Easy Love, Birthday Love

My beautiful wife Mani turns 39 today, and yesterday was our second anniversary. In short, September 27 and 28 are a powerful pair of days in our lives. But the really magical part is that I get to wake up with this woman every single day and lie down next to her every single night. I get to see her during most of the hours between.

She is my rock, my anchor, my protector, and my huntress. She is my found treasure, my ocean, and my still waters run deep. She is a healer, a novelist, a midwife, a mother, a yogini, a serial reader, an artist, a wordsmith, a foodie, a fashionista, a friend, and a force of nature. Together, we are dorks and dreamers and do-ers who recommit daily to each other and ourselves and LIFE, because there is so much to love and our time here is precious. She brings out the best in me, which is to say: My whole self. I pray I do the same for her.

I still marvel that a single comment she left on a blog post I wrote here back in 2009 eventually led to this life we share. The woman has an inner compass like none I’ve ever known, and not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself that I get to be hers.

Here’s to the next 39 years, babe. (And if we want to go all biblical, 39 more after that.) I tried to arrange a date for you with Krishna Das and Dolly Parton, but that will have to wait until your 40th. Bask in knowing that you are loved and celebrated, beyond the beyond!

Silence is Violence

Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church

Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church

This morning, Pearl, Aviva and I went to a “Voices” service at the tiny Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. The theme was “We see something, we are saying something.” Because none of us has answers but we do know that silence is complicity. Silence is violence. It is better not to know but show up than not to know and give up.

It was a privilege to sit in that small sanctuary. We walked over from home, the three of us, a beautiful September morning. We listened to so many voices, indeed. White people. Black people. Young people and older people. People who marched on Washington and felt more hope 50 years ago than they do today. A woman whose great-uncle was shot in the back, running with hands up, by police in the 1920s. A beautiful young woman whose hands were shaking as she spoke of soul-killing racism in what should have been a safe environment. Another young woman read scripture. We listened. An incredible poem that left me breathless, read by a man whose name I wished I had asked before we left, that began, “If they had told me, I would have stayed an angel.” “I wrote this five shootings ago,” he began. Because it’s like that now. And it has been like that all along, but now there are cameras and the world might finally be watching.

America is in deep trouble. I hesitate to write this because it seems so downright obvious as to be pointless. But to not keep calling it out is to throw ourselves into the abyss of the space between the America we learned in school — the one where pilgrims and Native Americans joined hands at the table, slavery ended, the Civil Rights Movement brought equal rights, and we don’t see color — and the real one, the one where 43% of the American electorate wants to elect as president an ignorant, racist demagogue who incites violence against women, people of color, Muslims, LGBT Americans, intellectuals, activists, immigrants, and the working poor.

After an hour or more of listening, Aviva took the mic. She spoke from the heart about the privilege of taking “a break” from the news. I watched Pearl turn around in the pew to see those sitting behind us, and then around again, to listen to the choir sing “Senzenina,” a South African protest songs in Xhosa/Zulu:

What have we done?
Our sin is that we are black?
Our sin is the truth
They are killing us
Let Africa return

We don’t have to know the words. We don’t have to know the answers. It feels like there are none, and it can feel like speaking is futile in the face of one murder after another. But to not speak is its own violence. And this is ours to figure out. This is ours to fix.

When I did speak briefly, it was as a mother and as a Jew, as a gay woman, and most of all as a a white woman who knows in my bones these words James Baldwin wrote to Angela Davis in 1970: “For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night. Therefore: peace.”

We may not be in Tulsa or in Charlotte, but right here, right here in Amherst — and there where you are reading this, Black Lives Matter and white people need to keep standing up. My voice might shake, but this is not about me. This is about justice.

No justice, no peace.

Dive Into Poetry + Support Color of Change

butterflySitting at my desk this morning, taking a deep breath, and turning my attention fully to the words I’m writing to you. It’s a miracle, to sit here not knowing what I will say — and that with the push of a button, whatever comes will land on your screen. I say “miracle” knowing that it’s a loaded word, a word that’s easy to say but difficult to reckon with in the face of so much personal and political pain.

