The Roar Sessions: Susa Talan

Roar Schmoar
by Susa Talan

unnamedWhat do I know about a roar? I know that a roar doesn’t only come from the mouth of a lion or a large green hulk or a tiny babe. I know that inside me a roar can laugh and lurk and loathe. I know that one roar can cause another, like a domino roar. In matters of social equality, this is the best outcome of a roar. To roar about what matters most and share it with others. Together it becomes a community roar. A march-on-the-streets-hear-us-roar kind of roar.

Sometimes I have a roar like a fight and all it wants to do is punch. Sometimes it’s more like a head-butt looking for a hug. I have a roar that comes out quick and furious. It’s marked by certainty and it likes to feel heard. But if there’s one roar I can count on to roll her terrible eyes and gnash her terrible teeth, it’s the most ancient of roars. Instead of fists, it has wings—it flies like a dragon from out of my past, carrying something old and fearful. It pierces like a dart. It conjures up hurt and belonging and it forgets about time. In the face of certain triggers, it feels like a victim and gets tangled up in shame. It’s my nemesis roar. Yes, I’ve seen it cause harm to others and I’ve seen it cause harm to me, too. It’s the one that cuts me at my knees and squeezes my heart. I’ve spent my life with this roar. We know each other well.

I’ve heard that Tibetans say the mind lives somewhere behind the heart. So they use the words mind and heart interchangeably. Ten years ago some version of this ancient roar took over my heart. It bounced, it trampled, it set up residence. My mind became a house on fire. Wisdom ran out of every door. I was in a lot of pain. More than I could articulate. A thousand roars for a thousand hurts. It took some time, but the fire burned itself out. One roar replaced another. Some roars ceased to be. I learned how to take better care of myself. I learned how to care for my heart-mind.

In the last few years, I’ve seen ashes bring new growth. Wisdom walked back inside my house-mind-heart and my ancient roar has been growing up or out or inward, I’m not sure which. The space that used to roar feels more and more like a canyon or a big night sky. It’s more space than stars. More farmer than foe. A generous “I can hold all this” sort of feel.

It sounds funny to say, but I think there’s more wisdom in my roar. Sure, there’s plenty of present-tense things to still roar about. I can gnash my horrible teeth and roar my horrible roar. But it’s not so horrible or terrible anymore. I’m not hurting myself or others as much. I know what’s coming and don’t feel so blindsided. It arises and passes away with more ease and less resistance. Sad roar. Angry roar. Grief roar. Injustice roar. No-words-just-roar kind of roar. The roar isn’t the problem. It’s how I hold it that matters.

I am reminded that the Buddha gave many teachings on the importance of cultivating wise speech. Throughout all the sutras, speech was given the most attention. Why? Because we speak with so many unconscious habits. We go from thoughts to speech to actions so quickly, and often unwisely, that it’s an easy place to have regret. So if we can cultivate wise speech, why not a wise roar? This kind of roar is timely and useful. It speaks truth and doesn’t exaggerate just to make a point. A wise roar arises from seeing things as they are and knowing when to roar and when to listen. Knowing when to move into action and when to be still.

Feeling the attitude of the roar, seeing it clearly, and inviting it in is the surest way to learn from it. Which is radical. Because it means that instead of acting as the roar, I’m observing it. Not surprisingly, this becomes another way of letting it go. The roar moves in, it moves through. Big scary roar? Nah. Roar schmoar.


12079678_10207709874809106_5203739486311098080_nSusa Talan is a Massachusetts-based artist, writer and author of the book, “Wear Gratitude (Like A Sweater)”  published by Rock Point in 2015. Susa’s line of greeting cards and annual calendar inspire courage, contemplation and joy in people of all ages. Her paper products and illustration work can be found in magazines, bookstores and shops throughout the US.

