365 Booze-Free Days.

IMG_3220

Yesterday marked 1 full year without alcohol for me.

A couple of days before, I dreamt that I drank some wine. I couldn’t believe I drank so close to one year. But really, what does one year mean? It’s not like I’m thinking, well that was an interesting experiment, where’s my Pinot Grigio or Moscow Mule or nice cold beer? (My favorite summer drinks.)

Actually, to be honest, part of me is thinking that.

What’s interesting is that is seems to be getting harder the longer I go without drinking. Especially lately. And who can blame me? I mean, alcohol sales have increased over 50% since Covid-19 and lockdowns. It’s an easy way to chill. To relax. To numb the perpetual anxiety I feel about being unemployed, my husband being furloughed, our health insurance being doled out on a month to month basis, cases spiking all around us. 

It’s a lot.

Not only have I not been drinking my way through all this, but many of my other easy buttons have been unavailable. I can’t just go shopping because most stores have been closed and we are now living on half of our income. Which means I’m also not shopping online. I can’t hunker down at the bookstore cafe to write because it’s closed. Movie theaters are closed.

So, without those usual routes of escape I’ve had to, ya know, actually feel things. Feel uncomfortable. Anxious. Angry. Sad. Despair. But there have also been moments of joy. Laughter. Gratitude. Ease. I am filling about a notebook a month as I process everything. My yoga practice has also been a crucial part of my toolkit as I navigate these challenging times.

In the beginning, it was easier not drinking because I was excited to make this change. People around me were supportive. Now, the excitement has waned. This is just how life is now. I don’t drink.

And I miss it at times. 

I miss sitting on the deck with a drink in the evening. Or going to restaurant patios in the summer.

I don’t miss the hangovers.

I don’t miss how it wrecked my sleep.

Or exacerbated my anxiety or depressive tendencies.

In the last couple of weeks there have been two times when I really considered drinking again. I thought, who would really care? Both times I was greeted with something online that reminded me why I was doing this. Or, not doing this. 

One was the news that the American Cancer Society now recommends not drinking at all to reduce risk of cancer. The other was a post on Instagram reminding us that booze is literally ethanol, the same stuff used in hand sanitizer and fuel. 

I could drink again. Nobody would care. Nobody would judge me. It’s similar to my writing. I write every single day. I could skip a day. Nobody would care. I could stop writing all together and very few people would care. But I write for me, not other people. I write because I need to. Because it nourishes me in some deep, essential way.

Not drinking does the same thing. I am not drinking for me. When I stopped last year, it wasn’t out of the throes of some massive hangover. It was because it wasn’t serving me anymore. Not drinking is deeply nourishing to my body, mind and spirit.

So, I haven’t had a drink in 365 days and that is something to celebrate for sure. But it is just one year of many more to come…hopefully.

Letting my Writing Lead Me.

IMG_3150

Yesterday marked the end of the 1000 Words of Summer challenge hosted by Jamie Attenberg. For 14 days I wrote at least 1000 words every day.

Now,  I had some high expectations when I started this, cuz, have you met me? I thought for sure that I would finish the draft of my novel and that I would then move on to one of my other projects. Either my YA trilogy or memoir about yoga and writing. 

Well.

I didn’t finish my novel.

But over 14,000 words written is better than 14,000 words not written. 

What I did do was write in my notebook.  A lot. About 8-10 pages a day.

At first I was disappointed in myself. Because of course I was.

Most of the writing that fills this particular notebook came from prompts from Desiree Adaway for a program called Sister Summer. It’s a month of writing and reflection where we “do the hard complex work needed to get free together.”

All writing, no matter what it is, helps me become the writer, woman and human being I want to be.

It’s been a rough couple of months, hasn’t it? But amidst the protests and the pandemic and being unemployed I managed to write 1000 motherfucking words every single day. That is something. That is huge. 

I’m going to own it because even though the challenge didn’t take me where I intended, it still took me somewhere fantastic and unexpected.

