The Day I Fell Back in Love with Writing.

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Writing is my way into the word. It is connection. It connects me to what I think, feel, experience, believe, fear, want. Writing is who I am at the deepest level.

Writing is like breathing. That essential. That integral to my being.

Lately, even though I am showing up to write every day (I am well into my fourth year of this) I’ve lost the joy in writing. The playfulness. I often feel like I am merely showing up to page in order to make the “X” on my dry erase board. The accumulation of these marks has been immensely satisfying and motivating but I am afraid I am giving up something in the process of showing up. Giving up a depth of experience, giving up a certain lightness or playfulness.

Just as I was articulating these feelings, an ad for a workshop called “Fall in Love with Your Writing” appeared in my Facebook feed. (One of the few perks of their invasive algorithms). I didn’t know the writer but I loved the title. And it felt like a gift from the Universe so I wasn’t about to turn it away. 

I joined 16 other writers for an afternoon of writing filled with laughter and tears, getting out of our comfort zones and just filling the page for the sake of filling the page.

I wasn’t trying to add an “X” to my board.

It wasn’t about finishing a scene or a chapter for my WIP.

It was about seducing my writing.

Seducing it back into my life, not out of obligation but out of desire.

Desire to play on the page.

Play with words.

Play with language.

Play with genre.

Desire to explore out of curiosity.

Desire to immerse my self in the process rather than focusing only on the end-product.

I once had an art teacher give me some advice. I had drawn a self-portrait in pencil that was all monotone. He told me to just get in there and create some depth and contrast and he didn’t even care if it turned into one big black hole of a mess. My stomach clenched at that. I couldn’t “ruin” it that way. Could I?

But his advice was perfect. He saw how tightly I clung to not wanting to make a mistake. How I wanted to do it “right” And how that kept me stuck and safe on the outside.

It was the first time I had been given permission to “fail.” 

At the end of this afternoon workshop I once again had permission again to fail. To play. To not play it safe all the time. I felt I had loosened the incredibly tight reins I hold on myself to be productive. 

And true to the title, I fell in love with my writing again.

(Huge, heartfelt thanks to Kristine E. Brickey for gathering us together and giving us the space to play and explore in a safe, supportive environment!)

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100 Observations After 100 Days of Sobriety.

