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.

I’d Rather Be Real Than Popular

Photo: Jonatán Becerra

Do you ever feel like you should only share your writing when it’s happy, or when you’ve pored over it a thousand times? Do you ever only sit down to write when your sad? How do different moods affect your writing?

Tonight, I am just super down.

I know this is way amplified by PMS, and yes, I tend to come to this space every few months it seems around this time of the month. Is that wallowing? Whatever. Here I am. I ate half a pint of ice cream and it was so good. I read several articles about Trayvon Martin, who should have turned 23 a few weeks ago but didn’t because he was killed by a man who lives a free life today.

I have plenty of irrational fears. My fears have nothing to do with going out at night and wearing a hoodie, and this is important to note.

My fears are that if I have moods, if I’m not shiny and inspirational all of the time, people will not want to be around me. And if people don’t want to be around me, nobody will want to join my writing groups or work with me and I will stop making a living and we will be in deep doo-doo.

Really, my mind goes there in 2.2 seconds.

I told a very close friend over coffee last Friday morning about this, this persistent fear. I mean, it’s not a bad thing to be mindful of sustaining one’s income and providing for one’s family — ok, my income, my family — but that is a very different thing from fear.

This friend, I should mention, is a Buddhist. The real deal. And you know what she said? That it’s my resistance to the fear that is problematic, not the fear itself. So she suggested not resisting it.

I’m taking this to heart. And tonight, I’m doing the same with my heavy mood.

Honestly, if your mood was never heavy these days, I’d question what kind of person you are. On the other hand, too much empathy can be paralyzing. I think the thing might be to do what my friend advised, and not resist any of it. Hello, sadness. Hello, irritation. Hello, fear. Hello, hello. Come in. You can’t sleep in my bed with me and no way do you get to share my ice cream, but come and we can sit together for just a little while.

What do you have to tell me? I’m listening.

Oh, I see. It starts with that deep breath. And just feeling feelings. Feeling the weight of the body here on the couch. Closing my eyes for a moment.

The moment I feel the feelings, this thing happens: I remember that while there is so much that needs my attention, there is, in this moment, no action to take. The urgency to fix things can get in the way of remembering who I am. Same goes for doing, doing, doing. Doing that is sourced in lack or fear is like pouring water into a ditch; the soil just soaks it up until there’s nothing but a muddy mess.

But doing that is intentional — that’s more like pouring water into a potted plant, thoughtfully, lovingly, and paying attention to the moment when it begins to drain from the bottom. The plant does not need an endless amount of water all at once. it needs just the right amount, every few days or so. Love doesn’t mean constant, hyper-focused attention. That sounds smothering.

No, love means saying come in. You don’t get to have so much power here, so instead of yelling at me from the driveway and tossing rocks at my window, I am calling you up, pouring you a cup of tea, and giving you a bit of my undivided attention.

So what are you scared of, love? What are you sad about? Why the tears springing up? Tell me everything. Or just sip your tea. We don’t even have to talk.

If you only write when you’re happy and shiny, I’m not sure I’ll trust you. Write whenever you feel like writing. Don’t worry about who’s reading. Don’t worry about how it sounds or whether it’s any good.

Remember who you are. A person who writes to connect with yourself. A person who writes to make sense of emotions and moods and experiences and highs and lows. A person who would rather be real than popular.

And Jena? Remember what this space is for: Showing up. Practicing. And beginning again and again and again.

Tiles in a Laborious Mosaic

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

~ The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944

Thought: There is a LOT of news we don’t hear about. Every single day, things happen. Small miracles. Wrenching losses. Breathtaking moments of ecstasy and countless, repetitive motions. “You and me” takes on hundreds of manifestations. The big picture will always be there, beyond our field of vision, a scale so measureless it requires tremendous faith in the unseen and unseeable.

What is a mosaic made of, but so many tiny tiles?

Every day that we wake up and find that we are still here, alive, conscious, breathing, able to interact in whatever ways our bodies make possible, is an opportunity to change our minds and alter that unfathomable pattern in the direction of wholeness.

Here’s the catch: It’s hard.

We get tangled in webs of invisible energy. We react. We rush. We carry so much pent-up rage and sadness that it’s bound to leak out all over everything if we don’t acknowledge it and find channels for expression, release, and healing. The world doesn’t meet us where we are any more than we meet the world as it is. We meet the world — I do this so very often — through a distorted lens of how I think it should be. The world shrugs back like a teenager. “Whatever.”

Tears come unexpectedly. At first, I sit still and let them roll down my cheeks as the singers sing on. Then it becomes too much; I feel the strain of trying to control what is quickly moving from a quiet flow to a full-on storm, and I leave the room quietly, move towards a large window at the end of a wide hallway. It is facing west. The sun is low over a bike path, a parking lot. I watch people coming and going as the sobbing I didn’t see coming overtakes me. It’s every hard thing, every yearning, every pinch, every tight spot, every constraint. It’s neither rational nor irrational. It is scary and at the same time, somewhere in the deep of my brain, I know it won’t last.

