Building Community, Asking for Help, and Not Burning Out

Asking for help is hard. And that’s what I’m coming here to do. I’m coming to ask for your help so that I can keep building community — without burning out.

This week, I created a Patreon account. I’ve been looking at this membership platform for a while now, as a way of leveling out my monthly income and taking a baby step away from Facebook in terms of where I share my day-to-day writing. As of this moment, I have 11 patrons.

In case you’re unfamiliar — you become a “patron” by choosing a monthly tier, and each tier comes with certain benefits. These include a PDF of 18 essays, weekly prompts, access to new poems before I share elsewhere, a weekly “ask me anything” option, discounts on my writing groups, coaching sessions ranging from 30 minutes to four hours/month, and even just-for-you writers’ care packages! Needless to say, I’m super excited about it and hope you will be, too.

I have it set up right now that my first goals there are financial — and they will allow me to offer scholarships to my groups. This is a core value of mine — making my work accessible to people regardless of how much money they have.

I grew up with things like summer camps and lessons and trips. Many kids grow up not knowing if they will have three meals that day. And while my groups are not for children, they are for adult humans whose early experiences in life shaped a good deal of what we believe we can have, what is for us.

I’ve carried a belief, that because I “chose” to be self-employed, I should suck it up that I don’t have paid time off. I’m certainly not complaining.

And, the real life version is, of course, more complicated than that, more multifaceted and layered. That’s the thing about real life — it always is. It’s also what makes for a) the best stories and b) true connection, where we’re not masking what’s true or molding ourselves to what we think others want to see, hear, and believe.

Mani’s illness thrust me into this work. It was one of those crazy moments where the scariest, hardest stuff was intextricable from the most creative and courageous. I started leading online groups and retreats while working at a full-time job, then after about nine months of that, including 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave three summers ago, it became clear that going back to the office was not an option. She needed me home full-time.

Now, she’s sitting here in the living room working away on her own stuff as I work on mine, with the puppy snoring between us. Her healing journey is hers to share, so I will not write to that here.

What I can tell you is this: I love my work, and all of you, deeply. Sitting here in my living room last night with four women, each of whom wrote and shared, I felt tears in my eyes. Creating these spaces for words, stories, poetry, connection, community, courage, realness — this is why I’m here.

And, I don’t always know how to see what I need in the midst of the work, not to mention being a mom with kids at pivotal moments in their own growing.

What became very clear to me recently was that I need a little break. My vision has been to be able to step away from Facebook in August, for most if not all of the month. To continue my in-person groups and coaching, to anticipate a fall full of online groups and new ideas, but to be able to take some time away, too, from social media.

I see Patreon as a way both of creating a sustainable Community Writers’ Fund, and also as an eventual way to open up more possibility for me to focus on my own writing. I do not have a room of my own; I literally write anywhere and everywhere, throughout the day — the kitchen, the living room, the car. I have dreams of working on new books. I hear the voices in my head that say: Well, that’s nice, you privileged white lady. How about dreams of fair immigration practices? How about dreams of restorative justice for communities of color?

And I know — these are not mutually exclusive. To care deeply about justice doesn’t mean denying my own creativity and humanity. My deepest hope is that the two are connected, all the way at the roots. Also, I know an inner critic when I hear one.

I share all of us with so much gratitude. It is because of you that this work has become a thing. It is because of you I’ve kept going and not, in my frequent moments of fear and doubt, thrown in the towel and dusted off my resume. It is because of your encouragement that I feel safe to share all of this with you.

Asking for help is hard.

I learned that when Mani was sick.

It’s also one of the realest things there is.

So, I’m asking.

Will you help me take a break this August?

My intention is to come back strong in September, to start again, and most important, to keep going. With all of it. Because that’s what we do. We keep starting, again and again, we keep going. And we also acknowledge that we are not machines, but humans.

Join me on Patreon, at whatever monthly tier feels good to you: www.patreon.com/jenaschwartz.

And/or: Send a one-time donation, simply because you appreciate what I share here and this is a tangible way to help one self-employed mama not burn out: www.paypal.me/jenaschwartz.

