I’ll Bring the Pencils

I am the youngest of three sisters.

There is still a joke between us, about how I would knock on the door of one of their bedrooms when their friends were over. Let’s say I was 11 and they were 15 and 17, give or take a year. They’d be in there, hanging out, listening to music, and just generally being older than me and cooler than me no matter what they were actually doing.

I’d want desperately to be in the room with them, not taking up any room but just breathing the same (probably smoky) air. But I knew this wasn’t going to happen, so instead I’d stand there at the threshold of that untouchable teenage space. And I’d make up some reason for having knocked. The excuse I made I remember most clearly for my embarrassing longing was: Can I borrow a pencil?

That girl still lives inside of me, the one who is shy around the older girls, the real grown ones with boobs and boyfriends and cigarettes and jokes I don’t get. That girl still lives inside me, who doesn’t belong, who isn’t invited, who goes back to her own room feeling a little bit mad and a little bit sad and a lot lonely. She puts on one of her dozen David Bowie albums and flops across the mattress on the floor, wondering when she will be cool.

it’s no wonder a big part of my work in this world is to say: Come on in. Have a seat. Let’s hang out together. Let’s write and draw and listen to music and laugh and tell stories.

I’ll bring the pencils.

We Will Protest by Living

The Witches’ Brooms, by Enzie Shahmiri

We’re going to a laughter thing this weekend. Mani and a friend heard about it and thought it sounded fun, and I agreed. I imagine we will either love it or laugh at it or maybe both, but either way it should make for a good story.

Last week, a few days before my birthday, I dreamed I looked in the mirror. For a moment — perhaps it was three or four seconds, the kind of seconds that feel long — I saw my mother’s face returning my gaze. I shook my head and blinked my eyes, disbelieving, and then it was me again on the other side of the glass.

The night before that, I dreamed I was driving and an ambulance was speeding towards me, in the same lane. I swerved just in time to avoid a head-on collision.

Today the sun came out for long enough that I couldn’t ignore its call. I laced up my sneakers and went for a thirty-minute walk. I thought about the books that have been written about boredom — I heard a story on the radio this morning about this, so it was fresh on my mind. How we’ve “lost our ability to be contemplative.” I think about the number of tabs open on my desktop, the number of apps on my phone, and wonder if this is true of me.

Have I lost my ability to contemplate? Sometimes I feel like all I do is contemplate. There must be some relationship between contemplation and action. As with most things, there’s no right answer. I get home with sweat trickling down my back under my sweatshirt and hop on a coaching call with a writer who excitedly reports many discoveries from the past week. She speaks of shame and how it distorts, and later tells a story that exemplifies clear seeing and the compassion that comes with it.

Later, a shower. “I feel like I’m behind,” I call to Mani in the bedroom, then remember that I’m not behind, I’m in the shower. I turn the valve clockwise and feel the water get hotter.

Aviva is cleaning her room. She comes into the kitchen to get a garbage bag and more Oreos. I am trying to work. The kitchen is my office, and I’m used to interruptions. So many interruptions. This morning in the car when we were talking about our Dream House, I used the word “tolerating.” As in, I am tolerating my work space situation. Would it be nice to have a room of my own? Yes. Would I love for Mani to have a yoga room? Yes. Am I unhappy? Truth be told, no. I’m not. I am weary of coveting what I don’t have; I’ve been to that rodeo and it wasn’t so fun. It sucked, in fact, like the speaker in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29:

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;

I swept the kitchen floor today. Later, I spotted a man with a toddler out for an afternoon walk, stopping to watch two dogs play in a yard. I love the feel of a little hand in mine.

Many friends are going to marches on Saturday, in D.C. and Oakland, in Boston and Northampton, in Philadelphia, in Tulsa, , in Raleigh and Portland and Chicago. All over the country, women I call my sisters will be marching. I will be here, with my wife. We’ll meet a new friend and see what it’s like to laugh in a room full of strangers. We will have no idea what to expect. We, too, will leave our house, step out into the day, and protest in our own way: By living.

