Already Whole: Day Three

In today’s edition of Real Life, we present the sink full of dishes & the laundry that needs to be separated into 4 piles. Not shown: Trash & recycling, unmade bed, desk in disarray. This is my kitchen. It’s also my office.

This morning on a short run, I reminded myself: You are out for a short run at 10:00am on a Thursday, clearing your head between waking, a couple hours of work & a call with a writing coaching client. It’s easy to forget that this was what I once longed for. I would sit in my office on campus, looking out the giant window at the summer day, watching the clock, wondering how I would survive indoors till 4:30.

I didn’t quit my job as much as life pushed me out of the nest. My wife was in very serious condition health-wise, with a steep, narrow, lonely & painful climb ahead. My being home was imperative for practical reasons. I didn’t follow my bliss as much as I pried fear’s fingers away & chose to believe we’d be ok.

It’s not always easy or pretty. I don’t work in a Pinterest-like space or have someone come clean my house. We rent our apartment & pay more than I once spent each month on a mortgage. But it’s our home and I say thank you every single time I leave the grocery store with a cartful of food, every time we go to the doctor and pay the co-pay.

The ACA made it possible for me to leave my full-time job two years ago. Health insurance was vital, as was my being home. If it hadn’t been for the connector care plan we’ve been enrolled in since, I honestly don’t know what we would have done. Like millions of Americans, we would have figured it out–or not.

Running a household and a business, being there not only for but with my wife and kids, and taking care of myself– it’s a lot. We *all* have a lot. If I’ve learned anything from leading writing groups, it’s that.

You know what? Our real lives are treasure troves of amazing stories. Shitty, hard ones. Gorgeous, glorious ones. And 10,000 in-betweens, where life unfolds & surprises us, plunges us down & lifts us up again.

Every day brings new dishes & laundry: Evidence that we’re alive. Yay. And sometimes a drag, too. I’m all about the space where both get to be true.

What stories are you ready to shed or share?

Written as a member of the support team for Already Whole, a 3-day storytelling campaign created and hosted by Andréa Ranae Johnson and Cameron Airen to launch Whole Self Liberation

The Art of Taking Rest

Photo: Ismael Nieto

Photo: Ismael Nieto

1. Shabbat (It Can Wait)

It starts Friday. By about 3:00pm, I feel it coming. The kids have headed to their dad’s. The internet grows relatively quiet. Writing in my groups slows down as people wrap up the work week. I come into the bedroom and tell Mani I’m debating between a nap and errands. She takes one look at me and tells me the answer without saying a word.

Two hours later, I get up and post on Facebook:

Unless it’s burning or bleeding, it can wait. It can wait a minute. An hour. A full 24 hours. The work will be better for having rested, the connections deeper, the mind sharper, the ideas brighter, and the heart clearer.

It sounds nice. But this does not come easily to me, this letting things wait. There’s some fear underlying it, a shadow side to my intention. As a provider for my family, I could easily work seven days a week, taking breaks of course, but really, sitting down at my computer first thing in the morning and working until late each night is not uncommon ’round these parts.

Thus: Shabbat. A day of rest. Truly a whole day. Not just a 20-minute run or afternoon nap with my love. Not just squeezing in a swim or watching Kids Cupcake Wars at bedtime, but taking an entire night and day off from being actively engaged with the world beyond the walls of my home and whatever outside I might choose to step into.

Truth is, this happens maybe once, twice a month. And it doesn’t happen to me. I have to make it a priority like my house was on fire and rest is the only thing that will put out the flames and salvage the treasures inside.

If I inherited my father’s love of language, I also have a maternal gene for movement. My mother is the hummingbird: Quick, light, always in motion. It’s funny; as I write I’m thinking how much more I identify with a sloth than a fast-moving little bird! But that very sluggishness is the counterpart to my capacity to fit a lot in to the waking hours — sometimes too much.

Returning, again and again, to balance — this is my practice. And without going “dark,” sometimes I fear my light will go out for good.

Balancing out the fear is faith, which includes letting go of ego. Ego says: It is all up to you! Faith reminds me: Not only won’t things fall apart without my constant presence, but really, the world depends much, much less on me than I sometimes fall for believing. If my work were so fragile that it depended on me being swiftly responsive to every single ping and poke and tag and comment and inquiry, we’d be in big trouble.

And so. I step back. Shabbat Shalom. 

2. From Sundown to Sundown (A Whole Lot of Nothing)

Saturday morning, the sun still rises. Hallelujah.

