One Thousand Posts of Practice (a Giveaway)


10001

Years ago, when they were a different kind
of small
and life was a different flavor
(effort, exhaustion, tiny snowsuits, walks
with front packs, nursing babies, preschool pick-up
bathtime and frozen waffles that had to be cut up
in just the right way lest a morning meltdown
wake the neighbors on both sides, emergency yoga
classes)
I began writing here in this little glowing box
called it a place to practice
called it bullseye, baby!
for a year or so of private posts
I called it More Joy, Less Oy
called it the need to circle around
like a hawk and land on the prey of words
called it writing is how I pray
called it a beginning
and decided right off the bat that blogging
would not have any rules or schedules
no way to fuck it up

In fact, I didn’t really understand what  a blog actually was
only that it was a place I could call my own
a 21st-century Virginia Woolf kind of thing
What I didn’t realize was that by showing up here
I was putting out a signal
inaudible to many but to the other Virginia Woolfs
out there in the world, clear and clean
and within nine months or so of posting
this kind of thing — rambling, stream of consciousness
poems and prose — my people started showing up
fellow travelers and kindred spirits
other mamas, writers, seekers and finders

To this day it’s a mystery that we found each other, you and I
and you know who you are, of course you do
your call called me and mine called you
all because we came and wrote and kept going
when we thought we couldn’t
when we thought everything had shattered
because it had even our hearts especially our hearts
and that’s when the light got brightest
and the path was fully lit if flickering
though there were many times
I sat down on the forest floor
and others I laid down bare
under the broken sky of dead stars
and also times when my love was the sky
and the floor and my heart overflowed and I couldn’t help
but tell you everything

I’ve been telling you everything in some way
or another
inside this box and outside where we ran
in the mornings and talked about our babies
the ones who are now navigating middle school
high school college or who’ve passed and become pure
light or sung their way into new seasons
of being

I’ve pulsed with a heartbeat that could erode
even the oldest and sharpest rocks
and melted like sugar under warm running water
and now here I am here you are
we’re still here writing and reading and connecting
and growing and changing and practicing
the kids are alright I can tell
because they’re bickering in the kitchen
as I write these words as I say thank you
and I get it and tell me your stories and thank you some more

The Giveaway

This here today is my 1,000th published post. To celebrate and as a symbol and gesture of my incredulity and gratitude, I’m giving things away. What, you ask?

* Inscribed copies of each of the two books I’ve self-published. “Don’t Miss This” and “The Inside of Out” are collections of poems and prose that were born here  over these years of change and ebb and flow and stop and start and good enough and practice.

* One spot in my next two-week online writing group, October 19-30.

To play along, leave a comment below or on Facebook. I’ll choose not one, not two, but THREE names at 7:00am EST on Monday, September 7. 

I started writing for myself. And still do. But along the way, wow. A community grew and keeps expanding.  Thank you, for being part of it.

Big, big love.

Hello, September

11951919_10206881622655647_3923103889898588237_nSaturday morning, the girls and I went to Shabbat morning services; someone we know was becoming a bat mitzvah, and it was nice to be there among her family and some of ours, in community, to witness and celebrate her. The girl’s older sister offered her a blessing at one point. And later, in the car, Aviva asked Pearl if she’d please, please, PLEASE do something like that for her bat mitzvah, which is coming up next month.

Pearl basically said no way, not (so says their mama) because she doesn’t secretly harbor great affection for her big sister, but because the idea of public speaking is probably one of Pearl’s inner circles of personal hell.

Pearl went to a friend’s house for the afternoon, while Aviva spent the entire rest of the day cleaning her room in preparation for middle school. She even offering to clean Pearl’s, too. (Wayne Dyer, RIP: “I am realistic — I expect miracles.”) I called Pearl at her friend’s house to ask if she’d like V to clean her room; something in me knew that the outcome of something seemingly so sweet could end up backfiring, big time. But she said sure, as long as nothing got moved around.

Fast forward to dinner time. Pearl came home after her marathon playdate, only to find that her “clean room” also included a pile of unfolded  clothes, which Aviva had moved from on top of Pearl’s little trampoline over to the corner of her not-so-big room. Pearl lost it. She was tired, angry, and tired some more.

Earlier in the day, at synagogue, Pearl had made her way through the long-to-her service by playing with each of my rings and bracelets. At one point, she was holding the bracelet a beautiful writer friend gave me from Israel–alternating small, blue beads to ward off the evil eye. I watched her handle it; how she instinctively fingered each bead, one after another, as if in prayer. Maybe, without realizing it, she was.

I believe Aviva’s intention to clean Pearl’s room was pure. I was a bit stumped myself as to how a pile of unfolded clothes constitutes a clean room, but I also expected to see and hear some gratitude from Pearl towards her sister for the idea and the effort. It seemed like maybe Aviva threw in the towel halfway through, lost steam, and stalled out. Regardless,  she waited self-righteously for an apology. In this case, I actually backed her up, until finally Pearl calmed down and offered it up in a genuine enough voice that I could tell she meant it and wasn’t just trying to recoup her screen time.

The new day brought, well, a new day. It is so cool the way it does that for us. Sunday brought me and Mani to a long budgeting session, something we haven’t done together for months. It brought me and the girls to the Holyoke Mall, where they both got back-to-school clothes, and I even bought a couple of things for myself for fall and winter (Mani is teaching and reminding me not to always put myself last when it comes to that kind of thing).

