Now Is Not the Time to Shrink

Now is not the time to shrink.

Do not disappear into the woodwork.

If you need to disappear into yourself in order to remember what it feels like inside of your own body, do that. Do that, do that, by any means necessary. If you cannot take a day off or even an afternoon because you don’t have childcare or paid time off, brainstorm with a friend or with me. Figure out a way. By any means necessary.

Now is not the time to shrink.

Do you think of writing as a form of shrinking away from the world or a way of being more fully in it?

This seems to me a critical question today.

A writer friend asked me this morning, in a message on the Marco Polo app, “If you have any suggestions for resistance, or writers getting together and taking over the world and storming the White House, let me know.”

I wish I did. I really do. I have been thinking hard on this.I keep reaching the same conclusion, and it’s not sexy. It’s not new or radical or original. Here it is:

Keep going. Keep writing. Keep putting your stories down. Keep speaking up. Keep digging deep.

Staying connected to our own humanity, looking hard at our own places of trauma, recording our own moments of joy — all of this is what keeps a society afloat or at the very least helps us keep hope alive. “Keep hope alive” may sound trite given that babies are imprisoned, lawful, nonviolent protests are met by police in riot gear, and some who have been closest to oppression in this country are understandably bitter at the fact that all of a sudden, lots of folks are feeling scared and threatened.

But there it is. Keep hope alive. This is not the time to shrink.

Yesterday was undeniably tough. And today and tomorrow and many days to come, years, quite possibly decades and entire generations, are looking at tough times. This is a continuum. The America some of us (especially those with some variation of these identities — white, middle or upper class, able-bodied, Christian, male, cisgender, and heterosexual) have found to be a place of freedom and opportunity is showing its true colors. Its ugly, bloody, racist, greedy colors. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it frightening? Very. Is it new? No. Not new.

But now is not the time to shrink.

Coach Omkari Williams, wrote these words yesterday, and I keep returning to them:

“Do whatever you need to do to absorb this blow then get back in the fight. Our grandfathers and fathers didn’t fight wars abroad for this to be who we become at home. We have faced awful times before. Eyes on the ball. Stay in the fight.”

We have to stay focused. We have to stay in the fight not to protect only our personal liberties but each other’s. Especially each other’s. Because the truth is that the American Way has never, ever been fair. One child has access to world-class healthcare while another dies from a minor infection. One child has access to the best lawyers while another is appointed a public defender. One child has a fridge full of organic produce while another gets to school early for free breakfast. One child lives in a leafy neighborhood while another stays inside to be safe.

How a country treats its women and children, how a country treats its most vulnerable populations, is the true nature of that country.

So, how can I write such a thing and in the same breath say something as trite as “keep hope alive”?

Good question, really. I don’t know. But something in me says I must. Something in me, some fighting spirit, some fire, some deep-bellied, unblinking, fierce and remembering voice growls to an empty room: FIGHT.

Now is not the time to shrink.

Now is not the time to bash each other’s heads in for being the wrong kind of fighter, because truth be told, whether you’ve been at this your whole life or are just waking up to what’s been true all along, we need your voice and your body. We need you all in now.

Now is also not the time to dismiss “hope” as something shallow or useless. Sure, it may sound pretty in the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem (#314). Don’t be fooled by the sweet-sounding language. She was a radical in a white dress.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

But keep reading. Listen. She was a smart one:

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

These are some gale-force winds we’re facing into. Keep hope alive.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The chill in the air is enough to make you feel paralyzed. Frozen. But now is not the time to shrink away.  Now is a time to listen to the poets, those who saw through the structures of power and oppression on which this country built its wealth. I give you Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

We do not need to look to other countries’ writers for guidance now. We only need to look to our own history. What we’re experiencing now is the rising of a wave that has been growing out at sea for centuries. If it feels like a tsunami, that’s because it is.

Now is not the time to shrink. Now is the time to assess.

What immediate steps must I take to secure the safety of my children? What immediate steps must I take to secure the safety of YOUR children? What immediate steps must I take to take care of my nervous system and physical body, so as not to crash and burn and be of no use to anyone? What immediate steps must I take to remember to breathe?