For reading this far, for being on the other side of the words, for making it safe to be this honest and vulnerable, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The Often Overlooked Heart


I’ve been sitting here most of the morning. Sweat pouring out of my every pore. I am putting an a/c unit in my living room this afternoon, with the help of a local carpenter. She should be arriving shortly. I have misgivings about adding to the energy use that only jacks up the temperatures further, and I also have to be able to work. Mani’s mast cells are kicked up in this heat, and Chalupa is doing her best to stay comfortable with the tiny cooling area of her bulldog head. The heat is intense, all-consuming. It’s a shock to walk into an air-conditioned room or building, to remember that there are spaces we can go.

Not everyone can get to those cool spaces. I worry about those who are homeless, elderly, or cannot afford air-conditioners.

I tidied up a bit this  morning. Refilled the bird-feeders, emptied the big bag of dog food into the container in the pantry. Swept up bits of garlic peel from the kitchen floor. I only want to eat peaches and cucumbers and drink iced coffee. I promised Aviva we could go to a body of water this afternoon. I feel slow, sweaty, uninspired.

Every time I see a photo from someone on vacation, I have a pang of envy. It’s not pretty to write this. I resist the urge to delete, curate, self-censor.

I’ve written about envy before, and how it is a form of self-abandonment. And even just writing that sentence reminds me that rather than hanging out there, what I really need and want is to ask my heart what it needs and wants. Envy is a kind of compass, after all.

* * *

I had a powerful experience last Sunday morning.

A writing coaching client who has also become a friend — I’ll call her S. — offered me some time on the phone. It wasn’t a formal call of any sort, though it did become an unexpected two hours of being gently held and deeply heard. I spent much of our time sitting on the root of the red maple tree in our little front yard. Noticing the subtlety everywhere, of life, of light, of shadow. A bird — though I’m not sure what kind — sang joyfully and loudly from one of the nearby tall pines.

It was when I admitted that I felt uncomfortable accepting this gift of time, meaning without offering payment, that the tears first came. I realize how it is still hard for me to truly receive. To truly let down and spend time with my heart. Once those first tears came, it was as if the gates had been unlocked. I didn’t sob, but I did cry on and off for the rest of our time together, along with moments of laughter, insight, and silence.

For most of my life, I’ve had episodes of the kind of crying that has felt unbearable. This felt less storm-like and more cleansing, like the tears were gently washing over the grime of my often-overlooked heart, making it known to me again.

What I saw? Red, pulsing, tender muscle mass. It was visceral and vivid, not the figurative heart but the real deal, fist-size, pumping away.

I also saw something I can best describe as straps pressing into this heart of mine. The kind of straps that a big heavy box might have wrapped around it, designed to protect it from opening when it’s not supposed to. I saw these straps pulled too tightly, leaving deep cuts against the fragile tissue. With each deep breath inward and the on-and-off gentle bouts of release, I felt the straps loosen.

One thing was clear to me: The heart cannot heal when we never loosen those straps, those ties, the protective measures that keep us bound. And yet, it is not always simple. I feel like I’m someone who is fairly connected to my heart. There are so many layers, and this innermost space goes largely covered much of the time when I am busy doing life.

* * *

I’ve been aware for a while now that I need some kind of break, but it has remained undefined. But oh, wow. The noise around this in my head is so loud. At one point, I told S. the word “failure” popped into my head. Failure!

Also: The need to justify needing a break. Also: Fear. So much fear arising at the prospect of taking a break. Money is the presenting thing — and a very real thing to address since I’m my family’s sole provider — but beneath that, deeper fears that all source back to questions of being, doing, and remaining enough.

The world of online writing groups is so saturated, and I do not thrive when I’m worrying about keeping up or standing out. In fact, you could just shorten that sentence to: I don’t thrive when I’m worrying. Period. I most certainly am not of service to my community when I’m tired or tapped out — and there’s such a deep fear in sharing that, saying it, as if it is a kind of confession.

Really, the only confession here will not come as news to you: I am human!

I never expect anyone in my groups to be anything other than human. In fact, I’ve built this work of fierce encouragement for writing and life around just this: Recognizing the stories and voices that berate us, tell us we’re not enough, and insist that whatever we are doing, writing, or creating needs to be bigger, better, or different.

Culturally, these messages are ruthless and unyielding. Internally, no matter their original sources, they take on a life of their own, ever pulling the straps tighter around the heart. Strangling the heart. The often-overlooked heart that is the holder of the wisdom we need and the stories that are ours alone to live, much less write.

To get quiet enough to listen, to really spend time with this tender, innermost heart, feels scary. It’s not a thing we can measure. There’s no product at the end. You can’t charge money for it.

