The Constellation of Cousins.

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Cousins.

Of the same family, yet not.

Cousins are like separate constellations within the same universe.

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My cousin, Richie, is part of his own constellation now. He died on Thursday.

I consider him my closest cousin. We were a year apart. We grew up together, spending holidays and summers together. He was like a big brother to me—teasing me, teaching me to stand up for myself. We leg wrestled. We fought. We played. We hung out. We grew up, grew apart.

My family moved away when I was 12, but Richie and I reconnected when I was 18 or 19. He was in the Navy and got stationed in Philadelphia where I was going to art school. We started hanging out, getting to know each other again. He’d tell me about his friends but if they showed any interest in me, he’d get all big brother protective, telling them to leave his cousin alone. I remember he found graham crackers in my apartment and wasn’t surprised. He said that I had always loved them. I was touched that he remembered this small thing about me and it hit me that I missed having somebody around who had known me for so long.

After Philly, we lost touch. The occasional phone call, the family reunion here and there. I saw him twice in the last year. Once was happy and the other so sad. He came to my home for my daughter’s grad party. Then I went to his son’s funeral.

Milestones in two lives that had intertwined yet went their separate ways.

He is gone, yet not. Just as he remembered I liked graham crackers, I remember things about him like how he loved to cook. His wife, children, sisters, parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and friends—all of us who knew him will remember him. And will make sure that his sweet, sweet grandchildren know who he was.

Good-bye, cousin. May you find peace in this new constellation you are part of.

Richie

The More I Befriend my Writing…

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Today is the 130th day of 2016.

I have written every one of those days.

Some days I have half-assed it, just barely showing up enough to call it writing.

But most days I. Show. Up.

I write. I edit. I revise. I re-imagine scenes to make them deeper, more real. I haul out the words and stories buried in my body, in my psyche, ones that are weighing me down, holding me back.

Today, as I rolled out of a 30-minute meditation, trying to stay in that soft space, I picked up my notebook and pen, watching the pink ink spill across the page and I realized that writing is no longer just something I show up for. It’s not longer just a red “x” I make on my board.

Writing has become my soft place to land everyday—even when what I am writing is hard and jagged.

Writing is no longer (well, more often) this “other” that I battle, compare, belittle and judge.

I have finally befriended my writing and it has befriended me.

It reminds of this:

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And here is the fascinating thing:

The more I befriend my writing, the more I am befriending my body—the more I befriend my whole self.

The more real I am on the page, the more I let it all out, the more compassion I seem to generate for myself and all the parts I used to deem as broken or unacceptable or unlovable.

My youngest daughter (19 years old) recently attended my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class which combines some writing with yoga. The topic of that “inner mean girl” voice came up. Later at dinner, I asked E.if she experienced that voice.

She shrugged and said, “Nah…my voice petty much says ‘You do you, Girl!'”

As her mom, I loved hearing that.

,As a woman I loved hearing that.

As a writer, I realize that is exactly what my writing says to me:

“You do you, Girl. I got your back.”

 

 

 

Books Read in March + April.

March April books

“The Great Spring- Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life” by Natalie Goldberg

People come up to me and say, “I love your book.”

I read this one slowly, savoring the words, thoughts, energy of a teacher who had started me on this writing path all those 30 years ago with her first book, “Writing Down the Bones.” She cracked open my mind through the idea of writing practice. I filled notebook after notebook with my practice. Writing became the way I connected to the raw, uncensored deep and still yet chaotic part of myself.

Reading this book, all these years after Bones, it felt like all that practice had distilled into her very marrow, into her cells. Her writing, her observations, her breath and energy rose off the page to meet me at this moment in my life, on my path. At times I felt overcome with emotion, like she was touching a part of me.

She hasn’t changed in that she remains rooted and committed to the practices of writing and Zen. What’s changed with me is that I now have a regular meditation practice, something I resisted even after studying with her at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house where she practically guaranteed that meditation was the secret to writing.

Now, I know she is right. Both practices ground me in the present moment. Both allow me access to observing my mind, riding the wild waves and combing the still waters.

Some of my favorite sentences:

“I had written intensely all that morning, leaning over the notebook, deep in relation with my mind.”

“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.”

“Crash Course- Essays from where Writing and Life Collide” by Robin Black

The only person in my home who thinks about words more than I do is my younger daughter.