I want to keep this momentum going. The momentum of writing 1000 words a day and the momentum of educating myself to be actively anti-racist and an ally. 

I need to remember that both are marathons, not sprints. 

Both are practices for a lifetime not merely a moment and especially not for an Instagram moment.

Both require me to dig deep and be honest about what I see, about what I find.

Both require me to be strong. To use my voice—especially when it is uncomfortable.

I don’t think it was an accident that this challenge coincided with this moment in history. One did not distract from the other. They nourished each other. They acted as mirrors, reflecting back to me where I was stuck, where I’ve been racist, where I clung to my white privilege, where I have failed and where I can do and be better.

I can’t think of a better result for writing those 14,000 words.

Books Read in May 2020.

60D43992-0362-44E9-B7ED-D78ECE8697AC

“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” a novel by Hank Green

Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13—I’m not your boss), you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.

This is one of the most unique stories I have ever read. It starts with giant sculptures popping up in cities across the globe. Enter April May and social media turning her into a celebrity and this odd occurrence into a movement.

I was intrigued by how the story seems to mirror what is happening in our country today, dividing into sides, social media being used as a tool to sow that division. 

A sentence I underlined:

In the end, my brand was me, so whatever I said became something I believed.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

On the final day of my sophomore year of high school, I was hit in the face with a baseball bat.

All of my habits, good and bad, useful and not useful have been amplified during this stay home, stay safe order. So, I am looking for motivation. Looking for inspiration. And I came across this on on my bookshelves.

Clear lays out exactly how our brain is trained and how habits are formed. Then gives us step by step actions to take in order to break old habits and create new ones.

A sentence I underlined:

We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of lives often depends on the quality of our habits. 

“Today will Be Different” a novel by Maria Semple

Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed.

Well, stumbling across this book among my many hundred to-be-read books now seems serendipitous. As I embark on the 77th day of staying home, staying safe, I yearn for today to be different. I yearn for me to be different. To not succumb to the lure of social media, the news, or Netflix. 

Eleanor Flood yearns for today to be different as well. So, we follow her on one particular day, where despite her best intentions to greet it differently, she finds herself sinking into the same patterns and reactions.

Today she has her son who has decided to play sick to get out of school. Today she discovers something extremely unsettling about her husband that sets her on a quest for the truth. And today she encounters people in her life out of their normal context.

Eleanor is quirky and the plot twists and turns as we follow her throughout this day, hoping that it all will, indeed, be different. 

A sentence I underlined: 

My lungs were butterfly wings.

 “Keep Going-10 Ways to Stay Creative In Good Times and Bad” by Austin Kleon

Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, the question is always the same: How to keep going?

Another book that seems written for these times. I read it when it first came out and felt compelled to read it again as I struggle to find my creative footing during these times. 

My focus is a little limited lately so I appreciate how short and digestible each chapter is. And how each chapter is filled with inspiration and motivation. He really does help us find ways to keep going no matter what is going on in our lives or the world. 

A sentence I underlined:

The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on.

“Minding the Muse- A handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators” by Priscilla Long

Learning to work is about learning to sink into the work.

I’ve been having a hard time sinking into the work so I picked this up off of my TBR shelves. Each chapter is concise, has a perfect quote to start it and ends with questions to contemplate. It works for whatever creative practice calls to you. It is more about the energy we bring to our work. She offers so many isights into the creative process and makes it all seem not only accessible, but also essential. 

A sentence I underlined: 

Here’s where our habit of discipline is our ally—the discipline to put aside anxiety, to sink into the work, to keep the problem open, to have faith in the process of making art.

“Deep Listening- A Healing Practice to Calm your Body, Clear your Mind, and Open your Heart.” by Jillian Pransky with Jessica Wolf

Deep listening is the process of truly connecting to ourselves and our lives. It is not so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how we receive and respond to ourselves and others.