And at the same time, as I write these sentences and tune into my own knowing, something else arises: Gratitude. I feel grateful that the heart is immeasurable and unquantifiable. It is untouchable by commerce and capitalism and the tyranny of proving our worth.

I hear the voice so quick to jump in: But you have to pay your rent. You have to work. You have to make a living. You have to, you have to, you have to. 

Whose voice this is doesn’t matter. What matters is that I hear it and redirect my attention to the soft, fleshy insides of myself. The longing that I know belongs to my soul.

* * *

My soul has always wanted my attention. And truth be told, it has never led me astray. Trusting that call is always scary, though, because it means moving away from auto-pilot, hushing prescriptive or punishing voices, and trusting deeply. In the more distant past, I would have said trusting the Universe. Now, I am not shy to say trusting God. And trusting myself.

I hear another voice now, my Grammy’s. God is love, she would say in a sing-song voice. God is love.

To trust God is to trust myself is to trust love.

* * *

I have not yet determined what form this “break” will take. My dream is to go offline for most if not all of August. To remember who I am and how my heart feels, away from the demands of work and social media. To really soak in the fullness of these past three years — which is how long it has been since I left my full-time job in order to care for Mani through her illness and recovery.

Questions arise once again. Will what I’ve built here withstand my absence for a month? Will everyone who participates in my groups and works with me privately still be there when I return, or does the world move so fast that we forget each other that quickly and move on? I do not want to live my life and do my work by clinging out of fear, but by letting go, again and again, of the trapeze bars, knowing that I always land, even if I don’t land where I expected. How will we pay the bills if I take some off beyond just a day or two?

I don’t have answers today, and for today, I am not going to try to figure anything out. It feels good, just to come here. To write what’s really on and in my heart in the moment, to make that tender place a little bit known to you, and to name the trust I need to lean into now. To feel it as solid and real as the true root beneath my body, holding me up.

I will admit that I have a fantasy of being supported in this time.

While it’s easy to scoff at or right off, it occurs to me that there is no harm in allowing that, too, to be named and known. It’s not up to me to know what forms that support might take. But in the spirit of learning how to ask for and receive, in the spirit of truth-telling and transparency and real life, I’m going to leave it here.

* * *

It’s funny — that impulse to thank you for reading is there, as if perhaps I owe you something for the time you’ve taken to be on the other side of these words. And so it seems fitting to close with these words from Hiro Boga:

You don’t owe anyone anything. Whatever you give to anyone, whatever you do for them, you do out of love and generosity, not because you’re obliged to. Manipulation through invalidation and guilt is an old, old game. You don’t have to play. You can simply acknowledge the energy for what it is, and refuse the Trojan horse gifts of blame and shame so they remain with the giver.

You have both the right and the responsibility for your own life, for the fulfillment of your own soul’s purposes, which are always about experiencing and expressing qualities of soul. The more clearly you choose your true desires — which are the voice of your soul — and act to fulfill them, the more your life will be filled with joy, peace, creativity, power, abundance and delight, among so many other soul qualities.

By refusing to surrender your own well-being to the demands of others, you give them the gift of clear boundaries and a powerfully sovereign self. Our kids learn how to be themselves by the example we set for them. By being yourself, choosing yourself, choosing your sovereignty, you shine a light that illuminates your path and theirs. You give them incomparable gifts — the freedom to be themselves, to choose their own joy, to learn from their explorations and to grow in creative sovereignty.

When Denial Is No Longer an Option

1. In the beginning.

Innocent. Exciting. Naive. Pulsing with possibility. In the beginning, the promise and potential, the envisioning, as if it were up to us how things would unfold. In the beginning, sheer determination, make it happen, new and novel. in the beginning, hope.

In the beginning, disbelief. This can’t be happening. What’s happening? In the beginning, confusion, chaos, upended, uncertain. In the beginning, a hint of the ending, a knowing. In the beginning, denial, burial, eyes forward. In the beginning, if we talk enough it won’t be happening.

In the beginning, sincerity. So earnest. In the beginning, youth that doesn’t know it’s young. In the beginning, leaning hard on old models and seeking out new ones, wide-eyed if not quite bushy-tailed. In the beginning, follow the rules, do the things, sleep without cold sweats or questions. Sweep away the questions.