I adore Robin Black. As my oldest daughter would say, I consider her my spirit animal. She writes the kind of stories filled with depth and characters that resonate deep within my bones— the kind of stories that I can only hope to write myself.

These essays give us a glimpse into her life—her life as a wife, mother,daughter, friend and her life as a writer. A woman just trying to lay down word after word in hopes of making sense of what is inside of her.

She’s not afraid to delve into the messy parts of life. In fact, that is where she shines.

I wish I could land on one chapter that I loved the most but the beauty of this book is that they all merge together to create a moving portrait of a writing life.

I underlined SO many sentence but here are a few.

Sentences I love:

“But perhaps more critically it means being able to survive rejection from oneself, to weather the huge number of failed attempts and dashed hopes, the daily sense that one is not actually good enough to do what one wants so desperately  to do.”

“I possess: this hunger to comprehend the complexity of human behavior, to look beneath what might be dismissed as only hurtful, to discover what may neutralize simple dispositions of blame, to convey this to the world, if only to convince myself.”

“…my interests were so entirely rooted in people’s emotional interiors.”

And from the acknowledgements…

“They taught me, through example and with lots of laughs, what kind of writer I want to be —not what I want to write, but who I want to be while I write.”

“The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch

“The day my daughter was still born, after I held the future pick and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her,then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.”

This book. What can I say about this book? Book seems too small of a word. So does story. So does memoir. It is her heart, her blood, her tears, her pain, her determination to be fully present to what happened to her, to where she got to where she is laid bare on the page.

Bare. Raw. Intense. Real. Honest. Naked.

True.

I’ve never read a memoir that reads more true than this one. She never hides. From anything, least of all herself.

I had tears in my eyes by the second page and I rarely cry over books.

I read the whole book with a pen in my hand, wanting to capture the magic she creates with words but getting too caught up in the words to remember to make  a mark.

This is a book I will return to again and again.

Sentences I love:

“Little tragedies are difficult to keep straight.”

“Everything collected in my memory curls like water around events in my life.”

“In my throat I swallowed language.”

“We laughed the laugh of women untethered, finally, from their origins.”

“Big Magic- Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Once upon a time, there was a man name Jack Gilbert, who was not related to me—unfortunately for me.

I read this for a second time after choosing it for our book club at the yoga studio where I reach. I devoured it the first time, so looked forward to reading it through again, savoring her words, savoring her ideas, savoring her perspective on life,on art,on creativity.

And what perspectives they are.

In the middle of reading it for the second time, I had the privilege of attending a workshop with her, an opportunity to explore the ideas put forth in the book. It unlocked the ideas in a way that merely reading them didn’t afford. Really connecting with her pillars of creativity.

What I love about her is, despite her huge success with “Eat, Pray, Love” she remains humble and in service to the art, to the process of writing, of creating.

Sentences I love:

“My intention was to spend my entire life in communion with writing, period.”

“Because this is how it feels to lead the faithful creative life: You try and try and try, and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens.”

 

 

 

Choosing to Embrace Silence.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I’ve never been good at being alone.

Never been comfortable with silence. Which explains why I resisted meditation for so long. Even when one of my favorite writers/teachers highly recommended it for writers, coming just shy of touting it as the magic key, I still refused to sit with myself in silence.

When I first went away to art school, I arrived before my roommate. I had the apartment to myself for almost a week and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a TV. This was well before personal computers, much less iPhones. I didn’t have a stereo. I think I did have a cassette player with earphones. And books. And myself.

Those few days were excruciating. I remember sitting on the couch in view of the apartment across from me where I saw other students, hoping, praying they would notice me, take pity on me and invite me over.

They didn’t.

When I was a young mother, I craved time alone, even if just in the bathroom. When I was lucky enough to get any time to myself, I almost always squandered much of it in front of the TV. Or I’d call family or friends and talk to them. Anything to fill up the silence. Anything to avoid being alone with myself.

Now, my daughters are both away at college. This week my husband is out of town so it just me and the dog and cat. And the silence.

As I sit in my cozy reading/writing nook in the living room I hear the tapping of these keys, the gurgling hum of the washing, the clock ticking over the mantel and the muted thrum of highway traffic. That’s it. No TV or radio or music to fill the silence.

No barriers between me and myself.

I no longer resist silence or being alone. I embrace it.

