No More Crawling

“I will always want myself.” ~ Ijeoma Umebinyou

No more crawling on my knees in the desert for miles, trying to be noticed, trying to be rescued, trying to be good.

No more crawling on my knees for pity or crawling on my knees for crumbs of joy. No more crying for what cannot be restored or repaired, no more looking over my shoulder like Lot’s Wife who did not even get to speak her own name.

No. I am whole. I am so many rooms. I am unfinished ocean. I promise to stay. I promise to return to this quiet place of presence, knowing it is — I am — enough. Knowing I do not need to be better, do not need more bells or louder whistles. I promise to greet myself everyday: Hello, beautiful, you are here.

I am whole. I promise to offer myself those three words, especially on days when doubt rolls in like a fog that won’t lift. I promise to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

No more hesitating or holding back, no more clumsy cartwheels trying to keep up with the pack, no more overcompensating for fabricated shortcomings. I promise to see holiness in the smallest of daily tasks: Prepping coffee for my beloved, sleepy hugs in the kitchen as each one of us rises. I promise to keep showing up and doing my work in this world, and I promise to take rest, real rest.

God, I know I can forget sometimes, forget to call, forget to write. Thanks for not guilt-tripping me about it. I will always want myself just as I will always want you. I will always want myself. I will always want you. I want. I will. I always. I am. I am whole. I promise.

I promise I will keep starting even if I don’t always finish. I promise I will be gentle in making room for myself and others to be human, to change our minds, to not have the words for the feeling. I promise to remember that this is enough. I am enough. I promise to breathe when reaction and rant overtake me. I promise to stand up.

No more crawling. No more crumbs. No more crumbling. No more pity. And I promise not to berate myself when I inevitably fall to my knees. Pain is allowed, and so is dancing.

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.

* * *

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

Being the Tree, Surviving the Winter

I want to say something about this tree, and since I’m not sure where to start, I’m just going to start.

First of all, a couple of weeks ago, I was losing faith in this tree. After a relatively cold April, the other trees in the neighborhood were starting to bud. But the only sign of life for this tree was the moss growing on its trunk and branches. I took a look at it from my daughter’s bedroom in the front of our second-floor apartment, feeling concerned.

The front yard of our house is small, hardly a yard at all. But this tree is its defining feature, providing a swath of shade all summer and a gorgeous, brief show each fall.

A few mornings later, the neighbor and I were chatting, admiring the quince bush blossoming between our driveways. I gestured towards the tree, expessing my worry, but it was more small talk than anything else. In my head, I wondered: Was it ok? Was it dead? Would it thrive once again? Is this how it’s supposed to look in the early spring? How long do we give it? Oy.

This morning, a perfect 66 degrees, not a hint of humidity in the air and not a cloud in the sky, I took our new pup outside to pee. These frequent potty trips tend to turn into mini adventures as she explores her new environs. Today, we met a dog walker and a friendly golden retriever, with whom Chalupa was eager to play.

The light filtered through the red leaves and suddenly it dawned on me that somewhere along the way, sometime during all the times I came and went and passed the tree, drove, walked, and ran in and out of the driveway, focused on the coming and the going, the errands, the running, the lessons, the meetings, the tree did something. It had come back to life.

* * *

When I was a teenager, my parents once gave me a book called The Tree That Survived the Winter, written by Mary Fahy and illlustrated by Emil Antonucci. The book was published in 1989, so I was probably 15 or 16. Resilience was not a word we used back then, at least not one I remember hearing. I wonder if they looked at me and saw the tree as I saw our tree, i.e. with worry. Would I be ok? Would I thrive? Would I get through a difficult time? When would I blossom?

Blossoming was something I was actively not doing at that time in my life; if anything, I had arrested myself into a semi-permanent state of non-pubescence, by losing weight and entering into amenorrhea, despite the fact that I’d started menstruating and had had a regular cycle since I was 11. I staved off womanhood and swallowed my own voice, the way a snake eats a small animal while it’s still alive. In 1993, the year The Piano came out, I wept, so strongly did I identify with Holly Hunter’s character who had chosen to be mute as a form of protest, though she poured all of that emotion into the keys.

I did survive that winter, and blossoming came in fits and starts for the next 20 or so year. I blossomed, quite literally, during both of my pregnancies. I loved the fullness of feeling the life grow inside of me. I loved nursing and napping and discovering the world through their eyes. And I struggled, too, with depression, during and after both pregnancies.

