This Day Brought Me to Tears

“We speak loudly but no one understands us.
But we are not surprised
For we are speaking the language
That will be spoken tomorrow.”

~ Horst Bienek, from “Resistance” (trans. Michael Mead)

Everything is making me cry today. My heart feels so exposed. Like I took off my armor and left it somewhere. Like I spun the prayer wheel so fast it didn’t give me time to worry about doing it right.

David Tennant’s face throughout this surprise tribute.

Bashō (translated by Robert Bly):

The temple bell stops–
but the sound keeps coming 
out of the flowers 

My kid’s fear about a trip without her parents, and the big sign she placed in her suitcase (after she emptied it out this morning) that didn’t mince words: I’M NOT GOING. Please.

Questions like: Who would I be without my work? Without my writing? Without my people? Without “my”?

Would I know, deep down, my worth?

Mani’s words:

“You can’t receive when you have clenched fists.”

Open your hands. Open your mind. Open your heart.

“The best-laid plans are are my open hands.”

(Which Mani can’t remember if she heard in a song or if she wrote herself.)

This song.

The way our names contain us — and how we can find either comfort in being held in, or the courage to push beyond the limitations of those syllables and the energy they carry.

I am not surprised if you don’t understand. I might be speaking tomorrow’s language already. I might have wondered if tomorrow’s language would ever come or if I’d be stuck speaking the same sentences over and over for all time. But no. Time won’t have it. The hardest things shapeshift as surely as the sun is melting the snow. And they also bring clarity, in the way fire burns and purifies but is impossibly hot to stand near for long. You won’t think you can stand it, but you can.

You can.

“I will write in words of fire. I will write them on your skin. I will write about desire. Write beginnings, write of sin. You’re the book I love the best, your skin only holds my truth, you will be a palimpsest lines of age rewriting youth. You will not burn upon the pyre. Or be buried on the shelf. You’re my letter to desire: And you’ll never read yourself. I will trace each word and comma As the final dusk descends, You’re my tale of dreams and drama, Let us find out how it ends.” ~ Neil Gaiman

The last big cry I remember was in the fall. I remember because I cried in the car all the way to the base of a small mountain, then parked and walked furiously uphill over leaves so deep and wet they decomposed before my eyes giving way to earth and winter coming. I remember because I reached the peak and looked out over the river and the valley and felt my dry cheeks and the relief of burning off the tears and getting some perspective.

Then last night I lost it, which isn’t true if you read it literally. I didn’t lose a thing. I just stood at the kitchen sink with the hot water on my hands, blood from where the potato peeler nicked the nail on my left middle finger, and the soapy sponge and the glasses and plates from a late dinner. And I didn’t lose anything, really. But I did cry. I started and I couldn’t stop right away — clearly this had been sitting there, just when I’d begun wondering if I’d ever cry again, a faint hint of concern cropping up that I don’t cry more often given the state of the world.

Well no worries. I can still cry. This is good, even if it freaked my kids out a little. (“Are you OKAY??”)

Last night, lying in bed, Mani put her hands on my back. Then she said just the right words, which she has a knack for: We aren’t here to save each other. We don’t need saving. We all come in with our karma and no one can burn if for us but us.

Then you love people and things get sticky sometimes; it is so painful to see someone you love suffering and to not know the answer. But there’s a reason you don’t know the answer. Your love is enough. It doesn’t feel like enough. It feels all wrong; surely you should be DOING something and the impulse to DO something is the same thing as the impulse to FIX it, SAVE THEM, make it BETTER.

There’s no saving.

So my heart is open and I cried and today, right now, I look out the kitchen window and the branches of the pine trees are swaying in the breeze. The sun is strong, and I’m surprised to glance at the clock and see that it’s after 4:00pm. The earth is turning and the seasons are changing and this is one of those moments when I can SEE time. And how bendable it is, and how it both requires so much faith and also none at all. All at the same time.

“We can know a lot. And still no doubt, there are rash and wonderful ideas brewing somewhere; there are many surprises yet to come.” ~ Mary Oliver

The mind loves to catastrophize. To seize the moment but not in a carpe diem kind of way, more like in a we’re-so-fucked kind of way. But it is a lie. A trap. Don’t fall for it, I tell myself. We no more know that things will be awful than we do that Mary Oliver’s “rash and wonderful ideas” are brewing and surprises are yet to come. Good surprises.

You want to write? So write.

You want to cry? So cry.

You want to love? So open your heart and know that it will break over and over and over and over.

And you will hug someone you love so tightly and suddenly your two bodies will be the shape of sky, which of course is impossible to imagine but perfectly reasonable in the ways of being.

After the fire, you will feel cleaner somehow, and heightened of senses. A bird in the morning will tell you winter is just a word, and you’ll spit out those two syllables with your toothpaste while the shower’s running and you’re standing there naked in the small bathroom looking at all that grey hair around your temples.

