Welcome to Starbucks and What Can I Get For You?

11169831_10205812821336282_2472969657725787908_nThere was a time when I worried my kids wouldn’t be OK.

Friday evening, the three of us walked to town to get pizza, which we carried to the little park with the fountain and the good climbing tree. We sat in the grass and ate, and somehow wound up talking about my coming out. I said something about that first email I ever received from Mani–six years ago this month.

“How could you have been in the closet without knowing it?” V asked. And suddenly I was trying to explain it to them which morphed into a catalog of each high-school boyfriend and what were their names and did they break up with you or did you break up with them and how come, and it is sweet and easy, this conversation with them without secrets, Jamie Ferguson who I had such a mad crush on who loved Bob Dylan and was too cool to notice me and the song I wrote about him on the piano, and Aimen Hamid Magbul Al-Refai Al-Jehanny, who was beautiful and gave up his oil inheritance to practice aikido and to paint, losing his parents’ blessing.

And then they ran off to the tree and timed each other to see who was faster, and V posted a picture she took of Pearl on Instagram with a hashtag #siblinglove and I climbed up that tree, too, thinking without thinking, the kids are alright. And so was I. So am I.

So today, Pearl is off and running to yet another friend’s house. V slept in and has a rehearsal this afternoon. After I dropped Pearl off this morning, I drove alone past barns and cows and fields and now I’m seeing Mani everywhere so I call, call to tell her because I can, because she is there, here with me, and we are alive together despite and because of, call to say: I see you everywhere and everything is changed because of this love. And as I start drafting this post on my phone before I get home to actually write, autocorrect for mysterious reasons turns “love” into “life expectancy,” that wild card in the deck because none of us knows. We shuffle and play what we’re dealt and mostly, I stopped reading cards years ago, reading what’s in front of me instead, reading the rush of words when they come, come quick to sit down on the curb in front of Supercuts to get them down before they’re gone while I wait to hear my name, wait my turn.

Between the barns and the curb, I idled in the drive-through, anticipating a disembodied voice that would say, Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get for you? And suddenly I imagined, what if it was an angel on the other side of that speaker, and along with a venti iced latte, I could order anything. Anything! No order too big, too audacious, too expensive.

So I got my latte, and then as I drove down Route 9, put in the rest of my order out loud to the big guy, big stuff like Mani’s health restored and abundance and flow in any and all forms. I said, throw in all side dishes, too, since I don’t even know what all is on the menu. In fact, I’ll take one of everything and I’d also like to pay for that lady in the minivan behind me, so tell her to go ahead and get whatever she wants and not to hold back.

What if it was like that? What would you say if you could pull up to the drive-through and order anything? What if we actually can do this but write it off as fantasy and don’t bother, limit what’s possible to a tiny corner of a big stage? What if we ran across it like the kids across the grass, and climbed up the trees in 14.75 seconds and laughed when it got awkward and then jumped to the ground without fear of breakage? What if we knew everything was not only going to be ok, but already is?

If this is my refrain, I’m good with it. Could do much worse. Because though my wife’s pain was so high last night, I felt guilty for sleeping, today we are here and that is far from nothing; it’s everything. The sun is warming my arms as I write on the porch.

And after I told Mani I saw her everywhere, after I said I am feeling the need for a staff meeting with the angels, after I placed my order in the car and went on my way to get a haircut, in the midst of all of this, someone in one of the two writing groups that’s coming to a close posted this:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. – Thomas Merton, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”

Reading this quote, I thought of the naps I’ve taken in the past few days, and of the truth that burn-out serves no one. I thought about the fact that though I’ve been busier than ever these days, I’ve also been more present, or differently so, than… maybe ever.  I thought of these words from Malcolm Gladwell that spoke to me so directly this morning when I read them: “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.”

It’s so true. And this work, this work that doesn’t feel like work, there’s my tall order, that’s what I’m putting in for, and the words “thank you” never rolled off my tongue so smoothly as now. I want to grab my wife around the waist, if not for a jig than for a slow, slow dance of belly breath together and how she smells like home and may the violence of our times be something that raises my vigilance and helps me remember, daily, not to buy in to that frenzy.

