing, kids changing. Mani weaning off of hard-core pain meds, devoting every ounce of her being to recovering her health. Kind neighbors. Steep learning curves. White privilege and misogyny and heteronormative lies falling like flies. Trees and trees and trees and trees. Shabbat, week after week. COFFEE.

I’m reminded of the song from Rent: 525,600 minutes… How do you measure, measure a year?

Those lyricists nailed it.

This post goes out to all of you. You who offer me so much kindness and encouragement to keep going. You who choose to write with me. You who make me laugh. You who challenge me to shed harmful beliefs and ways of being. You who inspire me with your own perseverance and courage, though it may not feel like courage to you. You who teach me how to have and hold boundaries. You whose everyday existence testifies to the fact that the world holds so much fierce truth and beauty.

With a special dedication to Emily Dickinson, Susa Talan, and Tia Finn — who all share a birthday today, and who teach me how to pay attention and stay true. I love you. 

The Better to Write With You, My Dear

nepoThe day began with a package on the side porch from Amazon. I carried it upstairs and called to Mani to ask her if she’d ordered something for me — we have both had Hanukkah gifts for each other and the kids trickling in, so opening packages without asking is a no-no. She didn’t think so, so I went for it, slicing a knife through the tape and ripping open the cardboard.

Inside, I found two hardcovers, both by Mark Nepo. One of them, The Way Under the Way, contains three books of poems. The second is called The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart. A gift slip sat atop them, from a beloved writer, client, and friend on the west coast, thanking me “for everything.” What she doesn’t  know — or maybe she does — is that it is she who has given me everything, from livelihood to the gift of watching another person come into greater gentleness with herself and confidence with her voice, in writing and in the world.

I’m surprising Mani with a few nights away–the first, second, and third nights of Hanukkah, to be exact. The kids will be with their dad and his family in Vermont for Christmas after a big family dinner tomorrow night, and I’ve been imagining for months now taking this last week of December “off.” Not having paid vacation is one of the things that can easily cancel out the much-heralded and truly fabulous flexibility of self-employment; it’s easy to *never* take time off, since no work means no money.

I’m at a place with all of it — life, work, money, love — where to live in fear or scarcity would be like spitting in the face of all that is holy and good in this world. And since how we do one thing is how we do everything, I’m deliberately choosing to take some rest — the better to write with you, my dear, in the coming new year. 

I’ll be bringing these new books, along with the memoir I started a month ago and have been “reading” at a painstakingly slow pace. I’ll be packing a journal, and making time to find out what my heart knows. And of course, we’ll be packing the air purifier, pots and pans, coffee and French press, and all of the other home accouterments we’re accustomed to bringing with us when we hit the road these days — not yet to where we can travel all-the-way freely (i.e. eating out, etc), but so grateful that we can get out of dodge at all.

January will bring the 10th anniversary of this blog, the new book, my birthday, a brand-new Dive Into Poetry, and who knows what other surprises. As I said to Mani last night — I need more sleeves, for all the things I keep up them.

Who knows? Maybe next week will even bring some new writing. I’m not making any plans beyond having no plans. And I’m trusting that not only is some down time good for me, but that what’s good for me is good, ultimately, for business.

In the meantime, in lieu of sending every single one of you a holiday card, I’m wishing you moments of presence and beauty in these coming winter days, no matter your tradition. I refuse to succumb to despair for this world, though there’s plenty of reason for it, and will keep doing everything I can to keep it real, connect deeply, and encourage you to use your words in 2017.

The Art of Humility

Photo: Kyson Dana

Photo: Kyson Dana

There’s a humility that lives deep on the inside of confidence. Call it an acorn or a beating heart, a knowing that the hot sun will also come to its ending, that these full green leaves will soon turn to reds and yellows, and fall.

There’s a humility that lives deep on the inside of love. Call it the kind of welling up that happens when you see a child growing up right before your eyes, knowing she has her own life and that it’s the biggest privilege ever to be included.

There’s a humility that lives deep on the inside of making art and writing words. Call it a mystery, some blend of mind and matter and mysticism, intellect plus that which defies explanation or language.

There’s a humility that lives deep inside of each moment. Call it a breath. A swell. A contraction. Call it eye contact. Call it listening. Call it aliveness or awareness. Call it thank you.

The Art of Drawing a Treasure Map

Treasure-Map

Go easy on yourself tonight.

Whatever you’re feeling — feel it fully.

Whatever you’re loving, savor it.

Whatever you’re praying for, if you pray, pray hard.

In whatever ways these fit together, it’s your mosaic, no one else’s.

Think of one person in the world who has your back.
Say their name out loud. Find a way to say thank you.

Picture one person for whom you’d throw yourself on the tracks.
Let them know, in what ever way you can and want to.

Ask yourself what would have things be easy.

Decide what’s worth fighting for and fight with focus.

Gift yourself something you’ve always wanted but didn’t think you deserved. Whisper it. Buy it. Ask for it. Write it down.

Pick a confidante (this could be your cat).

Make something happen.

Let go of the thing you can’t make happen that was never yours to make in the first place.

Let go, let go, let go. Let go again.

Then hold tight to the treasures you keep on purpose.

Draw a picture of the treasures.

Draw a treasure map leading to the you you are when you no longer worry what other people think.