Susa is also a trained educator, former parent coach and long-time student of yoga and meditation. As a facilitator, she weaves her love of learning, language and art with her deep interest in the mind and nature. Her workshops offer a platform for cultivating creativity and wisdom, as well as awareness and self-care. When not in her studio, she heads outdoors towards open sky. Learn more and say hello at

The Roar Sessions: Vanessa Mártir

My Roar is Relentless
by Vanessa Mártir


Me and my Superman, Juan Carlos, dancing salsa on our last Christmas together in 2012.

It was about a year ago that a pendejo who I don’t really know and have no idea how he got on my FB friends list (as a matter of fact, I don’t even remember said pendejo’s name) responded to a status where I posed the question: what makes a writer? His response was a condescending diatribe, that in order to be a great writer, I was going to have to get over the things that I write about—my grief, my childhood, my being unmothered, the stories that haunt me. He mentioned that though some of what I wrote had made him cry, I had milked it enough.

He insisted that I’d never be a great writer until I got over it, that all great writers have done that. He said I owe this to my readers.

I thought of all the writers I admire, my mentors, the stories they write.

I thought about Chris Abani’s words that first day in workshop in 2010: “You write to take back your power, Vanessa.” I thought about his quote I have up over my desk: “Write from the wound.”

I thought about the intense conversations I’ve had with writer familia, over glasses of bourbon, the chain-smoking and pounding on chests and wooden tables as we dissect our work and that of others.

I thought about how we all write to understand and process and heal and say something.

I thought of Patricia Smith and Elmaz Abinader and Cynthia Oka and David Mura and Staceyann Chin and Mat Johnson and Roxane Gay.

And, finally, I told this dude to shut the fuck up, that he had no idea what he was talking about. Then I proceeded to unfriend and block him.

It was days later, as I was banging away at my keyboard, still seething and processing that I wrote it: “Doesn’t this mothafucka know who I am? I am relentless…” It was there, in the pushing back, in those fuck-that-and-fuck-you moments that I realized that while I was beating myself up over not working on A Dim Capacity for Wings, I had been writing another memoir, and the name of it was Relentless.

When I went to VONA in 2013, I thought A Dim Capacity for Wings was done, but then my brother died on the first day of my residency and his death flipped the book in a way I’m still grappling with. In the greatest grief of my life, I threw myself onto the page, because I didn’t know what else to do with this perpetual feeling of dying. I knew I wanted to be well but I didn’t know how to get there, so I did what I knew: I started chronicling my grief over losing my brother and all the other griefs that grief uncovered.

It is perhaps the greatest misperception of the death of a loved one: that it will end there, that death itself will be the largest blow. No one told me that in the wake of that grief other grief’s would ensue. – Cheryl Strayed, “Heroin/e”

Relentless chronicles my journey through grief, what I learned about love and the world, and how by letting grief kill me, it gave me life, and I became the womyn my brother always said I was—Relentless.


One day, during the last few weeks of my brother’s life, before we got word that he wasn’t going to make it, we were sitting on the window ledge in his room in Weill Cornell Medical Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. We were looking out at the rushing waters of the East River. It was mid-spring and the past few days had been especially rainy so the river was swollen and the current was extra tumultuous. The waves rolled in a rhythm that mirrored my heart. I was already aware on some level that my brother was dying and I think he was too. When I looked over at him, he was staring at me.

“You know there’s always been something about you.” He smiled a toothless smile. His top row of teeth was removed the year before and his dentures sat in a tray on the table next to his bed. I’d find out after he died that he had been using crystal meth for the past two years and I immediately knew that was why his teeth had deteriorated so quickly.

“Even when you were little,” he gestured with his hands to show how little I once was, “when you said you were gonna do something, you always did it. There was no stopping you, sis.” He looked out at the roiling water and across to Roosevelt Island. “It’s why you’ve done so much with your life.” When he turned to look at me, his eyes were moist. “It’s who you are.”