Every time one of my writing groups ends, I feel loss. Each collection of voices is so unique, the connections formed so genuine, free as they are from the daily things we call distractions that are really our lives, the material we mine and share, ten minutes at a time. So many practices braid together during these two-week periods: The stepping in, to the unknown of how each one will go; the writing itself, without worrying about whether it’s any good; the sharing, and learning to receive, to be witnessed; and the goodbyes, the letting go, of the group itself. Not only trusting, but really knowing, that the energy of these connections and the beauty of showing up in this way–these transcend the container.

It just dawned on me that I’m all over the place here. That this is one of those posts that covers so much ground. And yet here I am sitting in the sun, same place as when I started writing. Time has passed though I couldn’t tell you how much. It is amazing to think, that maybe you’ve taken some moments to read this combination of words, not for the sense it makes, but–for what? Why? Why do we read each other’s thoughts and stories? Why do we bother, to sit down at all?

Because life is happening and it’s easy to miss it. Easy to keep busy and not bother breathing. But today, something about today, made me want to come here to name these moments, to see the pattern they form of which I am a small part. To slow down, to find the still point between Friday and Saturday and Sunday whizzing by me like the barns on either side.

I don’t want to miss it. That’s why I write. That’s why reading your words moves me so deeply. And I really don’t think we’re here on the planet to practice self-denial and fear. Fuck that noise. There, I said it. We’re here to love. There, I said that, too. And for me, loving means writing, connecting, and putting it out there. It means grabbing my wife around the waist. It means not worrying about the next thing. It means it’s not all up to me at all. Someone is on the other side of the speaker, listening, as I place my next big order and offer to pick up the tab for a stranger.

Co-Hosting “The End of the World”

ShowImagethe end of the world, a freewrite by Pearl Strong (age 9) 

the end of the world the last day for us to gather together. And gather our stuff to move along to our new lives 

we go from our old to new world to world people are leaving slowly all because it’s the last 

day of the world. Every one saying there last  good byes to the people we love in the world. the world is ending.

this will be the last day of our lives

**

I came home from work today and collapsed. Well, that is not a cool word to use so casually. I didn’t actually collapse; I very deliberately changed out of my work clothes, put on shorts and a t-shirt because wow, it was warm enough for that, and climbed under the covers. Aviva had walked over to my parents’ house after school, and Pearl was riding bikes and playing with the three kids next door.

This wasn’t the kind of rest where I thought, it has been a full day and I think I’ll close my eyes for a few minutes before I switch gears and think about making dinner. This was head-swimming tired, probably a result of many, many weeks of many, many things catching up with me, my body signaling an undeniable “enough” sign in bright neons I was practically beginning to see before my eyes. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t collapse. I just crashed, hard.

I slept for two solid hours and when I woke up, Pearl was there and she asked why I’d been crying. I looked at the bottom sheet near my pillow, where I’d been drooling. And then I looked at the clock. I was almost 7:00pm. Oh, shit! Kristi had already gone above and beyond, first by inviting me to co-host “Finish the Sentence Friday” with Nicki, and then be being incredibly thorough and patient as she walked me through what that entailed. I’d finally figured out how to paste the “link-up” code–which you’ll find at the end of this post–so that anyone with a blog can use this prompt for some writing inspiration. But when it dawned on me that I had to write something myself, I felt slightly panicked on top of groggy from such a deep sleep. There was no way I could pull this off.

“It’s not the end of the world,” I said out loud to Pearl and Mani. And then I had an idea… maybe Pearlie could do the freewrite. Much to my delight, when I asked her, she said yes. And then she said, “It might not be good, though.” “That’s ok,” I told her. “It doesn’t have to be good. That’s what I tell the people in my groups.” She looked relieved, then started writing without stopping, per my instructions. Five minutes later, she showed me her poem but told me to read to myself.

By this time, Kristi had reassured me that I had a few more hours before my post had to go live, so I decided it’d be only fair to participate myself, which I did, setting a timer while I waited for our take-out tacos, only to realize that half of what I’d written and meant to save for after bedtime with Pearl had vanished into the ether due to some mystery glitch, forcing me to start over halfway through what remained.