And still a world begins its furious erasure—

Who do you think you are, saying I to me?

You nothing.

You nobody.

You.

– Claudia Rankine, from “Citizen: An American Lyric”

I pause to look out the window and there he is, the hawk who flies over our house every morning right about this time. On November 19, I’m getting a red-tailed hawk feather inked on my left arm — it is a symbol of my devotion to my wife, and by extension, to my life — a life of truth and beauty, of voice and silence, of dark and light. A life of poetry and play and of fight and fierce determination. A life of white privilege and a call to justice deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. A life of it-gets-better and never-give-up. A life I feel blessed to get to share with you, through the powerful double helix of of showing up and letting the words come out.

We call this “writing,” and writing it is. It is also a vehicle for so many other life-changing byproducts. Writing might be the path that leads you back home to your own heart, or it might the way you find your voice out in the world. For me, these two are and always have been one and the same. What was missing for so long was company along the way, and now here you are. Here we are.

But that doesn’t “just” happen. When I put something out there and you say yes, when you write something and share it and I read it and witness your words, we are creating ripples in our own day, ripples that extend to the people first closest to us and then, because we are all interconnected, further out into the world.

“The most powerful force in the universe is an agreement between two people.” – Marianne Williamson, from A Course in Miracles

According to the Butterfly Effect, a tiny, barely measurable air disturbance from the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in China can ultimately result in a hurricane in Florida or prevent a tornado off the Indonesian coast. Apparently I’ve been pondering this for a long time; it was the topic of one of my earliest blog posts.

Since April, roughly 150 people have participated in the quarterly Dive Into Poetry party, an experience more than a few folks have called “life-changing.” For an entire month, you get three poems per week by yours truly in your inbox. You have the option of simply enjoying the poems and images as meditations or inspiration for writing privately, or to accept a spacious, standing invitation to play inside a supportive Facebook group. It’s low-stakes, high-touch, and inexpensive: Just $28 for the month.

As I look forward to the third quarterly Dive, I find I must do more. I must use my voice and work to affect change. Black people are being murdered and as a white person, it is my responsibility to do something about it.

That’s why between now and October 1, for every person who signs up for October’s Dive Into Poetry, I will donate $5 to Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.

Color of Change mission statement:

We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over one million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.

If you want more poetry in your life AND want a part of “championing solutions for social change [and] making society less hostile and more human for Black people in America,” sign up for Dive Into Poetry today and $5 of your registration will go directly to Color of Change.

Let’s raise and donate $500 by October 1.

That means 100 people signing up for a month of poems in your inbox. Because we have to change this. We have to fix this. And just like with the writing: Everything counts. Just as poetry is not for “real” poets, change is not for other people to make happen — and if we’re not audacious, who will be?

As a white woman, it is my responsibility to speak up, to listen to people of color, and to take action whenever and wherever I can. By joining me this October, we are making a powerful agreement — to acknowledge the impact of our personal choices and priorities — and how even, sometimes especially, the smallest of these either contribute to or dismantle systemic racism.

I hope you’ll join me. Because even if you are busy, even if you don’t want to be in a group — who doesn’t have time to read a poem three days a week, to pause, to look inward, or up, or around with new eyes?

p.s. I decided to “grandfather” in those who already registered, so we are already up to $84 towards the $500 goal.

Severing

axSevering. Cutting the cord. Boundaries. Mother’s milk. Hand on my back. Opening my mouth. Cord snaking out, sticky and thick and unending, an infinite belly coil I keep pulling on, years and years and a recurring dream of not being able to cut it — the more I try, the more it becomes something like glue, impossible and uncooperative, stretching from and gumming up the sharp blade. I am trying too hard, I am waking up sweating and tired of being sorry, I am scrambling on eroding ground, watching it crumble. And then, later, walking — I am walking down and then up a hill, feet on earth, voice out loud, begin here, and here, and this is enough for today I tell myself, until later, so much later in the car the throat constricts and chest crushes and suddenly I’m sobbing and remembering this dream after so long a reprieve, and it smells like the teen spirit I swallowed and spit out, it sounds like all the horses running towards me at once, it feels like crowded, hands in front of me, palms facing out in a gesture of give me space, please I need space. And I am aware in this moment of the impulse to rush through the feelings, the way sometimes you want to rush to climax and the rushing runs interference with the desired outcome which is to say what it is about, when really this experience, these feelings in the body are not about — they are not linear or narrative or logical or cognitive, no, they are storms, they are electricity and power surges and powerlessness and where where is the ground, where is the voice, what do I want, who am I, where was I, what am I afraid of losing, what was lost already so many times over and can’t be retrieved? There will be no words until I can give this its full expression, give over to it, give into the walls closing in knowing that when they fall I will be standing here solid under sky without explanation or proof of purchase. All of this is to say the severing dream came back to me, floated into my mind casually, like, no big deal, just coming to say hello, it’s been so long how are you? Why are you here, I asked, and the dream — though I was awake now, and driving — said, to tell you what I was about all those years. And now I am a baby and the cord is cut and I am on my own but held and loved and now I am an adult and I am on my own holding my own and loved in new ways, chosen ways, ways that remind me to be a big girl now, a grown woman, strong enough to know that I don’t have to put myself through the same thing over and over that is so long ago now done and gone.

Use your voice, love your way, and don’t be afraid, love. Don’t be afraid.

Eleven Things I Learned in Physical Therapy That Relate to Writing + Life

childs-poseI started physical therapy last week for the first time ever. It’s probably long overdue; I’ve had some lower back stiffness and pain on and off for nearly a year now. My first appointment with a kind woman named Rebecca resulted in a little worksheet with drawings of a person lying on their back — single knee to chest stretch, double knee to chest stretch, isometric abdominal exercise for core stability.

Today, I went back for the second time. For 45 minutes, I enjoyed the novelty of focusing on a single thing: My lower back. I could practically hear my body thanking me for listening. I made some mental notes during our session. Now it’s later, and I’m sitting here in the yellow chair that is probably not great for my back, the sun streaming in through south-facing windows warm on my hands over the keyboard.

Here’s what I learned today during physical therapy, that I’m pretty sure I can apply to writing and life.

1. Be honest.

Rebecca: How’d it go this week? 
Me: Well [looking down]… I didn’t really do my homework.
R: Thanks for telling me.
Me: Reminds me of writing, or anything, I guess. It’s easy to make excuses, when really, I just didn’t do the exercises.
R: Well, let’s get started and see how today goes.
Me: Great.

That was it. She asked, I told her. And now? We added a few things, and it’s up to me to decide how important this is to me and what will help me commit. Lying about what I did or didn’t do is certainly not going to alleviate my pain.

2. Pay attention and slow down.

Rebecca: You might want to hold each of these stretches for about 30 seconds.
Me: Wow, that makes me realize how fast I’m usually going.
Rebecca: Exactly.

The sensations and movements, like the learning itself, are so subtle sometimes you could miss them altogether if you rush through. Awareness of what’s happening requires slowing down — something that comes as a revelation all over again.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had on Sunday; at one point, I asked a question and then launched into a story, only pausing when the person I’d asked pointed out that I had said I wanted to hear her thoughts. I wasn’t paying attention. This doesn’t have to mean I was too much, it just means “push pause.” Undoing shame around this is a practice itself.

3. A little is more than nothing.

Me: I always tell the people in my writing groups that some words are more than no words.
Rebecca: Right. It’s like that here, too. Some movement is more than no movement. 

Will I do ALL of the exercises today and tomorrow, before my next appointment on Thursday? I don’t know yet. But I will do some. And that will more than before, which was none. Enough said. More words is more than no words. Five seconds is more than no seconds. Seriously, it is that simple.

4. Most things don’t happen suddenly.

As we were talking about various yoga poses this morning, I flashed on classes I took as long as 15 years ago, when I would avoid certain back bends or find myself seeking relief in child’s pose. Why? My lower back ached. I also remembered feeling that same ache after a long day of walking in NYC or Boston — as a teenager.

In other words, it suddenly became clear to me that no single injury, incident, or accident had landed me in Rebecca’s PT office.

My natural (hyper-extended) posture + two pregnancies + running + not much core strength + time = pain that had finally become chronic enough not to ignore.

How bad does something have to get before it warrants your time and attention?

5. It’s nice to have help.

Oh, it felt so good to lie on the table, even on top of that paper covering that gets all creased and makes that papery sound. To let her bend my leg, her hands on my knee and heel respectively, yielding completely to the movement she initiated. It felt good to be learning useful things.

It felt good to be doing something about something that hasn’t been working — and to have some guidance about how to do this safely and effectively in ways I could take home.

It felt good to have help.

6. You can’t know in advance.

My hope, of course, is that working with a physical therapist and learning what I can do on my own will pay off with pain relief and greater strength. It’s likely that I’ll get out of it what I put into it.

This reminds me of something Krishna Das said at the Kirtan we went to last weekend:

“We want to know what chanting will do — to us, for us — before we chant. And there’s no way to know. You can only begin and, in his words “keep singing.”

It is so simple as to be obvious that this applies to not just chanting, but… everything. No matter how many people before you have walked a given path, there is no precedent, ever, for your own lived experience. The deeper you go, the more your own body and mind and heart and choice and voice may surprise you.

And the fact remains: There’s no way to know in advance how it will go or what it will “do” for me, no matter what “it” is.

I don’t always have the most disciplined track record. When did I stop stretching? I asked Rebecca at one point (as if she’d be able to tell me). But what I didn’t do doesn’t matter. And while there’s no predicting how this will go, I’ve signed up to give it a shot and see what happens. My job is to keep singing, er, stretching.

7. no one else can do it for you.

Unless you live in some kind of cool sci-fi world where people have actual body-doubles, there’s no surrogate for you. I am the only one who can take  the time today — five or ten minutes at a pop, say — to take care of my body. Nobody else is going to do it, nor could they even if they offered.

Whether it’s on the yoga mat or the blank page, there’s no substitute for the ordinary yet radical act of showing up.

8. change happens. so does inertia.

If I go to physical therapy and do my homework, I may see changes in my body. My hope — my expectation — is that these will be positive changes. Improvement. I’ve defined this as less pain, more mobility, and greater strength and endurance.

If I don’t go to physical therapy, or I go but don’t do jack shit at home, I may also see changes in my body. My guess is that things will at worst, worsen, and at best, continue to go the way they’ve been going — a little something we call inertia.

In this case — where there is actual pain — I am essentially inviting more pain but doing nothing. The changes that will happen may be negative; they will hurt, they will limit me in some ways, and I will have to adjust other things in my life around that.

Inertia is not an inherently good or bad thing, but it is a thing. And it is, to some degree, a choice. 

9. don’t wait.

If you’re hurting — whether it’s your body, your heart, or your mind that hurts — don’t ignore yourself. I say this knowing full well how easy it is to put stuff off, to say we don’t have time. In fact, I said that to Mani last week — on my way to PT, no less! I believe our exact dialogue went like this:

Me: I don’t have time for PT. 
Her: You don’t have time for not PT.

(Wise, that one, isn’t she?)

If you don’t know where to start, start right where you are. Write something down. Make a list of symptoms, whether they’re physical or emotional, specific or vague. Tell a friend, cast a line, or make the call.

10. trust yourself.

Always. Both with doctors and teachers, I’ve had experiences when I pushed aside my own experience and deferred to the “expert.” Every time I’ve done this, it caught up with me. I “paid” for not listening to my body or not taking my own instincts seriously. Just because someone has professional training does not mean they know more about you than you do.

At the end of the day, only we can know what it feels like in there. (May we encounter practitioners who value and respect this dance.)

11. the world needs us whole.

We can do so much more from each other when we’re tending to our own pain rather than lobbing it at each other or hobbling around hurting and unable to deal.

**

These insights may not be life-changing or new. But more and more, I find that it’s revisiting the small things that makes for big changes in my life — all of it, the loving, the working, the writing, the having a body thing. One knee lift and one word, at a time.