Not for the Faint of Heart

exlq3elikm8-annie-sprattDo you ever use the expression “not for the faint of heart”?

Love’s not for the faint of heart. Writing’s not for the faint of heart. Politics aren’t for the faint of heart. Self-employment? Definitely not for the faint of heart. Raising kids? You guessed it. Marriage isn’t for the faint of heart. Revolution is most certainly not for the faint of heart. Anything requiring discipline, from training for a marathon to working on a manuscript? Not for the faint of heart. Working more than one job? You’re getting the idea.

In other words, Reality is not for the faint of heart. Life is not for the faint of heart.

To leave it at that, though, strikes me as woefully insufficient.

What the hell is for the faint of heart, then? Anything and everything? That doesn’t ring true, either. Too simplistic, too broad of a stroke.

“Not for the faint of heart” carries a vague implication that whatever the thing is, it’s a choice. Something you might want to think twice or five times about before getting yourself in too deep, or into at all.

This is premised on a degree of privilege that is simply not shared by all people. Living paycheck to paycheck is not for the faint of heart, nor do I know many people who “choose” this, as if it’s a lifestyle. Poverty is not for the faint of heart, but it’s also not exactly something anyone signs up for.

Being transgender is not for the faint of heart. Same could be said of being a person of color. These are not choices a person makes, though they may in fact determine a great deal about how an individual is perceived, judged, and treated.

Do circumstances, character, or a combination thereof determine whether a person is “faint of heart”? And what is its opposite? “Courageous” of heart?

Consider this: The notion of “courage” means very different things to different people.

If you are perceived as “marginal” when seen through the lenses of dominant cultural norms (read: white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle class), being “courageous” might look like doing your day — going to work, sending your kids to school on the bus, picking up some groceries, walking the dog in the park.

These everyday and seemingly mundane and “safe” activities become something that is — wait for it — not for the faint of heart. Getting up in the morning, putting on a brave face for small people or a poker face for a harsh world — every single day is a series of moments that are implicitly not for the faint of heart.

Acknowledging this places things like the choice to be self-employed, or the inevitable ups and downs of intimacy in a culturally sanctioned relationship, for example, in a different light. It’s not that the challenges of these aren’t valid. It’s just that I’m becoming more aware of how language reflects privilege or lack thereof — be it based on race, sexual orientation, gender expression, class, ability, or one of the countless ways in which these intersect and to a large degree determine how the world sees and treats us.

It’s true for me, that not having a steady paycheck is not for the faint of heart. It requires tremendous reserves (which sometimes I have to dig deep to tap) of trust. But I also live with an incredibly privileged assumption, which is that I *could* start looking for and applying for jobs. There’s no guarantee whatsoever I’d land a good one that could support my family, but I have the education, resume, and references that no matter how you cut it reflect a great deal of privilege.

Putting myself out there — on a blog, on Facebook, as a writer, as a coach, as a group leader — these are not for the faint of heart. I regularly find myself “outside of my comfort zone,” and at this point it’s a combination of choice and necessity that I keep on.

The stakes are plenty high on the one hand (groceries, yo). On the other hand, we are not digging for pennies in between couch cushions (though Mani has lived this), nor are we one month away from eviction if things get slow; we’d have two at least, and the truth is I have good credit and that’s also a privilege.

More things that aren’t for the faint of heart: Honesty about privilege. Writing what’s real instead of worrying about what’s “trending” (ugh) is not for the faint of heart. Asking for help, receiving, paying attention to what you truly want and need. In pointing out these areas of privilege, my intention is not to shame (myself or others) but to NAME things that are true.

I was born into an upwardly mobile, white, Jewish, artistic, academic family. That was not a choice. But what I DO with this privilege, how it shapes my actions and values, work, parenting, and writing — this is a choice. We do not need more white guilt or fragility or hand-wringing, but responsibility. And guess what? (I bet you guessed it already.) Taking responsibility is NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

By writing and sharing the way I do, I am putting my heart in your hands. Not literally, of course, but that is how it feels some days, to show up and figure out how to convey in language these things that I think about. My hope is that this is not so much naval-gazing but something of use, something that might get you seeing your own places of not being faint of heart, in new ways.

