A Drive, a Dog, and a Question

Maybe I’m avoiding politics, or maybe it’s the restlessness that sometimes accompanies my cycle, even as it grows shorter and less reliable. Maybe it’s the fall air, warm for September yet still hinting at change. Maybe it’s being home with a puppy and Mani not feeling well, that sudden need to get out of the house.

I piled her into the backseat, on top of the seat cover we got so as not to destroy the car with fur. Pulled up a podcast I’ve been wanting to listen to, hit play, and started driving. As soon as we got on the highway, I felt like I’d made a mistake. Somehow, Chalupa had gotten herself underneath the seat cover, so now it was above her. Like a toddler in a fort, she panted and paced, and I regretted not harnessing her. I regretting getting in the car at all.

A wave of anxiety came over me.

With the dog panting, her head between the two front seats, eyes on the road — no joke — I kept my hands on the wheel. The internet cut out, and with it, the podcast, so it was just me, dog, traffic, and the question of why I had thought this would be a good idea. She was shedding all over the seats of Mani’s car. I imagined telling Mani about the whole outing when we got home. How it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

You may be wondering: What is she even talking about? Why is this a big deal? And rationally speaking, it wasn’t. An impulsive outing to a town 30 minutes north of here with my puppy in the backseat — maybe not the most relaxing choice, but certainly nothing to beat myself up about. And yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing as I drove, trying to soothe her, vividly reliving the days of having a baby and needing to do anything but stay home and driving, but instead of falling asleep, the baby just cries and your stress levels go up instead of down.

I pulled over at a Dunkin’ Donuts and walked around the side, then the back. Chalupa peed. She sniffed an abandoned stroller and I wondered what had happened there. Then Chalupa pooped and sniffed some more, before we walked back around to the front of the store. I opened the entrance door wide enough to ask the woman at the counter if we could have a cup of water, and she kindly brought one outside. Chalupa lapped it up, leaving a small puddle by her front paws, and I heaved her back into the backseat (she’s not quite tall enough to leap up herself).

It was not a relaxing outing.

I didn’t listen to the podcast. I didn’t even listen to music. Driving with doggles did not make Kavanaugh go away, nor the cold that has hit my family, one of us at a time over the past week. It didn’t alleviate my unfounded anxiety or give me any great ideas. I was just glad to get home. Apparently, Chalupa was, too; she is crashed out under the kitchen table now.

Some days, I feel this tug I can’t name. It’s part sad, part dull, part blank, part tired. It’s the parts of me I think of as less appealing. I am quiet, introverted. I don’t have much to say. I don’t have sparkles or glitter or pizzazz. I am just here. I am breathing. I am alive. It is a day.

When my kids were little, there were days when their dad would get home and I would be so done. Crazed to “get out” for a while. I would go bring my notebook to the lake, but didn’t always have much to write. I think it was more of an accompaniment, a gesture to myself, as if to say: I am still a writer, even though I have nothing to say.

Having nothing to say is scary for a writer.

And sometimes, it’s true. The words don’t form. The thoughts don’t click. The impetus misses its cue and leaves you alone on stage with no lines. The audience, though? There is no audience. Just a floor. a raised curtain, and row after row of red velvet seating.

In moments like these, the temptation is to make something of it. Like Daniel, Fudge’s little friend in the Judy Blume series, who always puts up his fists: “Wanna make something of it?”Always ready for battle, for struggle, for meaning, for implications — none of them good. But maybe that is one of the things I’ve learned in the intervening years since my babies were babies: There is no need to create a big story around a low-energy day, or a bout of restlessness, or a spike of anxiety. The world gives us plenty reason for all of these.

Still, I want to know why.

Why do I feel sad? Why do I feel blue? Why do I get myself into circumstances that exacerbate rather than alleviate stress?

It’s quiet now. Quiet outside — just Chalupa’s little breathing noises — and quiet inside. Thoughts of not being enough flit through my head, and I try to observe them the way you can at Magic Wings, the place on Route 5 where you can sit on a bench amidst hundreds of fluttering butterflies. They land, they alight. They hover, they lift. They feed, they rest.

The state of our country is weighing on me heavily today, like watching a train wreck in slow motion, car after car after car. Grief wells up in me, and I want to dive inward to find its source even as I know its source may be older and deeper than memory. Moments from my own childhood bubble up — moments when one of my parents was fearful or angry, moments when I froze or retreated. Consciousness feels like a strong current some days, and I worry about getting swept down the river.

On the way back this afternoon from the drive I might as well not have taken, I crossed the blue bridge over the Connecticut River. The water looked impenetrable from above, and I found myself imagining swimming across from one shore to the other. Would the water be warm or cold? Would there be a current? Would I make it?

Will we make it?

This is the question I’m carrying. At the beginning of the day when all is once again new, in the middle when hunger soars or energy dips, at the end when it is time to surrender all that remains undone, I wonder if we will make it. As a country. As a species. As humans with such deep capacity to love and also such terrifying ability to destroy.

