How I Spent My Summer Vacation

A Complete Blank

Do you ever get stuck in an “I can’t write” jag, where every time you sit and try to start, you sputter and stall and think “I can’t write” and give up? That’s pretty much where I’ve been for a few days now.

What’s funny is that I actually wrote plenty in August — I wrote over on Patreon, my new playground (come join me!). I wrote on Mondays at 11:00am and on Wednesdays at 6:00pm, when 2-3 women came to my living room to write with me. I wrote lists of 11 things. I wrote two poems while I was walking in Gloucester, where Mani and I spent five blissful nights.

And yet, for some reason, coming here to write a blog post has felt nearly impossible. I think I’m just putting pressure on myself. I came back to Facebook a few days ago after taking a month away, and truly felt like I’d forgotten how to do social media. I said I’d write a post about what I did on my summer vacation, and I really do want to tell you about it.

But when I try to remember, when I stop to think, ok, what is it I did and what do I want to share, I’m drawing a complete blank. It already seems like a long time ago, like a dream that was super vivid and then vanishes the minute you wake up or start telling someone about it. It’s like it gets lost in translation.

Diving In

The first week of August consisted of a daunting amount of sleep. I thought maybe I would just sleep through the entire month. I took a few epic naps — we’re talking in the three-hour range — along with early nights and lazy mornings. I read a LOT, including an incredible memoir called Maid, by Stephanie Land, which I couldn’t put down and highly recommend you preorder.

The week after that, I had a surge of energy. I felt fantastic. So fantastic that I was actually… working more. I met with a few coaching clients — in person and on the phone and via zoom, in Amherst, northern California, and Prague. I had an idea for the next Dive Into Poetry, which will be in November, and emailed all past participants to submit poems I will use as prompts. Several folks responded and I felt really jazzed about trusting myself a few months ago, when I knew I needed a break from what had become a quarterly offering.

Sure enough, taking that time without a plan allowed new ideas to arise. I also got to connect with a wonderful teenage writer, whose poetry is conquering stigmas around mental illness and recovery. I marveled at the way work kept coming in, as if to prove that Facebook is not the one and only way to connect with people. This was a big YAY.

Mid-August, Pearl and I drove to visit Aviva between camp sessions. She’d spent three weeks on an epic road trip through the south — beginning in Asheville, then onto New Orleans, and ending up in Atlanta. In each city, they visited and learned about different urban farms, while camping in local state parks, making their own meals, and discussing Jewish perspectives on environmentalism. Needless to say, she had a life-changing experience. Before spending another three weeks at camp in New York state, there was a family visiting day.

We set out in the morning — turns out Pearl is an excellent DJ, who kept us in good music all the way across 84 West. About half hour before our arrival, I got a call from the camp nurse. It was possible, she said, that Aviva may have broken her toe. We would have to scoop her up and take her to urgent care for x-rays. Approximately $500 later that I am now wrangling about with insurance, she hobbled back to camp on crutches with a sprained big toe. Seeing her was so so good — and I could feel how grounded she was after her few weeks on the road.

Then, the third week came… and I got sick. It’s as if my body was saying: “Um, helllloooooo. We thought you were taking a break?” and knocked me back onto the couch. By then, I had filed all of the papers that had been stacking up for the past month or two, cleaned the car, and taken a huge stack of books to the bookstore to trade for credit.

What began as a tickle in my throat quickly became a full-blown head cold. Mani will tell you I am a big baby when I get sick, and she heard plenty about how miserable I was. I had to cancel Week 6 of the Wednesday living room group, and we packed for our trip despite how crappy I was feeling.  Five nights near the ocean could only do a body good, right?

Right. Right, right, and right some more. Aaaaaaah.

Ocean Medicine

If you ever don’t know what you need, find a way to get to salt water.

The tiny cottage we’d found on AirBnB turned out to be pretty much perfect for the two of us. You could see the water from the little loft bedroom, with a small cove less than 1,000 steps from the sweet outdoor patio with its Buddha statue and fountain. Sitting there the first morning, drinking our coffee, I felt I’d landed in a slice of summer heaven.