Breathe. Yes, breathe. Feel the air filling your lungs. Expanding your capacity to hold what keeps you going — oxygen — and release what is toxic — carbon dioxide. To breathe consciously is the basis for living consciously, and being conscious must be a cornerstone of writing, living, loving, and fighting through this wave of violence, fear, and rapid rolling back of the rights so many have given their lives to secure for the rest of us.

So if you have no idea what it means “not to shrink,” just start there.

Really. Right now. Don’t wait. This, too, is a kind of poem and a kind of fighting.

Inhale. 

Hold. 

Exhale. 

Pause. 

Again. 

And now, get out that journal, that notebook, that blank piece of paper. Open a new Word doc.

Start writing from this place, this place of tsunami, this place of fear, this place of anger, this place of not shrinking. Start with these words: “Now is not the time to shrink.” Seven words. Seven syllables. Say them out loud. Say them to the empty room. Lower your voice. Feel the vibration of your voice in your chest, your throat, the sounds leaving your mouth and entering the world.

We need that voice. YOUR voice.

We need it today and we are also going to need it tomorrow. So do not shrink. Do not be silent. Do not flail in fear. Stand on your feet. Get out your pen. And know that you are one of millions who are not turning their backs on this moment.

Thoughts on Writing and Fragility


All day, I’ve been pondering this: Becoming a stronger writer implicitly means becoming a less fragile person.

This notion has everything to do with my own journey, in that I’ve begun to see a correlation between writing and a more rooted sense of self, centeredness, and confidence that’s not contingent on outside approval or praise.

Now, to be clear: Developing some muscle, so as to be able to meet the world, needn’t come at the expense of being sensitive or tuned-in. If anything, I think they complement each other. But fragility — that to me has to be with being easily shattered, be it by feedback or negativity.

Practice is practice. The more I write, the more I write. And the more I risk sharing, the more I’m able to see that I am in fact risking very little. We’re conditioned with a lot of fear — what people will think of us, how we sound or look, whether we’re good enough or ready to share our writing. And the fear, in most cases, is unfounded in reality. If there is truly something at stake, it’s failure — and that can of worms is fodder for a whole different conversation.

My pondering here also has to do with social justice and the intersections of creativity with activism — the more you write and share and engage, the more you can become a participant in an urgent, ongoing conversation, as opposed to tip-toeing around and/or having an inflated sense of importance — neither of which is productive.

In my work, I want folks to get to practice writing, writing, writing — learning that they won’t die if the writing sucks, learning that inner critics are liars, and learning that ego has a lot to do with what keeps us small, stuck, and silent. Fragility dies on the vine, slowly but surely, when something deeper and more true begins to thrive.

The more you practice writing, the more confident you become in your own voice and the less defensive and threatened you need to be when confronting others’ perspectives and experiences.

The more you explore your own story, its shape, its contradictions, its nuance, its beauty, and its pain — the greater your capacity to recognize fear and limited thinking and the clearer your courage in speaking out.

The more you show up, risking being seen and heard, however imperfectly, the more you learn how to sidestep ego and the desire to look good or be right, in the name of something greater: Truth and beauty, connection and community, justice and equality.

None of this happens overnight, nor is it a process that’s ever finished. Poems, essays, books may be written. But the learning, the practice — it’s there that we return, over and over, to begin again, to go deeper, to strip the layers we hide behind that we didn’t even realize were still masking and muzzling us.

It’s work, and it’s play. It’s where work and play meet. It’s intentional and intuitive. There’s no prescription and there’s no magic eight-ball. There’s just one requirement: You have to show up. Roll up your sleeves and get out your pen. The world needs your strength.

And one more thing about strength: Like courage, it may not feel strong or brave at all. It probably feels questionable at best and stupid at worst. It’s likely to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes thrilling.

Yet you, on an ordinary day, telling the truth about your life and being willing to get more and more honest and real? That is strong, my friends. And it’s just the beginning.

Let fragility be nothing more than the shell that breaks open, revealing the pearl. And no matter what — keep writing.

I Know a Woman

Photo: Jeanette LeBlanc

I know a woman
forget flowers in her hair
she is queen of the crossroads
she will lay it all bare

I know a woman
forget her sweet smile
she is storming the castle
she is beauty and bile

I know a woman
forget empty words
she is forging a path
and feeding the birds

I know a woman
perhaps she is scared
she is telling the truth
she is defying the dare

I know a woman
on a corner she stands
she is taking her name
back into her hands

I know a woman
forget what you thought
she is the sole owner
of what can never be bought

Thoughts on Conformity & Cherry-Picking

“I attribute much of [my] self-discovery and resultant empowerment to Jena. To the space she has always offered me and so many of us. A space inspired but not overly scripted, a space accepting and not conforming.”

