There Is No Perfect Life

There is no perfect life.

There is no perfect marriage. There is no perfect family. There is no perfect job. There is no perfect health. There is no perfect house. There is no perfect child. There is no perfect partner. There is no perfect balance.

There is no perfect life.

There are bumps at best and chasms at worst. There are chasms that turn out to be blessings and bumps that bring on irrevocable damage. There are days when you think everything is impossible and you’ve really done it now, the ship is headed for an iceberg and you can’t turn it around. There are days when things are swimming and humming and you’d wear a Life Is Good hat if you had one. There are days when you fall in love with everyone you meet. And there are days when you wonder how it happened that harmony seems so far-flung, so impossible to grasp, that all you can do is cry at the sink.

There is no perfect kitchen. There is no perfect parenting. There is no perfect upbringing. There is no perfect friendship. There is no perfect life.

There are perfect songs, though. There are perfect avocados — for about 20 minutes. There are perfectly beautiful birds and oh, you envy the birds sometimes. This morning, there was a mockingbird on a roll right outside the bedroom window. And you thought to yourself, “a mockingbird on a roll,” and pictured a cartoon of a waiter serving a mockingbird on a roll on a silver tray. Your brain does that.

There is no perfect brain. There is no perfect nervous system. There is no perfect breath. Breathe just breathes. Birds just bird. What if life just lives?

It’s hard to accept imperfection, especially where there is dissonance or discord, when the various people under a shared roof aren’t humming in perfect harmony. There is no perfect harmony. Except damnit, there is and you’ve heard it and you could spend your life trying to replicate it but then you will miss all the other perfect moments that come and go as quietly as all the breaths you don’t notice throughout the day.

Here’s the thing: You can’t fix it, whatever it is, whatever that narrow place, that rock, that hard place, that difficult emotion, that situation that can seem intractable sometimes. You want everyone to be happy and we know how that story goes and never has a happy ending. There is no perfect story. There is no happy ending. There are happy moments.

Where were you all that time you thought you were practicing being present? Some questions have no answers. There is no perfect question that will bring forth the perfect answer as if a wish from a bottle washed up on shore with instructions. There is no perfect book that will serve as a perfect manual. You will get this all wrong ten thousand times and ten thousand more.

And you will still be loved.

You will still be loved.

You will not fall off the edge of the planet. You will disappoint people. You will let down the ones who need you most. You will say the wrong thing. There is no perfect response. There is no perfect outcome. There is this moment. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

And yet in the moment, in the moment when you think to yourself, “I am having a moment,” it’s not simple at all. It’s a storm and you are tossed all about and you know it well but still think this one’s different, this is the one that takes everything down with it.

And then it’s over and the house is still standing and you still love the people you love and they still love you and another day is passing, a day we’ll never get back, a day some people would do anything to have just one more of with the one they love and miss and lost.

You don’t want to lose the people you love. That’s what it all comes down to. There is no perfect way to say this: We will all lose in the end. Every single one of us. How we will live is the only question. And so you said to her, “There are the things we can change, and there are the things we can’t change. What we do with that is everything.”

There is no perfect teacher. There is no perfect program or class or course of action. There is only showing up as honestly as you can. There is moving through the moment and there is resistance and there is fear and there is distance and there is intimacy and there are countless things happening in any given moment. Energy bounces and we absorb and reflect and refract and distort and shine and obscure. It all happens, sometimes simultaneously, too much too fast and you can’t catch it and then later, you look and see how you contributed. You cut yourself some slack, which is better than the alternative.

Breathe.

Write.

A Side of Breakthroughs with Extra Ketchup

I’ve been staring at a blank screen on and off for well over an hour. I tell people, just start, and keep going. But fuck me, it’s hard. I could start and delete and start and delete — this is where the “keep going” part comes in. But keeping going is not easy when nothing is flowing and you are doubting that you have anything worthwhile to say at all. Couldn’t the world use more silence? How is it contributing to write this kind of unedited dreck? I just listened to Julie Daley on Facebook Live talking about the status quo and about creativity and how creativity is so much more than what we relegate to what we call “The Arts” but really life itself. Life force.

And, there is also this balance — one I’m so aware of — between listening and speaking. Reading and writing. Taking in and adding to. I share my practice in part because it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff we too rarely get to see, of how creativity actually happens. It happens in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s insufferably stuck-feeling and you need to step away and get into some other state, some beta state let’s say, like walking or showering or reading, where your creative brain can catch a breath instead of you breathing down its back, demanding output. It doesn’t work like that. We are not machines. Creativity-on-demand doesn’t exist. Can you imagine, if we could just put in our order:

Hello, yes, I’d like three chapters of my novel today, two epiphanies, and a side of breakthroughs with extra ketchup?

I came down with a cold today, a bad one. It came on like bam, out of the blue. I worked and napped — a fairly usual Monday. And then I stared and started and deleted and thought, this whole start and keep going thing may be bunk. It doesn’t work. It’s awful and stupid and I hate it. Ever thrown a tantrum and realized it had nothing to do with anything and maybe was a sign to wave a white flag of surrender to effort and try again tomorrow?

