The Constellation of Cousins.

rich rene and me

Cousins.

Of the same family, yet not.

Cousins are like separate constellations within the same universe.

cousins christmas

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:

befriending

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.”