While Listening to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour

I’m listening to a crushingly beautiful piece of music.* I have two tamales in the oven and that’s not a euphemism. I misspelled euphemism (with an “a”) and used autocorrect to fix it. Chalupa, having just scarfed down lunch, is quietly gnawing on some chew toys in her bed. Mani’s at the dentist. The windows are open and it’s a cool, comfortable temperature. Earlier, I also had my teeth cleaned. I rode my bike a little under 10 miles.

I’m enjoying the bike riding; there’s something so spacious about it, especially the longer flat stretches of farmland where I find my thoughts can lengthen.

In many ways, I’m feeling quiet lately. I’m learning that quieter doesn’t mean less fired up, less devoted, less effective, less of service. It’s interesting to note that that’s even an assumption I’d make, but not surprising, I suppose. After all, we’re told to make noise, to speak up, to stand up, to rise up. But how? We all meet life in such unique ways.

I just got up to check my tamales. They’re not ready. Now I’m listening to Eric Satie. I loved playing these pieces so long ago — the gymnopedies and gnossiennes. (Spellcheck can’t save me now, but I’m not going to bother looking these up.)

Playing piano was, in the past, one of the ways I spent time with myself. Alone time, connected time, slow time, introspective time, quiet time, meditative time, feeling time. Now that my piano lives over at my parents’ house and we have an electronic keyboard, I rarely sit down to play. I say it’s “just not the same,” but wonder if perhaps I should try again.

This is very similar to what I’m finding on these bike rides: Solace, space, quiet, a kind of freedom and also a sense of relief. Oh, there you are. 

Last I did a Meyer’s Briggs assessment, my I (introvert) and E (extrovert) were exactly 50/50, so it’s not surprising that both qualities are strong in me. Lately, I’ve been craving connection AND solitude in equal measure. It seems contradictory and maybe even confusing, but I’m not trying to figure it out. Instead, I’m interested in listening, noticing where there’s fear (what if I’m feeling more social than my spouse?), and keeping lines of communication open both internally and with the people in my life.

I do find, again and again, that the latter leads to conversations that deepen relationships. The only truly detrimental thing is shutting down, though i recognize that sometimes, a person needs to give themselves room for that, too. We’re so damn quick to judge ourselves and each other. More than anything, I want to create space between myself and the judgment.

* * *

Many hours have passed since I started writing this. It’s a little before 6:00pm now, and I just finished eating an early dinner. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if I was pregnant what with the tired and the hungry lately. I scroll through Facebook and see lots of people’s kids graduating — from preschool, from middle school, from high school, from college. My own son will graduate from sixth grade next week. It’s definitely one of those leaving-the-nest moments.

I’m also seeing babies being literally taken from their parents’ arms.

It’s easy to think: Who am I to be quiet when we’re witnessing human rights atrocities on a daily basis in our own country?

Again, quiet and caring, quiet and enraged, self-care and resistance — these are not mutually exclusive. And it’s that exact kind of binary, either/or, all or nothing thinking that keeps us paralyzed, focused more on self-judgment or self-righteousness than on actual care, for ourselves or anyone else, close or distant.

How do we keep each other?

Today, I had a throw-in-the-towel moment. I heard that Trump has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We were so flabbergasted that we checked to see if it was real news, and it was. I said to Mani, “I’m at a point where I’m thinking we need to protect the most vulnerable, focus on community building and calling things by their true names, and giving up any last shreds of hope that the two-party system can save us.”

I do believe in voting. I want to believe in the democratic process. And I also know that the democratic process has kicked a lot of people to the curb for centuries — hardly democratic when you look right at it.

This doesn’t feel quiet; I feel myself getting worked up and my soapbox is not what the world needs from me.

So what does the world need from me? What does the world need from you?

Courage. Humility. Intense reckoning with the ways we’ve internalized oppression and where we’ve been the oppressor. Fierce love and ever fiercer awareness that not everyone has the same cushions, or any cushions for that matter — from literally soft places to land at the end of the day to the emotional, mental, and material support required to live in a world that makes you fight to prove your humanity.

Ranty.

From quiet to ranty in a few hundred words.

And so I come back to the boring parts. Everyday life is always happening. I know how hard it is to stay alert — and trying to stay alert 24/7 will fry your nervous system and make you sick. I’m rarely this blunt, but I will say this: Don’t do it. We need you well. We need you here. I need you.

And I need myself intact, too. I cannot be of any use if I’m always “on,” nor can I check out and go live in a cave. I’m not sure I believe in balance, but I do believe in dichotomies and that we — we quirky, needy, messy, loving, scared, angry, sad, funny, ordinary humans — embody many things at once.

