The Darker the Night… Reflections on 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

Those lyricists nailed it.

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

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

The Art of Prayer

1-miranjani-trackI was in the woods the other day — Monday morning — after getting my teeth cleaned. I’ve been on high alert since November 8. An American flag on someone’s front porch sends my mind to the question, “Whose America? Whose flag?”

The hygienist is a woman I see every six months who is always infinitely attentive and kind. Again, my mind fixated on the fact that Donald Trump is our President Elect, and I wondered who she voted for. Was there a chance she was one of the 58% of white woman who voted for him? I didn’t ask.

The dentist came to do a quick exam. I thought about his last name, four syllables that would fall foreign on many English-speaker’s ears, and wondered if he or his children had ever been harassed or worse.

I left the office with no cavities, an appointment scheduled for May, and my little paper bag of goodies — new toothbrush, whitening paste, a miniature roll of floss. Instead of driving back up Main Street to go home and get to work, I drove east to the Amethyst Conservation Area to walk a bit on the Robert Frost trail. The high that morning had been only in the 20s, but by 9:30 the air was already warming and I left my coat in the car.

On the trail, I just walked. I exchanged easy smiles with other walkers, stooped down to give a dog a pat on the head. I also found myself reflexively sizing people up as they approached. “She looks nice,” I’d think to myself, based on something arbitrary like the colors in her hat or the pants she wore or the lines in her face. Sometimes, these are the only cues we have.

If nothing else, this election has heightened something that any marginalized person has known for a long, long time — people might seem “nice,” might in fact be perfectly pleasant and lovely, but until you get to know someone or see them in some context other than, say, their work uniform, or walking the dog, it’s unknown whether they stand with and for you. Trust becomes complicated.

I had gone into woods not to meditate on such troubling and complicated questions, but to meditate, period. To try to find a pocket of quiet in my own hurting and vigilant heart. I walked and tried to bring my awareness back to my breath and the ground beneath my feet and the way my own breath was visible on the air. How good it felt to hit an incline and push myself forward through space! A relief to get a bit winded, to have physical exertion overtake a busy and over-tired mind.

I tried to pray. I even told God, “I don’t know how to pray right now.” And then the message echoed back to me, “Then that is your prayer.” I know better than to think God only listens if I get it right.

The only other clear thing I heard was this: Walk. Hold an acorn in your hand. Do small things. Love the people in front of you.