These Birthdays Go to Eleven


On the 14th of this month, I’ll turn 44. The fact that my new age is a multiple of 11 is making me irrationally happy. Rather than celebrating a big round number like 40 or 50, turning 44 feels special.

Why?

That’s easy. I was born at 11:11am.  Eleven is my number.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per se, but there is something in the air about this year. It feels big and a little bit tingly in my chest, like when good news is coming and you don’t know what it is yet.

It feels slow and steady, like the mountain goat that symbolizes the Capricorn sun I was born under on a cold Buffalo morning.

It feels like trust and keep going and a deepening of the path I’m on, after so long of trying to get footing in my life, belonging in my body, and clear purpose in my work.

It feels like conviction and commitment and a claim to being all the way here. And it feels like writing-wise, a year to reap some of the benefits of so many years of practice.

This morning, I found myself thinking back on turning 22 and 33, and realized both were pivotal in my writing + life.  Since I geek out on numbers and patterns, I couldn’t help but get excited about this and its implications for turning 44.

22

I was working full-time at what by all rights was a plum job to have landed not long after graduating from college. But by the spring of 1996, the daily commute from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to Lincoln Center, which my office overlooked from the other side of Broadway, had lost any shred of romance and become a schlep. There were a few failed attempts at dating. I was lonely and inhibited, and I longed to go disappear into the world without a clue as to what they meant or how it could look.

I met Deborah Digges, a poet and memoirist who lived in Amherst and taught at Tufts, on Memorial Day weekend of 1996. My parents had invited her over for brunch, and it was there at the round oak dining room table that I first heard about Bread Loaf, a writers’ conference in Ripton, Vermont. She would be teaching there that summer, she told us, and encouraged me to apply for her workshop.

I can still hear her sing-song, “Bread Loaf for you!” I loved her already, and set my sights on Middlebury in August.

By some small miracle, I was accepted. And rather than doing the logical thing — using a week of vacation time to attend — I quit my job. I paced around Central Park for two hours t hat morning, screwing up my courage into something like a voice, and told my boss I would be leaving in July. (Mind you, this was early June, and I learned an invaluable lesson that summer: Never give that much notice. It’s torture for everyone. Read more about that experience if you wish.)

That decision changed my life and became the foundation for my writing in ways that would take many years to become evident. I learned more from my time with Deborah, at Bread Loaf and in the six months or so after when we remained close, than in the entirety of my MFA program.

33

On January 7, 2007 — one week before my 33rd birthday — I started a blog. I named it Bullseye, Baby: A Place to Practice.

Practice what? That, my friends, was the title of my very first blog post! (Read it now, if you want. I’ll wait here.)

That month, I embarked on a 15-week writing class in Vermont. It was called Women Writing (for) a Change, under the guidance of a poet named Sarah Bartlett. One evening per week, we gathered, wrote, and shared. Our voices filled a candlelit room. We ate chocolate. We cried and laughed. We came from all different backgrounds and brought our true stories to the page.

I began to take my writing practice seriously, giving myself the blog as a place to show up and drop into whatever was happening in that moment, or to synthesize a swirl of thoughts and activities that, as a working mom with two small children, threatened to subsume me.

I had a single reader for the first 11 months, and then, seemingly out of the blue, a flurry of comments when our dog Juke was dying wrapped me up in a newfound sense of writing community. I was finding my people. I was finding my voice, on the page and in the world.

44

Two days before the new year, I submitted an essay to the New York Times “Modern Love” column. The odds are not exactly forever in my favor, but I am not indulging the overdone, doomsday, “there’s no way they’ll publish it” trope. We all know the statistics, but whatever — you gotta play to win, and if it wasn’t clear by now, I’m in this for the long haul, and not just to get published.

What began as a place to practice became a place of community, then refuge, then livelihood; writing and sharing is the foundation for pretty much my whole life now. And this — this is what I dreamed of and didn’t for the life of me know how to make happen.

I don’t know what this new year, this new multiple of 11, will bring in terms of writing + life, but I have a good feeling about it. Could be the fact that supermoons will bookend the month of January (fun facts: did you know the supermoon looks 1/3 brighter and 14% closer than other full moons)?