When I think of what roar means to me, I think of the way I live my life and how I write and teach and mother. I think of how many times people told me I shouldn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t. I think of that professor at Columbia University who told me “this isn’t writing” when he handed back a piece I’d written about the neighborhood crackhead Theresa, and how he didn’t have the cojones to look at me when he said it. I think about how that broke me for so long until I took back my power. I think about the many times I’ve taken my power back, in my writing and in my life. Like when I left my daughter’s father and how I knew that the journey to finishing my first book became a journey to leaving him when he told me, “What you think? You think you’re gonna be a writer? You ain’t gonna be shit.” And I think about my mother and how she couldn’t love me because she was so broken, and how at thirteen I left everything and everyone I knew and loved to save my own life. It’s her voice I hear in my head when I’m most afraid and helpless: “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

These days I know how to roar back: “I am Vanessa Martir, carajo! And I am relentless.”


VanessaVanessa Mártir is a NYC-based writer, educator, and mama. She is currently completing her memoir, Relentless, and chronicles her journey on her blog. A five-time VONA/Voices fellow, Vanessa now serves as the organization’s workshop director and newsletter editor. Her essays have appeared in The Butter; Poets & Writers Magazine; Kweli Journal; and the VONA/Voices Anthology, Dismantle, among others. In 2011, Mártir created the Writing Our Lives Workshop, through which she’s led hundreds of writers through the process of writing personal essay.

She has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry (Augustus Publishing, 2007) and The Right Play (unpublished); and she co-wrote Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists (Workman Publishing, 2010).


My Cup Runneth Over

cupThis morning, I wanted to throttle #2.

This afternoon, I wanted to throttle #1.

My DivaCup runneth over (well, it did earlier — in the Junior’s department of Macy’s, no less).

As #1 says: I am not even kidding.

As #2 said last night: Be the big person.

As the rabbi reminded us: Have faith in God, and tie up your camel.

The bat mitzvah program is ready for the printer.

Two Mini Memoir groups are off and running and bringing me to tears already with the stories and the kindness and the courage.

This afternoon, I tried to nap but gave up and got up to eat cold carrot soup instead. And another cider donut.

Just now, I learned about something called a bObsweep and could not believe such a thing exists.

My wife wants an RV and I want to get her one.

If you have a partner and can take a walk with him or her, please do that.

Don’t worry about buying the bObsweep or the RV. Just ask how you can make her day better and do that.

I am not here to give advice.

I don’t even know what I am writing, only that the words are amassing into this thick paragraph I may have to at least break up a little, like a clump of rock candy with a tiny hammer.

There’s something I’m trying to get at. I know what it feels like, but I don’t know its name.

It feels like how it feels at 9:30pm, Saturday night, after a full day. It feels tired and like my kids drove me crazy and I adore them and I made dinner — cheesy eggs with some sautéed veggies thrown in, on tortillas.

At dinner, I said I was thankful that we are family and we don’t hold grudges, and we get to feel forgiveness firsthand.

#1 was thankful for salt. #2 was thankful for wheelboards. I don’t know if that’s two words or one, and it doesn’t matter.

Tonight we read the most beautiful prayers on

Devotion feels like we match in spirit size. It is densely packed and vast and wide open and it fits in my palm, and I can even close my hand around it and know it’s mine and not mine at the same time, this treasure I carry that carries me.

It (and now I am talking of course about love, it always come to this, doesn’t it?) keeps me. It keeps me and carries me and returns me to sanity and says: So what if #2 is still awake past her bedtime, and it’s ok that I was “firm” with #1 earlier, because my version of “firm” would look like a spa day compared to lots of people’s, but still, it’s not easy for me, to be clear and not turn to mush.

It was hard in the moment but later, it was worth it, for her to know that I believe in her enough to hold her to better than what she’d shown up with.

God knows, and so do the people I live with, that I have not shown up with my best always, and I have a damn hard time forgiving myself for even small transgressions.