I take refuge under a prayer shawl, in a pew, in a people. I seek shelter in ancient prayers and everyday tasks that give life meaning. And I hope it is enough. Yom Kippur is coming, and the stakes feel higher than ever.

Who’s Who: A Writing Exercise for Uncovering Unconscious Bias


In the spirit of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “you can’t change what you don’t see,”  here’s a journaling exercise to do on your own. The intention is to explore the many unconscious images, biases, assumptions, and stereotypes we carry.

Get out a notebook or journal or open a blank document on your computer or a note in your phone. Knowing no one is going to judge or even read your responses, be completely honest and write down the first thing that comes to mind as you read the following questions:

When you hear “a doctor,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a lawyer,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a social worker,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an activist,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an artist,” who do you picture?”

When you hear “a threat,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an elected official,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a single mom,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an addict,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a leader,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a teacher,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a veteran,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a liberal,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a victim,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a philanthropist,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a conservative,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a small business owner,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a convinct,” who do you picture?

When you hear “clergy,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a homeless person,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a human,” who do you picture?

We are more effective as change-makers when we start out knowing what we’ve internalized about who’s who in the world.

Feel free to add your own questions, too.

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. 

Strangled Roots and More Than One Kind of Silence

Photo: Kyle Ellefson

So often I begin with morning light. Today, I began with Facebook video calling me — after I had snoozed the alarm. A 14-hour time difference makes scheduling calls with a writer in Australia an interesting challenge; my client was in her bed, sleepy after an evening meditation, just as I was leaping out of mine to throw on a robe and pour some coffee.

One of the things that struck me most in our conversation was this: Too many of us wait. We wait until we feel more confident, more qualified, more ready. We wait because we’re afraid that not everyone will like what we have to say or write (they won’t). We wait because there are other people saying and writing these things better than we ever will. We wait, and in the waiting, our insights, our observations, our wisdom, our lived experience, our questions, and our ideas all stay in our heads.

I picture roots in a too-small pot, growing around themselves. While some plants prefer to be pot-bound (my mom told me this recently, when she stopped by and saw the succulents she’d transplanted years ago, thriving in their original pots on my windowsill), others will eventually suffer from confinement, strangling themselves rather than having room to grow. I imagine the same may be true for what is inside of us. At what point do thoughts need to be transcribed, translated, shared, and explored outside the container of inner exploration?

Never, perhaps. There’s no rule here, no should.

But this morning, I’m considering the very real possibility that the gnarled internalization of self-doubt is a form of collective gaslighting, particularly among groups who’ve experienced outer oppression. If you’re told enough times that what you have to say isn’t true, what you’ve experienced isn’t real, and that when it comes to what you see happening all around you, you’re overreacting, little by little, you’re bound to start questioning your own voice. What could you possibly have to contribute?

* * * * *

As the masks come off, as the veneers chip away, as the statues come down, and as the ugliness around us is more and more exposed, it’s inevitable and necessary to face the ways in which we’ve unknowingly swallowed the poison and internalized beliefs that hurt us and each other.

As a white woman, this means looking at my own racism — the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that may be so unconscious and so subtle that I would have denied them altogether in the past.

It means looking at the fears I’ve had of speaking up, the way my own nervous system goes into high alert in the fact of perceived conflict. It means acknowledging that I have experience I can trust, and also there is much I don’t know. Both are true.

It means acknowledging and writing from the truths of my own intersectionality. I identify as queer, and I see and feel on a daily basis the ways this sets me apart from heteronormative expectations and status quo. I am self-employed. I have no boss. I answer to myself. It was during a brief stint in the private sector that I was more aware of my gender that in any other job; women in positions of leadership were undermined in ways both nuanced and overt but difficult to call out. (It’s also the one time I’ve been laid off).

I’m acutely aware of the ways in which my people have internalized trauma and also have assimilated and benefited from being white immigrants, thus perpetuating a racial divide even while seeking to heal it.

I grew up with economic and educational privilege, and there are ripple effects to not embodying previous generations’ norms. That said, my lineage is both a gift and a burden, one I’m continuously examining and delving into more deeply. What wisdom do my ancestors have for me, and where must I peel away? When is a diversion actually a form of continuity?

Jewish tradition, in particular and in my estimation, embraces the relevance of context — culturally, politically, sociologically. We look to tradition as the basis for change, rather than as a too-small pot in which our roots slowly suffocate.

* * * * *

Privilege is being able to opt out: It doesn’t affect me. It’s not my problem. That’s awful for them — whoever “they” may be. Sometimes not saying anything is easier, sometimes safer.

There are plenty of situations where silence is self-preservation, and I feel compelled to say as much. But that’s exactly why people who benefit from systems of oppression need not only to listen to those who’ve been silenced, but also to speak up.