Hardly the end of the world, any of this. In fact, I got to hear Kristi’s voice on the phone for the first time, after reading many of her incredible words on a screen.

And today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. As I sang the sh’ma to Pearl and felt her whole body relax, felt mine relax, too, I looked at her face and saw 1.5 million faces. I looked at her face and saw my one and only Pearl. I kissed her cheek and stroked her hairline.

And then I came here, to finish the lost freewrite, to share her poem with you, and to invite you to remember–and to write.

**

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather each week to complete a sentence. This week’s prompt originated with a prompt from one of my March writing groups: The End of the World.

I was so tickled when Kristi Rieger Campbell from Finding Ninee asked me to co-host, and even more so that my co-host is Nicki Gilbert, who writes at Redboots. Kristi and Nicki are both amazing writers I’ve met through my writing groups, and I have steadily, repeatedly fallen in love with their words and hearts.

Your turn! Just click on the little blue frog below to add a link to your post. I can’t wait to read it.

Words That Stick

03Words that stick: “If you can’t let me love you, what makes you think you’ll ever let any one love you?”

Love is not love that… how does the no rest of that line go from a Shakespeare sonnet my dad could  recite in his sleep, along with all the others that stick to his memory no differently than his own daughters’ names?

I come back to it again, like a healing refrain. Love is not love…

I’ll admit it took a while (too long? however long it needed to take?) for those words to stop nagging at me.

Sign of a true mindfuck, when you go back to the moment of impact and later, so much later, after the leaving for what felt like the umpteenth time, after saying no when she asked for “one last proper goodbye,” after finally coming to see that that is not love.

Love does not threaten or coerce or instill self-doubt. Love does not beg then apologize for begging before lashing out. Love does not call you selfish. Love does not hurl confused and fearful at you and call them love notes. Love does not leave you wondering: What if she was right? What if I’m just afraid to be loved, preferring the safety of my own locked heart and mind?

Words that stick come unstuck, when true love–the only love that is love–is warm water over time cleansing that wound, until the sticky residue of the bandage you concocted finally washes smooth and you are returned to your own skin, your own body, your own beliefs, and most of all, the freedom to discover a different kind of yes, the kind that is effortless and easy and kind.

I suppose this is the part where I thank her for that. Or not. Whatever. Sometimes it’s the words that stick that we learn the most from, in the peeling away from them, peeling out of town for good, and finally after so long of looking back, looking back no longer.

And now, I remember: Love is not love / which alters when it alteration finds, / or bends with the remover to remove.

**
With thanks to Dina Relles for prompting me to set my timer for ten minutes on my lunch break today. Hop over to Literary Mama to read her freewrite, and to share your own!

Image credit :: found here

One Story: Ten Facets (A New Kind of Writing Group)

I’m coming here this morning to share two recent experiences with you–two experiences that have become the progenitors of an additional kind of writing group I’m now offering.

1. An Experiment

A couple of weeks ago, I inadvertently embarked on a writing experiment. It was in the middle of one of my groups. That day’s prompt opened the door to a particular memory, and my ten-minute freewrite left me wanting to go further with it. So the next morning, I read the new prompt, and used it to go back to that place–not where I left off and not to write something chronological or linear, but to discover a new aspect of that time and place, that particular story.

Within a week or so of this, I realized that something was taking shape without effort, simply as a result of me showing up each day to a prompt, with no idea what I would write and yet with a sense of intention and context as to what the writing would return to.

Without meaning to, I had begun circling around a gem. I am still at it, ten minutes at a time, and do not know where it’s going or what it’s amounting to. But because my only job–and a self-assigned one at that–is to read a prompt, set a timer, keep my hand moving without editing or worrying about whether “it works,” and no going back to piece anything together, there is no pressure. Something is being written, and I have no idea what it is. All I know for sure is that this wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t stumbled onto this new approach.

2. A Conversation

Yesterday, I was talking with my parents about how this work is going and growing. It was a parent-daughter kind of conversation, one where they’re interested in what I’m up to and I’m happy to be telling them about something that excites me to no end. We were at a reception following a beautiful memorial for my aunt, my mother’s oldest sister who passed away in December. Our conversation kept being punctuated by relatives; I met more second-cousins-once-removed than I knew I had.