There’s actually no real alternative to being human, if I’m going to get to be here doing all of this amazing stuff and loving these amazing people.

So, revolutionary bObsweep or not, RV or not (I’m changing that to a “not yet”), I might as well keep getting on board with imperfect and cozying up with the ramble of our days.

I’ll go snuggle up with #2 and say goodnight to #1, then prep my coffee for tomorrow, when I’ll wake and roll over and kiss my woman good morning and say, “Happy first anniversary, baby.”

Suddenly it’s nearly 11:00pm and I had one last throttle-the-both-of-’em moment before the goodnight kisses, because this day just seemed to ask for that kind of ending and we all delivered.

There’s so much we don’t know about each other’s lives. I’m glad for what we do and can and choose to share. And there’s so much more I want to tell you, but my contacts are so dry, I’m squinting. And Mani is curled up in bed and it’s time for me to unplug the twinkle lights and join her. My cup really does runneth over.

Thank god for sleep and sunrise.

See you on the Sunday side.

Image: Psalm 23, ENWilliams on Flickr

So Glad to See You


You and I
are gonna get along
just fine

You and I
are gonna light
each other up

not by comparing
the outside
of the fronts
of the houses

not by comparing
the outside
of the faces

not by comparing
the outside
of the appearances
of the layers
we live
and inside of

not by writing
the best poems
not by good hair days
or great accomplishments
where we thought
we were supposed
to be
by now

not by medals
when real courage
is heart-bound and sourced

No, none of these
gonna be
the reasons
we get along

We gonna get along
because you
told the story
of the night
your daughter
and you waited
it out
with her

and the time
your son grunted
and went from boy
to man in an instant
then came to hug
you though
he towers

and the time
your father was sick
and the time
your mother
just couldn’t

and the time
your baby
and the time
your house burned down
and that
was not a metaphor

We are gonna get along
by assembling
all of these
of memory
and tension
and also bliss
the bliss of when
it’s easy
the bliss of when
we feel remembered

We are gonna
show up
when it’s rough
and show up even harder
for the moments
when we laugh
until we cry

when snake medicine
comes to show you
the night
and hawk
has no time to waste
and there is nothing
we can gain
by looking away
and so
we will look
each other’s eyes

Saying, oh there you are
my old friend
I am so glad to see you
I am so glad
to be here

You and I,
We gonna get along
just fine

The Roar Sessions: Gail Henderson-Belsito

You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar
by Gail Henderson-Belsito

Gail RoarI liked the Katy Perry song, “Roar,” the first time I heard it. I listened to it more than fifty times before I decided to look up the lyrics. Three of the lines I read returned the favor – they read me.

“I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath.”

I grew up in a church where I was expected to bite my tongue and hold my breath. I was never told that in those exact words, but as a female in my church, I would never be invited to be a pastor or an elder or even a deacon. As a child, I was never invited to speak my mind boldly or even shyly in the presence of a group of adults. I remember being shushed when I asked questions or wondered aloud about the concepts we discussed at church. I remember being told that there were certain topics that we didn’t discuss in public.

One night when I was twelve years old, the senior pastor, several elders, and a few other church leaders came to our house, some with their wives, to discuss a disagreement that had arisen between my father and the senior pastor. Unable to resolve it between the two of them, they decided to attempt to settle it with the assistance of other men in the congregation. Arguments ensued. Voices were raised. To my early adolescent mind, this was terribly frightening and unsettling.

My thirteen-year-old brother and I huddled behind the closed door at the end of the hallway where our bedrooms were and listened. I wept tears of deep sorrow. When I reached my limit, I pushed through the door and found myself standing in the presence of a dozen angry adults. All staring at me. Watching me cry. I was so distraught that I couldn’t speak; my bawling rendered me incapable of reminding them of all that they had taught me about love and grace and forgiveness and unity. I couldn’t ask them to explain why they refused to extend or receive mercy towards and from each other. I stood before them brokenhearted, the only sound in the room was that of my sobbing.