I agonized over whether to go back on anti-depressants when I was in my first trimester with Pearl, and finally deciding that my falling apart would ultimately be more harmful to the baby than the smallest possible dose of Zoloft. I wondered what was wrong with me when, three-weeks postpartum with my first child, my then mother-in-law commented that I sure was taking a long time to get back on my feet. I saw women jogging with their newborns in strollers and couldn’t figure out how they did it.

My winters came intermittently, but they always came. And each time, I would feel convinced that this was my default state, and that the blooming was a fluke. The fear that I wouldn’t bloom again scared me, and the fear didn’t help matters. Writing became one of my sources of staying anchored inside of myself and my life, rather than drifting off. Everyday life, too, with its rhythms and routines, grounded me. But I would still sometimes think, in order to really bloom, something big must change. I should be different. I should be better, bigger, different, other than this.

The therapist who witnessed me through my second pregnancy and the transition to having two kiddos introduced me to Tara Brach and the notion of radical acceptance. After more than a decade of reading Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhist teachers, this opened a new door for me of practice, one that led me more deeply into mindfulness and meditation practices. I continued writing, too, as well as running, connecting with friends, and making time as best I could with a young family to listen to my own small voice.

* * *

When I first came out, I experience a profound, life-changing understanding of myself and my life up until that point. From body dysmorphia to depression, I was now able to see for the first time the toll it had taken to contain myself in this careful way for so long. It was messy. And I was also convinced, briefly, that that was the end of the line. I’d figured out why it had been so hard for so long, and now, smooth sailing ahead!

Well, yes and also not so much. Periods of intense discovery and growth can be disorienting and thrilling and confusing and blinding in their own ways. So, when I realized I had in fact taken myself with myself into this brave new world, there was something of a letdown. What do you mean I still all this other work to do?!

That “other work” over what is now nearly eight years continues to teach me. Radical acceptance and staying present remain cornerstones of my spiritual practices, as does writing. Learning how to weather occasional emotional storms without getting swept out to sea is a lifelong process of self-love, trust, and patience.

Seeing the ways I expect too much too fast — just as I did with the tree not long ago — is a place of ongoing awareness and subtle shifts, as is the temptation to compare myself to how others are growing. Noticing when I go into fear mode is always an internal signal that it’s time to regroup and return to what is — and allowing what is to be enough.

The tree is in its full spring glory now. Sure enough, its revival happened without external help, because it’s programmed to move through these cycles of death and rebirth. Perhaps we, too, carry these deep instructions, each of us carrying our own unique code of becoming.

To grow more at ease with the process — that seems to be my work in this lifetime. Thankfully, I have some beautiful teachers, one of them right in my very own front yard. The tree survived just fine. Just look at her.

Promise Me You’ll Never Abandon Yourself Again


That J-shaped line over your right eyebrow. The thick brows you’ve only waxed once, just to try it. Those deep grooves in your forehead that remind you of the ways toddlers sometimes draw waves, or maybe clouds on an otherwise clear day. The shape your mouth makes when you almost smile. Eyes exactly the same in photos as they did when you were a baby, a kindergartener, a teenager, a new mama yourself.  The moles that you need to have checked. The vertical lines between your eyes, evidence of so much furrowing.

Remember how you always loved the skin on your mom’s forearms? How soft it was, you couldn’t believe it. Like satin.

How your nearly 12-year-old son likes to squeeze the skin on the top of your hand, to see how long it stays pinched. Is he testing your elasticity, subconsciously gauging how much time he might still have you near?

And your teenage daughter’s claiming of her own beauty, not letting the world define it for her.

The belly soft, skin puckery, a roll of fat you didn’t used to have and don’t much mind, though truth be told you are still learning. It is evidence, you decide, of your existence, your choices of sustenance over starvation and oxygen over nicotine.

Today, a high of 43 degrees, and you set out for a two-mile run, your first in close to six months. Will your lower back allow it? We’ll see. You go slowly — no phone, no iPod, no headphones, no tracking devices. Just you and your feet, like the first time you ran two miles more than a quarter century ago.

Now your friends who are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s don’t seem old. Old is maybe 80s, you decide. So at 44, you’re a spring chicken. But not exactly. You’re in the middle, if you’re lucky. You’re no longer a young woman, no longer chasing after small people, no longer chasing after a better life. No, you are a grown woman now. And for as grown as you felt after birthing each of your kids, you know now that this is different. Something has shifted. You’ve changed.

Your weight is 15 pounds more than it was  for most of the last two decades. You no longer wear the smallest size on the rack or eat the smallest portion on the menu. You also no longer inhale a dozen clove cigarettes a day or find yourself winded from making the bed. You know the value of health from the deepest interiors of life, having witnessed your wife’s close encounter with death and subsequent recovery.