In the beginning, discomfort tendriled around intrigue. No name for it yet. A woman in a room. A leather cuff. A nuthatch in a pine tree. In the beginning, distance. Othering. I’m not like you. In the beginning, something else was unraveling. The ability to contain myself any longer.

In the beginning, everyone had my all. In the beginning, there was no stopping me. In the beginning, angels braided little flowers into my hair. In the beginning, I finally knew I was here.

2. I finally knew I was here.

It was a homecoming, the kind of religious experience you hear about but don’t often, or ever, experience firsthand. Finally knowing I was here felt like birth and death in the same moment, a shattering of self that was at once devastating and liberating. If I told you it was pouring rain, and there was thunder and lightning all around, you’d think I was being dramatic. But it’s true.

What’s also true is that life sometimes tears us wide open. And this is not pretty but painful, the kind of pain you don’t know if you’ll be able to endure. I didn’t know. I was crazy with energy, as if someone had plugged me into a light socket. That electrified, that bright, and that dangerous.

This morning — nearly eight years later — my child was looking at pictures from his early childhood. A few years before the moment I’m describing, we were, by all appearances and even our own accounts, a happy family of four. That was before, before, before.

But the truth is, even the before is a kind of middle, because nothing happens overnight, not even the things that seem sudden and shocking that change everything instantaneously. Like anything that grows or dies, there is a process made up of an uncountable number of micro-moments. The truth is, I was listening for this. I listened for it my whole life.

Sometimes the listening made me feel lost, disconnected, frightened, and depressed. Other times, it was like a call at a frequency I couldn’t yet decipher. One thing is for sure: It kept getting louder.

3. It kept getting louder.

I look back now, on things I wrote during the years leading up to that week, that day, night, that instant, and it’s so clear. I was digging for the landmine.

I was sitting.
I was running.
I was making dinner and doing bath time with kids.
I was making lunches.
I was doing dishes.
I was coaching clients.
I was writing blog posts.
I was mapping out the book I couldn’t quite write.

The book was my life. The book was me.

The book was my sexuality and my being burning an exit route through the middle of my body.

My fear was so big. My fear of losing what we had. I held on for dear life. So dramatic. I also loved. Blah blah blah blah.

OK, so what really? What kept getting louder? Not a sound, so much as a knowing. A knowing that had lived in a bubble way off to the right or left of my consciousness, above and over a bit — if you were here I would show you.

The container thinning over time like a cervix until there was no choice — the truth would not leak like amniotic fluid; it would burst forth, like labor that comes on hard and fast and shakes the foundations of your house of cards.

And then I was there, holding my newborn self, weeping for what could no longer be, and observing the rubble.

God has a way. God has a way of insisting. You can fight it but in the end, not really. And also, fighting it will leave you exhausted, injured, soul-sick.

Mary Oliver knew, when she wrote: “Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”

I gulped the night air, texting frantically. “What do we do now?” She asked. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” I replied. But I knew. I was just terrified to say it out loud.

4. I was terrified to say it out loud.

It had been one thing to tell her how I felt, another to tell my husband, “I am gay,” and ultimately, the hardest thing I’d ever faced for us to make the decision to separate. Finally, though, after a summer of tension, lies and truths and tears and hours of talking and impossible distance, it was clear. I was already gone. Staying together was not an option. Once I came out, there was no putting me back in.

I’ve written this story so many times in different ways. Sometimes I think, why am I still writing it? It was so seminal. The fault line between one life and another. And like a gaping wound, fault lines close and heal but they leave scars and memories.

Will I close the door once and for all and forever on those days, or will I keep writing these snippets behind closed doors, even as I look out at the life I have now — my beloved napping in the bedroom, my brand new puppy snoring in the kitchen, my daughter who turns 16 this year sitting here in the living room with me, my son entering middle school next year.

These kids were four and seven then, when we said the thing to them out loud that changed their worlds irrevocably: “We’re no longer going to live together.”

I know more than half of American children grow up with divorced parents. It’s not that unusual. But I was raised to think divorce was one of the Most Terrible Things Ever. (Along with debt. God forbid.)

In this moment, my house is peaceful. I am learning, layer after layer, to let my insides be peaceful, too. The kids are alright.

5. The kids are alright.

In this moment, my house is peaceful. I am learning, layer after layer, to let my insides be peaceful, too.

In the end, that’s so much of what this life is. Returning, again and again, to what it feels like to be fully myself. It’s so easy to drift, to forget, to get hyper-focused on that which causes anxiety or simply on the revolving needs of keeping a household humming.