Unceremoniously and abruptly, I was ushered by firm hands back down the hallway to my bedroom and warned against further interruption. Silenced again. That night the decision was made that we had to leave that church, the only congregation of Christ followers I had ever known during my short life. My parents asked us children not to talk about the details of that exchange with anyone outside of our family. In actuality, we didn’t talk about it inside our family either. Silenced again.

Not long thereafter, I mentioned it to someone I knew from the church, a teenager in the youth group – he said that if we left the church, he would leave too. Energized by his support of our situation, I made the mistake of mentioning his response at a subsequent family dinner. Silence. An apology for disobeying my parents was demanded.

I learned the intended lesson well: I was silenced yet again. I bit my tongue and held my breath for the next several weeks, months, and years. Church after church. I kept my mouth shut. Or I spoke in hushed tones. Or I shared my opinions and ideas only among the women – because as a woman, I was not welcome to teach adult men in most of the congregations I was part of.

“You held me down, but I got up. Get ready cuz I’ve had enough.”

For more than seven years, I served as the English translator at a Spanish-speaking congregation here in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. I stood on the pulpit next the pastor of that church on Sunday mornings, translating his sermons from Spanish into English in front of a group of beautiful, courageous, hard-working people. Generous people. Loving people. Caring people. From more than ten countries in Central and South America. I loved those folks dearly.

As the years and the sermons rolled past, I became increasingly aware that I disagreed with much of what I was translating. About women and gay people and young people and the government and the Catholic Church and politics. Frequently I would exit the sanctuary hoping and praying that no one in the congregation thought I believed what I had said that morning. When I disagreed especially vehemently with something the pastor said, I simply refused to translate it into English; I would look at him and deliberately shake my head.

Not long after an acutely difficult chapter in my family’s life, during which time not one pastor from my church called my house or came to visit us or pray with us, I had had enough. I decided that it was time to get up, time to get out, time to get on with the work of loving all people and welcoming all people into the fellowship of believers. I knew that I needed a church community that focused on compassion not condemnation, on gentleness and not judgment, on the priesthood of all believers and not the exclusive involvement of only a handful of men.

I thank God that I have found that kind of worshiping community. Not a perfect church, not even close to perfect — but a place where we are encouraged and expected to speak up, where questions are welcomed, and where answers are not always offered and not ever guaranteed. A place where each of the pastors (THE PASTORS!) have openly and frequently stated, “This is what I believe, this is what I have come to understand, but I may be wrong.” Their honesty, their presence, their compassion, their unconditional welcome has created a space for me not only to soar, but also to roar.

I almost declined Jena’s invitation to write something for this Roar series. I almost didn’t tell this story. In the days of reflection before writing all this down, I heard those old voices, the ones that demanded silence and complicity for most of my life, telling me to keep my story to myself. They accused me of mis-remembering, exaggerating, airing “our dirty laundry.” They accused me of being vindictive. They asserted that surely I had done something wrong to deserve the neglect and abandonment my family and I experienced.

The truth is that one pastor did come visit and pray with me here at home – but he was no longer on staff there. In my opinion, he too had been marginalized and silenced, and had decided to find employment elsewhere. As a sign of their love and support during our time of adversity, a group of Latina women from the church brought meals and cleaned our home, more than once. Although we withdrew from that faith community in 2010, I continue to name some of those brave, strong, generous, funny, hospitable, kind women as dear friends.

Once those oppressive and repressive voices were silenced within, I had no choice but to write, to speak, and to roar. No more silence for me. No more trepidation either. No more listening to or obeying those who believe that my gender (or my skin color or my political leanings or my faith practice) is enough to justify voicelessness. No more racing heartbeat and tongue biting in response to cruel jokes or inappropriate comments about women and young adults and the LGBTQIA community and immigrants and people of color and the poor or anyone else. No more.