We spend the day hanging out together doing a whole lot of nothing. Wake up around 10:00am. Drink coffee in bed. Read some New York Times articles out loud to Mani. Resist the urge to share several things on Facebook.

At some point after lunch, we get our sexy on, then nap without my setting an alarm as I do during the work week.

After I get up, it’s time for a late-afternoon swim at Puffer’s, gliding through the spring-fed water, feeling strong and grateful. Then I eat a burrito in town before coming home to make dinner for Mani. (We still don’t eat together, due to her mast cell disease, though we are determined that this will change.)

The beauty of a day of real rest is that you don’t necessarily remember how you spent it. You just remember that it was… wait for it… restful.

Such a relief. Such a necessity. Such a reset. “I’m going to have to write about this,” I tell Mani. She laughs. “I knew you were going to say that.” It’s nice to be known.

3. Havdalah (A Sweet Week)

For those of you who aren’t Jewish, or who (like I was for the first half of my life, Jewish without knowing anything about Judaism), at the end of Shabbat there is a beautiful ceremony called havdalah, which means “separation.”

Separation is a big thing for Jews. It’s how we know what’s what. What’s holy and what’s mundane; what’s darkness and what’s light; what’s right and what’s unjust. Shabbat, the day of rest, sits apart from the other six days. The busy ones. The ones that blur by, with everyday demands, schedules, things to make and do.

Shabbat is when we sit back and see and feel and, in the language of yoga and savasana, “receive the benefits of our practice.” I’ve never heard a rabbi compare Shabbat to savasana, actually, but it’s often what comes to mind for me as an obvious parallel. We practice, stretch, sweat it out (literally or figuratively), show up, struggle, learn, listen, work, respond, and take care of all the kinds of business, all week long.

In the documentary we watched Friday night, I Am Not Your Guru, Tony Robbins talks about how many people think of life as happening TO us and not FOR us. That shift is a game-changer, and no matter your station or situation in life, I believe we all have the ability and right to make that decision.

But without some rest, without time to integrate so much activity and reaction and keeping up, I’m a goner. I forget what it’s even like to FEEL. I lose touch with priorities; all of life, work, and love become one flat landscape with no distinguishing features.

Last night — as the last of the yellow, post-thunderstorm light faded, I sang to Mani. “A good week, a week of peace. May gladness reign, and joy increase. A good week, a week of peace. May gladness reign, and joy increase.” Then I wished her shavua tov, a sweet week, as is customary.

4. Sunday (I Am the Storm)

Sunday afternoon. I’ve spent the day so far writing, reading, interacting online, and doing our August budget. And that’s when it starts. I see the storm rolling in — and the storm is me.

Now, wait just a minute now; wasn’t that day of rest supposed to keep this kind of thing from happening? Uhhhh, let me think. Nope. As it turns out, resting does not make you superhuman. Moods still happen. This falls–as Mani reminds me–under the heading of “being human.”

It’s not easy to keep loving myself when I am the storm. I like myself a lot more when I’m the rest — double entendre intended.

I see it coming — the storm that is me. The storm that is a mood, nothing more, nothing less, and yet so easy to mistake as a failure, obliterating all the “good” stuff and making me a fraud for sharing beautiful moments on social media.

It comes on with a wispy but noticeable gust; I’m frustrated that the GPS on my phone took me on a wild-goose chase to meet up with my niece and sister for a nice dip at the little town beach they like.

I see it coming and cannot not stop it, just the way dark clouds roll in late in these hot summer afternoons, suddenly it’s dark at 5:00pm in July and the thunder rumbles in warning and then boom! Here comes the deluge.

It’s all-encompassing. I find myself hating the people in front of me in line at the grocery store, and the guy in the big truck who guns his engines. I imagine getting into a shouting match with him about politics. I hate myself a little for being hateful.

I make a point of thanking my angels the whole time I’m walk up to our second-floor apartment with the bags of groceries. It takes two trips, though I leave the 24-pack of water bottles in the backseat. I put everything away. I go pee in Aviva’s bathroom, so as not to wake Mani from a nap, only to see that her shampoo, which was upside down, has leaked all over the edges of the tub.

Part of me wants to call her at her dad’s and holler: YOU HAVE TO BE MORE CAREFUL. Thunder and lightning by now, rain lashing the windows of my mind, wind howling. I scrub and wipe and rinse. Next, I move to the dishes that I ignored all day in the kitchen sink. I’m noticing anger rising at a friend I’m feeling blown off by. I’m recognizing the drama of this even as I feel helpless to stop it. I’m breathing. I’m washing dishes. I’m breathing.