And then we got a flat tire. I don’t have a jack and I really want and need to learn how to put on a spare myself. Alas, I have not yet learned this sexy, badass skill, so we waited for AAA near the pretzel place by the Macy’s entrance on the Upper Level. V coped with headphones and Pearlie rested her sweet head on my shoulder. I sat there shifting my thinking from “Oh, shit, money,” to “Oh, thank God we can cover this,” appreciating, too, that we weren’t driving on the highway or in twenty-below weather or somewhere remote when we ran over something sharp.

Last night, I told my Dad on the phone that I feel like I’m on a six-seater plane, and it’s that part where we’re on the running but we’re moving, and the plane is a little wobbly, shaking from side to side. I feel the speed picking up, but the wheels are still on the ground and there is that question in my mind: Is this plane actually going to get up into the sky? And this one: Does that pilot know what she is doing? And then: Wait, I am the pilot! And then, a final thought, the one that makes me exhale: God is my co-pilot. Seriously, an oldie but goodie. Plus, Mani is my other co-pilot, so I figure we have to be fine between the three of us.

After my Dad and I hung up, Mani and I talked to Aviva on speaker for a little while, hearing about her first orientation day at her new school. She is ready for school to “actually start,” she told us. Also that she likes the library and the librarian. She sounded tired, which was kind of shocking given that this night owl of ours has stayed up till all hours this summer. Must be September. New month, new season, new school year, new rhythm.

A second image came to me, so vivid it was almost physical. I suddenly felt like a little kid on a two-wheeler. That wobbly feeling again, but this time my Dad was standing behind me. That body-memory of his hand on the back seat, his presence behind me, the bike shaky, and of not being able to tell the moment of letting go, of riding on my own. It was really tender, that moment of remembering and experiencing that sensation.

Sisters. The bursts of thoughtfulness, intense squalls, and day-in-day-out togetherness of them, of us. Prayer beads and first days and six-seaters and two-wheelers. Each of us getting our balance, standing behind or beside, holding on, letting go, cheering a little, if quietly, to ourselves and each other. (you can do it you can do it you’re doing it!)

And as always seems to happen when I get into the zone, I don’t know now what I’ve written and it doesn’t matter all that much.

What matters is that yesterday morning, waiting in line at Firestone Auto, Pearl stood in front of me, her back to my belly, my arms wrapped around her shoulders. What matters is that while Mani may have 27 or so pounds to go to her optimal weight, she is looking healthier each and every day. What matters is that we were able to buy clothes and repair tires, and that first days are happening.

Hello, September. You’re here!

Come be the sky to my little plane, the smooth, open road to some mad (if shaky) new skills. Come bring your last summer light and your warm afternoons, your first frosts and your Days of Awe. I’m ready enough, with the prayer and the beads, the unfolded clothes and the patched-up tires, the apologies and the wobbly ride, the brand-new beginnings. The take-off, the flight.

**

I didn’t know it would, but writing this post resulted in my sharing all of the ways you can writer, practice, and connect with me this fall! Click here to read and/or share my latest newsletter.

The Roar Sessions: Dana Schwartz

My Roar Story: Lost and Found
by Dana Schwartz

Mask without a mouthAfter many years of keeping a low profile, my roar made a surprise appearance on the streets of La Costa del Sol in southern Spain during my junior year abroad in college.

Three friends and I were stumbling back to our hotel after a night of drinking when we bumped into a man. After we apologized, he pushed my friend against a wall and threatened her. Say sorry again, the rest of us pleaded, and reluctantly she did.

We were stupid and hopeful, unaware that he was setting us up. After he stalked away we breathed a sigh of relief, but minutes later he ambushed us from behind.

I will never forget the sound of his footsteps closing in.

Two of my friends sprinted ahead toward the hotel and he grabbed the woman behind me. I saw him drag her toward an ally. I ran back and tackled him. She scrambled away and he turned on me. In seconds his hands and fingers were everywhere, groping and grabbing. Then, they were inside me.

What happened next surprised us both.

Something snapped in my chest, not broken, but open.

I slammed my body down on the cold concrete sidewalk, knowing intuitively to stay put, and howled in pure, unadulterated fury. I couldn’t stop. The sound went on and on, rising up like a sudden storm from my core.

He let go and ran.

I ran, too, tears streaming, my throat raw, still screaming.

For a long time the memory of that night was too mixed up with shame and anger to dissect, though I knew my roar had saved me. It wasn’t until several years later, as a student in a self-defense class, I reclaimed the power of my voice and body. Then I became an instructor and taught hundreds of women and children how to do the same.

My roar became an offering.

I loved being a teacher and was moved every time I witnessed my students transform into warriors, and believe me, they all did.

Even the ones who came to class on the first day with their voices compressed and tight, even the ones who looked aghast when we lined everyone up and asked them to roar.

This was the opening exercise. Each woman shouting the word, NO, one at a time.

Easy, right? No training or skill required. Perhaps you’re already shaking your head. Maybe your heart is starting to speed up just considering this simple yet mighty feat.

I remember feeling stunned and horrified by this request on my first day. Yes, I had signed up to learn self-defense, but somehow, the idea of shouting out loud was more intimidating than fighting.

It’s pretty obvious why. Asking a woman to yell NO, to be loud, is the opposite of what society has been trying to drive out of our gender since early childhood.