“I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.”

Two weeks ago, I began seminary study at the Presbyterian seminary here in my hometown. In my first class on my first day, I sat next to a person in transition (FTM). At orientation the day before, I met a woman in a marriage that looks like mine, an African American woman and a man whom our culture mistakenly refers to as white.* Across the circle was a woman who spoke lovingly about her wife and their daughter. I was acutely aware of how each and every one of us was made to feel welcome – even though we gathered a remarkably short distance from both religious and secular spaces where not one of us would be invited or allowed to preach, to teach, or even to speak openly about who we are and how we live our lives. Each of us, all of us arrived two Saturdays ago embodying singular stories of strength and courage and beauty and love and simply being human. We are, all of us, “walking each other home” – as Ram Dass once wrote.

Each of us is discerning the places and ways in which we have been silenced, in which we have bitten our lips and held our breath. We are all champions – even though our life stories are not part of any game that can be won or lost. And we are all getting ready to ROAR!

I am determined to be a champion beside and behind those who, like me, were silenced as children. Those who have been silenced by their immigration status. Those who have been silenced by poverty and lack of educational opportunity. Those who have been silenced by wealth and the pressure to conform to unrealistic standards. Those who do not yet understand who or what has caused them to bite their tongues and hold their breath. I am determined to stand with those who have stood alone for far too long.

Maybe I’m a champion.
Maybe I’m not.
I don’t know.
One thing I do know is this – you’re gonna hear me roar.

* Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, explains the concept of mistakenly believing oneself to be white.


Gail Roar 2Gail Henderson-Belsito was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her B.A. in northwestern Massachusetts and her M.A. in central Connecticut, degrees put to good use during 20+ years of homeschooling her two children. She is now back in school, in seminary, in North Carolina. Gail’s life has not been easy (whose has?), but it has been good.One of her life quests is to spend more time being grateful for all that she has been given – the wonder-filled, the sorrow-filled, and everything in between – than worrying about what she doesn’t have.


The Roar Sessions: L’Shana Tova

mumsThe Roar Sessions is taking a break this week in observance of Rosh Hashanah, and will return next Monday with words from Gail Henderson-Belsito, who began seminary last week.

In the meantime, I offer these words from the Rosh Hashanah post I shared in 2013:

Oneness. The opposite of pizzur ha-nefesh–that scattering of the soul that sneaks up on us when we’re “all over the place” and don’t take time to tap into the center that is always still and knowing. And atonement, which these ten days of reflection move us towards–the honest looking inward and then out at the many faces, all familiar somehow, elderly and innocent, filling the rows, voices filling the space.

Atonement: the at-one-ment that occurs only by taking time to focus on the words, the melodies, the silence between, the meaning of what it is to participate in community and be an individual. Yoga means oneness, too. Unity. We may be scattered, but we are never broken.

And as one of the service leaders offered, ruach–spirit–can replace the word melech–king–because god moves through each and every one of our bodies through breath. It is not some hovering outside force but that which stirs when we sing collectively.

May the coming year bring the scattered pieces together, bring my love to my side, fill the perpetual food drive bins overflowing, that we may all feed the hungry and find comfort in each other’s company.

May I remember to sit in stillness, recall the “magic shin” from the children’s service that can stand for shalom (peace), sheket (quiet), and sh’ma (listening).

May I remember my girls’ wishes for laughter and plane trips and say yes to silliness and togetherness.

May we all recognize the moments when we’re hiding behind screens and put them away.

May we be held inside the rhythms and activities that nourish, offer help before it is asked for and put out own needs aside, and also practice honoring our own needs when not to would be a disservice to ourselves and thus those we love.

May those I’ve wronged forgive me, and may my own armor soften when I hear myself being harsh or judgmental.

We are here to remember, whether we know the words or not. To measure our days in moments of true connection, not distractions.