Emily Nichols Grossi wrote these words late last week, in a beautiful statement about returning to the Get Your Muse On group.

For a long time, I thought I was cheating by not bringing more scriptedness and convention to my work as a coach and a group leader. It felt easy, and therefore surely I was getting away with something, right? (Like the board chair who once told me, when I was a 20-something executive director of a nonprofit with a newborn trying to find my way, that I was “cherry-picking.” Ouch.) Starting to trust that this was actually a legitimate and sincere approach to connecting with and supporting people’s growth continues to be profoundly freeing.

Yes, some folks bring all kinds of forms and evaluative exercises to the table. I am just not one of them. For me, showing up as myself, being real, and trusting my intuition — these are my power tools. I used to be afraid of using them, as if they might cause harm to myself or others. But what I’ve found is that the more harmful thing is to deny what I’m good at. When I do, I make it about ME instead of about YOU. Ironically, this is where my ego gets all in a twist. When I’m just here doing my thing, that’s when I can get out of the way and just appreciate the gift of calling this my work in the world.

So here is what I want to say to you:

Trust the parts that come easily to you and question the ones that are always a struggle. It doesn’t have to be hard to “count.” Fuck conforming. Come be you and write from that place. The world needs your voice now more than ever. Go ahead, pick all the cherries.

* * *

Do you love writing but long for a place to practice and play with other fabulous and non-conforming humans? Come get your muse on. Madhuri Pavamani, author of the paranormal romance trilogy “The Sanctum” (St. Martin’s Press) calls the Muses “the best place on the internet.” Join us today.

Freedom Comes with Responsibility

Image from the Google homepage, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Freedom comes with responsibility.
Is this not what we teach our kids?
A kid fussing about washing dishes.
A mom tells her that a different mom
would shut that fussing down
and hand over a mop to do the floors next.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
Roll call.
Raise you hand and be counted.
Does every voice matter? Yes.
And you know when this really starts
to become apparent?
When we stop using ours.
When we resign ourselves to powerlessness.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
Not threats or secrecy.
Not preaching to the choir
or sneaking out out the side door
of integrity when you don’t know
the next right thing.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
Check yourself.
Hiding behind white or straight or cis is privilege.
It it a cowardly and self-serving
perpetuation of oppression.
But what about when safety comes into play —
is safety a privilege, too?

Freedom comes with responsibility.
I will not sit idly by.
My health insurance is not more important than your health insurance.
My kids’ education is not more important than your kids’ education.
My safety is not more important than your safety.
My spirit is not more sacred than your spirit.
My being is not more important than your being.
As long as “my” comes before “yours”
I will be tethered to distortions of freedom
by a rope that doubles as a noose.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
Find your fight.
Comfort in community is not the same as comfort in complacency.
Pick one thing if you have to and be a beacon.
If your own light has been so dulled
that your sight is compromised, spend time each day
with the soft cloth of clear seeing. Take care of your own eyes.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
Not for the faint of heart.
Take time today and every day to honor those who gave their lives for this,
for this freedom to speak, to resist, to insist, to denounce, to stand up, to be seen.
Think about the thousands, millions who died, whose names are gone,
whose faces have been passed down through generations,
who had no choice in the arrival,
who did not come to this land by choice,
who did not come to this land for opportunity,
for did not come to this land as equals or heirs.
Think of those who were displaced and dismantled
whose land was stolen and bloodied and renamed.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
My life is bound up with your life.
My heart is bound up with your heart.
My “my” is tethered to your “yours.”
I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s safe haven.
You are your father’s son and your mother’s daughter.
Overthrow legacies of complicity and shine a light on injustice.

Freedom comes with responsibility.
For this is love.
This is our mighty task.
And we are living inside of history as it unfolds around us,
not as puppets or actors but as humans infused with more ability than we can ever know.
Do what it takes today and all the days to tap it.
To speak from that stream and to drink from that well
and to hold out your cupped hands
that another might splash cold water on her face.

We’ve got to keep waking each other up.
Freedom comes with responsibility.