In the end, it’s a quality of being honest that is liberating. For so long, I wasn’t fully honest. I lied outright about some things, like smoking, and in a more subconscious way about deeper things, things that I didn’t have names for, things that were so big I was afraid to expose them.

In the end, coming out was freeing, but it wasn’t the end. It was really the beginning of a whole new book, so many chapters of learning and unlearning how to be myself without slipping back into the shadows. I slip up — I remind myself everyone slips up and that I am not exempt from this being human thing. But I come back. I come back to the courage to sit down and say: I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m tired. I’m not sure. I’m sorry.

In the end, there is this: Sitting here in the living room with the windows open, glancing up every minute or two at the newly budding trees along the side of the driveway. The smell of summer rain and a wind picking up in the pines. A family changing and growing, and not in the ways we tried to cling to when the old family came apart.

I had tried to keep it together even after the ending, and what I’ve learned is that sometimes, you have to let a thing go all the way. Not just partway, just newly configured, but just… done. This has been hard for me, a keeper, a holder-on. But it also delivered me here. And here is beautiful. Here is real. Nothing buried, nothing burning a hole in me.­­

I am so grateful.

I’d Rather Be Real Than Popular

Photo: Jonatán Becerra

Do you ever feel like you should only share your writing when it’s happy, or when you’ve pored over it a thousand times? Do you ever only sit down to write when your sad? How do different moods affect your writing?

Tonight, I am just super down.

I know this is way amplified by PMS, and yes, I tend to come to this space every few months it seems around this time of the month. Is that wallowing? Whatever. Here I am. I ate half a pint of ice cream and it was so good. I read several articles about Trayvon Martin, who should have turned 23 a few weeks ago but didn’t because he was killed by a man who lives a free life today.

I have plenty of irrational fears. My fears have nothing to do with going out at night and wearing a hoodie, and this is important to note.

My fears are that if I have moods, if I’m not shiny and inspirational all of the time, people will not want to be around me. And if people don’t want to be around me, nobody will want to join my writing groups or work with me and I will stop making a living and we will be in deep doo-doo.

Really, my mind goes there in 2.2 seconds.

I told a very close friend over coffee last Friday morning about this, this persistent fear. I mean, it’s not a bad thing to be mindful of sustaining one’s income and providing for one’s family — ok, my income, my family — but that is a very different thing from fear.

This friend, I should mention, is a Buddhist. The real deal. And you know what she said? That it’s my resistance to the fear that is problematic, not the fear itself. So she suggested not resisting it.

I’m taking this to heart. And tonight, I’m doing the same with my heavy mood.

Honestly, if your mood was never heavy these days, I’d question what kind of person you are. On the other hand, too much empathy can be paralyzing. I think the thing might be to do what my friend advised, and not resist any of it. Hello, sadness. Hello, irritation. Hello, fear. Hello, hello. Come in. You can’t sleep in my bed with me and no way do you get to share my ice cream, but come and we can sit together for just a little while.

What do you have to tell me? I’m listening.

Oh, I see. It starts with that deep breath. And just feeling feelings. Feeling the weight of the body here on the couch. Closing my eyes for a moment.

The moment I feel the feelings, this thing happens: I remember that while there is so much that needs my attention, there is, in this moment, no action to take. The urgency to fix things can get in the way of remembering who I am. Same goes for doing, doing, doing. Doing that is sourced in lack or fear is like pouring water into a ditch; the soil just soaks it up until there’s nothing but a muddy mess.

But doing that is intentional — that’s more like pouring water into a potted plant, thoughtfully, lovingly, and paying attention to the moment when it begins to drain from the bottom. The plant does not need an endless amount of water all at once. it needs just the right amount, every few days or so. Love doesn’t mean constant, hyper-focused attention. That sounds smothering.

No, love means saying come in. You don’t get to have so much power here, so instead of yelling at me from the driveway and tossing rocks at my window, I am calling you up, pouring you a cup of tea, and giving you a bit of my undivided attention.

So what are you scared of, love? What are you sad about? Why the tears springing up? Tell me everything. Or just sip your tea. We don’t even have to talk.

If you only write when you’re happy and shiny, I’m not sure I’ll trust you. Write whenever you feel like writing. Don’t worry about who’s reading. Don’t worry about how it sounds or whether it’s any good.