I’ve read a few articles lately about “call-out culture.” Last night, I found myself reacting to a post by a coach — not someone I know personally. The implication was along the lines of “we create our own reality” and that pain can be the basis for healing. My immediate reaction was, THIS IS EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH WHITE FEMINIST SELF-HELP CULTURE.

I read it to Mani. I’ll admit that it felt good for a moment, the self-righteousness. But rather than leaving it at that, I decided to learn a little more. Something happened as I read more of her copy: I saw myself. I saw the ways in which I, too, am working with women to dismantle the ways we’ve internalized the patriarchy.

And I had no choice but to ask myself: Where are my blind spots?

Calling each other out — or in, if you prefer — is critical. And we also have to keep asking ourselves hard questions. The former is just a performance without the latter.

* * * * *

There are 10,000 threads here. This stops me from starting at all. It’s too big, I tell myself. I’m all over the place. How is this helpful? I’m just another white woman taking up too much room.

But therein lies a place where the roots need to grow. On the one hand, the myth of too-much has been used to silence women. On the other hand, as a white woman, I DO need to be quiet — not because my voice doesn’t matter, but because the voices of women of color matter, too, and have been strangled, smothered, suffocated, and suppressed in ways that mine hasn’t.

This is intersectionality. This is complexity. This is not a binary of privilege and oppression nor is it a hierarchy of suffering. It’s a willingness to outgrow small spaces, to risk writing and inviting conversation even if not everything I’m saying is fully formed and perfectly expressed. It’s saying: This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of the reality we are ALL creating — and perhaps more importantly, undoing.

* * * * *

Am I choking on my roots or are they propelling me to grow and thrive? Who is watering the plants?

* * * * *

I have no neat and conclusive way of ending this post, except to say that I’m hearing more than one kind of silence. The fearful kind, that tells me to be careful — there could be repercussions. The complicit kind, that doesn’t want to rock the boat, get it wrong, or look at the ways in which I’m responsible for this mess we’re in. And the listening kind, where I acknowledge how much I have to learn and unlearn.

Which one do you relate to most — and if you take the time to listen, what do you hear?

The Art of Stopping Time

cccpIt went by so fast. I thought it would feel like forever. I thought it would be awkward. But it wasn’t at all. It was the most natural thing in the world, to meet myself there for a whole minute. To look into my own eyes in the way I would a child, or someone I love so very much. The relief of it. The tenderness of it. The way when I played with the deep furrow lines between my brows, my expression changed. From loving and kind to amused to angry to simply relaxed. I watched my pupils grow large in the dim living room. I saw the ways in which my face hasn’t changed at all since childhood, and I saw the depth in my eyes of being.

I looked into my eyes and thought about how thought had nothing to do with it. Just to be. Just to be here, with myself. That is why when the one-minute timer went off, I was startled. That was a whole minute?

As I write this, Mani has a hypnosis on – a man with the most wonderful Scottish brogue. He is talking about procrastination. He is talking about stopping time, and how long one second feels when time is stopped. He is talking about suffering, and how one minute is 60 times longer than one second, and an hour 60 times longer than one minute, and so on, and really, how long do you want to prolong your suffering?

Looking in the mirror for one minute was a bit like stopping time for me, which may explain why the timer came as a surprise. I realized just how rare it is that I stop and just see. Take one full minute to see. To just see myself or whomever it is in front of me. We avoid eye contact, at least prolonged eye contact. Culturally, it’s considered rude or even aggressive. Yet to meet someone’s eyes, especially your own, is such a gift. To stop and really just see. Not listen. Not take turns even. Just see equally – I am here, you are there, here we are.

Can you imagine if in a presidential debate, the opponents had to sit and just look at each other’s eyes for even a minute? No words, no rebuttals, no interruptions, no arguments, no evidence, no attacks, no defense. Just looking. Seeing. Two humans sitting together.

To look at myself in the mirror without words is to see my humanness. I am flawed, which is to say human. I am worn, which is to say human. I am creased and marked by time, because time does not stand still. And yet the illusion of it – that time is a thing I am bound by – that also melts away.

I don’t know what else to write. The hypnosis is ending with the words, “Wide, wide awake.” Maybe that’s it. Maybe taking a full minute to look in the mirror is a worthwhile daily practice. A way of saying, I am here. I am here and I am wide, wide awake. My eyes are deep with love and pain and care and little brown specks in the green and black pupils wide wide and awake in the dim room.

My face is my daughter’s face – this morning in the car, she said how every time an adult meets her for the first time, someone who already knows me, they exclaim how much she looks like her mother. “Sorry,” I say, faux-apologetically. But I can tell we are both ok with it.

I have this face that is timeless and not timeless. I resist the urge to look at the timer. I hear the clock on my dresser ticking. One second after another.

**

This was an unedited ten-minute freewrite in one of my current writing groups. If you’re looking to jumpstart or deepen your writing practice, join me for “What If You Knew?” (October 10-21), my next two-week group. Limited to 12 participants. More details and registration here.