It is ok to try again tomorrow. It is ok not to be creative all the time. It is ok to read, to listen, to absorb, to ring it all out in a hot bath or a cold sweat, and to notice the ways in which sitting still is squirmy. Where creativity is in its dormancy, where beauty is the growing mountain of Kleenex telling you to get in bed, sister, and get some sleep. We have miles and miles to go, and so much to learn. If we worry so much about saying it right or waiting until it’s perfectly crafted, we might never step foot outside our comfort zones again — which is exactly where the world needs us.

Can both be true? I think of the old “two Jews, three opinions” axiom and chuckle. Yes. Both can be true. Be gentle with your creativity, your spirit, your words — but ask a lot of them, just as you might with your own children. Love means holding each other to the highest expectations, while forgiving each other’s constant and inevitable failings. And I’m here writing, not deleting, because I love you and this life and this work and this world. And because the world needs your patience and your urgency. Your imperfect offerings. Your best effort and your unwavering commitment to growing things that feed others — literally and creatively.

Now let’s order another basket of fries. I’m buying.

Roll Call: Are You Here?

As I sit down to write something tonight, the Republican National Convention is happening, but I am not watching. I’ve only seen snippets of news — chaos breaks out, delegates walking out, and of course Colbert crashing the party earlier today. But I can’t bring myself to stay amused for long, not when at this very moment Iowa Congressman Steve King is openly declaring that white people have contributed more to civilization than anyone else in the world.

Mani is watching Grace & Frankie; I’m vaguely anxious but “vaguely” is the keyword; and an hour or so ago, I went outside and got horizontal on the driveway, following some visceral instinct to feel the ground literally against the length of my body. I stayed there a while, watching the sky, watching the clouds change from soft and wispy to rounded and layered yellows and pinks. I came back inside to get my phone so that I could take some pictures, which of course don’t do it justice.

Mani had just finished a movie, “Run Boy Run,” a true story of a boy who survived the Holocaust. I caught the last few minutes, where we see him on the beach in Tel Aviv with his wife Sonja, their two grown kids and six grandchildren, and his sister, whom he hadn’t seen in 30 years.

I read words from Michael Franti on his Facebook page: “We are sitting on a powder keg right now that has the potential to blow up in every city in America if we don’t all work together in this time to make long overdue change in our cities.” Mani adds, “every city in the world.” I shudder, something bone-deep in me knowing the truth of this.

My father has shared the chilling and urgently important New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz (no relation), the ghostwriter of Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.” He, my dad, has written, “Read this and weep, then act against Trump.” A woman whose name I do not recognize — I find myself curious if we are distantly related — leaves a comment. “Interesting, but I cannot support Hillary.”

My head explodes and I silently compose several possible responses without saying an actual word. It’s my dad’s page. It’s not mine. Isn’t this all of ours? How does one change the mind of 40% of the electorate? Will Trump supporters ever even read articles like this one?

(That’s when I went outside. That’s when I sought ground against body and sky above and changing clouds and room to breathe.)

Back in our bedroom, I watched the ending of the movie with Mani. I am looping backwards here, and pulling these threads through, as if trying to sew up my evening into something cohesive, something with a pattern and a purpose. I’m not convinced this is a viable goal.

Mani has three stacks of books, mostly from the public library just a few blocks from our house, on the floor next to her side of the bed. “Black dove : essays on mamá, mi’jo, and me” by Ana Castillo, who describes herself on page one as “a brown, bisexual, strapped writer and mother, constantly scrambling to take care of my work and my child.” Yes, yes this. I want to read and read and read. I want to write and write.

I am coming up the stairs to our apartment after watching the sky. “For the greater good” are the words that flit through my mind. I contemplate something Trump said to Lesley Stahl during Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview (if it can be called an interview), something that made us laugh out loud except it isn’t even remotely funny: “I think I’m a lot more humble than you would understand.” I wonder if Trump has considered anyone but himself for five minutes ever in his life.

It’s easy to feel like our voices are impotent right now.

How can I use my voice for the greater good? Where am I at choice about speaking up or staying silent, when the latter is no longer and likely never was a morally acceptable option? The fear is so big and the love is so big and I refuse to be paralyzed by the former, which leaves me with the latter as fire, as sky, as voice, as action.

This morning in one the writing groups I facilitate, I essentially asked for a show of hands — a virtual roll call. Are you here? I asked. One by one, people came and said yes and yo. They wrote half-mast and no but I want to be. There was no wrong answer. Are you here? Are you here? Am I here?

We are here, and we are not leaving.

Today, I read other news stories. Shit predictable ones, like this one.  Hopeful, heartening ones, like this one. I thought about what I am willing to give, what I am willing to give up, what I am willing to lose, what cost to others and what obligations accompany my freedom of speech, what rights to my body, to my marriage, what there is to do between now and November other than hold my breath. What there is to do today other than read and write and take roll call and love and speak?

Writing rambling blog posts like this one is one of my ways of saying, “I’m here.” This is a way of showing up and getting my ego out of the way, the ego and its wish to write something beautiful or smart, to add something, anything, new to the conversation.

I obsess over whether I should post or delete. Inner critic hisses.

Truth is, My voice is no more or less important than anyone else’s; this just happens to be a corner of the world where I get to use it. I’m swirling. I’m landing. I’m lying on the ground. I’m choosing to lie on the ground.

There is action to take. There are future generations, yes, but there are present ones, too, and past ones to heal, and so much repairing it’s hard to know where to start.

Start here. Start now. Keep starting. Don’t worry about sounding stupid or saying the wrong thing.

Are you here?