Each morning, I set out on a walk and explored side streets, community gardens, cemeteries, neighborhoods, and million-dollar house-porn views. In the afternoons, we checked out a few different beaches, drove around, went to thrift stores and found some adorable items for cheap, and saw a movie at the world’s funkiest movie theater, where viewers have their pick of couches and armchairs.

We finally saw the Mr. Rogers movie and loved it. We also found our dream neighborhood in Rockport and schemed about how we will someday live near the West Coast ocean in the winter and perhaps the East Coast ocean in the summer. Girl’s gotta dream, right? I got excited about bringing the kids back to the coast for a day trip, before the High Holidays and while it’s still warm enough to jump in the water.

Chalupa stayed at her breeder’s house for the duration of our trip. We were admittedly a bit anxious about leaving her, even though we knew she’d be in bulldog-loving hands. Picking her up was *very* exciting for us all, so exciting that I got back on the Mass Pike heading west instead of east and added a full hour to our return trip.

Clusterfucks and Paddleboards

Getting home from Gloucester was a little bit of a crash course, in that there were some last-minute school-related questions to sort out for Aviva. Which is putting it mildly; truth is it felt like a complete clusterfuck on confusion and a tumble of disappointment after such a grounding summer. However, I will say this: These moments always, always come, in some form or another. And how we meet them matters.

After a few days of chaos and uncertainty, things resolved in a way that I am quite sure is for the best, and the best part was seeing my girl dig deep for her own resilience– which was right there ready.

We attended her community college orientation. She even got her official student ID, her hair in two adorable tiny vertical sprigs (it’s growing out from when she shaved it all off last spring).

The next afternoon, Pearl and I borrowed a car and headed north to our second consecutive year of family camp. He was cranky about going at first, but by bedtime in our little cabin had turned a corner and settled in. It was great to see him with the friend he’d stayed in touch with via email all of last year, reconnect with some of the people we met last summer, and meet new families. I even had my Karaoke debut!

Paddleboarding was a high point, especially the moment when Pearl and I traded boards in the lake and I lost my balance. Nothing like losing one’s balance to get a good, old-fashioned dose of humility.

The leaves were already beginning to change in New Hampshire as we drove home on the last Monday of the month. Chalupa was *very* glad to see us; finally everyone under one roof! I think Mani was happy we were back, too, in part because the doggles had a tummy bug the whole time we were gone and she’d been “on” with her round-the-clock.

School-supply shopping the next day rendered a “holy shit” moment at the total we spent, which I chalked it up to new beginnings. Mani, meanwhile, is devouring Your Money or Your Life, and this month we are kicking off some hard-core budgeting and savings goals.

Pearl not only survived his first day of middle school, but came home in a great mood. I met one of the new principals, a man of color in a snappy suit who greeted every student and parent with a handshake by the front door. We rode bikes three mornings in a row, and I found myself feeling happy, grateful, and optimistic as I cycled home without him each day.

Books & Writing

Oh! I meant to tell you: I am reading “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” a collection of essays by Alexander Chee. I posted about it on Instagram and had a total fangirl moment when he left a comment saying, “I hope you love it.” And I do. I fucking love it. The writing is brilliant and if you write and/or appreciate good writing and true stories, run out and get this book.

I also started “Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved)” by Kate Bowler. I wanted to love this book. I thought we had a good shot at bonding. But I put it down about halfway through. It’s clean and accessible, and I haven’t fully put my finger on why it didn’t hook me. It’s almost too highly edited; something is missing for me in terms of depth and detail and voice. Such a mystery, really, why some writing speaks to us and other writing doesn’t — and it’s not necessarily a reflection of the writing, more the alchemy or lack thereof between book and reader.

This month, you can write 11 things for 11 consecutive days with me, as we listen for the sounds of real life happening. You can also come look for the words for two weeks, with the help of 10 new prompts and a small group of brave souls, in Word Search, a new 2-week group. I feel a bit rusty when it comes to everything internet- and work-related, but I know I will find my way back to the candy house with your help.

Juicy Parts

My friend Doug asked me not to leave out the juicy details from my quiet month. I keep scanning my mind for these, sure there must be something more. It’s funny; I hear the word “juicy” and automatically relate that to a) sex and b) scandal. Thankfully, the former is alive and well in my relationship, due no doubt in part by the lack of the latter. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Takeaways

Trust yourself. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. When you know, you know. The hard part is so often making room to fully acknowledge what you know, especially if you *don’t* know what to *do* about the knowing. Sometimes you don’t even have to DO anything.