What changed? Me. I don’t know when exactly it happened but it’s been since I started practicing yoga, since I finished my YTT. Yoga has allowed me to dive deep and figure out who I am, how I feel and to, you know, actually feel those feelings.

I think I was afraid of feeling too much so I avoided being alone, avoided creating space where feelings could surface.

I am no longer uncomfortable being alone. It no longer feels lonely. It wasn’t because I didn’t like myself. I didn’t know myself. And I am not always comfortable with being alone or with silence. Sometimes I still get that feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. Of wanting to fill in the gaps of silence that press on me.

The difference now is that I allow myself to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And that is something that has definitely emerged from my yoga practice. I find my edge in poses that aren’t comfortable but I stay there, I breathe, I feel my body, I note my resistance and choose to stay.

Staying there when I want to flee is where the growth happens. It’s like a muscle that I push to its limit and it grows stronger. That space of hanging in past resistance helps in my writing as well.

So, as I find myself sitting in the utter quiet of my home, I note the butterflies in my belly, I note my shallow breath and the urge to turn the TV on. But I don’t.

I choose to embrace the silence.

And in embracing the silence I am embracing myself , exactly who I am in this moment. I wish eighteen-year-old me had known this. But she was young. She didn’t know or appreciate the beauty of all of who she was.

That’s okay. We know now.

 

 

The Art of Seeing Myself Clearly.

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As part of an on-line program, Spring Equinox 30 Days Back to You, I did a full two-hour vipassana meditation this morning. It is a practice of seeing ourselves clearly, of staying present to exactly what is happening in the moment, gradually purifying the mind and getting rid of attachments which are the root of suffering.

Where to start? At the beginning I suppose.

First up was the question of where to do it. I thought I should do it in my yoga room. Then this morning I decided I would sit in my nook in the living room. It didn’t look like I pictured it “should” in my mind—me sitting on my mat, in my yoga room, spine straight. But I decided I needed to make it as doable as possible. This chair is comfortable, it is cozy, I had the house to myself so I wouldn’t be interrupted. It made me wonder how often I tend to sabotage myself before I even begin by not making what I want to do as doable or accessible as possible.

Lately, I’ve been meditating and practicing self-reiki in bed as soon as I wake up. I used to think I “should” be doing it on my mat, after I practice. But this works for me. I wake up and before I do anything else, I do some reiki. I am still in that soft space after just waking, this keeps me there then it leads me straight into a sweet meditative space.

When I first read that I was going to have to meditate for two hours by first reaction was,”NO FUCKING WAY!”

But I was also intrigued.

I thought it would be so hard, so tedious. I thought it would be painful physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

But I also thought it could really interesting.

I went into it without expectations. I deliberately didn’t read about others’ experience with it before I experienced it myself.

I got my cozy blanket, a glass of water, lit a candle, put my phone on airplane mode so I wouldn’t be disturbed, set the timer and just did it.

At first it was loud in my head. It felt like “Inside Out” in there. I had the rebel dressed in black muttering, “This is bullshit.”

There was one wringing her hands worried that we weren’t doing this right at all.

Another desperately taking notes so we could write about this afterward.

Another patrolling with a ruler in her hand, enumerating all the ways this was an utter waste of time.

The first time I checked the timer only 15 minutes had passed.

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I shared the space with my dog, Izzy. She slept on the couch then at some point got up and moved to the recliner closer to me. I thought, her whole life is a vipassana meditation. She is always just in the moment, doing what she is doing. I tried to be more like her.

I was acutely aware of my body and the shapes it made. The places where my body connected with the chair, that line or veil between the two seeming to dissipate.

I was hyper aware of my face and neck.

I heard the clock above the mantel ticking away, the hum of the refrigerator, the creaks and groans of the house, distant traffic, a siren.

Odd images would flash behind my eyes. It felt like I was watching a movie.

It felt like that limbo between wakefulness and sleep though I never teetered over the edge into sleep.

The next time I looked I had 37 minutes left.

Then only six.

Then the timer dinged and I came back.

And it felt like coming back.

From where, I’m not sure. A journey of some sort. A deep inner journey.

I don’t remember a lot of the details. I am stunned that two hours went by.

I am surprised that it wasn’t more of a struggle. I’m surprised that I was able to just allow my mind to go where it went and didn’t engage with it. I felt like an observer. A curious, compassionate observer.

I stopped struggling to remember everything that I experienced and just allowed myself to experience it.