Time is not passing us nor are we passing time. Young people will be grown adults someday, full-bodied and with memories of their own, and someday we — you and I — will be the memories themselves. Long, long after we’re gone.

So yes. This day has brought me to tears. Because of love. Because of how empty-handed I feel sometimes. Because of how unbearably beautiful it is to be alive.

Bigger, Better, Different

bigger-better-differentNine years ago, I wrote these words:

This is why a regular writing practice matters. So much gets lost without one. So many moments, funny or evocative or upsetting or insightful, occur every single day. (Each day is a life.) When I don’t write them down, they join that grey matter of daily life; they become like dreams vaguely remembered but essentially gone, fragments down the river. That might be just as well for the most part, but I know that some jewels go by, too, that would be better caught in a sieve of words.

At Noyes Camp, where my sisters and I grew up dancing in the summers, there was a wide gravel path where we would search for garnets. We would walk slowly, straining to distinguish the gems from the pebbles, but the effort repaid us when we brushed off rocks to glean that slight ruddy gleaming. Same with daily moments. Lots of pebbles, gravel, rocks, dirt and debris – and some jewels, some gems that require a little work on our part. For me, writing is the act of slowly walking the path, walking the daily path of paying attention. Or maybe living is that act, and writing is what happens after I pick up the garnet, slip it in my pocket to bring home, then later, when I’m finally alone, take it out to examine it, to polish it, to rub it between my fingers like a talisman.

Nine years ago, I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to write, and was bursting with ideas and images and feelings. But they overwhelmed me. I felt like I had to figure out how to make sure ALL of them, every last one, got top billing. I hit “publish” over and over, as a way of forcing myself to write and share and live with the discomfort of now knowing it any of it was any good. This was before Facebook, for me anyway, and a new blog post literally went out into the ether. I knew my sister read my blog, and my mom, probably (she’d call if I said I was having a hard time). Beyond that, though, for the first 11 months, I think I got one comment. Maybe two. It was squirmy. But it was also saving me.

I called that original blog Bullseye, Baby! The tagline was, “A place to practice.” And by practice, I didn’t only mean practice writing. I meant practice as in writing and sharing — without allowing myself to succumb to the self-doubt and perfectionism that plagued me. I meant practice as in write and share and then sit on my hands, resisting the urge to read back over my words and fix them up, just a little bit. I meant write and share and sit on my hands and move on with my day because life was happening and by then, I knew this much: I didn’t want to miss it.

The Bullseye part? You can read that very first post, where I wrote about the significance, for me, of missing the mark and getting another chance. Hint: It’s a Jewish thing. And a Buddhist thing. And a me thing. And a life thing. As for the baby part of the name, it was literally in the middle of the night while I was nursing Pearl (who was nine months old) when I decided to start a blog. This blog.

I’ve thought about the fact that this January — the 7th, to be exact — will mark ten years of writing here. And true to life, I could never have connected the dots forward or known just what those seeds I was planting then would grow to become. I was a mama then as I am now, with kids ages 4 and 9 months. I was a week shy of 33. I was working part-time as a career counselor at the University of Vermont, rediscovering my work as a life coach, and missing writing. Desperately missing the writing. But also not sure where and how it fit into my life or my life fit into it. Like so many other things that whispered to me around the margins of my life, I was determined to listen hard.

And I did. I listened by showing up and writing. A lot. And posting, a lot. And not knowing — a lot of now knowing — whether any of it mattered. Every now and then, I’d bump into someone in town or at Aviva’s preschool, and they’d say they liked my blog. I found this shocking. Encouraging, but shocking.

At first, I read every new blog post to my then-husband. I did this so eagerly, with the earnestness of a novice (a quality I hope never to outgrow). He’d listen and tell me nice things. At some point, as I began writing more and more, I think I stopped doing this; I remember once him joking that he didn’t need to read it; he was living it. I don’t remember if I laughed at the joke.

It’s true, that what I wrote about was simply real life. People would ask, what’s your blog about? And I’d be like a deer in the headlights. Um, practice, I’d say. It was never a “parenting” blog, though I did write about my kids and how being present with them was its own practice. I returned to the mindfulness practices that had first drawn me in during college. I sat with so many questions.

Am I a real writer? How do I write a book? What would my book be about? Who am I in the world? How do I align what it feels like to be myself with the work I’m doing? How do I reach a lot of people with my writing? How do I support and empower women to be brave and to take up room in their lives? 

Just like when I took cello lessons in high school and wanted to play Vivaldi right away (I quit after less than a year, out of frustration and impatience), I jumped ahead — way ahead — to the idea of writing a book. My life felt like a puzzle I couldn’t for the life of me quite put together. I wanted so badly to be able to see the whole of it, and I couldn’t. I could only see what was in front of me — dinner, dishes, work, walks, neighbors, Netflix, yoga, a run, closet smoking, Shabbat candles, an insistent need to be alone, a loving marriage, friends… and something that was missing.