We’re supposed to keep our voices down, to be quiet and polite. Asking women to do the opposite can be terrifying, but it’s also revolutionary. The word NO is powerful. We used it in class as a weapon. With every physical strike, every elbow or knee to the groin, our students shouted, NO! By the end of the first class, it became almost second nature.

I “retired” from teaching when I got pregnant with my first child. My mother had recently died and I didn’t want to take any chances with this new burgeoning life. My roar turned inward.

I spent my pregnancy, and my simultaneous mourning, doing the thing I had done all my life, both in and out of crisis: I wrote. I filled half a dozen journals, finished a draft of my first novel, and worked on my MFA thesis presentation before giving birth to my daughter.

Then, everything in my life screeched to a halt. Having a baby can do that, especially the first one.

My daughter, it turns out, had no trouble using her voice from the moment she was born. We used to joke that she “came out with a roar” and never stopped. She was a colicky infant who shrieked for hours on end. The doctors could find nothing wrong with her. They told us it was normal and would eventually pass. Cold comfort for brand new parents, let me tell you.

Some nights when she’d finally pass out, often on my body, I could still hear the ringing in my ears. Some days, I’d cry in anguish at her apparent anguish, but other times I studied her with awe.

It seemed to me, in those fleeting moments of clarity, that her deep throated, furious cries were heavy with meaning, as if she were crying not just for herself, but on behalf of all the pain and injustice in the world. Her roar was personal and universal. Strangely, this gave me comfort.

Becoming a mother gives you a new voice, but also silences your old one. I lost track of my roar, not the one I used to save my life on a dark Spanish street, but the creative kind that lived inside me and fed my soul. I was so busy nourishing my child I neglected to nourish myself. The writing voice I had counted on for sustenance went dry. I thought I had lost it.

When my son was a year old, my daughter four, I began making my way back. It wasn’t easy, and there were many times I considered giving up. But my roar refused to be silenced or ignored. Like my dear wild daughter, it shrieked loudly until I returned.

That’s the thing about having a roar, a voice. It’s like a flame. It may go out, but it can always be reignited.

**

Dana Schwartz head shotDana Schwartz lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. She is a published short story writer and essayist, as well as a cast member of the Lehigh Valley 2015 Listen To Your Mother show.

Her essay “Afterbirth” will be included in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness (November 2015) and she was part of the HerStories anthology on female friendship. She is a regular contributor to The Gift of Writing website and explores the creative process on her blog, Writing at the Table. She is currently working on a novel.

Blog: writingatthetable.com
Twitter: @danahschwartz
Facebook: facebook.com/DanaSchwartzAuthor

The First Time I Prayed

Isadora_Duncan_Students_1916Why can’t I remember the first time I prayed? Did I pray as a kid?

I did not know what praying meant as a kid. Most likely, I had images from movies or books of kids on their knees, bedside, palms together, head bowed. We definitely didn’t do THAT. We–my family–didn’t do anything. We certainly didn’t pray. And I don’t know if I talked to God or what, though I vaguely recall bargaining on dentist visit days.

I did learn to read Tarot Cards hen I was older than five but younger than nine, sometime before moving from Buffalo to Western Massachusetts. Tarot Cards had nothing to do with praying, though.

I did not know we were Jewish. Not really.

I did not know I came from a thousands-of-years-old tradition of prayer. I did, however, want to be a poet. Maybe that was as close as I came as a kid?

The first time I prayed. Really prayed. More like a conversation, or a sensation. A knowing. A physical experience. A voice without sound. A sense of being connected. A sense of something bigger. Learning the word “kindred” by a rock in a field at a hippy all-girls camp founded n the tradition of Isadora Duncan and Florence Fleming Noyes,  where danced barefoot in tunics through the ferns.

Kindred, yes. But prayer? At later summer camps and in school, I started being known as someone who had that. That thing, that sense of the Whole Universe. Maybe I was thirteen when I started calling it the Universe.

Prayer. I remember the hours following Aviva’s birth. Just me and her in our hospital room, colostrum. Liquid stars flowing from the huge black sky in me and into her, we were one. That was a form of prayer. But the first time?

I am beginning to think there was no first time. It could be that I was born not praying, but touched with that hand on the top of my head, tapped as if to say: Bring joy, little one. Which makes no sense because life really has not been that easy.

But who is to say that joy and easy are one? I believe that is a notion steeped in the West, steeped in the upper middle class in which I grew up and from which my life has drifted further and further away as my world has grown ever bigger.

Joy is not about easy. Joy is about presence and connection and perspective and the big huge vast unknowable nameless presence who touches my shoulders and I have whole-body chills.

Prayer, though? Now, yes. Now I do pray. I still love the Universe, but nowadays, I pray to God. I talk to God. I ask God questions. I send my angel posse on all kinds of fun and secret missions, and they love it. They love being employed and I am the boss and God is my boss and together, it really works well.

Prayer saves my ass. It saves me. From ruining things by seeing them myopically and through the fog of fear. Prayer wipes the windows clean and opens the door, then escorts me out in to the open.

Hope to see you there.