Just allowed myself to be.

Just allowed myself to see my Self more clearly.

Wednesday Writing Prompt.

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Artwork by (my awesome brother-in-law) Brian Buss.

 

Peeling the curtain back takes courage. From black and white to vibrant color. From comfort to the new and absurd. Allowing all those voices to be heard. Standing guard over your ego, loitering around the coffee cooler of your heart, discussing all the ways you have failed, all the things you dream of, musing on the paths not taken or those taken and abandoned. Aiming true deep into the heart of who you truly are rather than who you pretend to be. Let the red poppies of your subconscious spill into your life, your dreams. Pulling back the bow, knuckle grazing the sharp edge of the cheekbone, gazing ahead, not back, straight into the concentric circles of your past, present and future selves, trusting it will glide with speed and depth, landing exactly where it needs to. Where it is meant to.

Books Read in January + February.

Jan. Feb. Books read

“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking.

This is a book to get lost in. A thick, page-turner of a book. Sometimes, you wish you could find your way out again as it gets dark. Very dark. But the characters just drew me in, as did their story. As did their friendship. That’s the aspect that most intrigued me. This is the story of male friendship. A deep and abiding, complicated, ferocious friendship between men who meet in college and stay connected through all the ups and downs of their separate yet intertwined lives.

A sentence I love:

In bed, though, he returned to the thought that had crept, tendril-like, from some dark space of his mind and had insinuated itself into his consciousness like a thin green vine: maybe one of them had discovered something about the person he once was.

“tiny beautiful things—Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed

The last word my mother ever said to me was “love.”

So starts the first sentence of the first answer to the first question in this collection of…well, there has to be a better word than advice. Her answers are not just little nuggets of wisdom she tosses out. No. Her answers come from a place deep within her heart, she dredges them from the guts of and soul of her life. The advice is not always pretty or nice or simple. In fact, she often reminds us how complicated life is. How complicated we humans are. And how simple it can be if we look past our own bullshit. After reading this, I felt a piece of her remained with me and when confronted with my own decisions in my own life I started asking myself “What would Dear Sugar say?”

A sentence I love:

There are so many tiny revolutions in a life, a million ways we have to circle around ourselves to grow and change and be okay. And perhaps the body is our final frontier.

 “Twin Study” stories by Stacey Richter

I’ve been a human specimen going on twenty years now, ever since my sister and I were twelve, when my parents enrolled us in the California State University Twin Study.

Reality and the surreal coexist seamlessly in this innovative collection—one never more plausible than the other. Whether it’s about Cavemen intruding on suburbia or a woman who is raising her clone the stories are sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing but always thought-provoking. They remind me that what is at the heart of any story are the characters.

A sentence I love:

I think we just feel and feel as children, or as kids or whatever, and then at some point, we get older and have to decide how much to feel, because it’s too arduous to go through that every day—it’s just too much, like listening to heavy metal nonstop.

“The Untethered Soul- The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael A. Singer

In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops.

I remember picking this book up in the store, reading that first line and thinking, “YES! Yes, I do!”

I found this book life-changing. Almost every page is underlined. I chose it for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach and am really looking forward to the discussion. So much to think about. So much to digest. I appreciated the different metaphors he used to describe concepts that seem indescribable. But I’d read it and think, “Oh, now I get it.”

It’s all about noticing the thoughts and emotions but not getting swept away by them. Putting distance between the “You” having the thoughts and the “You” watching them. Easier said than done, but so worth the lifetime of practice trying to do so.

Sentences I love:

Just decide that no matter what the mind says, you aren’t getting involved. You don’t fight the mind. In fact, you don’t even try to change it. You just make a game out of relaxing in the face of its melodrama.

“Imagine This—Creating the Work You Love” by Maxine Clair

I first heard of this little gem of a book from Tayari Jones and once I read it I can see why she was so enamored. I could sense her own vital creativity and her own passion to share what she’s learned just as Clair does. Part memoir, part writing process, part spirituality this book earned many, many marks on the pages. You don’t have to want to be a writer to appreciate her story and her advice. It’s about cultivating a life you love through hard work, mindfulness and trust. Each chapter ends with exercises to explore to help you truly create work and a life you love.

A sentence I love:

Becoming one with your expression, you are more than you have ever been. Nothing is needed to complete you; you are more than enough; you harmonize with everything and everyone.