Some Much Needed Grace.

Artwork: Kim Haas

These words came to me as I was sitting here in my nook watching another episode of “Behind Her Eyes” on Netflix. (Very good! Check it out.)

I started think that I should be doing something. Something else. Something more.

From my morning pages today:

I made my bed. It’s one small thing nicely done that I can start my day with when I wake up to yet another day without plans or structure or expectations. Wait, I do have expectations. That’s the problem. I expect that I should’ve settled into a productive creative routine by now. That I should be regularly submitting my work to journals and agents. That I should have finished my novel and be well into my YA trilogy. That is seriously what part of me expects. And the fact that my big accomplishment is making my bed and coming to these pages and to my mat does not impress her. At all.

That part of me that is not impressed? I am used to her. She is never impressed with anything I do. Even if I had finished my novel, she’d be wondering why It wasn’t revised. If it was revised, she’d be wondering why I wasn’t sending out query letters. I am used to her never being satisfied.

These days it’s something more than that. As I sat here thinking I should be doing more, I decided to close all the open tabs on my screen. You know, those articles you open but don’t read right away but keep them there for when you get back to them and next thing you know there are a million open tabs on your browser?

Well, luckily, I read this one. It was like she was speaking directly to me, which is exactly why I read. And why I write. To feel less alone. To be seen. Oh, it’s not just me thinking this or feeling this.

The whole article resonated but especially this:

“The days are short and cold and the news is relentless. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to expect less of yourself. It’s okay that somedays a shower feels like a success. Let yourself move slowly without dumping shame on your sadness.”

Dr. Betsy Stone

March 15 of 2020 was the last yoga class I taught in person without needing to wear masks.

March 25 is coming up and that is my best friend’s birthday.

Three days after that will mark the eighth month since she died.

We are entering a year of the pandemic and while there are signs that we are headed in the right direction, it is not over.

So, there is a lot of sadness in me. And I am going to take Dr. Stone’s advice and not dump shame on top of it.

I am going listen to my own inner wisdom and give myself the space to believe that what I am doing right now is all I am capable of doing. And that it is enough. It is more than enough.

And in doing that, I am offering myself some much needed grace.

Books Read in February 2021.

Photo credit: Kim Haas

“Going to Meet the Man” stories by James Baldwin

Across the street from their house, in an empty lot between two houses, stood the rockpile. 

These stories drew me in immediately. Each contained a world of its own. Baldwin seemed to slip seamlessly into every character. They were sometimes hard to read, discomforting, but that is one of the reasons I read. To stretch my worldview. To get uncomfortable. 

Everything worked on so many levels: the setting, characters, dialogue. 

The writing is both sensual and violent, the stories thought-provoking. I think the title story will haunt me for quite a while. 

A sentence I underlined:

This was the summer in which they all abruptly began to grow older, their bodies becoming troublesome and awkward and even dangerous and their voices not to be trusted. 

“How to Be Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi

I despised suits and ties. 

Kendi starts by introducing his racist teenage self giving a speech in 2000. He shows us where he was and why.

Throughout the book, we meet him at different stages of his life and discover what he believed and how he behaved and then he gives the historical context.

It’s an education in racism and antiracism. It’s a journey he takes in his own life and is generous enough to share with us. 

It’s not enough to just believe that we aren’t racist (we are). We must be actively antiracist and he explains exactly what that means and what that looks like. 

I underlined so much but here are a few:

This book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human. 

White supremacist is code for anti-human, a nuclear ideal that poses an existential threat to human existence. 

White women get away with murder and Black men spend years in prison for wrongful convictions. 

Racism in not even six hundred years old. It’s a cancer that we’ve caught early.

“Turning Pro—Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield

The Daily Show reported recently that scientists in Japan had invented a robot that is capable of recognizing its own reflection in a mirror. 

I didn’t realize that Pressfield had 2 sequels to “The Art of War.” I read/devoured them both in about 2 days. As I begin to emerge from this wintering season of grief, I wanted some motivation to spur me on. It’s been working. But I have to remember that I am still in the midst of grieving my pwn personal loss as well as the loss of 500 thousand Americans not to mention the losses around the rest of the word as well as economic loss and loss of routine. Which is to say, I can’t let myself get totally caught up in being productive then judge myself as lazy when I fail to live up to the (likely) unrealistic expectations I set for myself.

I love the short, to the point chapters. I love how he differentiates amateur from pro. Spoiler: it’s not about commercial or financial success. 

A passage (among many) that I underlined:

What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out.

“Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield

This book is designed to coach you through a project (a book, a ballet, a new business venture, a philanthropic enterprise) from conception to finished product, seeing it from the point of view of Resistance.

Picking up where “Turning Pro” left off, Pressfield guides us through our project, helping us navigate that entity always facing us: Resistance. 

He is equal parts drill instructor and life coach. 

He is not afraid to kick butts when needed but also calls in compassion.

My biggest take-way which I am already using it to just finish the project. Just finish it.

The next one is to start at the end then go the beginning and middle then fill in the gaps. 

There are practical tips here that can be implemented immediately. 

A sentence (among many) that I underlined:

 We can never eliminate Resistance. it will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is. 

“Passing” a novel by Nella Larsen

It was the last letter in Irene Redfield’s little pile of morning mail.

Published in 1929, “Passing” explores the experience of choosing and not choosing to “pass” as white. Irene and Clare were friends. Clare chose to leave the community and pass as white, marrying a bigoted white man who had no knowledge of her racial heritage. Irene chose to stay within her community, married a doctor and is raising two sons. Her husband has these bouts of distance that she is used to and knows how to navigate them and bring him back into the fold of their family. But when Clare reappears and stakes a claim in Irene’s life, things become unsettled, as each women wrestles with her choices.

A passage I underlined (for how it not only shows the passage of time but how the season echoes Irene’s emotional landscape):

Christmas, with its unreality, its hectic rush, its false gaiety, came and went. Irene was thankful for the confused unrest of the season. Its irksomeness, its crowds, its inane and insincere repetitions of genialities, ousted between her and the contemplation of her growing unhappiness. 

“All About Love—New Visions” by bell hooks

When I was a child, it was clear to me that life was not worth living if we did not know love. 

Well, the title doesn’t lie. This book is all about love. All kinds of love from romantic to right livelihood. She explores how the ways our society defines and portrays love may actually keep us from experiencing it. She explains how it is less a feeling and needs to be more of a verb. She reflects on self-love but understands that true love comes when we reach beyond ourselves. 

This is not the Hallmark or New age version of love. This is grown-up love: raw, messy, imperfect but ultimately the kind love we need not only personally but collectively as well. 

A passage I underlined:

We can give ourselves the unconditional love that is the grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation. When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.

Days that Leave their Mark.

Each Friday I will share something I wrote in my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach. We combine meditation, yoga, writing and sharing our words to connect more deeply to ourselves, each other and the world around us. It is currently being offered online so if you are interested, feel free to join us. It is Wednesday nights, 7-8. Once you sign up, I will send a Google Meet link.

Photo credit: Kim Haas

This week we immersed ourselves in poetry, drew prompts from the poems then wrote from our hearts.One of the many poems I read was this one by Alicia Cook. The prompt was: Some days leave their mark.

Some days leave their mark and we rarely know that this will be the day.

I remember being on the Amalfi coast. Nauseous, tired, dizzy. Stepping off the bus that had been navigating those hairpin turns felt like heaven. I weaved my way through the narrow streets filled with people and got to the beach. My daughters brought me a can of coke. I sipped the cold, sweet fizziness, letting it soothe all that ached as I stood there so far from home, looking out onto the horizon where the sea met sky, trying to believe the I was where I was in the world.

I didn’t know that a random Tuesday in July last year was going to leave its indelible mark. But it did. It has. It continues to leave its mark. The mark is grief. The mark is love. The mark is learning who I am without her. That day. Seven days after my birthday. That day is stored in my body. In my cells. In m spleen. In my marrow. It marks the day of my first great loss. And the knowledge that because it was only the first, I know there are more to come.

And yet we go on, day after day, carrying that truth with us everywhere.

Nurturing + Do-able.

Photo credit: Kim Haas

Today is hard.

No particular reason. I’m just tired of waiting for this pandemic to end. To get back to some semblance of a routine again.

I’m tired of not seeing my mom or sister.

I’m tired of thinking of what to cook and then having to, ya know, cook it.

I’m sad.

Sad about the over 500,000 lives lost in our country.

I’m sad for all the economic hardship.

I’m sad because I miss my best friend.

I found myself crying in the car today. My body knew I was sad before my mind realized it.

I’m frustrated because I was just getting back into a writing rhythm and now I am struggling again.

So, what do I do when the days are hard?

Extreme self-care. And what Liz Gilbert calls “small things nicely done.”

I make my bed first thing. There, a small thing nicely done that future me will appreciate tonight when I crawl into bed.

I feed all the pets and give them water.

Then I head up to my yoga room to write my morning pages, do some yoga and meditate for 10 minutes.

Several small things strung together and nicely done.