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  1. I sleep better. 
  2. Not perfect, but definitely better.
  3. It’s easier to fall asleep, I stay asleep and wake up refreshed.
  4. I have more energy.
  5. I am more focused.
  6. I read more.
  7. I have dreams that I drink and I am so disappointed in myself in the dream. 
  8. Then I wake up relieved that it was just a dream.
  9. I am glad that I decided to share my story. 
  10. It has allowed other women to reach out to me for support.
  11. My skin looks better. 
  12. Actually, it looks to me like it is glowing.
  13. I am getting more comfortable being uncomfortable.
  14. I feel all my feelings.
  15. I am finding new ways to decompress after a long day:
  16. Tea.
  17. Meditation.
  18. Guided body scan.
  19. Play with my pups.
  20. Reading.
  21. I binged on sugar when I first stopped drinking. 
  22. That has leveled out.
  23. I also binged on social media at first. 
  24. Still working on that one.
  25. I find it easier to make other heathy choices.
  26. I am easy on myself when I don’t.
  27. That’s a surprising development. 
  28. This newfound compassion for myself.This tenderness.
  29. I didn’t go out often at first. 
  30. I am slowly making my way back out into the social world.
  31. I am saving money. 
  32. Like probably $50 a month.
  33. I go out to eat less so I am saving money there as well.
  34. And when I do go out, the bill isn’t bloated with booze.
  35. Everyone has been supportive so far.
  36. No awkward questions about why I’m doing it or suggesting that I don’t have a problem or attempts to peer-pressure me into having just one drink.
  37. I do notice that some people feel compelled to justify when and how much they do drink. 
  38. I listen but I am not judging. 
  39. I am doing this for me. 
  40. Your path is your path.
  41. My dreams are more vivid and involved, often spooling out like novels or movies.
  42. My digestion is smooth.
  43. I no longer say things drunk that I wouldn’t say sober.
  44. If it can’t be said sober, it doesn’t need to be said at all.
  45. No hangovers!
  46. No shame.
  47. I collect sober celebrities.
  48. They keep me company on this journey.
  49. And they remind me that I am in good company.
  50. Demi Moore.
  51. Mackelmore.
  52. Jennifer Hudson.
  53. Jennifer Lopez
  54. Bradley Cooper.
  55. Brad Pitt
  56. Among many, many others.
  57. There is no longer this haze shrouding my vision.
  58. I see clearly who I am.
  59. And who I want to be.
  60. I feel like I am living my life on purpose.
  61. Not sure how this is related but I no longer buy a bunch of stuff.
  62. I am buying less books.
  63. Less clothes.
  64. Less stuff to clutter up my life.
  65. I go to Target and actually stick to my list.
  66. Maybe I am not longer trying fill myself up.
  67. Maybe I no longer see myself as broken.
  68. In need of fixing.
  69. Maybe I am finally able to embrace all parts of myself.
  70. No longer numbing to parts I don’t like.
  71. No longer trying to not feel what I am, indeed, feeling.
  72. I listen more intently.
  73. To myself.
  74. To those around me.
  75. To my body.
  76. To my intuition.
  77. I have space in my life to do the things that I always say I want/need to do:
  78. Meditate.
  79. Yoga.
  80. Writ.
  81. Read.
  82. Walk.
  83. I am clenching my jaw less.
  84. I don’t feel guilty when I feel the need to have a jammie day.
  85. I am starting to cook more.
  86. To be honest, that is probably partly due to the season change, too.
  87. I still have the urge to drink.
  88. Out of habit.
  89. After a long day.
  90. Out for a nice dinner.
  91. While cooking dinner.
  92. I no longer tell myself that I’ll probably drink again at some point so why not now?
  93. I have fun without drinking.
  94. Even if people around me drink.
  95. Summer was a test that I passed:
  96. Patios, birthday, Anniversary, Art Fairs. 4th of July without booze.
  97. I am experiencing more:
  98. Clarity.
  99. Grace.
  100. Ease.

Books Read in September.

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“Future Home of the Living God” a novel by Louise Erdrich

When I tell you the my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not.

Continuing my dystopian fascination, Erdrich leads us into a future where evolution has stopped. Pregnancy and childbearing become matters of state security and concern. 

Cedar is four months pregnant when the world begins to dissolve. She is on a journey to bring her child into the world, to find her birth family all while navigating  a new society where pregnant women become a commodity.

Fiercely moving and original, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 

A sentence that gave me chills:

The first thing that happens at the end of the world is the we don’t know what is happening.

A sentence I love:

Perhaps we function as neurons ourselves, interconnecting thoughts in the giant mind of God.

“Sober Curious” by Ruby Warrington

When I first got Sober Curious, one persistent question kept blinking into view, like a lighthouse on a stormy night:

Would life be better without alcohol?

That same question blinks at me.

Warrington coined the term “sober curious” which I like. It allows someone like me who has not hit a dark rock bottom to find a space in which to begin to question my drinking. To rethink the role it plays in my life, own my health, in my body. 

She weaves her own sober curious journey with research and interviews, laying out a possible path for each of us to find on our own. No judgment.

She is honest, funny, engaging and invites us on this path she has lit for us, but always encouraging us to find our own way. This is what works for her and she is generous in sharing it with the world.

A sentence that makes so much sense:

Thinking back to Marc Lewis’s theory that all human behavior stems from our desire to seek out pleasure or to avoid pain, it seems obvious that our specific FOMA (fear of missing alcohol) triggers will be individual for each of us, even if they are rooted in the same basic needs.

“Ursula K. LeGuin- Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. LeGuin with David Naimon

The interviewers I fear most are the ones who’ve read what the publisher’s PR people say about your book, along with some handy pull quotes.

Divided into 3 parts with passages of her own writing interspersed, Naimon discusses Fiction, Poetry and Non-fiction with LeGuin. The title is accurate in describing them as conversations rather that interviews. Luckily, Naimon is not the kind of interviewer she fears most. Each conversation ends up being a dance between two intelligent people about literature and its role in society.