I burst into the bedroom and rant to Mani about the friend. Suddenly, I wonder if I have any friends who are feeling hurt by me. Shit. It feels good, though, to just say words out loud. To just say it, without actually blowing up a friendship I care about.

I make some food for Mani. Then I realize I ought to eat, too. I get out the smoked turkey, Monterey Jack, and lettuce, smear some mayo on a flour tortilla, and call it dinner. I realize the storm has let up a bit. But something in me knows that if I am going to write about taking rest, I have to write about this, too. About losing my shit and being ok. About how yucky and awful it feels to be inside that kind of storm — to be the storm itself.

I take a look around myself. My love for my people has not been annihilated. My beating heart is still intact, no worse for the wear. I haven’t done anything irreversible or harmful to others.

And the words I shared earlier in the day are not fraudulent. They are, like everything we share on social media, a glimpse. A moment. Nothing any of us shares is ever everything, but that doesn’t make any of it less genuine.

This is the summer of ripe avocados and blue corn tortilla chips.
Of coaching and talking about writing and life, seeing your faces and hearing your voices in Japan, England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, and all around the U.S.
Of not waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Of exhaling and believing the next breath will come, until it doesn’t, and no point worrying about that.
Of summer bodies, swimming to the dam, and walking around the house topless when the kids aren’t home.
Of an all-the-way open heart that’s learning how to have a swinging gate.
Of welcome, come in. Of closed for a nap, be back in an hour.

Of not knowing what’s next. Of knowing that we never know what’s next.
Of not letting that stop us from making all kinds of fabulous plans. Because if we don’t know, why not go big?
Of saying I’m here and then letting go. Of not pushing.
Of listening to the nervous system. Of rewiring old patterns of fight, of flight, of saying goodbye to the old, familiar you’re-in-trouble-shouldnta-said-written-shared-that voice.
Of loving the shit out of my wife. Of flowers I don’t pick and engines I don’t start and games I don’t play. Of wild blackberries.
This is the summer of entering year two — year two of not smoking, year two of self-employment.
Of standing on some kind of imaginary plateau and what a view and now what, but first a snack.
Of strong thighs and soft belly and loving the way my 40s are reshaping not only my body but my relationship to its sexy curves and grown-up realness.
Of trust. Has it ever not been the summer of trust? Nevermind, don’t answer that.
Of banging up against perfectionism and seeing it for what it is. Flimsy. Fake.
This is the summer of seeing what happens, when I remember it’s just practice.

5. After the Storm (Resilience)

Is it obvious, what I’m going to say now? Taking rest is a practice. Like any practice — from teeth-brushing to meditation to writing — this is not a one-time thing.

If you believe in God, this is the part where you sing God’s praises and say, Damn, that was smart, the whole Shabbat thing. It’s like God not only saw the writing on the wall — oh, these beautiful humans are going to be a mess sometimes — but like God, too, needed time to integrate all of that making and doing, all of that responding and surveying and deciding what to create next.

Shabbat doesn’t save me from moods, but it gives me a little more resilience when they come. Being good to myself — spending time just being — this is what reinforces the inner architecture that can withstand the gale force winds of emotions, passing moods, hormones, and other potentially damaging forces.

I write about practice. My work, be it prompting people in their writing or their lives (or both, as if often the case), is completely oriented around practice. And like all practitioners — of anything, really — I’m no exception. When I don’t take rest, my resilience goes out the window. It becomes a victim of the storm. And since the storm is me, I literally become my own victim. That’s really not how I want this to go.

And so I take rest. I hold on to the rafters when I have to. And I watch when the skies clear. I lean over and kiss my wife on the cheek. It’s dark, time for bed almost. And I’m ready, for a brand new week.

Life’s A Lot of Work, I’m Tired


Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired. 

These are the seven word, seven syllables, that came into my mind as I ran.

I was surprised to be running. I’d been running, sure — errands. I thought it might turn out to be the kind of day when I go around in running clothes but never actually end up running. I’d gone to the post office to mail our taxes stuff off to my what-would-we-do-without-her accountant in Northern Vermont (loyalty, yo), along with an overdue parking ticket. I’d stopped off at the library to return two books that were so overdue they’d been marked off as missing. (Shit, I’m noticing a theme here…). I drove to the grocery store, receipt in hand, to pick up the paper towels and bottled water I’d paid for but left behind yesterday, in between picking Aviva up from the bus and Pearl up from Hebrew school.

A slight headache that began yesterday morning, and that low-grade meh that comes every month so predictably you could set a Swiss clock by it. It’s too minor to be called depression, and too insistent to ignore.