Sometimes what is needed is the full acknowledgement, the space to actually allow yourself to feel the thing that’s arising. In my case before August, this was a degree of exhaustion and burn-out, a need to get very quiet, to immerse myself fully in my here-and-now life, without extending energy to people I cannot actually see, touch, and hear.

If you ask me whether I’d rather have experiences or things, I will always choose experiences. As long as there’s good coffee.

It was scary. But the scary parts are so rarely as bad once you’re in them as what the imagination may conjure. The definition of courage is always feeling the fear and doing it anyway, whatever it happens to be.

The result? I feel softer. My heart literally feels plumper, if you can believe it. And also like I’m bringing a degree of intention and clarity back into my writing, life, and work as we edge towards a new season.

Taking Rest on the Blank Page

Anja Savic :: The Letterist

Have you ever gone to a yoga class and spent the whole time in savasana?

Not just lying on your back on your mat, but the bells and whistles, too — the eye pillow (my favorite), the bolster beneath your knees, the heavy blanket? All the while the class inhaling and exhaling and sun saluting all around you as you drift in and out of conscious thought in that delicious liminal space between asleep and awake?

Just writing about it gives rise to a deepening, steadying breath. I notice where my teeth are touching ever so slightly, and open my jaw and mouth wide before closing them again but not quite all the way. I shift to breathing through my nostrils and feel the breath cool against my sinus cavity, then moving down the back of my throat, filling my chest, ribcage, and belly.

All of this is incongruous with the fact that I have not been to a yoga studio in months, just as it has been equally as long since I even rolled out my may here in the living room. But the mere muscle memory of savasana causes my neurons to stand at attention (or maybe rest at attention is more accurate, if oxymoronic).

When I picture these neurons, I see a field of sunflowers — all of those big yellow faces smiling towards the light. It’s as if my entire physical being has been alerted and is responding: “Did she say yoga? Did she say savasana? Aaaaaah, we remember how good that feels, to lengthen and deepen, to root and rise, to fill the body with breath.”

My mind, on the other hand, is skeptical about reconciling this topic with my total and complete inaction. Isn’t it hypocritical to write about yoga — much less in such flowery terms — when one is not even practicing yoga?

What but is yoga practice, really? Does it require a mat? Does it require physical movement? Isn’t breath physical movement? Isn’t yoga the union of physical consciousness and breath?

I do want to return to the physical practice of yoga, to an asana practice that I know will welcome me back, without asking, “Where the hell have you been?” But I also want to imagine something else: The possibility that writing practice may in fact be a form of yoga, too. A unification of breath and being, a place to arrive, an way to explore inner and outer landscapes, and to deliberately slow down and create space between thoughts and between breaths.

Right now, I am sitting on a chair in my living room, hosting and facilitating a small weekly writing group. We began by writing 11 things as a kind of warm-up, as if to send a flare to our brains that it was time to enter into writing territory. After that, I set a timer for a longer interval, and as soon as I hit “start,” my mind went to savasana and the desire to opt out of a more active practice.

I remember how much I’ve appreciated, over the 23 years since my very first yoga class, those teachers who would not only not judge or scowl at such a choice, but who might even come by a time or two during our 90 minutes together with a gentle touch to the top of my head or bottoms of my blanket-clad feet.

And I realize that not only do I wish to cultivate this kind of permission for myself, but also this kind of spaciousness for those who come into my writing spaces. I want you to know that it’s not only ok, but deeply worthy, to listen to your body. To take rest if you need it — even if everyone else seems to be churning out essays and poems and blog posts and rough drafts and raw material. You are not everyone. This is your practice. This is your time. It’s not a competition or a race.

We have so few places to go where judgment doesn’t follow us with its eyes around the room, like a parent or teacher who has only to raise her eyebrow just so, without saying a word, to make her displeasure known.

Truth be told, I almost didn’t write today. I am tired from the weekend and a lot of driving yesterday, a little fuzzy, and low on energy and ideas. I almost rolled out my grey yoga may — the one with a layer of pollen on it from being rolled up just under a window all summer.