I am ashamed to say I have read very little of her but that will be changing. She has a fascinating mind and is not afraid to say what needs to be said. 

One of my favorite pieces was “On Serious Literature” in which she responds to a review of a Michael Chabon book and it is clear that the reviewer is not a fan of so-called genre fiction. The lesson? It was never a good idea to piss off LeGuin.

A passage I love:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Since explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stocking endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

“I Remember” by Joe Brainard

I remember the first time I got a letter that said “After Five Days Return To” on the envelope, and I thought that after I had kept the letter for five days I was supposed to return it to the sender.

Those two little words create a life. 

Those two little words were the first writing prompt I used. It opened a flood of words and images and memories that I then spilled onto the page. It is a prompt i still use to this day, along with the opposite: I don’t remember. 

When Dani Shapiro recommended this book, I immediately went on-line and found it. 

It’s truly amazing how an entire life can be revealed through memories. What we choose to remember, what we don’t. How one memory leads to the next. 

I can’t tell you how many times I read his words and thought, “Me, too!” like this one:

I remember milkmen. Postmen. Guest towels. “Welcome” mats. Avon ladies. 

This is an original book that reads like a path of memories laid out like breadcrumbs to reveal this particular human soul that is both universal and deeply personal sometimes humorous, sometimes deeply moving. Just like life.

A sentence I love:

I remember trying not to look lonely in restaurants alone.

“Awakening the Spine” by Vanda Scaravelli

This is not really a yoga book, nor is it a book on how to do the asanas.

This is a beautifully written and designed book that feeds both the eyes, the body and spirit. 

I can already feel how I carry my differently, or how it carries me. I feel like I am much more aware of my spine and how it moves. So, yes, reading this book helped me to awaken my spine. 

A sentence I love:

You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centering your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the wist (where the spine moves in two opposite directions).

“The Pursuit of Alice Thrift” a novel by Elinor Lipman

You may have seen us in “Vows” in the New York Times: me, alone smoking a cigarette and contemplating my crossed ankles, and a larger blurry shot of us, postceremony, ducking and squinting through a hail of birdseed.

I pulled this gem out of my stacks and am so glad I did. I don’t remember laughing out loud while reading a novel in a long, long time. 

Alice Thrift is a surgical intern, very smart but also very awkwardly social. In fact, at one point her own mother wonders if she might be on the spectrum. 

The life of an intern, doesn’t leave much room for romance but that doesn’t stop Ray Russo, fudge salesman and extreme extrovert, from pursuing her. 

Filled with memorable characters, this novel was hard to put down.

A sentence that made me laugh out loud:

Finding Ray’s chin hooked on her shoulder while asleep:

Didn’t heads belong on pillows? Hadn’t beds evolved to queen-and king-sized so that body integrity could be maintained during sleep?

“Her Body and Other Parties” stories by Carmen Maria Machado

(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices:)

I don’t even know where to start with this remarkable collection of stories. They are mesmerizing, startling, lush and stake out new territory in this genre.

I began each story as if carefully opening a precious gift, never quite sure what I would find inside. I discovered worlds that (and I have to quote the back jacket) “blithely demolish the borders between psychological realism and science fiction.” A mysterious green ribbon around a woman neck tempts her husband. An inventory of lovers is revealed in the wake of a world catastrophe. Smack in the middle is this enthralling yet disturbing rendition of “Law and Order: SVU.”

Reading this collection as a writer reminded me to go where the characters take you, allow the writing to twist and turn and writhe on the page. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to take risks.

A description of a baby that I loved:

She smells clean, but chemical. And behind it, an edge of milk, bodily and sour, like something tipped askance.

A description of being put under anesthesia:

As they put me to sleep, my mouth fills with the dust of the moon.

A description of autumn that took my breath away:

And then, autumn, the first autumn, our first autumn, the first squash dish, the sweaters, the burning smell of the space heater, never leaving the heavy blankets, the scent of smoke that reminds me of being a Girl Scout and being twelve and camping with girls who hate me. The leaves catch fire, color burning away green like a disease. More rain, another carpet of leaves, yellow as dandelions, red as pomegranate skin, orange as carrot peels. There are strange evenings when the sun sets but it rains anyway, and the sky is gold and peach and also gray and purple like a bruise. Every morning, a fine mist coats the grove. Some nights, a bloody harvest moon rises over the horizon and stains the clouds like an alien sunrise. 