It felt like a minor accomplishment to be out running errands in running clothes in the first place. I glanced at the weather app on my phone. Temperature: 21. RealFeel: 1.

One degree? I could hear the little voice in my head, the one that wants to pick a fight with life. The same one that gets whiny and wants a vacation.

But I did it. I left the car in the Stop & Shop parking lot, set a timer for 20 minutes, and ran. Hands red and cold, breath surprisingly steady, twenty minutes of sun and oxygen and heart rate up and moving through space and time enough to get things moving, including my mood.

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired. These seven words, these seven syllables, like ticker-tape. A mantra. An allowance to acknowledge that it’s ok not to be the energizer bunny. Not to be “on” all the time or positive all the time. Not to have to defend “tired” as if somehow it contraindicates gratitude. No, I will not buy into that noise.

I looped back to the car, rosy-cheeked. And as I drove home, with grand plans to shower and nap before doing work, I talked to myself a bit. I do this — I talk in the car when I’m alone all the time. I talk to God, I talk to my angels, and I talk to myself. Maybe it’s all the same, who knows. There’s something about the car, though, that seems to bring out some of my clearest moments.

And you know what I said?

I have a great boss.  She sends me home for a few hours to shower and rest when she can see that I’m feeling tired or down or achey or just meh

Suddenly, I had a new framework for my morning funk. I’d been up since 6:00am. I’d gotten two kids off to school. I’d resisted the rabbit hole of the bad news and the even worse news we’re all stewing in. I’d also resisted the rabbit hole of all the “shoulds” that come to my door some mornings, peddling their snake oil and suitcases filled with fears gussied up as magic potions, potions that will help me make more money, have more energy, write more beautifully, connect more deeply, and all other manner of bigger, better, different, and next.

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired.

Instead, I wrote a haiku at a red light. Those seven syllables were the first of three little lines. Later, after a long, hot shower, I climbed back into bed.  Because I have a great boss, and she told me to get some rest before coming back to the office. I mean, kitchen table.

I looked over at my wife. “Is it ok that I wrote that I’m tired on Facebook?”

She looked at me with something I can only describe as confusion. And before she could say another word, I answered my own question, chagrined that I’d asked that in the first place. Did I really just ask that? As if being tired, as if saying that life is a lot of work sometimes, is somehow something to keep to myself or downplay or conceal? Social media is weird.

Earlier, I’d read words I needed more than I knew. They planted themselves in my psyche as I set out in my running clothes to run errands.

Dear Sister,

What looks or feels like laziness is actually exhaustion 9 times out of 10

Take the time you need and rest your body and soul

Desiree Adaway

So, so true. I can berate myself for being “lazy,” or love myself by recognizing when I’m exhausted. This distinction makes all the difference.

I’ve held several full-time jobs. The kind you go to in the morning and come home from eight or nine hours later. I’ve also always had a full-time life. Imagine that! And life and work were often at odds in some way, vying for my time and attention. Sometimes, there was that sweet spot, where the two overlapped. I loved that.

Since striking out on my own again, one thing I keep encountering is this: You take yourself with you. (Duh.)

I still have those crying-out moments, when I’m tired and there’s too much and I wonder, how will I keep going? Where I fear, if I “stop,” everything will fall apart.

And here’s the thing: I am gathering evidence. Over time, one day, one week, one month, six months now without a traditional paycheck, that we are ok. That I can trust life. That I can relax. Take rest. Reset, regroup, recharge. All those fabulous “re” words.

There’s no glory in burning out just as there’s no shame in saying, “I’m tired.” Or, “I need a hand.” Or (gasp!), “This can wait.”

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired.

To say as much is not an admission or cop-out or an embarrassment or a complaint. It doesn’t mean I’m not madly in love with my life and my work. It’s just honest.

I joke a lot about napping and how much I love it. A few days ago, I even came up with a title to add to “promptress.” (Naptress!) Today, after a much-needed and delicious nap, Mani took it a step further by calling herself a sleepologist and coming up with a brilliant slogan: “To rest is to invest.” See? I’m quoting the real experts here, people. This, from a woman who used to thrive on all of four or five hours of sleep a night. Where I was a devoted napper and an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, she was more “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Amazingly, I now work at home and can nap pretty liberally, and rest is now a crucial part of her healing journey. How about that?

Oh, life. You keep showing me this and I keep picking fights with you before surrendering, sometimes gracefully but more often than not, collapsing in a heap.

Thank you, for such patient, welcoming arms.