The other writers in the room would no doubt have been puzzled, though I doubt they would have objected. But I decided to come here instead, to lay myself down on the blank, unlined page, to let my pen draw me into a slower pace, to allow my mind time to wander, and to give myself over to this practice of showing up exactly as I am, in this moment.

How much of our lives do we spend in overdrive, overriding how we really feel and denying what we most deeply long for and need?

Real rest comes from stripping away the effort of pretense.

Here I am, we can finally say. I am tired. I am cooked. I am love. I am pain. I am grief. I am rage. I am confusion. I am the storm and I am its eye. I am I.

And then, maybe, in the fullest expression of the pose, for an instant of blissful union with something both greater than and deep within us, we experience a place where even the “I” can slip away.

Shabbat in 11 Parts

1. Sleep. Chalupa sleeps for six hours last night, then another 90 minutes. Mani gets up with her and I sleep for three more hours after that. When I wake, it is 8:30am. I instinctively quickly scan my consciousness to identify my kids’ whereabouts (their dad’s), then make my way into the kitchen where I hear about the morning’s adventures (we have a mouse, the neighbor’s cat is stalking our puppy, pee, poop, play, nap, repeat). I reheat the coffee then make another pot, lingering at the kitchen table until late morning. I write in my journal and the words came pouring out. Later, I talk to Mani about the journaling. I recognize the impulse, always, to jump to conclusions too quickly rather than letting things unfold in time.

2. I journal in fits and starts, but my dream life is off the hook on a continuous basis. This morning, I know it’s time to start writing them down again, to make room to listen to my subconscious and see what it’s showing me. Trusting that this has everything to do with growing as a person, recognizing how easy it can be to live and work on autopilot or in reaction to things. The groundedness and return to feeling connected to myself that comes with journal writing is unlike any other kind of writing for me. For my eyes only, with no intention of sharing. This is where I get to listen to my own wisdom. This is where I get to not know. This is where I get to remember that I am capable, and whole.

3. Lunch. Leftover filling from a chicken burrito. A cold, rainy day. I close the windows, read a little, take Chalupa outside at least two times, then get back in bed at 2:00pm for a nap.

4. At 3:00pm, I hear Mani and Chalupa going outside. I surrender to another 45 minutes in bed. Such deep sleep. Naps may be the only sleep I get without epic dreaming, and the utter darkness of mind comes as a relief.

5. My nephew has a free hour and comes over to meet his new canine cousin. They hit if off immediately and it’s sweet to have him here. He’ll be 16 in two months. How is this possible?

6. My sister, niece, and brother-in-law stop by to pick him up for some dinner plans they have. My sister calls from the driveway, saying they didn’t have time to visit. He talks her into coming inside, and the whole family falls all over the puppy. Watching my brother-in-law hold her, I had such a flashback to when all of our kids were littles. The whole time thing is crazy.

7. Mani and I make our respective dinners. She tells me about a documentary she’s watching, and we talk about how our physical health and the environment are so inextricably linked. It’s disheartening, how we’ve lost this connection in a culture driven by profit, food fads, and big pharma.

8. I make myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a salad. After I finish eating, I bring my laptop into the living room and read the newest pieces in my One Story: Ten Facets group. The writing fills me with gratitude. The privilege of witnessing people’s lives and reading their innermost thoughts and stories never gets old.

9. Now it’s 6:50pm. I can hear Chalupa snoring in her bed — all that visiting tired her out. Mani’s watching “The Human Longevity Film,” the documentary she’d been telling me about earlier. Outside is wet, good for the flowers. The soil, the sky, the air we breathe, the earth itself is us. We are it. The fact that we forget this so much of the time saddens me and also feels like an invitation home.

10. When I feel myself straining for answers, as if there is surely a “right” next step, it’s a signal to stop. To stop and get really quiet, to remember how it feels to be all the way here. Getting tangled in questions about purpose and form is often a form of avoidance for me, and when I make room to really pause, I realize there is nothing to avoid. Like a puppy or a child, perhaps wisdom can sense when we’re fearful — and is much more likely to approach and give us kisses when we’re calm.

11. A deep breath. The light changing so subtly and gradually, it’s almost impossible to discern. But soon enough, it will be dark outside. We’ll sleep once more, than start all over again.