Image: Students of Isadora Duncan, 1916

Saying the Thing

11887857_10206829922323171_2912631968583687143_n

It is good sometimes
to say the thing
you’re afraid to say.
It is good to say the thing
that is being said
anyway– with your body
language, your mother
tongue, your back
to the room or hand
on the stick shift
or exchanging dollar
for drink or lashing
out in anger
when you are angry
in part because there’s
the thing you aren’t
saying out loud
that’s actually sad
or scary, an ache,
a fear of loss
or change, easier,
you tell yourself,
to recoil, pull away
and in and yes, do
that when you need,
trust yourself, don’t
take any of these
vertical words as anything
but one woman
at her kitchen table
eyes dried now
marriage strengthened
by the opening
of a hand on a thigh,
a tear and a torrent,
a truth we both knew:
sometimes yes,
we miss the way
it used to be.
Then we think
less, feel more
and remember how
now’s better than
a month or six
ago and oh, Einstein
you brilliant heart, you
knew relativity was more
than theory but bedrock
anchor dagger
cutting through illusion
self-pity and permanence.
Thankful yes to have
a love to hold a tender
moment to get to
speak truth
when it’s scary
and would be easier
so much so to go
smoke alone
on the porch.
No. No smoking.
And no alone, not that kind.
This is us together.
This is real life.
This is a blessing.

The Roar Sessions: Larissa Schwartz

The Comfortable Contradiction
by Larissa Schwartz

kittyHi.
I’m a Mac. And I’m a PC.
A dog-lover. Who lives with a cat.
So patient. And restless.
A traveler. A total homebody.
Don’t-touch-it-hot-obsidian. Freshwater ocean.
Commuting my sentence. Finishing yours.
Frozen solid. Floating on blue.
Snow-fall quiet. Deafening mind chatter.
I’m always wrong. And I’m finally right.

**

Jena and I sat in her kitchen last week chatting about more things than any two people should stuff into a 15-minute visit. I was jet-lagged from the seven hour time difference. I’d just gotten back from Greece.

While we were talking, she asked if I wanted to write something for The Roar Sessions. Of course the first thoughts that popped into my head were uh, no, I’m not a writer and I’m not looking for my roar. Because of those first thoughts, I said yes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been facing down things that make me uncomfortable. Saying what I need to without feeling guilty, ignoring the imposter syndrome, paying attention to gut feelings and going with them, saying yes instead of no – to the right things. Somewhere in there, I also started getting kind of excited about being a perfectly comfortable walking contradiction.

But the blog post. I agonized about it all week. I dodged it with jet lag and a design project and editing through 798 photos from the 19 days of eat-pray-love time away. Time that forced me to change up the day-to-day and allowed me to take all those photos. Today calling myself a photographer – even though the imposter would have me say otherwise – feels fine.

By 6 o’clock on Saturday the deadline and the commitment loomed.

I stood at the countertop in my kitchen, laptop in front of me, set the timer on my device for 10 minutes (sorry I can’t call it a phone anymore) and typed out what came to me. Just like Jena teaches in her writing groups.

I didn’t edit what I wrote, though I’ll admit to making sure there weren’t any red squiggly lines on the screen. I fired the email off and waited. I’d already done the-inhale-then-exhale thing that happens when I’m about to do – or have just finished doing – something uncomfortable and necessary and especially something that makes me question, second guess, avoid and criticize.

The phone rang. I think she said, “Holy shit, you can write.” I can’t remember exactly. I just know I was buzzing because of how the words landed on the screen during the 10 minutes when I intentionally stood in the discomfort and wrote.

After a few seconds she said, go find Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself, there’s a section in it you have to read. And like any master, Jena had the prompt ready and waiting:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

**

FloatingViequesLarissa is a creative technologist which is what happens when geekdom meets artist. She’s a user experience design professional, a photographer and a perfecter of the digital walkabout. After living in Boston, Buffalo, Santa Barbara, Connecticut and Hawaii, she has real mail delivered to her house in Western Massachusetts.

**

Learn more about The Roar Sessions and read previous guest posts here.  

Just a Few Days in, and Boom

Exhibit A.

I just clicked “submit” on my timesheet for August. It will be the last time I do that regular hours, vacation hours, sick hours, personal hours, other hours thing. On Friday, I went to my now former-office to “wrap up” three years’ worth of work in a few hours. I did my best to sort through server files and stacks of papers I hadn’t touched since May, when I unexpectedly left work one day, used up my sick time, and filed for Family Medical Leave Act soon thereafter.

First for eight weeks, then for twelve, and then–who saw that coming?–for good.

On Sunday, I had seven people signed up for a new two-week writing group that was starting, well, Sunday. I put the word out and a couple of other people put the word out and before I knew it, five more people had signed up, and I am all smitten by this collection of people, some known to me and others completely brand-new, their names becoming familiar as we post and comment and cheer each other on. Just a few days in, and boom. We are writing, and trusting each other and the space and the practice.

How does that happen? I am not sure I know the answer, and I’m ok with that. Earlier, though, after reading a freewrite that made me gasp and pause and ask questions about my own life and laugh and touch my hand to my heart, I thanked God out loud. And then told Mani that when things are going well, I thank God because I’m superstitious, to which she (wisely – oh, that woman) responded that while she’s plenty superstitious in other ways, she thanks God because… she is thankful.

I had lunch with my now-former colleagues in town, then we all hugged each other and exchanged warm wishes, and that was it. The job that brought us to Amherst three years ago, the job that came like a godsend, the job that came on the heels of a weekend trip to Chicago and a summer of unemployment and easy love and a long-time-coming book and not pushing but paying attention, ended.