Connection is Medicine.

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Medicine.

Medicine used to equal a cure or a fix or something to ease symptoms of pain.

It used to be so simple. I could take a pill and I would be better. I never questioned what better meant or looked like or felt like.

Usually it meant that the pain or discomfort would go away. But I never questioned where it went. Even more curious, I never questioned where it came from.

I used to think that medicine only came in the form of pills or surgery.

Now I am learning that anything that brings me back into awareness, back into balance is medicine.

Yoga.

Meditating.

Breathing.

Walking.

Moving.

Writing.

Sex.

Crying.

Laughter.

Deep conversations with friends.

Random encounters with strangers.

It is all medicine.

Connection is medicine.

We now know that social isolation can be as detrimental to our health as smoking cigarettes. Forming these deep bonds of love and friendship weave a tapestry of support through our lives.

Finding ways to connect is essential, and not only with others.

We need to connect with our bodies in a loving, compassionate way.

Connect with our hearts. What are we feeling? What do we need?

We need to connect with the Earth, our home.

We need to connect with that which is larger than ourselves. Something that allows us to feel a purpose for being here, in this body, at this time.

Purpose of Being, not Doing.

Who or what do we turn to when despair slugs through our veins? When sadness permeates our bones?

Feeling like we are merely here to do things then die is not medicine.

It is why I write, why I draw cards for guidance. Why I go outside in nature. Why I eat whole, fresh foods. Why I have lovingly built a tribe of amazing women.

It’s why I have stopped drinking. Drinking broke or frayed my ability to connect. It changed how I thought, changed who I was and so any connections I thought I was making were based on a lie.

So, now I know. Connection is medicine.

We are surrounded by opportunities to connect or isolate.

Connect or separate.

It’s all medicine.

Every word.

Every thought.

Every belief.

Every action.

Every choice.

We can ask if this choice will heal or harm. Then move toward the healing.

(Thank you to Bryonie Wise for the inspiration.)

Committed…or Nah?

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Commitment. That is my theme for my yoga classes this week. Got it from The Power Path. I love that it falls in September which is the time of year I commit to my routine, structure and goals again as we head into the last quarter of the year.

I know I am committed to writing. How do I know this? Because of the actions that back it up:

~ I show up to the page severy single day.

~ I post here.

~ It’s why I read so many books.

~ It’s why I take classes and workshops with writers I admire.

~It’s why I create the time and money to honor this commitment

While I am committed to writing, I can see that I am not committed to publishing. How can I see that? By my lack of consistent action. My submission process is spotty at best. I started off the year on a roll. But as the year has progressed and the rejections have stated to appear, my enthusiasm has waned. But I have to remember it is part of the process. So many great writers and books were rejected at first.

So, how can I commit to publishing in the same way I commit to writing? What has worked for writing that I can apply? 

Frist, I show up every day to write. It doesn’t matter if I know what I am going to write, or what I work on. It could be Morning Pages, my blog, my current WIP, exercises from “You are a Badass at Making Money,” or from the on-line class I am taking with Bryonie Wise, “Human is What We Are.”

It doesn’t matter what or how much I write. It only matters that I show up. 

Second, I keep track of those days on a chart in my office. Keeping track keeps me motivated.

These are the two main things I do. Show up and track.

So, every day I need to either submit something or research where to submit.

I will make a chart or find an app and keep track of the days. I think 5 out of 7 is a good goal for this.

Commitment takes action. Action pushes through fear. Obviously, there is something about publishing that scares me. Hmmm…can’t imagine what. Putting my heart and soul out into the world to be judged. Sounds easy-peasy…

But I am going to try and harness this commitment energy. If something is important to me and I say that this is, then I have to act on it. Every single day. Forward momentum is my friend. Stagntation is not.

Onward!

Goethe

Image found via Pinterest.