January is so many shades of grey, and Trump’s inauguration (gag) is one of those events that is decidedly not grey. There is no nuance, no subtlety, no argument for the possibility of good in this abomination of democracy, dignity, and humanity. None. I will not waver on this. And while yes, I understand that this is our reality, that we must work with “what is,” I will still insist after tomorrow that no, he is not my president.

An old friend messaged me today. She said she’d been thinking of me and missed our coffee dates. I wrote her back: I miss you, too. We made a phone date for Sunday. This is what we must do — what we’ve always done: Tell each hello. Show up and say, when can we talk? I want to hear your voice. I want to see your face. Thank you for reaching out.

Share this post with a friend you miss seeing. Make a date to talk, to drink coffee, to give each other a hug. You’re not behind, you’re right here. And I’m right here with you. We’re in this together, and if nothing else, that will keep being true.

Woman Walking

woman-walkingI had a moment today.

I was walking on familiar trails, at a conservation area that was particularly crowded this morning; runners, walkers, dog-owners, parents and grandparents with young children, all outside to enjoy these last days of spectacular foliage and warm-ish temps. Earlier, I’d asked Mani what her three words would be for the day — an intention-setting of sorts. Mine were “spacious,” “pleasant,” and “restful.” I wrestled with including “productive,” then decided that this could be a lovechild of the others.

As I set out, a young couple walked ahead of me; I took several photos, knowing it’s impossible to “capture” these colors but still unwilling not to at least try. A group of five young male runners zoomed past me early in my walk; they looked high-school age and I guessed that they were on a cross-country team out for a long Sunday morning trail run. A little girl played on the bridge before hopping back over to her mom by the brook. “Hi!” she said. I smiled at her and said “hi” back.

I admired the thick ground cover of mostly yellow leaves. I thought about how the past literally gets covered up, and how by the time we can see it again, it will be something new. I reached many small choice-points: left or right? Up or down? I knew I didn’t want to hike up to the top of Mt. Orient, though surely there would have been a beautiful view of the valley. Instead, I turned onto a trail that leads to some No Trespassing signs; I’ve walked it before, and knew setting out in that direction that I’d simply turn around when I reached the warnings.

I was singing out loud a bit; that’s probably no small part of why I chose the trail-less-taken. It was a melody from the Yom Kippur service, and while I couldn’t remember all the Hebrew words, the great thing with Jewish songs is that you can just substitute “ya-da-dai-dai-dai” for the words when you don’t know them. So I walked, enjoying the feel of the soft earth, pine needles, and leaves beneath each step, and ya-da-dai-ing my way along.

But I really, really had to pee.

Now, like I said — these woods were pretty packed with humans. I’m not squeamish about peeing in the woods, but I’m also no exhibitionist who goes purposely looking to expose my bum. I did a quick assessment — eyes and ears in a kind of 360 — and decided to go for it. I bushwhacked a little ways off-trail and found a big tree to crouch behind, then unbuttoned my jeans. Immediate relief. I stayed crouched there for a moment to drip-dry, and the moment I stood up, heard voices.

I recognized them from earlier. It was the group of young men, running.

As I walked swiftly back to the trail (not singing out loud, mind you), acting as if it had been perfectly natural for me to have detoured into the unmarked woods, my mind took an unexpected turn.

Suddenly, I  was a woman walking alone in the woods. It didn’t matter that I knew the parking lot was filled with cars. It didn’t matter that I’d walked these trails dozens, maybe even hundreds of times before. It didn’t matter that these boys looked all kinds of raised-in-good-homes (as if this is something we can ever, ever tell — and also as if that is any kind of ultimate safeguard against violent action).

What mattered was that there was one of me and there were four of them, and we live in a world where it’s not unthinkable that this could be unsafe. This could be considered unwise on my part, the walking alone. It is not preposterous that not having ever been raped is “lucky,” because the statistics are not in our favor as girls and women. Or, as Alice Sebold wrote in her unforgettable 1999 memoir, “Lucky,” lucky is also what you’re called when you survive a brutal rape. There is no winning this one.