Another book that feels essential to this time. It is a sequence of practices designed to help us listen deeply to our bodies, our selves and the world around us. It is filled with meditations and yoga poses and journal prompts to help us practice deep listening instead of merely reading about it. 

A sentence I underlined:

Well-being is the ability to stay grounded, relaxed and open to whatever your circumstances are.

Writing as Prayer.

(This is inspired by the Mindful Writing Challenge with Nadia Colburn. The prompt comes from a poem by Mary Oliver. It also came out of a prompt from Poses, Pens + Inner Peace.)

128b72633b1cedda2a9197685fb79961

Image found via Pinterest.

Writing is prayer. It is my prayer.

My way of paying attention. Paying attention to the stack of books and notebooks teetering next to me in the living while the dog sleeps on the couch, her lip caught in her tiny teeth. Paying attention to the the empty mason jar with just a residue of sweet creamy chai lingering at the bottom. To the sliding glass door that is open to the deck, in letting fresh air, the song of birds and the whine of highway traffic drift in through the mesh screen.

Paying attention is a kind of prayer. I’ve became acutely aware of what I am paying attention to during this time. Some days I only pay attention to the losses: lives, health, jobs, health insurance, events, security.

I pay attention to the grief. To the despair. And that’s okay. They need tending, too.

To pay attention is to tend with my energy. To tend is to pray.

Writing is my prayer. It is sacred. It connects my body, mind and heart. It connects me to wisdom. To something that is greater than myself.

Writing is how I pay attention and prayer is paying attention.

To this moment.

This breath.

To this feeling.

This thought.

Writing is my prayer. My path inward and my path out. Out of confusion, out of my own tiny life and into the larger life that surrounds me.

Writing is a way in. To the center. To the stillness. To the white hot chaos of being human, especially during this time of such upheaval and uncertainty.

Writing is my prayer. Not a child’s prayer of asking for things like a Christmas list, but a way of honoring my life. My body. My time. The people in my life. Life itself. Honoring the fact of my existence.

Each word is a statement of here I am .

I am here.

I exist.

I am.

I.

Am.

IMG_3016

 

 

The Grace of Now.

(This was inspired by a prompt I gave to my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class. I read them a poem in savasana by Michael Stone called “Matters.”)

amazing balance blur boulder

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

The only thing is now.

Is here.

In this body just as it is.

In this moment just as it is.

In this world just as it is.

Do I wish things were different?

Yes. Of course.

But I am okay with how they are now because now is the only thing. Now is the only thing we have.

The only thing is grace.

Grace to be seen and to see.

To be heard and to listen deeply.

Grace to love and be loved.

Grace to be and not be.

Grace to hold and be held.

The only thing is the grace of now.

The only thing is the grace of hope. That belief, that trust that no matter how it looks now, how it feels now, how it seems now that it will get better.

Trust that this now is a necessary stepping stone to better.

Th only thing is trust.

Trust when I feel hopeful and when I feel despair.

Trust when I know and when I don’t know.

Trust in now which is the only thing.

Now is the only thing.

The only thing is now.

The Good News Is.

fashion woman notebook pen

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

(Inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner. The prompt comes from this poem.)

The good news is that you’re alive and you are loved, even in the moments when you feel unlovable. Especially in those moments.

The good news is that you have this body that walked around the lake today with your dog, looking at up at the vast blue sky arching above you like a cathedral.

The good news is that the windows are open and there’s a breeze of fresh air moving all the stagnant energy out of the house.

The good news is that you know how to care for yourself. You slept until ten o’clock this morning for no discernible reason and took it as sign to nurture yourself so you don’t let this crisis throw you into depression. Fresh air. Writing. Yoga. Meditation. Hot tub. Reading. Fresh, healthy food. Lots of water.

The good news is that you how to take care of you.