They aren’t epic. They aren’t life-changing. But they are nurturing and do-able which is all I am asking for when the days are hard.

Even if I do nothing else but watch Netflix or scroll on my phone for the rest of the day, at least I have these small things nicely done to look back on. It reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott’s 1-inch picture frame. If you are writing a novel, which is a huge undertaking, and you get anxious and overwhelmed, she suggests writing only what you can see though a 1-inch picture frame. It get the pen moving. It’s one small thing nicely done.

That’s what I find myself looking for as my grief enters its seventh month and the pandemic its twelfth. I look for small things to do.

I can walk around the block. It doesn’t have to be a 4-mile trek around the lake.

I can just dust instead of cleaning the entire house.

I can have cereal for dinner.

I look for what is do-able and nurturing. Today I washed all the blankets strewn across the backs of chairs and couches. Now, when I want to get all cozy (which is all the time!) they are clean and fresh,

Small things nicely done is a lovely way to move through a hard day with some grace and presence. And hopefully it stays with me long after the pandemic has ended.

To Plan or Not to Plan?

Photo Credit: Kim Haas

I used to be a planner girl.

I loved the planners from One Spirit. I bought them year after year. They were simple. I kept track of appointments, work, writing and exercise.

Then they stopped selling them. And I’ve been on the hunt for one ever since.

I’ve bought the Happy Planner, The 5 Second Journal, the Passion Planner, the Desire Map Planner, the Dreambook Planner. None of them has really worked. In fact, I almost bought the Dreambook Planner twice when I saw it was on clearance this year. Then I checked my desk and there it sat, unused.

Now, to be fair, this last year hasn’t left me with a lot of scheduling to keep track of.

Also, pandemic-related depression/anxiety as well as grief have limited my enthusiasm to plan for much of anything. What would I write in it? Go to yoga room. Go to writing room. Go to hot tub. Go sit in the nook. My activities are pretty limited. The few I do have are easily tracked in my phone calendar.

But I see videos of people using these amazing planners and I think, “I want that.” I am beginning to realize that it’s not the planner I want, but the enthusiasm and the focus that I am yearning for.

I’m getting there. Slowly but surely.

I am beginning to emerge from this physical and emotional wintering season I find myself in. And as I continue to emerge, I trust that the enthusiasm and focus will emerge as well, too.

How about you? What kind of planner/system do you use, if any? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wintering in July.

Photo: Kristan Karnes

Each Friday I will share something I wrote in my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach. We combine meditation, yoga, writing and sharing our words to connect more deeply to ourselves, each other and the world around us. It is currently being offered online so if you are interested, feel free to join us. It is Wednesday nights, 7-8. Once you sign up, I will send a Google Meet link.

We explored the idea and practice of “Wintering” from the book of the same name by Katherine May. Describe a wintering season in your life, present or past.

I feel I was both eased into this wintering season and also had it thrust upon me. In the beginning, almost a year ago, the pandemic was new, everything was strange, surreal. We were still getting our bearings. Then, just as I had gotten those bearings, creating some kind of foundation to stand on amidst all the uncertainty, I was thrust into the blizzard of wintering in July. Grief is wintering. Bare, raw, cold, barren, alone. I am still finding my way through it. The blizzard of grief has mostly settled but there are still squalls and patches of ice that come out of nowhere and shake me. Finding my footing in winter is necessary. I need grounding, warmth, coziness, light, comfort, connection. I can’t stand by myself the whole time. I have to force myself to reach out. Force myself to bundle up and walk in the frigid air. It takes such effort but I always feel better. Wintering has become a time of stillness, of embracing silence. Meditating to the sound of my breath rather than the words of another person. It’s a time of writing, of staring out the window, of crawling into bed before 9:00, pulling that weighted blanket over me and settling into my dream cocoon.

Was this the Worst Time to Quit Drinking?

Photo by Elizaveta Dushechkina on Pexels.com

Today marks 604 days of sobriety.

I don’t usually use that word. It feels too enmeshed with “alcoholic” and that’s not a label that fits. I used alcohol. I used it to have fun. I used it to numb. To escape. To not feel bad or sad or mad. 

If I had known what these past 604 days would be like, would I have made the same decision?

Probably not.

I didn’t know that a pandemic would upend the world as we knew it.

I didn’t know that I’d be tossed out of my normal routine for over a year. 

I didn’t know that our income would be reduced so drastically.

I didn’t know that I would get a call one random Tuesday morning in July that would plummet me into an abyss of grief that I had never experienced before. 

So, yeah, if had known all of that, I probably would’ve waited to stop drinking.