The boys ran right by me; they were running at a good clip, all young muscles and camaraderie and easy conversation. I was fine, I was safe. But the fact that in that instant, a rush of memories came recalling all the times I’ve felt unsafe, all the times I was “lucky” that nothing worse happened, all the times I felt bored or gross but engaged sexually with some guy anyway, all the times I walked alone, all the trains I’ve ridden, all the houses I’ve stepped foot in — in New York City, in Boston, in Tucson, in Prague, in Salamanca, in Oxford, in Burlington, in St. Petersburg, in airports, in subway stations, at night, in the morning, on workdays, on weekend, and yes, even here in Amherst — assault happens everywhere. I thought about how I’ve held my head up high and felt untouchable.  — but this wasn’t really true, never has been. And still isn’t.

I was imminently touchable. We live in a world where women are touchable. Women are supposed to be careful. Women should dress appropriately, not be “suggestive.”

As I walked the remainder of the way back to the parking lot, I thought about how I’ve been “lucky.” And how sad and angry it makes me that “lucky” is a word that comes to mind as a response to the fact that I haven’t been raped.

I would estimate that at least half of the women in my life have been raped, molested, or sexually assaulted. I would estimate that ALL of the women in my life have been demeaned, diminished, sexually objectified, overlooked, or looked at too closely and in ways that felt like shit at best and were scary at worst.

I think about situations I got myself into and out of as a much younger woman. I look at my daughter in middle school, and consider how much has changed in 30 years — and how much hasn’t. All the things we accept, swallow, downplay, and brush off. The male boss who asks if I’ve been working out. The female boss who tells me she worked full-time with twins and I had nothing to cry about (this was when Aviva was four months old and I was distraught about returning to a 40-hour work week). The Spanish bars and smashed bottles and no, I don’t want to go home with you. The blow job I wish I didn’t remember.

To be a woman in this world is to continually assess the trail. Is to have eyes in the back of your head. Is to develop powerful intuition. Is to watch out for other women. Is to have “finding your voice” be a thing in the first place. Is to be lucky if you haven’t experienced sexual violence.

I made a little blessing over those boys as they ran by, that they may be kind to women. That they will live as champions of women’s equality of mind, body, and spirit. That they may speak up when their friends or peers are being jerks or worse; that they will know that their power, their masculinity, their beauty, and their ambitions do not rely on women being lesser in any way. That they will treat their female friends, lovers, teachers, and leaders with deep respect.

I’m so floored by the stories pouring forth from the women in this country right now. I ache. I’m angry. I love us so hard and am so damn proud of our individual and collective courage. Let’s win this thing.

Angel Posse Meets Story Sisterhood

typewriter

They don’t mind my writing about them and I don’t mind risking sounding like a religious fanatic or a woo-woo nut job.

I just spent the last hour writing a story about my angel posse, for one of the prompts in The Story Sisterhood. This new membership group of The Inky Path will dive deeply into a single theme every three months. For our inaugural theme “Gotta Have Faith,” already a group of really wonderful women from around the world has assembled to explore our stories, one week at a time, alone and together.

Though I’ve written about my angels many times before, today I wound up writing something brand new, something I would probably not have sat down to write had I not had some reason to do so. While this itself is a gift for me, such a huge part of the writing is also in the sharing and the connections that opens up between me and other humans.

So many factors at play. So much responsibility to bear. The whole “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” thing? I wasn’t sure I was buying it.

So when I say things like “I hope you’ll join us,” it’s not an empty sales pitch. Whether I’m referring to the writing groups I lead privately or the ones I co-create over at The Inky Path, what you’re getting is my heart, my whole self, and an expression of my deep and genuine desire to share some of my stories with you and to get the deep privilege of reading yours.

What you’re hearing is borne of awe at the alchemy of memory, writing, and witness.

And they are tough as nails, too. They never back down and they always have my back. My angels are my best friends. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I don’t know what I’d do without you, either. My writing posse. This beautiful and ever-expanding community.

If taking the time and creating the space to connect with your own stories inside of a truly supportive community of women calls to you, I hope you’ll join me and my inky partner-in-crime. Cigdem Kobu in The Story Sisterhood.

inkypath.com/story-sisterhood/

Registration is open through the weekend, then will close until late summer.

“This sisterhood is unlike anything I have experienced. It has unleashed many words that needed a meadow to romp in without fear.” – Terri Jackson