Here are some things from a few days in to this new beginning.

Today, drop-off at Rock n’ Roll Camp in Goshen (about 40 miles away) was at 3:00pm. I got up around 7:00, poured my coffee, made rice cereal for Mani, and read and wrote freewrites for about four hours. I have five groups right now (do not even ask me how this happened–it just evolved that way: One long-term, two that continued after we didn’t want it to be over in July, one that sprung up spontaneously after a wonderful in-person workshop in Burlington in June, and one brand-new one as of Sunday, which I mentioned earlier).

Exhibit B

Exhibit B.

I keep track of new posts in a notebook and cross them off after I’ve read them, in a very fancy and modern method of organization. (See Exhibit B.)

Yesterday morning, in the midst of a similar routine, I also had a thirty-minute conversation with a beautiful essayist and poet in Maine, who had contacted me asking if I might have time to chat about a workshop she is leading next month at a bereavement camp.

That was so fun, and meaningful, and yet again a reminder of how much I enjoy and appreciate hearing people’s voices–especially when I’ve read their words. Another writer asked me if all of The Roar Sessions posts lived in one place, which they didn’t–yet. Her email motivated me to create a new page on my website just for that. Also fun, to be free to respond to things in the moment if they feel good and make sense. (And sometimes even if they don’t make sense, assuming the former criterion is met!)

But back to today. By late morning, I was getting a little antsy. And cranky for no good reason, and then cranky about being cranky. So I put on my sneakers and went for a two-mile run, which felt more to me like five miles in the heat. Aviva got home just as I was emerging from a cold shower. She’d spent a few days on the Cape with River and Pearl and my sister’s family and my parents. She plunked down on the couch before making herself some fried eggs and toast while I ate an all-beef bologna sandwich on white bread.

I’m on a sandwich kick this week, with potato chips, even. I think it’s tied in to soaking up every moment of heat and sweat and sandals and skin and not wanting summer to end but feeling the turn, knowing it’s been happening all along. And the sandwiches, they must remind me of the beach where I’m not, or something. We’ll just leave it at “or something.” Oh, digressing again…

In any case, V and I loaded her huge-ass suitcase in the backseat of the car, the very backseat that I vacuumed yesterday during regular work hours, along with delivering a bag of clothes to the Hospice Shop and getting groceries. She also had a backpack and her electric guitar and a small amp (though when we arrived and saw the dozens of amps, we realized she didn’t really need to Bring Her Own Amp). A welcoming young woman gave us a five-minute camp tour and we milled around a little with other arriving campers and parents.

IMA

Exhibit C.

I chatted with a musician from Brooklyn who will be teaching there, and also with some of the college students who are there as interns. The whole vibe was good (Exhibit C) and I left feeling confident that the awkwardness of arrival would melt away as soon as all the awkward parents (like me) left. I already can’t wait for the concert on Sunday.

On my way back to Amherst, I stopped at an ice-cream place I’d noticed on the way there, and got myself a creemee, which in Massachusetts is called soft-serve but I will always claim that small piece of Vermont for keeps. I sat there on a bench in the shade licking around the edges, keeping an eye on the time knowing I had a coaching call with an old writing comrade in L.A. at 5:00 my time. I finished eating, snapped a selfie after reading something about selfies being empowering (please see Exhibit A), and even had time to cash a check in the bank, go to the post office to mail one of Mani’s penpal letters and all of Aviva’s bat mitzvah invitations, and pick up a new library book, before going home to switch gears.

Why am I telling you all about these few days, like a total Chatty Cathy? I just ate a bowl of pumpkin-spiced mini shredded wheat (I kid you not). It’s almost 11:00pm and the kitchen windows are all wide open; the crickets are a thousand bells and I’ve written three different ten-minute freewrites today, pieces that will probably never see the light of day beyond their secret online confines. The fridge hums, and as I type away, I wish I could think of a different verb. A better one. But that doesn’t stop me, usually doesn’t, at least not from posting here in this space. It has always been about practice and about showing up. So here I am.

And I’m here in ways I would not be able to be, wasn’t, when I had the job. The job I am so thankful came. And if it had to go, which life made pretty clear these past few months, I’m grateful that it went — that I left — on good terms, mutually appreciative terms, and terms of integrity. I’m also allowing myself to sink into this new normal, noticing all the things I’m able to do during these days, without having to worry about how much personal time I’m using, or whether a kid’s needs will conflict with an important meeting, or how I’m going to get to the bank AND the post office all in one day with an hour for lunch.

Gains and losses are what a wise therapist once advised me every choice entails.

Leaving my job was a choice, and in some ways, it wasn’t. It was life speaking to us quite directly, and us sitting down and listening and having a frank conversation with life back. It was Mani’s health started to spiral as of just over a year ago now, and me starting a little writing group to earn some extra income and connect with people at a time when I was beginning to feel isolated, and it is now Mani’s health being on the road to recovery and wellbeing, but this is not the autobahn, people.

So of course, there are trade-offs. And losses. Tonight, though, and I’m just going to go ahead and say tomorrow, too, and the next day, you’ll find me here focused on the gains, giving thanks for the gifts and the angels and the connections and the yeses. Saying thank you, not out of superstition, but because I am thankful.

The Roar Sessions: Meghan Leahy

Meghan_LeahyWhen Your Roar is a Chore
by Meghan Leahy

I haven’t found my roar… yet.