Remember who you are. A person who writes to connect with yourself. A person who writes to make sense of emotions and moods and experiences and highs and lows. A person who would rather be real than popular.

And Jena? Remember what this space is for: Showing up. Practicing. And beginning again and again and again.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.”~ Paulo Coelho

I’ve noticed something. The more time I spend online, the less I remember what it fully feels like to be me. And when I do have a spell of time away from the computer and less plugged into the apps on my phone, something shifts internally. It’s a shift you can’t really put into words, kind of the way someone could explain swimming to you but until that moment where it’s your body moving through water, it will only be a concept, divorced from experience.

I’ve noticed something else. I have created a monumental story in my head about the time I spend online. The biggest, most dire of the plot lines is this: If I spend less time online, I won’t earn a living.

Let me explain.

I led my first online writing group in December, 2014. Not three months after marrying my beautiful wife, her health had begun to unravel, slowly and mysteriously at first, and then rapidly and at such a precipitous pitch that it felt like we were sliding right out of our lives, the lives we had really just begun together. Nothing was what we’d expected. I had a full-time job at a local college, but with Mani’s ability to work quickly eroding, my income became barely sufficient to carry the four of us. Winter solstice was approaching; it was dark when I left for work in the morning and dark when I got home. I was lonely and scared. She was playing private investigator to her own deterioration, eventually self-diagnosing (accurately).

It was in this context that I wrote my very first 10 prompts and opened the doors to a secret Facebook group for 12 people. Some I knew already, others had found me through mutual friends or old-fashioned serendipity. What happened during those two weeks I could never had predicted. We wrote like crazy. For 10 minutes a day, we put pens to paper or let fingers fly over keys. It was terrifying and exhilarating and liberating to just write after a long dry spell without words, without expectation, without judgment (from others, at least). In the safety of this container, stories poured out.

The resulting writing was funny, heartbreaking, surprising, wise, ridiculous, wry, and real. The writing was not a means to an end. It was simply itself. Nobody had to perform or compare or compete for airtime or worry about who was better (though oh, how we do).

It was, in a word, magic.

So I did it again. Another 10 prompts, another two weeks, another 12 folks — many returning, many new. And again. And again! It was thrilling. I had no idea what I was “doing.” All I knew was that I loved it, it came naturally to me, it felt effortless and like the thing that threaded together the strands I’d been trying to combine for decades: Writing, connecting, coaching, creating, and community building.

By May, I was leading two groups at a time. By May, I was squirreling away money in a PayPal account. By May, I was planning my first in-person retreat for June.

And by May, we were reaching a crisis point.

She was living on water and white rice. She could no longer tolerate any other foods. And she had developed neuropathy in her feet and lower legs so severe that she barely slept, cried in pain at a feather touch, and listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn meditations on chronic pain literally on loop. We had been to a dozen specialists, and not even her immunologist who was familiar with her rare disease — Mast Cell Activation Disorder — knew what was happening. We wound up at the ER several times, but she didn’t go on pain medication since we didn’t know if she’d react to it.

I went on unpaid medical leave from my job as it became clear that I needed to be home full-time. Mani could barely stand to walk to the bathroom, much less cook or drive or do anything for herself.

By the time I led my first Unfurl retreat, the people in my writing groups had become not only a creative community but a support network that seemed to appear as if on some kind of crazy cosmic schedule. We fell into each other in the best sense, spending a weekend freewriting and sharing, alternating between cathartic laughter and cathartic tears, and consuming copious amounts of chocolate. Within days after that, Mani and I were checking into the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. I extended my medical leave from six to 12 weeks. Friends — many of whom I’d only met in the previous months through my writing groups — donated money and meals alike. The generosity was breathtaking.

This was never about building a business for me. This was about survival. This was about need. This was about love and devotion and fear and not knowing what to do but doing it anyway because what is the alternative? This was not about “being brave” or “taking a leap of faith” or 10 steps to following your dreams or how to quit your day job in six months flat. This was about learning to ask for help and just taking the fucking donuts.

It was all and none of those things. It was real life unfolding in ways that threw both of us into roles we never imagined and frankly, didn’t favor. Contrary to what many might assume, being nurturing — as opposed to being nurtured — triggered all kinds of stuff for me that I had no choice but to confront. And for her, being so dependent was about as identity-stripping as things could get. We were both in limbo, holding on to each other for dear life and determined to get through.