You will never again take this body for granted. Not for a day.

Does this mean you take the best possible care of it you could? No. You eat sugar, which know is probably the actual devil. You have never owned a juicer and fall way short on the cooking front, both for yourself and your children. You don’t go to a gym or have a regular workout routine. But you have also softened on those fronts, and perhaps it’s for the best — you don’t obsess, over any of it.

When you were 17, dinner in your very first dorm cafeteria was a tortilla with a piece of nonfat cheese melted on it in a microwave. You called this a quesadilla, and I am so sad to think that this was your idea of eating. Later, you’d borrow your father’s car to go down to the frozen yogurt shop, where you would sample as many flavors as they would allow before ordering. Some nights, you felt embarrassed when you walked in. Embarrassed by yourself. Seen and yet knowing you were inside of your own ritual, which would likely end later that night with purging in the girls’ bathroom when you thought no one else was there.

You have healed so much. You have discovered the joys of libido, something you always just assumed you didn’t have much of. You have discovered the freedom of not worrying about gaining weight, because you have gained weight and life is more content and purposeful than ever.

Not fighting your body has opened up space to fight for the things that really matter — truth, connection, justice, courage.

You still often don’t feel beautiful.  You look in the mirror and whoa, you have aged so much. It’s a bit of a shock some days. Then you remember how young you still are, and smile. May you live to hold your great-great-grandchildren.

Loving yourself here is a practice. Just remember how you feel after that two-mile run and a hot shower midday — a little stronger, a little more glowing, a little more ready for whatever’s next.

You’re raising kids now. Kids with bodies and inner lives and thoughts and experiences you don’t know about. Kids with relationships to their bodies so very different than yours has ever been.

And you know what you want to teach and model for them: Self-love. That’s it. Unconditional, non-negotiable self-love. Not at the expense of anyone else — true love never demands that. And not at the expense of humility — that, too, is not what love is.

No, self-love that’s constant and spacious and gives them room to change, to grow, to relate to themselves as miraculous and capable.

Look at yourself with tenderness and amazement. You’re here. You made it to this moment. You are beautiful, exactly as you are. Promise me you’ll never abandon yourself again.

* * *
Join me and poet/herbalist Adrie Rose for two weeks of writing prompts and gentle self-care suggestions. The Body Now meets online March 19-30 and is limited to 20 participants. Register today to hold your spot. All bodies welcome.

The Self-Abandonment of Envy


I want to say I’m so over envy. It’s such an illusion, this envy business. It is also a kind of violence to myself, a way of abandoning my own life, my own body, my own choices, my own love, my own ideas, my own consequences, my own power. Every time I covet that one’s house or this one’s relationship, this one’s money or that one’s body, I am choosing something false over what’s solid and tangible and real.

The rabbit holes are endless and futile; early in the morning before we get up, or in the middle of the night sometimes I fall; I wake up tunneling like a small animal in the deep, unable to find my way out. It takes effort to end this indulgence, to return to the bed, the room, the belly, the breath, the life that is in every way mine.

I want to say I eschew envy. Doesn’t that sound so mature? More like self-righteous and suspicious. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I’ve heard enough stories to know that everyone has one and no one else’s life is perfect. But damn, that house! Damn, that togetherness! Damn, those shoulders! Damn, that vacation!

Once, when I asked a client what she imagined when she pictured her “ideal writing life,” she said, “Well, I really like yours.” I was so taken aback. I couldn’t decide in the moment how to respond. I was flustered. Part of me felt a surge of anger, like, no, you can’t have mine. It’s already taken. Part of me wanted to laugh. Here was a woman who had cashed out from her years in the private sector and basically had the freedom to do whatever she wanted; no partner, no kids…. oh, waitaminute, could she be lonely? Longing for family life? Was she envying me?!

No, no, no. Don’t envy me. When you envy me, you objectify me. You stop seeing my realness. So the flip side must be true, too. When I envy you, I no longer see you. And I am kind of a fan of us seeing each other.

That said, oh my god I am a total goner. I want everything in the Anthropologie store. I want a beautiful house. I want I want I want.

But this doesn’t last long. Especially when I stop and realize I’m in a trance of capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative bullshit designed to keep me disowning myself and falling into the lull that I will never have enough.

No more. I will practice every single day if I have to.

We don’t have to disavow wanting. Wanting can be a beautiful force, propelling us towards naming obstacles and deciding where to place our time, money, and energy. But envy? It will clobber you with lack every time if you let it.

Don’t let it.