The good news is that even though this 27 Wildest Days challenge is over, you know how to move forward. You’ve been writing this way for years. Now, you have this structure to help you. Seek out poems that resonate, the vibrate and shimmer, that stir something deep inside of you. Collect poems and fragments of poems to continue using as prompts and just write.

Write for no reason and for all the reasons.

Writ for nobody and for everybody.

Write for you.

For your mind, your heart, your soul, your whole being.

Th good news is that filling these pages, these notebooks with the “breathings of your heart” is your medicine. Many people don’t know what their medicine is. You do. Be grateful. Use it.

The good news is that this practice has given you a structure. It is the skeleton on which to hang your days of sheltering-in-place. It’s a tool that allows you to be present to anything. To nothing. To embrace it all and to release it all..

This practice is a journey. You don’t write for an endpoint. The writing itself is the point. Showing up to the page is the point.

The good news is that you got this. You can do hard things. You can be comfortable being uncomfortable. You can learn to sit with uncertainty. You can lean into loneliness or boredom or anxiety or whatever it is that comes to the door of your life each day.

Do as Rumi says and welcome them all.

The good news is that you have created space for all the guests that arrive. You have set a place at the table for reach an every one, welcoming them in, listening intently to what they have to say, what they have go teach, what they have to offer, what they need from you, why they have showed up.

It’s really quite beautiful what you have done.

The good news is that as this pen runs out of its green ink, another pen is waiting for you. After this notebook is filled, there is another one waiting to be picked up by you. Waiting to be filled with your words, your heart, your fear, your joy and all the guests you welcome into your life, that you welcome onto the page.

The good news is that you are here, still finding beauty in this broken world. Still finding hope. Still showing up.

The good news is that there is still good news.

 

Lower the Damn Bar.

(Inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner.)

photo of woman raising her hands

Photo by Athena on Pexels.com

Let’s lower the bar.

Do you feel that? That rush of relief, like you stuck a pin in a ballooning and all that striving for perfection just leaked out.

Let’s lower the bar.

Don’t wear make-up every damn day.

Don’t use filters on your photos or on Zoom.

Don’t worry about the softness around your belly. Don’t hate it, love it. It is part of you. An essential part.

Let’s lower the bar on productivity especially during this time. Sure, you are at home. Sure, you have more time because you and your husband are currently not working. But do you know what else you have? A pandemic to live through. Trauma to process. Anxiety to manage. I don’t think you quite understand how much energy it is taking just to keep you going through all of this.

Let go of the word counts and submission quotas and the moving your body to fix or lose something rather than for the sheer joy of moving.

Let go of keeping the house pristine just because you are there.

Let go of all the challenges you see on-line encouraging you to really “make use” of this time.

Let go of the memes reminding you that when Shakespeare was quarantined during the plague he wrote “King Lear,” the implication being: “What are YOU accomplishing during this plague? What great gift to humanity can you offer?”

Let’s lower the fucking bar.

Let your gift be that you stayed present.

That you managed to scribble in your notebook daily  and even shared some writing on your blog in an effort to connect, to let others know that it isn’t just them, that they aren’t alone in what they may be feeling or experiencing.

Let your gift be that you used this time to try to heal and grow and that you failed as often as you succeeded and that’s okay because you tried. You entered the arena. The arena of your wild mind and shadow and projections and fears and you faced them.

Let your gift be that you didn’t succumb to complete inertia and depression and despair. Oh, some days you did and that’s okay. Your gift is that it wasn’t every day.

Let your gift be that you began to peel away layers of perfection, of masks that you wore out there. That you began to allow yourself to be seen. Truly seen. By others. By yourself.

Just lower that bar that you’ve been holding high above you for so long, always reaching for more, for better, for doing, having and being more. For fixing what isn’t even broken. What was never broken to begin with.

Jus lower the damn bar already. Your arms must be so tired. So heavy. Like cement blocks. What a relief to set it down.