Or that I’ve always been a big fan of birthdays — mine and everyone else’s (but especially mine, lol).

Maybe there really is something in the air, as evidenced by nothing but that sparkly sensation I get at the top of my head, in my chest, and in a slightly mischievous twinkle in my eye when something good is coming and my intuition is ON. You better believe me when I say: I’m here for it.

And if the something good is more of what is already here– writing, practicing, showing up, not waiting to get it right, not worrying about being good, and connecting with people near and far in beautiful, true, and unexpected ways–I’ll take it.

Yes, it’s all a bit woo-woo. but I’m choosing to believe that the multiples of 11 carry an extra dose of mojo, depth, and clarity. Stay tuned — because you already know I’ll be writing all about it.

P.S. On a whim, hours after writing this, I checked the word count. You won’t believe it: It’s 1,111 words.

In Pursuit of Magic (or Not)


It wasn’t until I stopped pursuing magic that magic finally started pursuing me. Isn’t that always the way?

And yet even once you know it’s the way, you still can’t do it on purpose, because magic is resistant to contrivance. And so you just have to live and try to forget about it as best you can, and then maybe — just when you’re least expecting it — magic will happen and you will wonder how you didn’t see it coming.

Magic, so unassuming, dressed down as if for casual Friday at the office rather than glammed up for a girls’ night out. Magic, less glitter and more grit. Magic, that invisible force that is part faith, part fairy dust, part boots on the ground and hands in the air, part soil and part air and so much water and a thing that can happen to you on any day of the week.

Magic, when I pursue her, ducks and covers. She really does. I get scared that she’s gone forever but she’s never left me for good. Magic says, trust me. Magic says, wait for it. Magic says, stop looking so hard. Make dinner for your kids. In fact, make dinner for yourself. Eat. Sleep. Work. Love. I’ll come around. I’m never not there.

You see, magic talks to me.

Maybe magic is another word for angels. Maybe magic is what happens when people come together for good, or part for good. Maybe magic is just two syllables for things we can’t explain, but I think it’s more than that. It’s a special word; writing this makes me want to look up its etymology.

Of course, religions of all kinds have poo-poohed magic. But that’s not where I feel like going with this. I’m more into the yeah, bring it on, baby kind of vibe today. Magic and mojo go together for me, and like I said, when these are missing, I can get scared. Like I’m lost.

But then I go back to the first paragraphs, the first words, the abracadabra of “let there be light” and how “abacadabra” itself is ancient Aramaic for “may it be so” or something like that. How cool is that? See? Bible magic even. And what I mean by go back is this: If I look back on just about every twist and turn of my life — all of which are preceded by the twists and turns of my parents’ lives, and their parents and their parents back and back and back, none of it could’ve been anything short of magic.

After all, I’m here, right?

And that has GOT to be something like magic. And when I said no, no more, no more false magic, no more forcing magic, no more hoping for magic, no more willing magic, no more telling myself something is magic when everything in my body and soul are crying for freedom and truth and something else — that was when I laid it all down.

I can’t do this alone, I said to the empty room. Sobbed, actually. So many times. And something, every time, has carried me through those moments all the way to this moment. All the way to safety and butterscotch blondies and the chance to live and love another day. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.


An unedited freewrite from in my newest 2-week writing group, which opened today. What’s on your writing radar this fall?  

Magic Tricks

cardsWe were still awake as the clock struck midnight.

But there was no great striking. In modern times, this means we were the first to see whose birthdays had just begun on Facebook. I wrote a limerick, as I do for every member of The Inky Path and my own writing groups, deliberating over rhyme and rhythm and doing my damndest to fit as much about her personality as possible into five lilting lines.

We’d had the sweetest evening here. The kind of evening that left both of us feeling a deep satisfaction, fulfillment, and gratitude that, when taken without concern for the future, is nothing short of magnificent.

Aviva and I ate French Toast for dinner. Mani spent an hour and a half on the phone with her youngest, who turned 16 yesterday in Phoenix.

Pearl came bursting in around 7:00pm after being out with friends. She was eager to show us the magic trick she’d learned during that day’s session with Mr. K., her 3rd grade teacher, whom she still gets to spend lunchtimes with now and then practicing with her two decks of cards.