Last night, lying in bed watching “Luke Cage,” I mentioned to Mani that this idea of “not for the faint of heart” was on my mind. “Isn’t everyone ‘not faint of heart’?” I asked her, thinking of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” She responded without a blink: “I think plenty of people are faint of heart.”

What immediately came to mind were images of everyday German citizens who became an army of people “just following orders.” To me, that is the full expression of being faint of heart: Being unwilling or afraid to speak up in the face of injustice, ineptitude, and horrifying denigration of human rights.

In riffing on President-Elect Trump’s choices so far for his highest-ranking cabinet members, Trevor Noah on The Daily Show said: “It’s almost like before Trump hires anyone, he googles ‘opposite of’ and then just gets that person,” Noah suggested. This kind of “comedy” is not for the faint of heart.

My respect for anyone and everyone who continues to speak up, fight, write, joke, petition, organize, create, and teach in ways that refuse to be silenced by the incoming administration grows by the minute. Today, tomorrow, next week — again, Noah said it best: ““What makes it worse than a roller coaster is that this ride is going to be four years long. And the scariest thing is, we’re still just waiting in the line. The ride hasn’t even started yet!”

Truth.

This is not the time to be faint of heart. Get strong, people. In whatever ways you can. If you, like me, come from a place of relative privilege, this is going to mean being uncomfortable, doing it anyway, and remembering that it’s not about you. It’s about doing the right thing, and the next right thing, and when you’re not sure what that is, not being faint of heart but instead asking people who do know. It’s about taking rest, yes, when you need to, but also recognizing that there’s a difference between self-care and self-check-out.

These times, this world, oh. It really isn’t for the faint of heart. I want with everything I am to believe that we’re in it together — and also see all the ways in which this is so clearly not true and never has been. The least we, I, can do, is to stand on the right side of history as it continues to unfold, so that one day, God willing, when my kids’ kids ask me what I did to stop this inexorable tide towards world destruction, I will be able to say I tried.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

To the Lighthouse

lighthouse
It started with Airbnb. We looked in Maine, in New Hampshire, in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island. We looked in Brooklyn and Manhattan and Boston. We ooohed and aaahed over gorgeous whole houses we can’t afford, and read for fine print about pets and shared spaces. Finally, we found the one: A simple little house near a cove, in a fishing village known for its art and quarries and creativity and kindness and lighthouses. Three nights away, next week, just me and my love.

Big deal, you say? Why yes, it is a big deal. Six months ago, our Valentine’s Day getaway to The Porches Inn in Williamstown, MA left us positively giddy. We had such a wonderful time at Mass MoCA the next day, and felt like a million dollars having gotten out of dodge for the first time in almost 18 months, not counting hospital visits like this one. At the time, Mani was able to bring Ensure with us, so we didn’t have to worry about what she would eat.

You know how some foods, or even songs or shows or books, will forever remind you of being sick? Whether you had a flu or a serious or chronic illness, you might never want to see another bowl of red jello or rice cereal again. Well, that’s how Ensure is for Mani, I think; it saved her life and we are forever grateful for its calories and nourishment. But a few months ago, she started reacting to it, and now it’s off the table.

As we’re able to start getting out more, little by little — the kind of little by little that in a moment will become all of a sudden, a pattern so many things in life follow — the food thing is a bit tricky right now. But is that going to stop us? Give me a hell, no. We just can’t do hotels for the time being, or day trips. What we can do is rent a place with a kitchen, bring our pots and pans and coffeemaker and air purifier, find a grocery store when we get there, and set up shop. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do next Monday night until Thursday.

We looked at the calendar a few days ago and realized that next week is the ONLY week in the coming months when I will not have multiple writing groups going on. So many exciting things are coming up — both my own groups, two of which begin in August and a third in September (One Story: Ten FacetsWorrier to Warrior, and On the Corner: Writing at the Intersections), and the fantastic two-week writing groups I’ll be co-creating and co-facilitating each month this fall with my wonderful partner over at The Inky Path.