Instead of looking up at the unreachable height, you can lower it, lower it all the way down and set it gently on the ground and step over it, looking ahead without a glance  back. You’ve finally released something you never really needed in the first place.

How does it feel?

Evidence of a Life.

(Inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner, which is inspired by this poem from William Safford.)

IMG_2885

What can anyone give you greater than now?

The tick tick tick of the clock above the fireplace. The clock I bought at the art fair in Ann Arbor that is more than a clock, it is a piece of art, a piece of the artist who created it. And now I wonder when the next art fair will be. When will we again have that time and space for artists and artisans to gather and offer their heart and vision to us.

What can anyone give you greater than now?

One dog curled up in the corner of the couch. Her head resting on paws, body curled into a comma.

What can anyone give you greater than now?

The sound and feel of the pen gliding its scratchy dance across the page. Sinking deeply into this moment. This moment where time slows down, or is it me? Have I slowed down? My pace. My breath. My mind. My movements. I have slowed down and am finally beginning to learn to dance effortlessly with the moment, the one right in front of me, around me, within me.

What can anyone give you greater than now?

The now of the distant traffic whining down the highway. The now of birds beginning to struggle free of winter. The now of the smell of coffee which I love but do not enjoy the taste of or the way it speeds up my brain. The now of a soft jaw after a night of clenching it through vivid dreams that fall away with the sun as my whole being attempts to process what is happening. The now of the mason jar with only a half inch left of cool, creamy soy chai that I made at home because home is where I am allowed to be.

What can anyone give you greater than now?

With each word, each breath, each noticing, I slide deeper into the now. This now. And this one. And now this one. It’s a gentle yet stark reminder that now is all we truly have so why not inhabit it completely?

The now of the dusty blue blanket thrown across my legs. The weight of the lap desk against my thighs.

The now of warmth flushing through my body, starting at my crown, sliding down into my face and neck, chest, arms and belly. I push up the sleeves of my sweatshirt stained with odd pink-ish patches where the disinfectant I use daily splattered onto me. Remembering to clean everything we touch: door knobs, cabinets, light switches, phones, TV remotes.

What can anyone give you greater than now?

The answer? Nothing. Sometimes the now is filled with emptiness. Boredom. Anger. Anxiety. The now feels heavy. Claustrophobic.

Other times the now feels light and spacious, filled with joy, gratitude, acceptance.

But usually the now feels ordinary. It lies deeply in the middle of those two extremes. And that is why it often gets overlooked. I mean, who cares about the sound of the pen against the paper or the near empty chai next to me?

I do.

When I remember to be here now, I care deeply.

It’s where I find beauty in the ordinary. And deep gratitude.

It’s where I discover evidence of a life, my life, in the ordinary details of a day.

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

By: William Stafford

 

What a Prayer Can Be.

(Inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner, which is inspired by this poem from Brad Modlin.)

ballpen blank desk journal

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. The slices of brown or rose or yellow skin shaved into a bowl nestled in the sink, revealing a white bulb of flesh that fits into the palm of a hand.

Washing dishes can be a form of prayer. Bowls clanking, scraping remnants into the trash, putting forks tines down in the basket, setting the cups in a neat row up top, lining the plates up on the bottom as if standing at attention.

If I sewed, I imagine it would be a form of prayer. Stitching together what has been torn, creating garments to clothe this body of flesh.

Walking can be a form of prayer. I remember when my back went out and it hurt to walk down the stairs in our home. I remember when my best friend had open heart surgery a year ago and how she could barely walk to our neighbor’s mailbox when she came to our home to recover. Walking is such a simple act that moves us from place to place, activity to activity.  I remember walking the streets of Lisbon, Rome, Naples, Mykonos, and Amsterdam with my daughters last year. Walking was one of our main modes of transportation. It was our way of exploring, seeing and connecting with the world which is a form of prayer.