The Time I Threw Out My New iPod: Taking Care of My Brain

Today, I was not just late for a meeting. Today I missed a meeting altogether. I’m loathe to tell you why, but you might guess so here it goes: I was sleeping. I had forgotten to double check my calendar before deciding to take a mid-morning nap with Mani, and sure enough, when I woke up I realized I was 30 minutes, also known as “too,” late to make it.

This morning, I had two copies of “Why I Was Late for Our Meeting” sitting on the little chest where we keep the dishes in the kitchen. I knew they were both books I set aside to give away. The problem was, I had no idea whom they were for. Over the course of two or so hours, some Facebook messages and emails tipped me off, and I remembered. But oh, the forgetting is disconcerting.

As I write this, Mani is in the other room doing her hour of “brain gym” exercises. She is becoming a veritable amateur scholar when it comes to neuroplasticity and our ability to not only rewire our brains but also strengthen them and keep them agile and able as we age. You might think we’re too young to be thinking about this stuff, but no. It starts now. The slipping. The “why did I come into this room again?”

I threw out my iPod shuffle last weekend. The brand new red one that I had especially engraved with words that seem slightly ironic now: “Everything counts.” I didn’t mean to toss it, mind you. I was bringing the trash down to the garage after a short run, and somehow I didn’t notice till later that the iPod was nowhere to be found.

On Monday, our landlord sent an email to us and our downstairs neighbor: “Anyone missing a small red iPod? Music’s terrible, but might be one of yours.” Hey, what? I responded with a yes, and a wink about needing to get better music. He wrote back, sounding a bit sheepish and blaming his kids for their musical taste. Last night, he dropped it off for me. End of story.

But clearly part of a bigger story, one where I begin to worry about my mind.

I used to worry about my mind being overactive. Now, it’s a lack of focus I find distressing. Mind you, this is not a constant state. I can tell you what year it is. Unfortunately, I can even tell you who the president of the United States is. I know my social security number, my kids’ birthdays, and people’s phone numbers I haven’t called in years. I keep track of multiple writing groups at any given moment, try to remember when we’re low on toilet paper, and write down appointments in my handy-dandy paper calendar. My 2016 taxes are even done. All things considered, as a working mama with my own business, I’m holding my own. I may have thrown out my iPod, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

But I want to do more than keep up and keep track of all the moving parts. I want to be intentional about what gets my time and attention and yes, where I hung up the car keys. (By the way, last year, I threw out my whole keychain in that same garbage can — true story. I never recovered those, though. Mani and I have been sharing keys ever since.) I want to be present to whatever I’m doing, not jumping up to make a cup of tea mid-sentence, or clicking over to one of the other 18 open tabs (I just counted) on my desktop when I’m still in the middle of writing something here.

I’m not even going to bother writing about shame. Bah, we don’t have time for that old story.

And I have no pithy words of wisdom about multitasking and how terrible it is for our brains. There are a million studies and books and websites addressing what we already now. Instead, I’m coming here to write about this simply because it’s true. It’s getting my attention and is the kind of thing where small concerns can quickly become big problems when they go untended.

I hear the beeps and boops of Mani’s computer program and see us: Two middle-aged women, not even three years married. Five kids between us with an 11-year age range. A peaceful apartment in a quiet neighborhood in a college town in the northeast, with plans to move to Southern California after my two have turned 18 (or sooner, should the universe conspire on our behalf). I see us on this mission to be healthy not only of body but of mind and spirit, too.

I just spoke with a friend today, whose partner’s father has brain cancer. The surgery he had required cutting out part of his brain, the part that controls empathy and emotion. I want to rush into the next room to say, “I love you.” In fact, we do this many times each day — stop and give thanks. It’s a near constant. Even on days when I am rattled or rushed, a conversation with her will bring me back to something softer and kinder inside of myself.

I leave in 10 minutes to pick kids up early from school for eye doctor appointments. My work day is chopped up; I will return to the computer to catch up with all of my writing peeps later, most likely while Aviva and Pearl are at the rock gym with their dad. But right now, I am here. I am writing this blog post. I am taking a breath in, and I am taking a breath out. I hear the rhythm of it and realize I’m doing ujjayi pranayama — ocean breath — without even meaning to. It’s soothing and centering.