Acknowledging Ms. Rule-Maker.

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Today I felt like a slug.

I took one nighttime sinus pill last night to help with a lingering headache and the effects seem to weigh me down. I laid on the couch until it felt like I was melting into it.

Finally, I hauled myself off of it and into the shower. Got myself dressed. Came to the bookstore. Ordered a chai (hoping the caffeine would help jumpstart me out of this energetic stupor) then began to write my morning pages (even though it was two o’clock in the afternoon.)

One of the first things to come out was this so-called rule that if I had to go to the bookstore to write rather than sit in the perfectly lovely writing space I created at home, then I wasn’t a real writer.

Wait, what?

I recently unearthed a bunch of rules I have absorbed over the years about food. It was a long list.

So, I decided to do the same with this. What other rules were lurking around?

I should have a degree to be a real writer.

I should have a book published to be a real writer.

I should write a certain amount of words or for a certain length of time on my current WIP to be a real writer. (The amounts are always totally unrealistic.)

I should work on my WIP and not the ten other kinds of writing I may do on any given day.

I picture this rule-maker as an older woman, dressed in black, with a tight severe bun, pacing around, slapping a ruler against her palm.Once I have a visual it is easier to remember that her job is create rules. She thinks she is helping me. Just like it is my mind’s job to churn out thoughts. My job isn’t to stop either one. My job is to observe and then move on.

Meditating doesn’t mean not thinking. That happen when we die. Meditation is about observing the thoughts, becoming intimate with the mind while not getting swept away by the current.

Same with Ms. Rule-Maker. Once I acknowledge her, I can give her a brief nod that says, “Thank you for your input, I’ll keep that in mind” then go on my way.

That is exactly what I did today. And I managed to get everything on my writing agenda done:

Morning Pages 

Writing Practice

Read and do exercises from “You Are a Badass at Making Money”

Work on WIP

New rule: Writing anywhere, on anything for any length of time makes me a writer.

 

 

Don’t Be Tossed Away.

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“Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something—“I really want to be a writer”—then that little voice comes along, “but I might not make enough money as a writer.” “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. These little voices are constantly going to be nagging us. If you make a decision to do something, you do it. Don’t be tossed away. But part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind, not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections and then loads you with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something.”               ~ Natalie Goldberg

 

This is one of the first lessons I learned from Natalie Goldberg when I read her books then studied with her. But it is only recently that I feel I have really absorbed that lesson. It is only recently that I feel that I live that lesson.

I rarely allow myself to be tossed away now that I have decided to show up daily to my writing, to my mind through meditation. She is right. We must become intimate with the way our minds work and see monkey mind for what it is.

Part of me deeply regrets that I resisted meditating for SO long. At the retreat with Goldberg, she basically said it is the one true secret to writing and that while she din’t make it mandatory, she highly encouraged us to show up to the early morning meditation before the activities began for the day.

I blew off the meditation. I slept instead.

And as I write that, I realize I mean it literally ( I slept in) and figuratively. I slept through much of my life, allowing monkey mind to be in charge. Believing the stories it churned out and boy, did it churn out some doozies.

Those stories tossed me away.

Tossed me away from the page.

From the stories I yearned to tell..

From my goals.

From my dreams.

Now, I am not staying that I no longer have that voice taunting me, trying to derail me. Nope. Not at all. But now that I write every damn day, now that I meditate every damn day, I no longer care so much what money mind has to say.

I no longer wait for the perfect circumstances or the perfect beam of inspiration or the perfect feeling that that will propel me effortlessly to my desk or meditation cushion. If I waited for that, I’d be waiting forever. There’s always a reason not to write, always a reason not to meditate.

Instead I show up no matter what.

Being tossed away is no longer a thing I need to constantly fight against.

I just show up.

 

 

 

Books Read in August.

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“Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo

When my mother was a young woman a man used to follow her to work every morning and masturbate, in step behind her.

Elizabeth Gilbert raved about this book on her IG feed and I went out and bought it that day. Liz never steers me wrong.

This book was no exception. It’s an amazing journey into the heart of female desire told from the vantage point of Taddeo’s exquisite research over the course of 8 years and thousands of hours spent with three women across the country.

