A Letter to My Angels

Adam Jang | Tel Aviva-Yafo

August 8, 2018

Dear Angels,

I heard you talking amongst yourselves, hoping I’d choose to write to you. Well of course, here I am. I won’t say this letter is overdue,  but it does feel timely and in some deep way necessary. Mostly I want to say thank you and make sure you know that my #blessed and #grateful are not masks. I couldn’t conceal the truth from you if I wanted to  and I don’t want to, so we’re all good there.

What I do know is that blessed and grateful are not fixed states; they do not cure migraines or make the sky rain cash money. But they are a solid place to stand and a soft place to land, and in writing my 11s tonight, I realized that so much of this life feels like a profound privilege. The fact of this would be and is enough, but moments like this one when I am aware of that privilege in such a quiet, felt way are especially special.

You really are always there when I need you. It’s not that I don’t always need you, but there have been long stretches in the past year or so of functioning to some degree on autopilot and in “go” mode. I think late spring and early summer — somewhere in that turn of season — the degree of cumulative exhaustion verging on burnout became clear.

I hesitate with my language as I don’t want to be melodramatic. The bitchy voice of my inner critic says, “For fuck’s sake, it’s not like you’re living on the front lines of oppression, woman.” Factually, she’s right. But these last several years brought me to the far edges of my inner reserves of strength, stamina, faith, and resilience in very real ways.

I remember crying to you — literally sobbing in the car and all the way up Mount Sugarloaf on a fall day. Was that two years ago or three now? Oh, the miracle of years blurring, or having enough distance and perspective that it no longer matters if that was 2015 or 2016. I was so tired, so wrung out and wrought, so lonely and scared. And in that state it was tempting to look over my shoulder at a long-gone past or ahead into the great unknown with the ultimate fear: What if things don’t get better?”

It took everything I had to keep going, to stay present, to keep loving but without abandoning myself. I did not do any of this perfectly, but I did do it — with your constant help.

And when I cried out in June or July and said I am desperate for a break, a chance to slow down and tend to my own overlooked heart, you were there — just as you are there every day from dawn to dusk and even through the night while we sleep.

So yes, I am writing to say thank you. I like that we keep being in this together and I’m especially appreciating the chance to reconnect with some neglected parts of myself this month, parts I really love and enjoy, parts that have become dulled or squeezed out these past few years by hustling so hard and connecting almost exclusively through screens.

I am not forsaking technology or social media by any means, but I am noting my unwillingness to sacrifice myself on those altars. And I am going to need you as close as ever as fall comes, seasons change again, the kids both enter new schools and stages, and Mani continues to heal and get her life back.

Stay close, angels. I feel you. I love you. And I’m here. Let me be a vessel.

Yours,

Jena

p.s. Can you help with the headaches? Oh, and thank you for sending some really exciting and unexpected work opportunities my way this month! You rock my world.

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Dear Reader: Have you checked out my Patreon page. For as little as $3/month, you can support both the Community Writers’ Fund for lower-income writers AND my work on a Fierce Encouragement BOOK. Come check out the tiers for joining this membership community and the awesome benefits you’ll receive, including weekly writing prompts, writing group discounts, coaching sessions, and more. Feel free to contact me with questions. I’d LOVE to share this new space with you. xo Jena

On Creativity and the Resistance

“My friends, appreciating beauty in our world and fighting for justice are not mutually exclusive activities.” – Erin Coughlin Hollowell

The world is scary and so much is urgent. I am fending off images that must be epigenetically encoded in my DNA– men at the door kind of thing. Looking for elusive balance between staying informed and awake and getting work done and being present to others and taking care of my body and spirit. My desk is strewn with tax documents, a beautiful photo book I received today as a gift, a guide called “26 ways to be in the struggle beyond the streets,” and unpaid bills. I have a headache despite having taken an Alleve a couple of hours ago.

This morning, the kids had dentist appointments early — we had to leave the house at 7:30am. I thought about how keeping routines can be very grounding when the world is so unstable. Same goes for beauty, laughter, and small moments of ordinary connection. It’s when we lose ourselves to fear and fatigue that we become powerless; there have been some great pieces in the past few days about this, such as this one. Ironically, even reading pieces like this keep your body on high alert, so I think part of the long-haul here may be taking time to unplug.

This is not the same as checking out. After all, if we relinquish our wellbeing, what will fuel the resistance?

Earlier today, amidst mental images from Germany around 1938 that won’t stop flooding my consciousness, I found myself reflecting on the nature of creative work during times of political, national, indeed global crisis on an unprecedented scale. We can learn from history, yes, and at the same time there, there is no roadmap for this moment.

Some artists and writers will turn their gaze in the direction of resistance, and thank God for this. And some will not; there will be poets and essayists and journalers and journalists and novelists who continue their creative work, without an explicit focus on the current state of affairs. Others still may be seriously doubting the importance of continuing at all.

We need all the voices now, and any hierarchy here will only fragment our efforts.

I turn to Pirke Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers for guidance:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

I consider the voices of folks in my current writing groups. So many of us finding it difficult to concentrate at best, and questioning the purpose of our work at worst. There’s the conventional wisdom that none of this is accidental; the current administration is clearly intent on overwhelming us, hitting so many fronts at once, from cabinet appointments to sweeping travel bans to purging the State Department; I’m sure they are depending on us becoming exhausted and uncoordinated. We will prove them wrong.

Our creative work — whatever form that may take for you — is more important now than ever. Do not allow this insanity to overtake your creativity. Let your commitment to sitting down and showing up not shrink, but grow in direct proportion to the madness around us.