I think.

I don’t know.

In my mind, I thought I had been roaring for years.

I had been angrily roaring and pushing back against everyone and everything in my life. Cynical, sharp, funny, guarded (excessively guarded), I made jokes about what I held dear. The closer you got to my heart, the funnier I became.

It was killing me.

I was becoming anxious and depressed and with each baby (three in all), it was getting worse.

I know a lot of people talk about feeling called to do something else. Be someone else. Go somewhere else. I had that calling, deep, deep within me, but I was pretty busy laughing off my life and refusing to change. Did you know that not changing is exhausting? It was my full-time job, and everyone close to me was getting tired of supporting my neuroses.

I wanted to own my own business. I wanted to work for myself and by myself.

I didn’t want to repeat someone else’s words anymore.

I didn’t want to worry about going “off-script,” and I wanted my schedule to be my own.

I had my own ideas and a little voice whispering, “You can do all of this better.”

My knee-jerk guilt, my “whodoyouthinkyouare” reaction was so strong, so over-powering, so all-encompassing that my desire to change was terrifying.

But I did.  I began to change. Therapy. Coaching. Medication. Meditation. Tons of yoga. Cut some people out of my life who were hurting me.

Despite “changing” (which was really just starting my coaching business), my entire life was and still is “roar,” and then, “oooh, oops, sorry for roaring…”

This insecurity, when I speak it aloud, is a source of confusion and disbelief to others.

“Oh Meghan, but everyone loooooves you.”

“Meghan, but you seem so successful.”

“Meghan, but your confidence is so evident… you are so unafraid.”

“Meghan, you are the funniest person I know.”

And I love being the life of the party. I love dancing, being bawdy, and telling great stories. Everyone wants me at the dinner table. You do. I entertain the masses and you pay me in wine and good food. I love debates, politics, and talking about real shit. I am smart enough to know a little something about everything, and I will even talk to your racist, misogynistic, and handsy uncle. I am a good-time gal, a true 2015 woman. Work hard, play hard. Lean In, Opt Out, SAHM, Entrepreneur, City-Living, Organic-Eating, blah blah blah.

So, how can I tell the difference between my roar of (and I hate this fucking word) authenticity and the roar of insecurity?

I have practiced my roar of insecurity for so long and so well that no one knows the difference. Only I (and my husband — I almost never fool Mark) know the difference.

And the thing is, my roar of insecurity is fun. I love being funny. Shit, I did stand-up comedy for a year or so… that is how much I loved being funny.

But I kept feeling like I had to choose.

Funny Meghan or Serious Meghan.

Nutty Meghan or Academic Meghan.

The Meghan who watches The Bachelorette or The Meghan who loves documentaries.

I would bully myself, “CHOOSE! Which Meghan are you?”

So, I have recently settled on the fact that it really doesn’t matter anymore.

I am decidedly tired of thinking about myself. I don’t need to choose.

I am insecure, funny, smart, slightly neurotic, vain, spiritual, loving, passionate, and sometimes needy.

It doesn’t matter which roar is roaring anymore, nor does it matter how I feel about it.

I am no longer interested in picking my brain apart, filing my thoughts and feelings and beliefs into the appropriate boxes.

The more I think about myself, the worse I get.

My work in this lifetime is to show up with all my heart and all of my integrity and all of my humanity, and let the chips fall where they may.

If I can do this, everything falls into place.

When I need to apologize, I do.

When I need to rest, I do.

When I need to hustle, I do.

So, I guess my roar is… not thinking about my roar. My roar is showing up. Without calculation or premeditation. My roar is paying attention to others more than myself. I know that many people cannot and should not do that, but this is my need. I think about myself enough. Less me, more you.

I don’t need to roar for myself anymore (well, maybe a little here and there). I have everything and everyone I need in this world. I always did. I always will.

Now, I need to roar for and with others.

My roar (my hope) is: Less me, More You.

**

Black shirt 1 headshotAs a parent coach, Meghan supports parents, teachers, and caregivers as they bring about change in their families. Through an integrated attachment and developmental approach, current neuroscience, and good old common sense, Meghan brings a new way of understanding and seeing children. From there, everyone can start to bring out the best in all children.

As a mother to three children, wife, former teacher, certified school counselor, parent educator, certified facilitator in The Neufeld Institute, and certified parent coach, Meghan is an expert in the field of parenting. In addition to coaching and speaking, Meghan is also a weekly columnist for On Parenting section of The Washington Post.

In her spare time, Meghan loves yoga, comedy, anything on Bravo, reading, and doing anything by the ocean.

Her website is www.mlparentcoach.com.

The Roar Sessions: Bronwyn Petry

How I Got My Roar Back 
by Bronwyn Petry

lionJenaROAR. Noun. a full, deep, prolonged cry uttered by a lion or other large animal.

VOICE. Noun. The sound produced in the larynx and uttered through the mouth, as speech or song.

-> An agency by which a particular point of view is expressed or represented.

I’ve been thinking about voices lately; where they come from, how we use them, and how we are allowed to use them. The more and more I look into it, the more I feel that our ability to use our voice is linked with this idea of space—the more space we allow ourselves to take up in the world, the more our voices feel at home, both out in the world, and in our bodies.

In a way, aren’t voices made up just as much of bone, muscle and blood, as they are of air and sound?