Lina is a housewife and mother in the midwest who only longs for her husband to kiss her on the mouth. 

Maggie is a high school student from North Dakota who, at first, finds a confidant in her married English teacher then it slips into something more clandestine.

Finally, in the northeast, we meet Sloane, a beautiful, successful restaurant owner who is married to a man who enjoys watching her have sex with other men and women.

This book is nonfiction but so often the writing carried me so deeply into their lives that I forgot that and thought that it was a novel. It is a fascinating and harrowing descent into how women’s desires are so often dismissed, ignored or become a vehicle of shame.

An essential read.

A sentence that blew me away:

We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

“Women in Sunlight” a novel by Frances Mayes

By chance, I witnessed the arrival of the three American women.

It was interesting to read this novel on the heels of the previous book. Both are about what women want and if they will allow themselves to indeed admit what they want and then, will they allow themselves to take it.

Susan, Camille and Julia meet at an open house for an active retirement community. They are at the point where either they or their families, think it is the next right step in their lives. The women come to believe the exact opposite. Instead of heading into the pasture of retirement living, they embark on an adventure together in Italy, renting a villa, connecting with the locals including their neighbor, another American, Kit who is a writer.

It’s a beautiful story filled with luscious descriptions of the Italian countryside, food, wine and friendship. It explores women’s desires and creativity and reinventing the second or third acts of their lives.

As a writer, I was particularly intrigued by her very effective use of combining first person and omniscients points of view.

It was the perfect novel to begin to wind down my summer reading.

A sentence I love:

My words fly off the page and float over the desk, rearranging into what I meant to say.

“Boundaries & Protections” by Pixie Lighthorse

What is a boundary? Why do we need protection and from what?

Boundaries are dividing lines between sand other creatures this application, humans.

Her words really speak to me. I loved her book “Honoring Voice” and I used it as guide through a few months of teaching my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class. She cuts through all the surface bullshit and gets down to the raw heart of being human.

Boundaries have always been a struggle for me. Actually, for many women if my conversations are any indication. Women are taught to be nice. To not make waves. I know that I am often uncomfortable standing up for myself, asking for a raise or naming a price for my work. I am uncomfortable calling a person out if they say something racist or misogynistic in front of me. I often say yes when I want to say no and no when I want to say yes. 

All of this reflects on my struggle with boundaries. And she addresses all that and more in this slim but powerful book that I know I will return to again and again as I empower myself to set those necessary boundaries in my life.

A line I underlined:

Boundaries make room for the deeper connections and intimacy we actually want to have.

“Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across” Poems by Mary Lambert

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my body is terrifying,

idaho is a giant shithole,

and other wholesome stories

I am trying to read more poetry. Dissecting it in high school kind of ruined it for me for a long, long time. I felt I didn’t “get it.” Now I understand that I don’t have to get it, I just have to feel it.

When I read this title I knew I had to read it. Sadly, I didn’t know who she was before I picked it up. Now I do and her music is playing as I type this. So, I gained a new poet and new music to inspire me.

Her writing is raw, the truths she writes are dagger sharp. There were moments when I had tears in my eyes quickly followed by laughter bubbling up in my throat. 

Some lines I had to underline:

All I now of love is hunger.

Yes, I want the promise of the cathedral

of your mouth for the rest of my life.

Yes, I want to be the temple of your unraveling.

“Eleanor Elephant is completely fine” a novel by Gail Honeyman

When people ask me what I do—taxi drivers, dental hygienists—I tell them I work in an office.

As a writer, I appreciate the hell out of this first line. It reveals so much about our character in very few words. We learn that her world is very small because the people who ask that question are people she goes to for a service. These are not friends. 

I read many comments about this book before picking it up. Most were good. Some said the character was too unlikeable. That is a criticism that I tend to dismiss. Why must a character be likable? And it is often reserved for female characters just as it is reserved for female CEO’s, politicians and women in general who claim their space in the world. 