I’m not sure if that’s a logical place to wrap up this ramble, but it will have to do.

* Gratitude to Jennifer Sekella, a member of my Get Your Muse On group. Today, instead of offering a prompt as I usually do on Wednesdays, I asked folks to share one of their own — a kind of “leave a prompt, take a prompt” exercise. Jen wrote: “I used to always have my students listen to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour. They’d write the images, thoughts, feelings that arose and then write a story, poem, or the like from their reactions.”

A Writing Prompt: On the Question of Struggle and Ease

Does writing have to be a struggle?

Yesterday, I posed this question on Facebook, and it turns out a lot of us have thoughts about this; the responses were insightful, interesting, wise, and varied.

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The conversation has me thinking about both how we define struggle and also, how we relate to ease, what these concepts have to do with privilege, with expectation, with culture — and what remains of just *being* when you strip all of these away.

What values do you assign to these words? Is struggle always a bad thing? Is ease necessarily a good thing?

I think of resistance slogans like ¡la lucha continua! and I feel a swelling of pride and power in struggle — to struggle against injustice, for example, is a very different thing than to struggle with freeing your own words onto the page (or is it?).

Are struggle and ease mutually exclusive?

What’s the difference between struggling and persevering, if any? Does ease always mean easy?  What are the origins of how you relate to these words, and how does this affect you today as a creative being?

Marge Piercy writes:

“Doorways are sacred to women for we are the doorways of life and we must choose what comes in and what goes out. Freedom is our real abundance.”

There are so many points of entry, so many questions. Every question is a doorway to greater freedom with and within our writing.

Your prompt:

Consider how struggle and ease show up in your everyday experience. Play with being objective, i.e. make a list of what you have to work your ass off for and another list for what you don’t have to think about at all. If you’d like, choose ONE thing from either or both lists for a deeper dive and closer look.

Start by setting a timer for 10 minutes. Be curious. See where the inquiry leads. There are no wrong answers. Keep your hand moving without judging yourself or editing as you go!

Do you long for more creative ease?

Are you a woman or femme working on a long-term project and wishing you had more accountability, structure, and companionship along the way?

Are you super busy but don’t want your writing to wither on the vine?

Jewels on the Path is a small (limited to 12) secret group that offers you a weekly rhythm for showing up with new work, honoring the ebb and flow of your personal creative process, and practicing asking for and receiving the kind of feedback you need and want most.

Spring is here and with it, an invitation to gently nurture new words — and a new way of relating to your writing!

You can sign up for the group only, or include 1:1 coaching sessions. The new session begins on Monday, April 2 and runs for 16 weeks.

Does this sound like just the thing your writing life needs? YAY. Contact me before the end of the week. Let’s talk about your writing and your life. It doesn’t have to be a struggle.

When the Going Gets Tough

DNA Tree of Life by MimiPrints

I am a crier. Or is it cry-er? If I am a rager, it’s usually inward. I am a driver and  a walker. When the going gets tough, I used to be a smoker and a runner. These days, I’m making friends again with my yoga mat and the breath.

I keep going. I remind myself that nothing is permanent. I crave being cared for and taken care of. I can get awfully martyrish but usually catch myself before I get lost in there completely.

I did an online personality test the other day, one of those Facebook quiz things that you know is an utter waste of time but you click on anyway. My results ranked these four things highest: Anxiety, sensitivity, friendliness, and complexity. Really? There were other things, too. But those were my top results. I felt a rush of shame, a kind of “shouldn’t” especially around the anxiety. I want to be better than that, isn’t that ridiculous? I want to be cool as a cucumber. I want to be calm as a buddha. I want to be easy like Sunday morning.

Instead, I seem to carry the “worrier” gene that has surely been passed down the mother line for generations. We recently learned that there is an actual gene for “worriers” and “warriors.”

The thing with genes is that we can turn then on and off. We could talk nature/nurture all day, and it’s endlessly fascinating stuff to me. Genes determine so much about our propensities and dispositions, but so does context and environment in every sense. From the water we drink and the soil our food grows in to the rain that falls and the chemicals carried on wind even over the organic crops we may choose, there is no unchlorinated end of the swimming pool.

But back to genes, and things getting tough, and worry. Who decides what “tough” means? Do I wring my hands? I desperately want to say no. I don’t sit around fretting. It’s no wonder I chose to marry someone who is so unstoppable in the face of adversity.