Oh, settle my soul. May our names be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year, peace and joy ours to create but not cling to, sated by what we have rather than always seeking more, both humbled and sparked by strife to strive for kindness in our words and justice in our doings.


Sharing Because My Inner Critic Cringed

unnamedMy inner critic is having a field day with this one. I wrote it as a freewrite in my current One Story: Ten Facets group, where I’ve spent the past two weeks exploring different aspects of my Jewish identity. It was intended for the eyes of ten readers–not however many may see it here.

It’s disjointed and I should really polish it before even considering sharing it as a blog post. It’s edgy because, well, religion and “cock” in the same post.

And it exposes me a) coveting my neighbor’s pool (at least not the wife!), b) having emotions about as stable lately as the late-summer weather, with all the crazy storms that blow through and leave just as quickly, and c) writing without editing a word.

And this, my friends, is why I share.  It’s not that I put everything out there, all the drek, all the drafts (believe me, most of what I write never sees the light of day), nor that I don’t value discretion or revision.

No, I share because it’s important to me not to get caught up in trying to maintain or cultivate an image of any kind, knowing that absolutely nothing we put on a page or a screen can ever really “capture” life.

I share the writing my inner critic tells me sucks because that’s my practice.

The Thread That Tugs

For a long time the thread that tugged was the idea of becoming a rabbi. The pull to that depth of study and of the belonging there, that sense of calling and purpose. For a long time, the thread that tugged was the one that landed me in tears every time. Tears of belonging and of purpose. And perhaps also of something else. The thread is always something else. The thread I’ve dropped. Then picked up, then dropped again. Has been. This. Sense. Choppy and staccato and unsettled. That I am missing. Something.

In this moment.

It’s interesting, because when I sit down today to write, that’s what tugs. This moment tugs me. My soul is tugging and saying, this. Here. Listen. Close your eyes. Touch your toes. Step away from the computer and stand on the driveway – no, better yet, in the grass. The day has grown cloudy. Last night’s storm was so incredible; wind so strong I thought it could be a hurricane. I kind of love the intensity of that, of the rain that gives us the expression “driving rain.”


Now there is a word people have used to describe me my whole life. And it describes my relationship to Judaism. The thread is intense, though. I don’t know if that holds up. Now I am self-conscious. This isn’t going anywhere. I’m just writing words. It’s ok. I tell myself: It’s ok. Keep writing. It’s always just past the resistance that things open up. And true enough, there’s sensation now, hinting at emotion.

I am sitting looking out the window. Through this bedroom window, at the back of this house we don’t own, I just this week noticed that our neighbors have a pool. We don’t know these neighbors. They have a pool, and the other day I saw a woman, the woman of the house, doing laps. I could see her at the end when she turned directions, through the bushes. I felt like a voyeur and couldn’t look away. I felt envy. I felt with all my might that I wanted to walk over there like a naif to say: Hello, I live next door, may I swim in your pool?

What is the thread and what’s Jewish about it?

Judaism teaches us not what to believe as much as how to live. How to reflect and challenge ourselves and see things clearly and be just and righteous. Not entitled and self-righteous. In other words, like any faith tradition worth its salt, it’s humbling. And instructive.

I want to look at the pool next door and think, how lovely, that I am sitting here writing in my room. My bedroom, my office, my center of gravity. How fucking lovely that I get to be married to a woman who loves me and my intense storms and my cock there I said it and my questions and my humility and my arrogance. All of me. No matter what.

This is the thread. It tugs at me to go further. To go deeper. To stand on the edge.

Photo credit: Murray Schwartz

The Roar Sessions: Katie DiBenedetto

Love Your Life, Own Your Roar
by Katie DiBenedetto

384890_10150429099403988_732877299_n (1)Have you ever suddenly noticed something that has always been? That’s how writing this piece has been for me.

Lately I’ve been reading lots of amazing writing by strong, powerful women sharing stories of how they got to where they are today. They left toxic relationships, found their voice, discovered themselves, ignited their passion.