But once I started reading this amazing novel and getting completely drawn into Eleanor’s world and story and her POV, I couldn’t imagine what people were thinking with that comment. Did they not read the whole story? Did they not understand that she acts in such a way to protect herself from some horrific pain that we, as a reader, have yet to learn? That why she acts the way she acts is, in fact, the beating heart of this beautiful story about being human in all of its messy complex pain and the moments of beauty.

A sentence that made me both laugh and wince at its truthful precision:

At the office, there was that palpable sense of Friday joy, everyone colluding with the lie that somehow the weekend would be amazing and that, next week, work would be different, better. They never learn.

“Fearless After Fifty-How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga” by Desiree Rumbaugh and Michelle Marchildon

The inspiration for this book came some time ago when Michelle and Desiree each turned 50 and discovered that life was now very different both on and off the mat.

The irony is not lost on me that I hurt my low back while I was reading this book. 

But, it was also the perfect book to be reading when that happened. I was finally past the fear of hurting my back, 4 years after the initial injury. I had traipsed across Europe for 16 days and felt like I could finally trust my back again. I did yoga that morning, hiked for 2 hours then played on my mat with poses I had been too afraid to try like crow. I felt great! Then, I moved in just the wrong way (or the right way) and I was down. Like in the fetal position sobbing. Less from pain and more from anxiety and that feeling of being blind-sided and far from home. 

This book helped guide me off that precipice of fear and back into the reality of my body and my mind and life at 54.

Sure, I will still feel fear but I can’t let it hold me back. The first time I hurt my back I was SO afraid to move that I didn’t move unless sit was absolutely necessary. Not this time. I walked every  30-45 minutes and did some chair yoga after each walk. 

Movement is essential in life. Not just physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. 

Stagnation is something I struggle with but this book helped me see that even the smallest movements are progress. That aging doesn’t mean curling up in a ball waiting to die. Aging does mean meeting my body were it is on any given day and balancing resting with strengthening.

Desiree and Michelle guide us deeper into our lives through a physical practice that offers levels from grace to grit as well as how to weave the philosophy of yoga into our lives off the mat. 

A line I had to underline:

Aging, with all of its complexities, bizarre adjustments, strengthening and weakening of various systems, has the power to bring about our greatest transformations.

Aging can make us better human beings. We might seek out answers to long held questions about our behaviors, our fears, and our willingness to change our focus to what matters, and practice non-attachment to the things that don’t matter.

“The Opposite of Loneliness” Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.

This has got to be one of the most heart-breaking yet inspiring books I have ever read. Keegan, a recent graduate of Yale University, had already had a play produced and had a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Her final essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness” went viral.

She had a voice.

She had stories to tell.

She had truths to share that resonated.

Five days after her graduation, she died in a car accident. She was just twenty-two. Tears fill my eyes as I type that number. Twenty-two.

This book gathers her essays and stories that explore the POV of a woman struggling with what lies ahead of her, wanting to make an impact on the world.

The epigraph comes from a poem of hers and is eerie in its prescience:

Do you wanna leave soon?

No, I want enough time to be in love with everything…

And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.

I closed this book, holding it close to my heart, holding her words close to my heart, determined to be in love with everything, taking the time to create anything and everything that honors the fact that everything is beautiful and so short. 

A line I underlined that broke my heart:

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.

 

No Place to Hide.

 

No Place to Hide

I like to keep track of things. Things I do and for how long.

Currently I am keeping track of how many days in a row I have not had a drink. (68) I track how many days in a row I have meditated. (426) And I keep track of how many days in a row I have written something. (1,337)

And what does this add up to? That is such a left-brain, ego-based question. Because the things we do must add up to something. To some goal, some achievement. Right?

Why can’t the achievement be in the doing. Or in the case of drinking, in the not doing?

These things may not have added up to something but they have certainly added to the quality of my life.

I am more present. I feel things more, which is challenging. There was a reason that I often poured one, two or three glasses of wine on a random night. I didn’t want to feel those pesky, uncomfortable feelings.

Meditating helps me to see how those feelings and thoughts just come and go. I know it will change so I can sit with it for now.

Writing helps me to process all those feelings. I get them out of the dark, knotted twisty space of my head, onto the page and into the light of day where they lose much of their power.