But my people are also tough. We’ve survived and survived and survived. And I am giving myself to this lifetime of practice. Practice staying with myself and the people closest to me when things get stressful, rather than running, rather than folding up, rather than imploding, rather than wishing and fantasizing for something other or better. Even when the going gets tough, I want to remember that I am here. I get to be here for it. Sometimes I can lose sight of that, and those are dark moments.

Tomorrow the light returns. The sun begins to come back, one minute longer at a time. The sun enters Capricorn, season of my birth. I am surrendering to these next days, making room for quiet and letting things be as they are. Plenty of things have been really tough these past few years, but the hardest parts are inseparable, too, from everything that feeds and fuels me now, both literally and figuratively.

At the end of the day, that’s the double helix I’ll hang my hat on.

The Other Door

Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, Paris, France, by Alex Holyoake

The other door. A mouth. An ear. A nostril. An eye. A pelvic floor. A vulva. A body of doors, openings and closings. Go inward and there are chambers of the heart and esophageal flaps and valves controlling the flow of fluids through channels, maintaining order. Spine, neural pathways, veins, arteries, capillaries, so much anatomy, a house I’ll never explore fully enough.

The other door. The third eye, the mind’s eye, the wrist, the sacrum. Ridges of teeth against tongue. A pinch here, a pulse there. A room that leads to a room that leads to a room, a series of caves, underground tunnels, a palace built into the side of a mountain at the edge of the sea.

The other door. Scalp. Hair follicles. Nail beds. Reach, stretch, bend, bow. Break. Repair. Heal. Hurt. Fire, ice, water, soak, salve.

The other door. Phlegm. Spit. Cum. Blood. Yellow. White. Red. Black. Bruise. Blue. Green. Eyes. Seeing, translating, refracting, flipping over, inside out, rapid fire, REM sleep, deep dreams, doors through doors through doors, open, open, open, closed. Open, open, open, closed. Mantra, memory. Lullaby.

The other door. Images. Flashes. What makes a person, what makes a body, what makes a a life. Rooms inside of bodies and buildings inside of houses inside of dolls inside of cliff sides inside of families inside of centuries inside of stories inside of time inside of timelessness.

The other door. Listen. Watch. Float on a bed of salt. Squeeze your legs together, spread them wide, kick, pull, push, glide.

The other door. Spirit. Mystery. Sun, moon, plain as day, clear as night. Sky and floor, room after room. Remember this? Remember this place? Swim home through waters you were born from and to which you will return. Doors open, open, open. Open your mouth. Open your eyes.

The Self-Abandonment of Envy


I want to say I’m so over envy. It’s such an illusion, this envy business. It is also a kind of violence to myself, a way of abandoning my own life, my own body, my own choices, my own love, my own ideas, my own consequences, my own power. Every time I covet that one’s house or this one’s relationship, this one’s money or that one’s body, I am choosing something false over what’s solid and tangible and real.

The rabbit holes are endless and futile; early in the morning before we get up, or in the middle of the night sometimes I fall; I wake up tunneling like a small animal in the deep, unable to find my way out. It takes effort to end this indulgence, to return to the bed, the room, the belly, the breath, the life that is in every way mine.

I want to say I eschew envy. Doesn’t that sound so mature? More like self-righteous and suspicious. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I’ve heard enough stories to know that everyone has one and no one else’s life is perfect. But damn, that house! Damn, that togetherness! Damn, those shoulders! Damn, that vacation!

Once, when I asked a client what she imagined when she pictured her “ideal writing life,” she said, “Well, I really like yours.” I was so taken aback. I couldn’t decide in the moment how to respond. I was flustered. Part of me felt a surge of anger, like, no, you can’t have mine. It’s already taken. Part of me wanted to laugh. Here was a woman who had cashed out from her years in the private sector and basically had the freedom to do whatever she wanted; no partner, no kids…. oh, waitaminute, could she be lonely? Longing for family life? Was she envying me?!

No, no, no. Don’t envy me. When you envy me, you objectify me. You stop seeing my realness. So the flip side must be true, too. When I envy you, I no longer see you. And I am kind of a fan of us seeing each other.

That said, oh my god I am a total goner. I want everything in the Anthropologie store. I want a beautiful house. I want I want I want.

But this doesn’t last long. Especially when I stop and realize I’m in a trance of capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative bullshit designed to keep me disowning myself and falling into the lull that I will never have enough.

No more. I will practice every single day if I have to.

We don’t have to disavow wanting. Wanting can be a beautiful force, propelling us towards naming obstacles and deciding where to place our time, money, and energy. But envy? It will clobber you with lack every time if you let it.

Don’t let it.