Interestingly, I don’t relate to any of this.

Which got me thinking: When did I “find” MY roar? When did I first use it? Have I ever lost it? How has my roar served me up to this point? Where did I get it?

And I realized I must have had it from day one, because it’s always been.

I am a quick mover and I don’t need a lot of time to stew in anything. I’ve always had healthy boundaries, put myself first and never made anyone else’s emotional stability my responsibility. I’m not into judgment or guilt or jealousy. I never conformed, hardened, or shut down. I don’t care too much what people think, generally make my own way in the world, and have never made too big a deal out of it.

It didn’t occur to me that I was doing anything “outside of the norm” until I started to notice how other people did things and what a hard time they were always having. They’re generally overcommitted, under supported, and have a hard time reaching out for help or identifying what they need in the first place.

In fifth grade I started faking stomachaches so I could go home from school early. I thought school was a complete waste of time and I could learn and work more efficiently on my own. Eventually, the adults agreed to homeschooling.

When my mom kicked me out of the house at 16, it was devastating. But I had my dad to help me, I got a cute apartment, found a fun job, and knew everything was going to be ok.

I enrolled in college once, went for a few weeks and then promptly dropped all my classes knowing I would not get where I wanted to go on that path. I never felt the need to explain that to anyone.

When I quit my secure, corporate job to attend births as a doula, I just did it. I didn’t make pro/con lists or save some arbitrary amount of money “just in case” or worry about “failure” or wait for “the right timing.” We can’t predict anything. Things are always changing. Failure doesn’t exist in my book. Things either work out, or they don’t. If they don’t, it wasn’t meant to be and it’s on to the next idea. There is no right timing. If you’re inspired, the time is now.

When I got divorced, I just did. I didn’t consult anyone or ask permission or feel badly. It was hard and it hurt and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, but I never doubted that there was more amazing life to live on the other side.

Pregnancy came out of left field, but as the test read positive I already knew what was best for me. That was all that mattered. I didn’t worry what my friends or family would think. They weren’t the ones who were pregnant so it really wasn’t up to them.

When I moved to Seattle and then was promptly repelled by the city, I just went back to Phoenix. I didn’t need to stay in Seattle for six months to prove that I tried. I had nothing to prove and I didn’t feel like I had failed. I knew Seattle wasn’t the place for me. I had a renewed love for Arizona and was excited to start over back home.

A few years ago I stopped shaving my legs. It wasn’t a “statement” or a fuck beauty standards/men/society thing. I just didn’t want to do it anymore so I didn’t. I had a girl ask me how to tell her boyfriend that she wasn’t going to shave anymore. She wasn’t sure she could even do it because of how he would react and what people in general would think of her.

What people will think dictates the lives of most people. That shit runs deep, particularly for women. No wonder most of us have lost our roar.

But it’s never too late to claim your life; the moral of the story here being to just go for it. You’ll never feel ready. If you wait until you feel ready you’ll never do it. Just do it. Put yourself out there, open your heart, take a “risk,” believe everything is going to be ok even if you feel like you’re lying at first. You could train or learn or shadow or prep or practice or plan, but when the shit goes down it’s basically never going to be how you think it’s going to be. So just go for it. Figure it out as you go. Commit to always learning, growing, and changing. Do your best. Be yourself.

Love your life. Own your roar.


10888613_10152675241048565_7783038293204723953_nKatie DiBenedetto writes blogs and books, photographs human placentas, records podcasts, and designs websites. She lives with her adorable boyfriend (and often Airbnb guests) in downtown Phoenix where they make the best kombucha in the world. She can often be found eating mayonnaise out of the jar, soaking in a bath in the middle of the day, binge drinking Earl Grey, and reading Savage Love.

Sometimes all at the same time.


One Thousand Posts of Practice (a Giveaway)


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
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.