So I had a come-to-Jesus moment (are Jews allowed to have those?) when I realized that if I’m going to keep loving this work, and I really, really want to keep loving it — I need a break. Not a 24-hour break like Shabbat, but something away from home, with just myself and my wife and maybe a book or three. I almost never unplug, and my nervous system is feeling the effects of this. The whole “Physician, heal thyself” adage is so, so true; if I don’t cherish, protect, and nurture my own creativity, how on earth can I support others on their writing journeys?

I’ve been a bit jumpy lately, enough so that I’ve actually started writing about it in my head. Flashes of moments when I was nervous or anxious or scared from many different ages and stages of life, illuminated as if by heat lightning in a summer storm and just as quickly dark again. It’s as if my body is remembering something, or perhaps sending me a message: It doesn’t have to be this way. You are safe. Everything really is ok and will continue to be ok. You swam through scary moments and made it across. There’s enough money to pay the bills, so much love I have a surplus, and I can run and sing and swim and make love and form complete sentences and eat stale cheerios as a late-night snack and life is good. It is.

And.

There is more: I am risking burnout.

There’s a bit of pride swallowing in sharing this, but that’s exactly why I am writing it here (this I realize literally as I type the words). Or if not pride, fear perhaps — if I am not superwoman, will people still want to be in my writing groups? If I am not the energizer bunny, will people still want me to be their coach?

Oh, Jena. Really?

I know the answer, I do. But it’s still vulnerable, as if I’m “admitting” something by saying I am depleted at all. It’s like I’m afraid people — you — will somehow take it personally. Again, though, I write the words down and they stare back at me with a different message, and suddenly something like a cackle kicks up. It starts low then becomes howling laughter: You think it will matter if you disappear from Facebook and the internets for a few days? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

OK, OK. I get it. I get it! It’s completely ridiculous. Nobody thinks I’m superwoman! I’m the only one carrying that shit around, and newsflash: it’s bunk.

Tomorrow, four women will show up in Amherst to Unfurl for the weekend. Pearl went around with me doing some last-minute errands. A mason jar with newly sharpened colored pencils sits on the windowsill; a giant bag of M&Ms and a stack of inspiring writing books wait by the door. I will show up tomorrow as my whole self, my real self, my honest self. Not with a fake smile, not with a false front, and not with a sugarcoated story. I will write alongside the others as the timer counts down, about what we want, about trust and deep inner wisdom. I will eat heartily and laugh and oh! I just remembered I forgot to buy tissues. Note to self: Buy tissues.

And then on Monday, Mani and I will pack our bags and drive east to the ocean, to fill our noses with salt air. I’ve forgotten a bit what it’s like, to just be me — without kids, without interacting, without engaging with the world through screens big and small.

Nothing will fall apart if I do this; in fact, things may come together in beautiful, unanticipated ways. So I am going to go away with my love, to take pictures of lighthouses — and to remember that my own light will be brighter for the “going dark.”

The Roar Sessions: Candace J. Taylor

On “Being Nice”
by Candace J. Taylor

Candace J. Taylorthere is a real part of me
that isn’t “nice”
that part of me,
she lives in the shadows
choking
drowning in a pool of
unshed tears
frustrated and
                FED UP
of hiding
and being misunderstood…

 

The other day I was home, washing the dishes while listening to my son play in the background.  All of a sudden he joyfully yells, “I love destruction!”

My immediate instinct was intrigue, curiosity.  But some voice swooped in and erected a wall blocking that curiosity with bricks and mortar of “should” and “should nots.”

“Destruction?!”
“That’s bad.”
“You should tell him to think about peace, not destruction.”

Why?

Why “should” I tell my son to not think about destruction and instead he “should” focus on peace?

Destructions is inevitable.
Dare I say, normal, a part of life.

Kali.
Shiva.
Omega.

One of my many jobs as his mother is to prepare him for life in all its natural rhythms, its ups & downs, ebbs and flows.  Destruction happens and it’s not without value or purpose.  How do I prepare him for the fullness that is life if I choose to shelter him or re-write his experiences into what they “should” be rather than what they are?

Why do we tend to identify “life done right” as blissful days frolicking through meadows of wildflowers with rainbow-filled skies and unicorns with a million bucks in the bank?

That is not “life done right”, that is illusion, maya.  This dreamland that is both created and chased in many ways is a pursuit of convenience and comfort and that life has softened us on all levels; energetically, spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally – wholly.

Perhaps it’s not destruction itself that is the issue, but rather how it makes us feel… uncomfortable.  Its not that destruction is good or bad, right or wrong, perhaps its about our inability to both BE in discomfort and with discomfort; resisting, avoiding, distracting ourselves from the experience and sensations of discomfort as soon as possible.

Recently, I’ve been revisiting the yamas (a list of attitudes towards our environment) and niyamas (a list of attitudes towards ourselves) from the Yoga Sutras.  The two yamas I have been thinking about a lot in particular are ahimsa (non-violence/non-harm) and satya (truthfulness).  In many ways, interpretation of these yamas seem so clear; don’t hurt others and be honest.  But…

What if my truthfulness causes harm?

Should I lie, breaking the practice of satya so that I can “keep the peace”, maintain “status quo” and “do no harm”? OR should I tell the truth?

One thing I am certain of is that to do otherwise, to lie to “keep the peace” may, on some level, feel like it protects others from harm but know that it isn’t without its harmful impact.  Silencing my voice and performing a part focused on erecting maya, veils of illusion, to protect you from experiencing harm or discomfort ends up harming me and you in different and similar ways.

We both loose an opportunity to practice being both connected while being whole individuals with complex feelings, thoughts, emotions and a diverse tapestry of stories to draw on for support as well as to make in a moment of discomfort.

This maya, illusion we have co-created and, in our own ways, chasing may take a revolution of practiced honesty, among other things, to undo. That’s ok, hope is not lost. On some level, quite possibly a whole heck of a lot of levels, this may feel like destruction.  It may not feel “nice.”

But who’s to say destruction will lead to all things bad and wrong, whose to say it can’t lead to liberation, rebirth, a new beginning. Who’s to say that folks involved in a “not-so-nice-but truthful” conversation will fracture their relationship and never be friends again.  Perhaps that very same difficult conversation will be just the foundation needed to both nourish and grow the relationship between those conversing and ultimately within the self.

**

Candace J. TaylorCandace is an intuitive healer and teacher dedicated to using her studies and experiences to provide a sacred space for transformational healing. Candace creates an environment with her students that are authentic and nurturing with an intentional focus on the whole-body connection.

Candace’s passions for holistic healing, social and environmental justice have led her on a radical journey that began as a child, in the kitchen, by her mother and grandmother’s sides. She learned all about her Caribbean ancestral and cultural herbal healing practices and the use of food, roots, fermentation and herbs as medicine.

Candace feels her grandmother’s hands guiding hers every time she connects to the Earth while gardening, preparing food for cooking or remedies for healing. She uses this ancestral wisdom each day in her personal life and her work with clients as a Holistic Health Coach & Chef and Wellness Educator.

Her journey as a healer and educator continued to evolve taking her through labor and birth doula training, 200-hour yoga teacher training, Healing Touch and Reiki Level 1 & 2 training. Candace’s studies and practices have been deepened by her work with shamans in Vermont and Guatamala as well as her immersion in studying sacred indigenous rites of passage for women.

She is an expert in the fields of social justice, anti-oppression and trauma with almost two decade’s worth of experience. She has created and facilitated various workshops and retreats and has spoken and taught at numerous conferences, colleges, teacher trainings and events.

Candace is currently immersed in advanced yogic studies with her teachers Will  & Susan Duprey through the Hathavidya school where she received her Holistic Health Coach certification.

Additionally, Candace holds a B.A. in American Studies and Education from Smith College and a M.Ed. in Education and Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Vermont.

In her free time Candace enjoys cooking, studying herbalism and Ayurveda, dancing, all-things-food & eating related, being in her organic home garden, reading, practicing yoga and spending time with her partner Tony, son David, dog Roxy, chickens and dear friends, and family.

More about Candace:
candacetaylor.wix.com/candacewellness#!about-candace/c14p0

More about Healin Irie: healinirie.com

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