When we communicate the truth of what we believe and who we are, does that not make us clearer—doesn’t that connect us to a part of ourselves that is more intuitive and more in focus somehow?

What I want to talk about, it turns out is how I got my roar back.

As a woman who is differently-abled—I have a mild form of cerebral palsy—as a woman who is a childhood sexual abuse survivor, I am only now beginning to understand the fraught landscape my body has always been—the ways I have been at war with it, the ways people have engaged war with me.

Before I knew the language to describe my body, I was always the person who felt uncomfortable in their skin.

I was clumsy in a way other people weren’t, I stumbled and burned myself, I couldn’t braid my hair. My shoulders were lopsided, so my bra straps were always slipping. I limped. The times my motor coordination failed would fill me with rage—in most ways I was expecting myself to act able-bodied in an able-bodied world, when that wasn’t quite the true story.

Sometimes, when the depression was at its worst, the self-hatred threatened to lift my skin off like a series of blood blisters; at other times, physical pain made it seem like my body was trying to literally evict my spirit.

I lied if anyone asked me about why I was limping. “If people ask about your limp, just tell them that you were in a football accident,” my mom would say, brazenly. We’d go shopping for shoes at Kiddie Kobbler and she would tell the salesperson, “My daughter needs her left shoe one size smaller,” as if it wasn’t anything.

I hated the unpredictability of my body. I just wanted to be normal. I learned early to say things like oops! My hands must have been wet when I broke a glass for the third day in a row, or be the first to laugh at myself if I tripped and fell down. It stopped the questions faster.

But then things started to change. When I was 22, the year after my mother died, my godmother told me that what I had thought my entire life was just a nagging weakness was actually a mild form of cerebral palsy.

For a while—years, even—I probably acted like things were okay, but then they became progressively less and less okay.

I turned into a bit of a workaholic; when I wasn’t taking overtime, there were clubs to go dancing in, and so much drinking to be done.

I went to California during the winter to get over being sad —and arrived when it was just a grey ocean and rain.

When I came back, I started trying to clean myself up—I thought I’d go back to university, go back to that time in my life when I had messed it all up and get it right this time. That was when the first images began to surface: images of someone touching me, looking at me.

I closed my eyes and could see the stars outside my old window, could smell the carpet in that room—but timelines, actual memories, eluded me, and that made me doubt myself, doubt my version of events. Aren’t you exaggerating? I thought. Why are you always so difficult?

But I read up on it; I talked to a few therapists; I found out that a lot of survivors only “find” memories in their 30s, once their bodies have judged enough distance from the trauma in order to feel safe. At first I thought that was a convenient excuse—but then I started to hold up my behavior against that template.

I had the faulty memory; the excessive substance using; the lovers; the running away, always the running away.

The white lies I told. The pretty-fucking-dangerous situations I put myself in—it looked like pretty textbook survivor behavior.

I blamed myself.

When I finally figured out how to ask a few other people if this had happened to them too, they responded, are you sure it happened that way? It seemed like I was the only person who had been touched like that, which meant that there was a reason that I had been picked, something that made me weaker, something about me that made the person that touched me think she won’t tell.

The only thing I could think of that made me different from anyone else was my body: the body that I was unintentionally taught to be ashamed of. The body that sometimes hurt so much it would make me curl over, my arms wrapped around me in an effort to hold myself together. The body that sometimes felt like a trap—constantly breaking down, prone to depression and anxiety and neediness—it had to be the reason I was singled out.

What else could it be—wasn’t I the actual embodiment of damaged goods?

I said things to myself in the quiet desperation of those years that I would wish on no-one—and I started believing them. And I wonder if things would have stayed like that for a while longer if a few things hadn’t happened in quick succession: I ended up in the hospital for what the doctors politely termed “exhaustion”; and a dear friend died of a drug overdose.

Being hospitalized was like a grandmother telling me to take care of you right goddamn now. If you don’t take care of yourself you are seriously going to die. My friend’s death reminded me there was no time for any other bullshit—I needed to act like saving my own life was a priority, because all of a sudden it was.

I knew I couldn’t keep living like the way I had been, but I didn’t know what to do next. This might sound silly, but the easiest way I could frame this for myself was to ask the question, what would your best friend do for you in this situation? They were heartbreakingly simple steps at first, maybe obvious ones, but doing one little thing to take care of myself—one thing at a time—made me take comfort in my own ministrations. I don’t have to love myself; I just have to take care of myself.

Eat a little protein. Go to bed. Take a deep breath. Put on your dancing song.

Every time I took care of myself in some way, it felt like I got a little calmer. And then the idea, of treating myself like my best friend, a sort of why not me? sunk in a little further. I started to see self-care almost as a cumulative thing: the more I did it, the more I would feel good.

The better I felt, the more I was able to take myself into perspective; like, even if the world stresses me out, I’m not going to stress myself out.

And in these very incremental instances of care, I gradually showed my body that I would take care of it, rather than harm or degrade it. And once that happened, I relaxed into myself in a way I never had before.

I had words for all my likes and dislikes, and knew better how to voice them. I got a clearer understanding of how I used to hate myself for something that didn’t affect my value as a person. That isn’t to say it became all rainbows and sunshine after that because it didn’t—that’s not how this story goes—but that I started understanding and knowing my body in a new context. I started seeing its lines as unique, beautiful, strong, just for being mine.

And even though my roar still shakes sometimes, I have it back now: for good.