She showed me first in her room, to practice, and I was truly wowed. I still don’t know how she did it! Then she came to the living room to do it again (twice) with Mani, who was also wonderfully impressed.

Aviva wandered in and out from her room, which is attached to the living room. She could hear every word of our conversation, including my more adoring ones to Mani (“I can hear you, you know,” she called out, or something to that effect). I flipped through the Barnard Magazine and read about a documentary, Deep Run, by an alumna who graduated a year after me, Hillevi Loven, “a powerful verité portrait of trans life in rural North Carolina.” It sounds amazing and just reading about it made me all goosebumpy.

We felt like a family.

We are a family.

I read with Pearl, who was falling-over tired around 9:30, and then found V flopped across our bed talking to Mani about Everything Under the Sun. She’s getting really passionate about LGBTQ+ (I am told the plus symbol stands for something like 200 other things I’ve never heard of — we’ve come a long way, baby) issues; I have this feeling her new school is doing nothing short of miraculous for her, which is that there are no cliques. People are accepting. And the gender binary, by the way, is being shattered to smithereens by this generation.

I came into the kitchen to eat a snack and have a few minutes alone. Then we kicked V out of our room — no small feat when she actually wants to hang out with us — and snuggled up. I’m now reminded of something I read last week via  Jeanette LeBlanc: Now That Lesbians Can Marry, Can We Admit They Have Sex?  (Ironically, it was under Jeanette’s roof that Mani and first found each other, in January 2012, which is what I’ve been writing about in my latest round of leading Mini Memoirs.)

And oh, yes, they — we — do. We have sex, and we fuck, and we make sweet, sweet love. We cry afterwards and we burst out laughing sometimes and last night, we knew that some secrets belong to us alone and will never leave the walls of our bedroom.

Throw in some Downton Abbey, and like I said, we were still awake as the clock didn’t exactly strike midnight, but as a single, irreplaceable day in our lives together came to a close. Then I read to Mani what I’d written yesterday, part 9 in a 10-part remembrance of that weekend we first met.

Here are the last few paragraphs:

What did we think would happen? Happily ever after? That if only we could be in one place and not long-distance, everything would be ok?

Yes.

And it was. It is. Everything is ok. It matters to remember because in that moment, throughout that weekend, on that night in Jeannette’s daughter’s room where we slept entangled for the first time, knowing on some cellular level it was where we both belonged, we knew. It was easy. We were both floored by this sensation, especially in contrast to the very challenging and ultimately toxic people we’d been in relationships with as bridges from marriage to freedom to this kind of love, a heretofore unknown kind of love.

Certain life circumstances have been harder than I ever dreamed, forcing me to stand up against my own expectations, stories, fears, needs, and desires. Up against the monolithic wall of ego. Of control. Of selfishness. But remembering our first weekend together and coming home over and over to this love, this palace of belonging, I soften and find center. Climbing over her, her body regaining the curves and contours she lost to illness, I am flooded with desire again.

We could spend all of our time fretting and freaking out that we don’t have enough time. We could. Sometimes, I do.

And we could sink so deeply into the time we’re in that it becomes infinite. During a coaching session last week, the word “telescopic” came up. Yes, like that. In, in, in. Things far away become very close, and if you hold it the other way around, the opposite happens: you can look at something close up and it becomes tiny.

One great big illusion?

I jokingly begged Pearl to tell me how she did it. How’d she get the blue card on the table to change without touching it? It was a two of spades, and then it was a five of hearts.

“A magician never reveals her tricks,” Mani reminded me, on Pearl’s behalf.

Sleight of hand. Something we stand in awe at, impressed, amazed. And here’s the thing: Behind the scenes, a magician spends hours with her former third-grade teacher. She makes time to learn, pays very close attention, and practices — a lot. She’s devoted to her art.

I like to imagine that God is, too.

And I know this, too, as I sit here on a Saturday morning with strong coffee and a brand-new day begun: I’m devoted to mine. To writing. To holding space for others to write and learn from their own practice. To being wowed without asking how it’s done, and to remembering that so much goes on that we don’t ever know or see or understand. And to family. My family.