Writing is a form of prayer, for me anyway. I come to the page everyday with the intention of connecting, of diving deeper in to my life, into the moment. it is one of my practices along with yoga and meditation. Anything I practice regularly with intention is a form of prayer. These words spilling onto the page in purple ink, not knowing what comes next but trusting the process is a form of prayer.

Trust is a form of prayer. I am learning that now more than ever. Trust without knowing. Trust without certainty. Trust without guarantees.

Soaking in our hot tub can be a form of prayer. I never bring my phone with me. If I’m alone I just sink into the water, sink into my body, arms floating, letting the water cradle me, being acutely aware of the silky warmth enveloping me, the jets pulsing against my low back or kidneys or that tender spot on the side of the left foot. If I am with family or friends, I am present. We sit it silence or we talk and it feels like communion.

For a girl who wasn’t raised in any religion, I find prayer everywhere. Prayer isn’t asking for things like I believed as a child. Imagining God as Santa only living in Heaven instead of the North Pole.

Prayer is listening.

Prayer is paying exquisite attention to every detail of life from peeling potatoes to resting in a hot tub to writing these words.

Anything can be a form of prayer.

Everything can be.

If only we let it.

The Dance of Allowing.

(This is inspired by the  27 Wildest Days writing challenge by Laurie Wagner. )

IMG_2873

Things to do in the belly of social-distancing: Clean. Dust. Mop. Organize. Wash. Dry. Fold. Create space. Create order.

Create lists.

Lists of what to buy at the grocery store. Of things to do once the order is lifted. People you want to see. Places you want to go. Events you want to attend.

Create a list of what you miss: people, events, routines, jobs, money.

Mourn the losses even the ones that seem small or insignificant in the scheme of things.

Things to do in the belly of monotony: write.

Write everyday because it is what you do. You’ve been doing it for over 4 years, though you’ve been writing for decades. Writing everyday is the way you show up to yourself and you need that structure now, more than ever.

Things to do in the belly of uncertainty: breathe.

Breathe when the anxiety begins to tighten your throat. When it feels it may choke you. When it gets too large to be contained. Breathe.

Move. Move your body. Get on your mat. Get outside. Move your breath. Move your energy. Get out of your head where anxiety lives and thrives.

Things to do in the belly of these dark times: hope.

Cultivate hope. Notice signs of spring, of change. The pink blossoms spilling from the bush outside the window by your desk as you write these words. The emerald green of grass. The dandelions peppering the lawn. The musicality of birds returning home.

Things to do in the belly of these challenging times: return home.

To your home. Your body. Your heart.

Return to this moment. Let this moment be home. If your to-do list and planner are currently empty, revel in the white space and let yourself just be instead of always doing.

Come home to yourself. What are you curious about? What can you explore? Play with? Dream about”

Things to do in the belly of loneliness: reach out.

Text. Email. Call. Zoom. FaceTime. Connect.

Breathe. Come back to your breath. Always.

Connect with the loneliness. Ask it questions. Be curious about it.

Does it feel familiar? What does it need? Why did it show up?

Write a letter to loneliness. Write a letter from loneliness to you.

Things to do in the belly of disruption: allow.

Acknowledge and allow all that has been disrupted: careers, jobs, retirements, bank accounts. Routines. Celebrations. Milestones. Health. Life. Death. Mourning.

In the face of disruption what do you choose to do?

I choose to feel angry, sad, disappointed, relieved, grateful, anxious. Whatever comes up, I give it space.

That is what I am learning to do in the midst of all of this: allow.

Lots and lots of allowing.

Allowing rest and activity.

Allowing making plans and making no plans.

Having goals and no goals.

Sleeping in and waking early.

Going to bed early and going to bed late.

Eating fruits and veggies and eating chocolate cake for breakfast.

Allowing space to do, to be, to dream.

Allowing myself to meet myself where I am at any given moment, over and over again, as often as needed for as long as needed.

Surrendering to the beautiful and awkward dance of allowing.

Prompt inspired by this poem

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 7.29.31 PM: