World Maps, Drugs in the Trunk, and Life is Happening

20150124_155436-1-1_1_1I’ve been circling the writing wagon for hours now. Mani encouraged me to just sit down and start. Some of your best stuff comes that way, she said.

But I’m drawing such a blank, and the cursor just blinks. I think about the writing prompts I’ve been creating for the online groups, and how I encourage other people to just sit down and start.

This makes me roll my eyes a little at myself.

My own practice is admittedly benefiting from leading the groups; during each two-week session, I participate in the same way as everyone else, and even though I know what the prompts are going to be, what words come still surprise me.

Writing without a prompt, on the other hand, is a bit more like walking up the stairs in the dark and feeling for the top step. Or picking up a glass you think is full that is actually empty and goes flying.

This past week, I felt uneasy some of the time. Off-kilter, but for no specific reason. It reminded me of the feeling you get when you’re driving, and suddenly there are police lights behind you and it’s unclear whether it’s you or someone else being pulled over. In the brief moment between the spike of adrenaline of not knowing and the relief when the cruiser races past your car, have you ever been struck with the irrational fear that there are drugs in your trunk that you don’t know about? That’s the sensation I had last week. Like there were drugs in my trunk, but I didn’t put them there. Weird, right?

Today was snow, the kind that made me feel old when I thought, “Now this is how winter is supposed to be!” Today was kids–both of them–suited up and tromped outside, making angels and seeing who could face-plant longer and pulling the cutie-pie two-year-old from next door around in a plastic green sled, and Aviva climbing up on the car and doing snowball target practice against our second-story kitchen windows, and Pearl spending the entire rest of the day at her cousin’s house making an igloo. Today is Aviva having a sleepover with a friend, which is a rare event these days, and makes me happy as her mama.

Today, I made a list on the typewriter of Things I Want to Do With Mani, then cut up an old world map from the storage room at work (since it said “Soviet Union,” I couldn’t imagine we were ever going to make official use of it there, and took it home), and played with a glue stick and scissors and cardboard from a Costco-sized box of the gummies Pearl likes so much, and the alphabet stamps and blue ink I got in December to make Hanukkah gift certificates. It was relaxing, to do something that a) didn’t involve a screen and b) meant sitting on the floor surrounded by papers and guided by intuition.

What I wrote up writing, along the left side of my collage was this:

When you can’t go to the world, the world will come to you (trust life).

No drugs, no trunk. No worries, for once. Just a quiet snowy day and a little prayer answered, the one I spoke under my breath walking home alone from the farm this morning, for ease.

Ease. The world. The map. When I was a teenager, I had maps all over my bedroom walls, along with feminist bumper stickers and Bowie posters and poems. There are so, so many places I want to go. A couple of weeks ago, the girls and I met up with their dad at town hall, to submit their passport applications (Aviva has been invited to go see Taylor Swift (OMG) in Montreal this summer with her BFF from Burlington). I had to dig around for my passport, and noticed that it expires this April. The last time I used it was… let me think… 2005? Can that be? And Mani does not have one; she has only traveled outside of the United States to Canada and Tijuana, but before 9/11 when you could cross those borders sans passport.

At this moment in our lives, it is unlikely we will be going abroad anytime soon. As I type this, she is eating (yet another) bowl of rice, and pinning delectable dishes to her many Pinterest food boards, an exercise less in self-torture and more in making the reality of her current dietary limitations tolerable, reminding herself that she LOVES food and flavor. She has been watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” show, where he travels to places as varied as Brittany and Laos and Maine, to eat and hang out with the people who cook and eat and share a love of good food.

All of this could make our world feel pretty small these days. And at the same time, it reminds me that the world is, in fact, quite big. And there are reasons beyond our knowing for why things are the way they are, why we are here, in Amherst, at a time that she has finally been diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Disorder. It’s not something either of us had even heard of until a couple of months ago. It’s sometimes referred to as an “imitation disease,” since its symptoms can present as so many other diagnoses. And I’m not going to sugar-coat–it sucks. But what sucked more was her being sick, losing weight, reacting, even anaphylactically, to things she wasn’t necessarily “allergic” to, having heart palpitations and dizziness and fatigue for months–and not knowing why.

Knowledge is power. It is the beginning of her getting well. Looking at the map today, while not the same as planning a trip or boarding a plane, was touching that part of me that longs to travel and believes that we will. Listening to Aviva and her friend eat oreos in the kitchen–this is good, for a preadolescent kid who insists that just about everything (weekends, summers, life outside of school) is “not a social activity.” Pearl calling to say she wants to spend the night at her cousin’s house–good. The row of books on the ledge of the window seat, the fact that I can move through moments, hours, days even, of unease, and come back to trusting life–not just saying the words but finding that place inside of myself that wants to be here for the unfolding of it.

And what is it I’m writing? What stops me–when I sit down to write with no prompt, without inspiration even, with no idea what to say, only that vague feeling that I’m forgetting important things, things that surely occurred to me throughout the week and were gone as quickly as they appeared, that fleeting fear that there are drugs in the trunk and I didn’t put them there but shit, is that siren for me?–is the need to know.

Without that need, the words can just flow. Unedited. I parade that word around and when push comes to practice, damn, it can be hard. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it for no reason other than to come here and say: Not perfect. Not crafted. Not knock-it-out-of-the-park, not deeply insightful or particularly interesting even, just the steam valve of words that keeps the lid from exploding off the pot, like it did the other night when the water for Mani’s rice came to a boil, making me jump.

Life is happening. I don’t have to go out looking for it, nor am I committing some inadvertent illegal activity, even though I might be, well, speeding just a little. There are no illicit substances in the trunk, and there is no need to ruminate over things shared with pure intentions, and no terrible thing is lurking at the top of the stairs, and the glass may be full or empty–it doesn’t matter which, really, as long as you lift it with a little care.

That’s all I got. Enough or not.

dancing with resistance

10917398_10205088881238232_3198115805177246503_nI’m all two left feet
never learned the steps
incorrigibly uncoordinated
I want to blame my dance
partner
for this clumsy lack
of grace but she smiles
down at me
my head reaches maybe
her shoulder
she leans down
pulls the hair back away
from my ear
whispers so the others
won’t hear
and there will be no shame
Put your feet on mine
I follow this one instruction
just for a moment a child
willing not to know
the next step
I look down and she lifts
my chin so that our eyes
are dancing together
and then there is gliding
across the simple floor
an arm around my waist
a twirl even
a taste of freedom
makes me brave enough
to let go of her
and swoop around alone
dancing now not with anyone
or anything but my own
two legs, heart beating
loudly following the beat
of a drum of a bass
of a riff I didn’t know
I could give myself to
until now
the child becomes a woman
grown able to trust
the way her, my, body wants
to move
and suddenly resistance
has vanished become the dance
itself and I, I am both
watcher and partner,
dancer and standing still
marveling that such a thing
could happen and I could call
it my own

**

Join me in February or March to practice your own dance steps. Ten minutes a day is all it takes. Register here.

Write. Practice. Be good to yourself. 

A Week in the Life, Yo

10550858_10205068249962463_7406154665587025917_nSwimming at the Hampshire pool with Aviva and Pearl. V asking me if we could do “dolphin,” and all of us floating with little foam wings snapped around our waists. Hearing her say, “This is really nice, actually.” Warming up in the sauna together, and Pearlie asking me how much hair a person can have on their body. Glimpses into her mind. The excitement of snacks from the vending machine. The irresistibility, for me, of climbing. Pearlie snapping my picture.

Mani waking up today and feeling lighter, better. Trusting that each good day is a reinforcement of healing.

10930181_10153145834481874_5795489697805931402_nPearl’s Cockney accent. How she asked who David Bowie was when I handed her the “Changes” CD to use as a straight edge for her math homework when we couldn’t find a ruler. Telling her that yes, he is still alive, and guess what? Today (yesterday, now) is his birthday, and why do I know these things? Because I loved him. Like you had posters all over your room? Yes, like that. Carrying her upside down to her room.

Sharing an online space for two weeks this month with twelve women whose willingness to write, to share, to practice, and to take risks is teaching me so much. Unlocking and awakening something in me that needs attention, that has so much to give, that does not want to be stifled or shut down. The gratitude I feel, that I get to do this. They people have chosen to spend time and money to play together in this way, with me. Wow.

Looking out the window at a morning snowstorm. Marveling at the fact that deep beneath the frozen ground lie dormant wildflowers and crocus bulbs and complex root systems. How knowing this clears away the need to control things.

10013920_10205032862197791_7187146794454944558_nThe space heater in my office, and the warm scarf around my neck, and the hot coffee in a paper cup on my desk.

My brand-new-to-me vintage Royal typewriter. It’s green. Mani gave it to me for my 41st birthday, which is next Wednesday. The way she pays attention. The way she loves me not even, but especially, on my hardest days.

Compassion. For the one who cries at the drop of a hat. For the one I don’t even know whose daughter is in intensive care. For the one who slid off the road this morning. For the one who is afraid of judgment. For the one who feels like her life is happening to her. For the one who has to feel worse before she feels better. For the one who hides. For the one who waits for the next sign of being good enough.

Five things in the car every morning. We take turns. Drive past the open field, no sun today, just snow and bluster, turning my eyes to the east. And at the end of the day, looking west. Bookends, holding together what would spin into chaos without the beginning and the end.

The first-year student I met with this morning, who said that all the white outside is like a blank canvas. How she was wearing Doc Martens with neon pink, green, and yellow shoelaces, and a black turtleneck with horizontal white stripes, her bleached hair growing out at the roots and pulled up into two little curly ponytails on either side of her head, and her sweater a riot of colors, and how somehow all of this mismatch and brightness made me happy.

The news that the cancer is slow-growing, and they can take a vacation and get some rest and sun before the surgery.

Expecting a letter from Mexico. Looking forward to getting mail that isn’t a bill or a random catalog. Handwritten.

The way Pearl stopped fussing about what I had made for dinner on Wednesday, after I told her I’d stayed up till 10:30 the night before cooking. Not to make her feel guilty, but to be honest, to show her that there is effort and care behind things. How she apologized then, and sat down to eat, even if it was too spicy and not her favorite thing.

10407390_10205073429091938_3909855205359005688_nAviva startling me in the kitchen while I was doing dishes. And suddenly not an inch shorter than me, her cheeks still rosy from sleep. Sipping coffee. “Tween” may not be a real word, but being in-between is definitely a real state, new to us both. Remembering to be patient. Popping into her room-cave to say hi without having to point out a single thing she could or should do. It smells like old socks! Hang up your towels! 

How watching “Breaking Bad” has led to the most awesome and absurd texts between me, Mani, and my oldest sister. A week in the life, yo.

So many moments, more of them happy than I realized until I started writing today. Which is exactly why I keep showing up.

I’m grateful. And wishing you all Shabbat Shalom.

My New Year’s Revolution

6f840d50616f78b13712aa193489ac71On Thursday, Pearl and I decided to jump into Puffer’s Pond. It seemed like a good thing to do on New Year’s Day, to us anyway (Mani and Aviva both opted to stay home).

We put on bathing suits and cozy, easy-to-pull-on clothes, and gathered up towels and a few blankets. She wore my old down coat, the one sitting in the Goodwill pile. And off we went to North Amherst. We had it all planned out–I would go first while she took pictures, and then she’d go while I took pictures, and then we’d both run to the car as fast as humanly possible.

Problem was, we got to the “beach” (if you’ve been to Puffer’s you’ll appreciate the quotation marks), and the water was covered with ice. It was thick enough to hold her weight, though I wouldn’t let her walk too far out since some spots looked a little watery. Thwarted! We drove a little ways up, to see if we could find a different spot in the river on the other side of the road, but the one place that looked perfect didn’t have easy enough access to the car and we didn’t want to risk getting too cold afterwards.

And so we went home, a little bummed–Pearl especially, since a good friend of hers and his family jumps into the ocean every winter and she wanted to be able to say she’d done something like that, too. She even suggested we drive to the ocean, but it was already noon and I was not up for a six-hour expedition. She said she’d go another time with her dad. “It’s my new year’s revolution,” she declared.

We got home and I told Mani about the ice. There was nothing we could do about it. I was glad we’d tried. I wanted to start the year by doing something that would make me hoot and holler and burn and tingle with aliveness–but I figured the intention, I told her as I changed back into regular clothes, still counted.

Unlike the ice, the naturally occurring thing that interfered with our awesome plan, I don’t always take the unexpected, seemingly obstructive parts of life in such great stride. And yet, even in the writing of that, I see what’s so plainly obvious: the perception of obstacles in the first place, and how I relate to them. More often than not, the only thing standing between us and what we want is our way of seeing, be it the illusive goal or the phantom goalie.

Squint a little, and the whole picture changes. Spin it, and the story changes, the pointer heading in a whole new direction. Suddenly the ice is a rink with no players, just wide open terrain where all we have to do is try stuff. Step out the front door.

Pearl asked me in the car if maybe she could just tell her friends we did it. “But we didn’t,” I said.

I get where she was coming from–I’d like to tell you that we did it anyway, too. That we hauled some big rocks from the woods and smashed the ice and didn’t let anything stand in our way. But it wouldn’t be true. And the truth is, the story is good enough. The outing was fun, just sharing the willingness to do something crazy with my adventurous eight-year old–what better way to begin a new year?

Maybe the things we think are standing in our way are saving us in some way we can’t see or even imagine. Walls that turn into doorways when we squint, or dream, or allow ourselves to see what isn’t there, or what has been there all along. Maybe what sounds like freezing rain is a soundtrack to the scene in the movie where the person is running through the airport in the nick of time, having almost made a terrible mistake, all slow-motion and soaring.

But who DOES that? More likely, the freezing rain is just that, and it’s keeping me inside tonight, safe off the roads where surely my little all-wheel drive tires would slip and slide and get stuck somewhere.

A friend came over for dinner tonight, a wonderful poet who has been in AA for decades. I told him that I’ve been dwelling on the Serenity Prayer the past few days, and how I can feel it shifting something for me in terms of how I hold or release tension about the things I can’t change.

What I didn’t mention is that I realized, in talking to Mani on New Year’s Day after my outing with Pearlie, that I sometimes go into victim mode. When life isn’t what I expected or imagined, it’s easy to fall asleep focusing on the 99 problems instead of the one amazing fact that I AM ALIVE.

Did you know that something like 70% of our thoughts everyday are negative? Daaaaaamn.

It can be easier to hang out where things aren’t quite right than to take responsibility. To live this way–all woe-is-me–is to see walls where there are doors. Is to see ice where there is a bright-eyed child standing at your side, happy to be sharing your company in the cold. It is to create distance where there could be intimacy, to hold tension where there could be a soft belly and an open throat. It is to wish, and not in the wishing-well, I-wish-you-well sense, but in the missing everything because you’re so busy fretting and regretting sense.

Yesterday, the girls were bickering about something. I could feel my reaction climbing up from my belly to my mouth, where it would’ve shot out like a thorny vine to strangle them both. But instead, I walked out of the room and into the kitchen, where I clasped my thumbs and pointer fingers together in a faux mudra, saying something about the lotus blossom opening in my root chakra. Aaaaaauuuuuuummmmm.

“You know where the lotus blooms, right?” Mani asked.

“In the shit!” I responded, laughing. Of course. It was perfect.

Then Pearl tromped in and asked me if I was done taking my break, and I smiled and said yes, I’m done taking my break.

Right there’s my new year’s revolution, if ever there was one.

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Blooming in the shit. Taking responsibility for what I’m seeing. And laughing about it, definitely laughing about it.

Inventory for the Last Day of the Year

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Alfred Eisenstaedt | Seattle Cedar Lumber Manufacturing, 1939

Some mornings
I take inventory
of everybody I love.
Do you ever do this?
One early bird in the living room
eating Goldfish for breakfast.
One night owl in her room,
don’t dare wake her up.
One ocean girl bundled up
against the bitter cold.
One mother drinking hot tea
at her kitchen table.
One father in a bathrobe
reading the New York Times.
One dancing boy standing
tall at Masada.
One sweet sixteen soaking
at a seaside spa.
One sister sleeping off
a Breaking Bad marathon.
One faraway friend lacing up
for the long run.
One who is grieving her sister,
one who is missing her marriage,
one who is covering her face
with glitter and paint.
One who is wearing a rifle
across her chest.
One who is resting in a hospital
chair after a scary night.
One who is glad to see the sun
rise again.
One who thought the night
was her best friend.
One who needs a haircut
and one who needs a change,
one who changed so much
I don’t even remember
her name.
One who ran with wild horses.
One who read compasses
like books.
One who longed for legs
to tangle and one who wrote
poems instead.
One who came only in a dream
and one who looked
at me and said good morning,
that was just a dream.
One who promised milk and honey.
One who broke the law
and the law won.
One who exceeded all expectation
and one who healed
her own body
through meditation.
One who made it all this way
to the very last day
of the rough housing year
and wrapped a prayer shawl
around her shoulders
because she survived.
One who pried open the locks
to the heart door.
One who left and one who stayed.
One who imagined
everything until she could trace
the patterns in the stars.
One who was careful
with her accounting of names
throwing them all to the sky
before beginning again.

**

Ten minutes a day is all it takes. Write with me in 2015.