I hear the “ding” of another Facebook notification; at least 12 have occurred in the 20 or so minutes since I began writing. I choose to ignore it, for now. I will finish what I started, before beginning the next thing. And see if I can bring some kindness to myself as I keep practicing this.

Last night, I wrote something about not being unnecessarily hard on myself, then realized that being hard on ourselves is never necessary. Yes, we can identify things that need our attention. Sometimes these are even urgent. There is so much waking up to do. But beating ourselves up really doesn’t expedite the learning; if anything, it makes me want to run the other way.

No running away. No lashes on the back. Just honesty with myself and a willingness to be real here, too. It’s a good place to start again. After all, everything counts.

Don’t Burn Out or Numb Out: On Pacing Myself for Long-Haul Resistance

I’m having a moment of feeling so sad. Just so sad.

I’m watching live video from Standing Rock. Reading about the revocation of transgender rights, such as they were extended by the Obama administration. An “approach” to gun violence in Chicago so racist it made my head spin. And so much more. I have been trying to be intentional about staying focused on community and connection, truth-telling and self-care, all as the basis for long-term resisting. But I worry about my own blind spots and will keep coming back, knowing that I don’t know what I don’t know but determined to keep peeling back the layers so as not to be a walking part of the systems that got us here in the first place.

I know that’s what we’re up against — the long-term part. Sometimes I seriously doubt that we’ll ever “recover” from this moment in American and world history. We were already so broken, so much unfaced, unacknowledged, unhealed, that this feels like a chasm in the earth that will just grow wider and wider, with more and more people falling into it. The ones who will fall in fastest — we all know who these groups are. Immigrants. Muslims. People of color. Poor women. LGBT folks. Jews. Groups of people that are each so diverse it’s a preposterous failure of language to even list them this way.

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table feeling sad and angry at the greed and white power sitting in the highest office of this country, while those who try to protect the water that serves 18 million Americans are being forced off of their own land. While those whose blood, sweat, and tears built everything we’re sitting on get sold down the river. While hardworking business owners and mamas and fathers and students and musicians and children and the people who change the goddamn sheets at the nice hotels where these politicians lay their unconscionable heads at night fear for their safety, their homes, their livelihoods, their families, and their lives.

I say “their” knowing full well that any idea that my world is more secure is an illusion, one I refuse to get lulled into believing, though must also confront everyday as directly as possible if I’m going to be of any use to the collective. So tonight, my friends, I’m just feeling all the feelings. I have no actions to put forth or suggestions to make or knowledge about how to deal with this. I know there are a zillion resources and I’m plugging into ones I feel like I can commit to, rather than flitting around, both in real life and virtually — in the forms of giving small amounts of money (believing everything counts), time (believing everything counts), and learning (my own, because lord knows I have so fucking much to learn and unlearn).

The question of “is it enough” isn’t one I spend time worrying about; we each have to pace ourselves in order to neither burn out nor numb out. It’s no accident that Mani and I are boot-camping a new schedule starting this week; I’m already seeing just a few days in just how much I need this structure in order to take better physical care of myself, and that my work — both in the sense of livelihood and providing for my family as the sole earner right now, and in the sense of contributing to the Resistance in meaningful ways — all hinge on this.

Sleep, water, food, friends, moving the body, time to write. All of this needs to be tended to every single day — something I have typically sucked at for a long time. I’m not saying that as self-abuse; it’s just true, and even though it’s often hard, saying what’s true and acting accordingly really is the path to freedom. My freedom. Your freedom. My sisters. My brothers. I hurt for us. And I’m not giving up. I will never, ever give up.

No matter what else, find people you can share with. Find spaces where you feel safe to come and just be — where you know you can show up as you are and be met and supported. We have to keep being here for each other. This so-called government wants us to implode. To be scattered in so many directions we lose steam. Please keep reaching out, writing, and showing up in whatever ways makes sense for your life.  And maybe even in some ways that disrupt your life, too.

How and what are you doing when it comes to finding your footing here? All I know for sure is that there is a lot of stumbling, and that we are truly stronger together.

* * *

If We Divide, We Don’t Conquer by Carmen Rios :: Read
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