But that’s the thing. I was always waiting to stop drinking. 

Not July because that’s my birthday. Not August because that’s our anniversary. Not that month because of x,y, z holiday. Not that week because we are going on vacation.

There was never a good time to quit until it dawned on me that there was never a good time to drink.

There was never a good time to quit until it dawned on me that there was never a good time to drink. Booze always made me feel worse. Hungover for days. Wrecked sleep. And whatever emotion I was looking to numb just intensified. 

Recently, I was going through stacks of old notebooks looking for a story I had started. I came across an entry where I was questioning my drinking. Wanting to drink less. Worried about how I felt after drinking. It was from 2006.

That stunned me. I had no idea that I had been struggling with this for so long.

This past year, I’ve seen so many posts and memes of people drinking earlier and earlier in the day to help pass the mind-numbingly sameness we are trapped in. More and more people have been drinking more and more during the pandemic. And it’s easy to see why. It can help soften the edges of the anxiety, of the boredom, of the loneliness.

I get that. I so get that. 

I sometimes can’t believe I haven’t just said, fuck it, who really cares if I have a drink? 

But I care. 

I care about my physical, mental and emotional health.

I care about being present even when it’s hard. 

I care about being able to feel and process my grief as it arrives instead of numbing it with wine.

So, even though I unknowingly picked the most challenging time to quit drinking, it has ended up being the best time for me.

Writing Warrior.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

One of my favorite yoga poses is Warrior 2. This surprises me because I don’t think of myself as a warrior type of person.But I love how strong and focused I feel in it. My feet firmly rooted. spine long, shoulders down, heart open, gazing fiercely yet softly off the tips of my fingers.

I don’t often feel like that in my life off my mat, except in one area: writing.

I have been writing since high school. One of my teachers wrote in my yearbook to “keep up that wonderfully sensitive writing.” By sensitive he meant truthful. On the page I’ve never let myself back away from the truth, even as teenager. I felt like I was cheating somehow if something came up in my writing and I ignored it. So, I always followed it. Explored it. Honored it.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. It is for the bold of heart.

Things come up on the page that can’t be ignored. Desires, fears, irritations. I encounter ways that my boundaries have been breeched and then I am left with a choice. Do I do/say something or not?

“I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.” ~ E.B. White

I encounter questions that I am then forced to answer. Big questions like who am I and who do I want to be and do I want more.

I encounter decisions that are begging to be made.

Once I learn something about myself on the page, I can’t unlearn it. It’s there. It’s been brought to the surface for a reason. I have to deal with it.

That’s where the warrior part comes in. I channel that energy: strong, focused, present. I persevere through the discomfort of not knowing, the discomfort of discovering some new truth about myself.

Writing has made me a warrior both on and off my yoga mat.

Each Friday I will share something I wrote in my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach. We combine meditation, yoga, writing and sharing our words to connect more deeply to ourselves, each other and the world around us. It is currently being offered online so if you are interested, feel free to join us. It is Wednesday nights, 7-8. Once you sign up, I will send a Google Meet link.

I read this from the lovely Tracy Brooks and asked my students to choose a word or phrase that resonated with them to write from.

The whispers of my soul come to me in dreams. Messages, numbers, visits from beyond. The whispers spill onto the page, the page catching the whispers before they disappear into silence. Once they are seen and heard, they can’t be ignored. This is why writing is not for the faint of heart. Writing comes from the warrior part of me. Standing strong and grounded in the truth, shining a light into what I had banished to the dark. The whispers gain volume, they begin to sing from the page traveling to my fingertips to my heart and flying out into my life.

Mess Sh*t Up.

(Spolier alert: If you aren’t caught up with “Virgin River” you might want to skip this post.)

I was watching Season 2 of “Virgin River” the other night on Netflix. It was the scene where Mel was doing an ultrasound on Charmaine and she paused and made a serious face at what she was seeing.

My first thought was that I hoped it was a miscarriage. Then Mel and Jack could be together and be happy.

It wasn’t a miscarriage.

It was twins.

Twins!

Of course, it wasn’t a miscarriage. That would have made it too easy for them. The writer’s job is not to make it easy for her characters. It is to make it as difficult as possible and see how they respond.

That’s where the story is.

I know this but I often forget it.

This was a great lesson. Not only did the writer not make it easy for Mel and Jack by writing the baby out of the picture, the writer upped the stakes by giving them twins. That complicates things for sure.

That’s what a writer does. Complicates things and then writes them out of it.

Note to self: Remember this the next time I sit down to work on my fiction. Mess shit up. Complicate things. Up the stakes.