My leave from work came to a close and I gave my official notice. Going back was not an option; Mani was taking heavy-duty pain medication and her climb back to health would be steady, but long and slow and steep.

Two years later, here we are. The wheelchair she needed at one point to even leave the house for a short trip to Target sits getting dusty in the garage. She is up to nearly 30 foods and beverages and adding more every week. We just got back from a long weekend, where I co-taught a writing + art workshop Saturday morning. We go to Kirtan on Tuesday nights and read books together and say “I love you.” A lot.

My writing groups continue to fill up and have evolved into a variety of offerings, from quarterly intensives to poetry workshops. I have coaching clients again for the first time since I closed the doors on that work seven years ago, and I love my clients so much I can’t stand it. I pinch myself every day. I keep experimenting and growing. Some things fly and others flop.

And. I worry.

Maybe this just comes with the territory. In many ways, we take ourselves with us (as Kabat-Zinn writes, “Wherever you go, there you are”). I worried about money when I had a full-time job with a predictable monthly paycheck. Now I worry other things:

What if this is the month when everything just… ends? What if this is the month when everything just… ends? (This one is on repeat.)
Then we will figure it out, Mani reminds me.

What if people decide they are bored with me?
This is not about me entertaining people or being liked, I remind myself.

This is about genuine connection, safe space, and room to enter or re-enter writing practice and a creative process — something I know many of us don’t make time for. Or if we do, it’s under such relentless and vicious attack by self-criticism and perfectionism that we’re lucky to write three sentences before we erase or edit the life out of the rest.

In other words, it’s out of my hands.

Facebook can be such a mindfuck, like a hall of mirrors that meets a high-school reunion. It can also be a miracle. I love it. And I feel beholden to it. I’m trying to find my way with this and for the first time — maybe this is a gesture of trust — I am writing about it. After all, writing is how I find my way. It always has been and now is no different.

There is a proliferation of writing groups out there. I cannot and will not get sucked under a dark current of competition. I don’t want to and it feels awful and I’d sooner throw in the towel altogether. But that doesn’t mean I’m not susceptible to it, especially on days of self-doubt.

At the end of my groups, after a few days to collect our words, the space goes *poof*. I’ve done it this way from the very beginning. It was an intuitive decision that has continued to feel right; the energy of the words and connections like soap from inside a bubble, like sand from a mandala, go out into the world, though their forms will never again be the same. Impermanence is not an accident; it is a fundamental component of practice.

Impermanence is all we have for sure. In this work, in this life, in our writing, in our relationships, in our health, in our friendships, in our communities. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real, lasting things. In fact, I think it’s the opposite: Impermanence deepens my awareness and appreciation of just how precious these are. It has also helped me through some of the hardest and darkest times in my life.

I love what I do for work. I love that I have learned that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined. And every time I can catch myself in the worry, I take a breath, acknowledge it, and say a thousand thank yous. In this moment, we are ok. In this moment, my wife is next to me adding more books to her library holds. In this moment, the right people will find me and choose to write and practice with me. In this moment, I get to be here. If we could get through the past few years intact, we can get through anything.

I want my work to continue to grow in ways I can’t necessarily yet envision fully. All I know for sure is that I want to keep connecting with people in ways that are real and deep, in ways that heal and don’t harm, in ways that foster community rather than divisiveness.

As I come to a slowing-down point for an outpouring of words I didn’t see coming this evening, I realize that this isn’t really about how much time I spend online. It’s about integrity and authenticity and continuing to live and work in ways that feel deeply real and genuine.  These happen both online and off; it’s the intention that matters.

Lately one of the things that is calling my soul is the desire for more unplugged, unstructured time. That’s why my next group is not a writing group per se, but a group where each day for two weeks, we’ll practice different ways of not doing. We start a week from today.

If spending a minimum of 15 minutes a day doing things like sitting on a bench, lying on the floor, listening to music, and eating mindfully make something in your soul stir a little, please join me. Our secret group will be a place to share our discoveries, experiences, surprises, and struggles.

Feast On Your Life
June 5-16 :: Register Now

We are all in this alone, but I am so, so thankful that we also get to be in it together.

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Other Upcoming Groups

Dive Into Poetry
July 1-30 :: Register

Jewels on the Crown (Summer Session)
July 3-September 22 :: Register

The Unspeakables
July 10-21 :: Register