Doing things everyday, like writing, builds momentum. This is huge for me. I can become so easily stuck. Stuck in my head, stuck in this tendency to overthink every single thing and end up immobilized on the couch binge-watching Netflix. But writing something every day, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant is not insignificant at all. It builds momentum and the muscle of showing up.

Showing up when I am happy and inspired.

Showing up when I am sad and thoroughly uninspired.

Showing up when I know what happens next in my story.

Showing up when I have no idea at all what happens next.

Showing up after all these years. It’s obviously not for monetary reasons. Sure, that would be nice and I haven’t given up on that. But what keeps me coming back to the page again and again is this desire and habit to be there for the stories that want to be told. To be there for the deepest parts of my self that want to remain hidden but also want to be seen and heard.

There is nowhere to hide on the page. It’s like I tell my students, no matter what prompt I provide, whatever you need to write will find its way out.

I see now that each of these daily practices are spaces where I can no longer hide. I can’t hide from myself, my desires, my fears.

These daily practices allow me to see myself with clarity and compassion. And I can then turn that that clarity and compassion back out into the world around me.

 

Lessons Gifted.

Let go and trust

Image found via Pinterest.

So, I hurt my back at our yoga retreat this past weekend. Like really hurt it. Laying in the fetal position, crying, scared, panicked about how I would get myself home the next day with a 90-minute drive ahead of me, panicked about how I would even be able to get myself off of my mat and back into the house.

The whole trauma of that summer 4 years years ago came rushing into my mind and into my body.

Let me just say, if your back is going to go out, then having it happen at a yoga retreat— surrounded by people who love and support you and can offer massage, Reiki, and an OT who can help you move in the least painful way possible— is the way to do it.

A few lessons that this experience gifted me with:

  1. Bee’s breath works, folks. Like seriously. I apparently went into mild shock as my body trembled uncontrollably (not a pleasant feeling when your back is hurting.) I couldn’t take a deep soothing breath or even make a sound to stimulate the vagus nerve. Then I remembered Bee’s Breath. As soon as I did that the trembling lessened. When I stopped it started again but a little less intense. I just kept up with that breath until all that energy was released. I believe it was the story of the trauma from the first time it happened needing to be released from my mind and my body.
  2. Be careful and intentional for what you put out into the Universe. The first night we had a fire ceremony and I burned the desire to release the old story/beleif that I can’t be loved and accepted exactly as I am. Well. The Universe said okay, let’s do this. As soon as my back went out, I had to love and accept myself in this vulnerable state. I then had to accept the love and support from those around me exactly as I was: crying, hurt, vulnerable, scared, anxious. There was no mask to hide behind. It was just me, raw and there exactly as I was.
  3. Be careful what you ask for. Recently, I declared that I wanted to be more courageous, vulnerable and authentic in my life. Well, this demanded that I be all three things at once. So…thank you, Universe???
  4. I had to ask for what I wanted. But first I had to figure out what that was. Finally I asked myself if I could wave a magic wand and have anything I wanted happen, what would it be? I wanted to wake up in my own bed. Once I got clear on that and was brave enough to ask for it, so many wonderful people stepped up in amazing ways to make that happen.
  5. Don’t ignore messages I get from my writing. I had a nagging sinus headache all that day. In my writing it came out that the headache was actually unexpressed sorrow. I thought, “Huh, that’s interesting,” and went on my merry way. A few hours later, I am sobbing in the fetal position on my mat, then in my bed, and I have cried at some point every day since then, crying, writing and releasing all of that sorrow.
  6. Surrender. It’s message I need to learn over and over and over again. To surrender to what is, not what I think it should be. Surrender to the moment as it is, not as I want it or expect it to be. Surrender to the needs and desires of my body instead of pushing it. Surrender into grace. Surrender into fear. Surrender into sorrow. Surrender into joy. Surrender into anxiety. Surrender into acceptance. Surrender into what is. Surrender.

(Update: I am in so much less pain and so much more mobile than I expected! I was crying to my doctor that I don’t understand why this keeps happening when I am doing everything right. She gently reminded me that this hadn’t happened in over a year and the reason I am in not in much worse condition is because I have been doing everything right. Get yourself a doctor like mine.)