And then, in a moment when our attention turned back to the prompts and the writing, my father surprised me by saying that he’d like to sign up for one of my groups. He said he wants to start writing as a way of unearthing memories about his identical twin brother, who passed away ten years ago. I could not have been more moved or thrilled by this.

Between these two experiences, a new writing group offering began to take shape in my head. I decided to give it a name. And now I’m putting it out there.

One Story: Ten Facets

10338336_10203275567066511_8566604415218267698_nLike any gem, every story has many ways of catching the light. Look at it from over here and its color appears rich and opaque. From another angle, the same jewel may seem translucent.

What would happen if you gave yourself two weeks, with the encouragement and support of a small online group, to explore one story from ten different perspectives? Let me explain more with some questions and responses:

What do you mean by “story”?

“Story” could mean anything — a person, a place, a thing. Simply put: A subject. Memories of your late brother. A road trip. A relationship. Being a certain age. A kind of food. An experience that altered you for better or for worse. The garden. A time of day. The intention is simply to choose something and return to it each day during our time together, with a prompt as your springboard to see it in multiple ways.

Do I have to have an idea already, to participate in the group?

Not even a little bit! Our first day together will be all about brainstorming. You’ll have a chance to free-for-all before zeroing in on your subject. Even then, it does not have to be well-defined, nor will there be any expectation of a finished “product” at the end of the group.

Then what will I have at the end of the two weeks?

At the end of our time together, you will have ten freewrites, all unique and yet in some way interconnected. These will offer you a multidimensional perspective on something that may have lived one-dimensionally in my your mind but that you knew had many facets.

What you do from there is up to you. Your ten pieces of writing may fit together somehow, or provide you with insight you didn’t previously have. You might turn these into an essay. You might share them with someone in your life. Or you might do nothing more than appreciate the fact that you showed up every day to a blank page or screen, to some person, place, or thing that is compelling to you for whatever reason. This is always more than enough.

How does it work? 

The group will be structured much like my other online writing groups. Ten prompts, ten minutes a day, encouragement to write complete drek–and not to “fix” it before sharing, and a private (secret, in fact!) Facebook group–where participants offer and receive support, feedback, and reflection on each other’s writing each day.

Where do I sign up?

Just click on over here for dates and to register for the first-ever One Story: Ten Facets group.

Can I get in touch with you if I have other questions? 

Yes, please do! I love hearing from people, and will do my best to answer any questions you might have. Just drop me a note. And as always, thank you. For reading, for writing, for practicing with me.

Wash the Pyrex

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Photo credit: Monkey on Flickr (click image)

the fence
has a way of reappearing.
has a way of courting me.
has a way of unrelenting.
has a way of beckoning.
another day long ago
when I was someone else
longing to be myself
I’d have said the fence
deterred me, held me in,
back, a symbol of fear.
now the fence is not a symbol.
it is a fence. it is not a barrier.
who am I without barriers?
who am I when I do not scramble
or injure myself.
what if this fence is one I built
not to keep anything out
or protect myself
not to scale these city walls
only to be with you
only to be with you
but one surrounding our room
so that the energy inside
could grow so concentrated
its power would —
what?
losing something here.
maybe a timely loss.
the loss of cramped spaces.
there’s no fence.
there’s no in and no out.
no us and them.
no me and the world.
what if I am the world
and the world is me
and god said here, Jena,
I have given you the capacity
to do great things
with great love
you’ll know you’re doing them
because they will make you tear up
and fall in love with many many many many people and you will no longer even remember that feeling of separateness.
God has nothing to do with fences.
I don’t pay them Any mind. I don’t care if you’re rich and famous or down and out, I want to look in your eyes. I want to listen.
listening to the world’s music
sometimes harmonious and sometimes so confusing and cacophonous I’d cover my ears,
I cover my ears no longer. I cover my eyes no longer. I cover my heart with your hand and I cover your heart with my hand and the beat of this is my guide and what bad could happen if this is how I live?
fear lurks, leftovers I should take a moment to discard. clean out the fridge. wipe the shelves and wash the Pyrex.

**

Today, 6:00am, scrawled, no edits.