I was missing. I was, in some way beyond my own peripheral vision, the missing piece. The hub on the wheel. The heartbeat of my own life was somewhere else, and I was longing to be able to hear it.

So I wrote and kept writing. I worked and loved and read books to myself and read books to my kids. I wrote about them, I wrote about showing up. I wrote about depression and the layers and the falling apart.

Eventually, I wrote my way right into my life. Which also meant right out of my life. It was nothing I expected and everything I’d asked for. It was open heart surgery without anesthesia. It was grief and rage and elation and disbelief. It was sex and lies and that gmail account I hadn’t told him about. I became someone I didn’t recognize, and yet for the first time, I saw my own reflection and thought: There you are.

There was a long stretch — two or three years maybe — when I thought my blog would become a book. I printed out hundreds of posts. I categorized them and labeled them. I used different color pens and sticky notes and hijacked an entire wall of our then-house. I was on a first-name basis with the guy at the UPS store on South Winooski, where I went to print draft after draft. But that was all before. Before my life showed me what only life can: The story I was so diligently trying to write was way, WAY bigger than a bunch of blog posts. It was me. It was a life.

There are a million other “parts” I could include here, but instead, I’m asking myself: Why am I sharing all of this tonight?

It has to do with the jewels, the ones I shared with you earlier, from one of those early posts. I wrote that in the summer of 2007. Pearl was two. Aviva was racing towards five. I was trying, trying so hard to “find myself.” And writing — showing up here — was one of the ways I knew how to do that.

We can’t always see what’s working, just as we can’t always see what’s not working. We can only keep showing up and paying attention. Around the same time that I started blogging, a wonderful supervisor, Ada, gently pointed out to me that I seemed always to be needing something to be bigger, better, or different. “Bigger, better, different” became a kind of shorthand for me — part hunting trap and part lighthouse, first stopping me in my tracks, then pointing me back to safe harbor.

The thing is, Ada (thanks, Ada!) was right. That restlessness had become so synonymous with my being that it has taken a long time to get to know it well enough to not be its prey. Writing didn’t change that. Coming out didn’t change that. Getting divorced didn’t change it, changing jobs and states and homes didn’t change it, and getting remarried didn’t change it. And it wouldn’t be true to say I don’t still get that urge — in the same way I still get the urge to smoke. The difference is that I don’t act on it, at least not consciously. And when I see that I’m slipping down that slope, I can usually grab onto reality at least a bit more quickly than before.

All of this is to say: When I write things here about practice, about showing up, and about “keep going,” this is where I’m coming from. Years and years (and years) of “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Epic meltdowns (and I don’t mean the kids’, though there have certainly been those, too). A stunningly beautiful love story that started with falling in love with myself — just as Mani predicted, quite some time before she and I had any inkling we’d wind up sharing the rest of our lives.

You don’t have to know. Just keep listening. And if writing’s your way of picking up the jewels, please keep writing. It doesn’t have to good, you don’t have to write a book, and you don’t need  zillion readers. Just one or two who really, really fucking care will do.

What I Mean When I Say “Big Love”

9-fried-potatoesI was frying potatoes.
Contemplating the meaning of life.
For real, I am not making this up.
Feeling small. Ponderous.
What is my message?
What is my purpose?

And then I stirred the potatoes.
They were dinner for my wife
who can eat 14 things now,
including water and salt
and sugar and coffee,
rice and chicken
and oats and organic Gala apples
and blueberries, boiled,
and whole milk and best of all
butter. Also seltzer and Pom juice,
her new elixir of choice.

And I remember when it was only rice
and Coke
and she was losing weight and scaring
us both and everyone else
and someone asked if she was dying
and I went crazy in my head
at the question, which I knew was
not unreasonable given her rapid
precipitous decline but still could not
hear, could not accept, could not bear
when everything in me was existing
to keep her here and help her live.

So frying potatoes, you see,
really did have me contemplating
the meaning of life, and the meaning
of survival, the meaning of joy,
the meaning of thriving, the meaning
of healing, the meaning of marriage,
the purpose of loving, the message
of resilience, of learning how to give
and of learning how to receive,
of being forced so far out
of our comfortable roles
that we both had to grow
into bigger, more complete humans.

And in the growing, so much became
available — poems and dreams
and going all the way into the dark
that we wouldn’t let claim us
and seeing each other
there, eyes lit by eyes
and hearts by hearts
and knowing
that to be given another chance
is nothing to sneeze at or spit at,
nothing to miss even a minute of
to self-pity or regret or doubt
or envy. We get to be here.

That’s it. That’s my purpose.
That’s my message.
We get to be here.
And if it’s not working for you,
change something.
Because you can.
Always.

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.

Aaaaaaaaah.

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.