**

From wedding until July 23 080Bronwyn Petry loves a summer thunderstorm; a hot bath; getting up early, and too many books to count. She tries to have an adventure every day and to go on spontaneous road trips whenever possible. She is married to her best friend. When she is not writing, she is walking her dog, or thinking about her next slice of pizza. She lives, loves, and organizes in Toronto—for now.

Connect with her on Facebook, through her website, or on Instagram.

Summer Storms, Rest Stops, and Rainbows

2cfef92c-33e8-442f-8114-0f10d78ac9d5The coming storm on 90 west looked a lot like this. (Photo found here.)

A few minutes later, it looked like debris flying horizontally over the Pike, night-like light, bright flashes of lightning, and a downpour that amounted to almost zero visibility.

Then came the hail, and hazard lights, traffic coming to a crawl, me trying to relax my hands rather than grip the steering wheel, carefully maneuvering over to the far right lane and hugely relieved to be able to make out the sign stating that the next rest area was 1/2 mile away. We exited the highway and pulled into a parking spot, hearts pounding. Mani & I have both driven in our share of weather, but today was in the top five in terms of harrowing road conditions.

We’d left Amherst at 8:15am to head to Boston for two doctor’s appointments. There was heavy traffic on the westbound side of the Pike as we got on 90 East at Palmer; I read tonight that two tractor-trailers crashed there this morning. Yikes. And yet, not knowing that this morning, I just sighed with selfish relief that we were driving in the opposite direction.

Fast forward six hours–after a nutrition appointment at the Brigham, the Faulkner hospital in Jamaica Plain for a neurology/pain clinic follow-up, and eleven vials of blood drawn later–and it would be safe to say that Mani was more than ready to get home. Being in the car is not fun for her; the vibration hurts her feet and sitting for that long in one position is painful. I was a little tired of Boston drivers honking at me, enough so that I missed our exit from 95 north onto 90 west and had to swallow back tears for doing so. It delayed us by maybe five minutes.

I had chatted with Aviva while Mani was in the lab; she texted me a picture of how the storm in Amherst looked from her room and said, “Ummmm… you might not want to drive home in this.” I told her it was hot and sunny where we were. Which it was at the time.

11811527_10206677579354692_7847632080676313666_nBut not five minutes after getting on the Pike after the exit-missing moment, the sky grew dark. We felt so lucky that that rest area was so close by. The light was amazing–that intense contrast of dark greys and blues against neon sunlit greens–and when the rain let up, the steam rising from the pavement looked surreal.

We both had to pee, but a woman near the entrance to the rest area told us that the power and the water were out throughout the building, so we hobbled back to the car and decided to forge on. Within moments, traffic was at a standstill. We spent the next 75 minutes or so bumper to bumper, sandwiched between huge trucks as emergency vehicles sped by in the shoulder.

By the time we passed the stretch where the accident–or accidents, we’re not really sure–occurred, the sky had cleared again and rays of light were beaming onto the still-wet trees, making bodies of water as we passed them look mirror-lit and somehow deeper.

11836726_10206677579634699_765179346270565515_nI noticed dual impulses: The first was all human. To call my sister, who I thought might be in the Boston area today for work. To talk to my girls, even though as far as they knew we were never almost not fine. And in fact, we were never not fine. But there was that feeling of having been through a thing, or come close to a thing. And then there was the writer impulse, my brain already piecing together unrelated things in an attempt to construct a narrative:

If I hadn’t missed the exit, the storm would’ve started after we passed the rest area, we’d have been stuck on the highway and closer to the accident…

None of this is true, of course. Or at least there’s no way of knowing and it doesn’t really matter; we are home, safe and sound thank God, and that’s that. There was an accident, and I don’t know if anybody died but the license plate of one of the cars with its side bashed in was “ZL” which reminded me of z”l  (abbreviation for the Hebrew that means “May his/her memory be a blessing”). This gave me chills and I hope everyone is ok and will never know beyond what I found on Twitter:

Mass State Police ‏@MassStatePolice 5h  5 hours ago
Rte 90 WB crash involving 2 TT units, 1 possibly jacknived and as many as 7 vehicles total. Update to follow.

Traffic cleared after the site of the accident. We got off near Worcestor to pee (finally!!), and both resisted a very strong but apparently not overwhelming urge to buy a pack of cloves (day #36 for Mani and #27 for me). We got home around 6:30pm.  And then, while I was on the phone with my mom, telling her about our day, I looked out our bedroom window and saw the rainbow I’d been waiting for all day. “Mom, I have to go! I’ll call you back!” I practically hung up on her to run outside.

11822691_10206677177704651_7413266800320080262_n“You are so blessed,” a friend from several of my writing groups wrote in a comment on Facebook. I told her I hadn’t taken it that personally. But maybe it is personal, and the “you” is plural. We are so blessed, to be home safe, to have medical care, family to call, friends to write to and kids to love, faith to rest in and work to feed us body and soul.

No matter the season, the storms can be scary, violent. They come on fast and end as quickly, though during can feel eternal. Rest stops are godsends and near misses leave us shaken and humbled and more connected to loss and human fragility. And the clearings are magnificent, when they come, the rainbow where you can differentiate every single color, stand there on the side porch marveling as it brightens and fades.

And onward we go. So glad to be here. And that you’re here with me, reading, writing, storytelling, breathing, practicing this crazy harrowing beautiful thing called being alive.