It doesn’t last.

I return to the room. I take my seat back on the cushion. My wife sits a foot or so away from me. The space is filled with sound. Guitar, tabla, bass, drums, cello, flute, violin, harmonium. Deep voices and piercing voices coming together in an ancient call and response. I sway a little but don’t join in for a while, allowing myself just to stay here in the stillness. I notice the urge to flee. I stay. I notice 10,000 variations on this theme. I resist all of it. I stay. I stay. I stay.

And sure enough, I begin to soften. Almost despite myself, I open my mouth to sing. I sing quietly. I don’t need anyone to hear me. I am here, and that is enough.

We all have moments where we are “not our best selves.” But what does this even mean? Best, worst, first, last — all of these monosyllabic words that don’t ultimately mean anything. What matters is our ability to hold steady through the periods of turmoil and tumult, when you’re so caught up in the wave that you don’t know how to break through to the surface for air. It is easy to panic in these moments, to flail. To pull others down with you. To make it infinitely scarier and more painful than it already is.

There is a big picture, and so very much happens in the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, a life. None of us knows how much time we have here, and every day seems to be an exercise in imperfection, starting over, self-forgiveness, and learning.

When I say, “Be good to yourself,” this is what I’m talking about. It’s not a code for anything else, nor is it a permission slip to ditch responsibility for our impact on others. It is as simple an imperative as I can muster for myself, a baseline, and — hopefully — a bit of solid ground to feel for when life is moving at lightning speed and we temporarily lose our bearings and forget our place in the entirety of things.

As Anaïs Nin noted in her diary so many decades ago, life unfolds and takes shape “fragment by fragment.” And we are all essential tiles, in an incalculable whole.

4/30 Poems in November: No

noNo.
Full sentence.
Full stop.
The beginning.
The middle.
The end.
NO.
I don’t like that.
I don’t want to.
It doesn’t feel good.
I’m not ready.
I don’t know why.
Why doesn’t matter.
No and no.
Not polite.
Not nice.
Not smiling.
Not sweet.
NO.
Short for “number.”
I’m gonna be your number 1.
I’m gonna be my own best friend.
No.
I need something.
But not this.
NO. I’m not sorry.
NO. You don’t own me.
NO. I don’t owe you.
No.
Nearly killed me.
No. Saved me.
No. Scared me.
No. Cost me.
No. Delivered me.
No. Will not be televised.
No walks.
No votes.
No perches and watches.
No always knows.
No is generous
when it’s true.
No way no how.
No go.
No nonsense.
Nor’easter. No shit.
No way past but through.
Nobody got time for that.
No. A mural.
A syllable.
A circle.
Self-contained. Complete.
No.

4/30

**

30 Poems in November! is a literary fundraiser for Center for New Americans. Center for New Americans welcomes and serves immigrants in Western Massachusetts with free English classes and a range of support services. For more information, please visit cnam.org This year, we aim to raise $30,000. Writers do their part by writing one poem each day in November. Friends and family do their part by donating to support this effort. Powerful new poems and financial contributions translate to community support for immigrants.

Some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done was in my early 20s at the Riverside Church in NYC, leading English-language conversations with new Americans from countries all over the world. It was then that I was privileged to witness the courage, resilience, patience, and grit that immigrants and refugees must have in order to navigate life in a new language and culture.

Since poetry is one of the way I practice showing up in the world, for the month of November, I vow to write one poem a day as a small gesture of respect for and in solidarity with those who land in the Pioneer Valley as new Americans. Your donation will spur me on and, more importantly, support the newest members of our community.

Make your donation here

Still Life

still-life
In an era
of pithy statements
sound bites
excerpts
and fragments
I find myself
asking
when
will I ever
have time
to listen
for the whole
to tell all
there is
inside
the quiet life
the slow life
the spacious life
the life
we’re raised
to save
for retirement
if you follow
the rules
which of course
I haven’t
the still life
fruit on the table
and the story
of the bowl
where it waits
to be eaten
or rot
whichever comes
first
and then there’s
the question
of
am I doing this
right
the one
that can grow
like an invasive species
on the most beautiful
of plants
the one
the will stop
at nothing
if you don’t
catch it
early
and treat it
often
watch the ripening
and see
if you can
gauge its readiness
I’m writing
to myself
this is not
a poem
or a plea
in fact
it’s me
at my most tired
when words
come
only
in twos and threes
and I
pray for
strength
for parenting
and life
in the forms
of sleep
coffee
a good laugh
a firm kiss
on the lips
from my love
and a reminder
to myself
to go easy
so familiar
not quotable
nor whole
but needed
and so
very
true