B+W

The Privileges and Perils of Snowdays

Pearl wanted to spend the snow day playing over at his dad’s community, and since it was early in the storm, I agreed to bring him over there this morning (knowing that he may end up staying the night). We drove through campus at about 10 miles per hour — counting cars along the way (fewer than a dozen over three miles).

We talked about who gets the day off and who doesn’t, what work places are closed and which aren’t, whether businesses and companies necessarily put their employees’ safety first, and the fact that for people who are paid by the hour — as opposed to receiving a salary — a day like this can mean simply no money coming in.

The weather itself takes me back to my early childhood in Buffalo, New York; this is how I remember winter: swirling, grey, gusty, white, deep, powder, trudge, snowpants, sledding, fun. And I’m happy for all the happy kiddos who get to enjoy that today.

I’m also aware that for many folks, with or without children, extreme weather can be hugely stressful and sometimes dangerous.

I just read a Facebook status that someone’s husband had no choice but to drive to work — from a rural area, no less — lest he lose his temp job.

Another local friend shared a photo in which he seemed to be wearing every item of clothing he owned, as his building was without heat.

Frozen pipes, power outages, elderly folks who live alone, homeless shelters at capacity… I sit here in my apartment watching the chaotic conditions outside the windows, at once thankful for warmth, physical safety, and sustenance and also acutely aware that the growing intensity of storms in every season means loss, instability, and dangerous conditions locally and globally alike.

Sometimes I do wonder what the point is of reflecting on this stuff if I’m not actively offering solutions. It’s one reason I’ve stopped sharing as many news stories; you all know where and how to find them, and my clicking “share” willy-nilly isn’t going to change a thing when it comes to the latest tweet or injustice.

But who am I if I don’t reflect, if I don’t try to make sure my own kids are aware of the greater impact and implications of something as seemingly simple and even fun as a snow day?

And so it comes down to what I perceive as a moral responsibility for anyone living in relative comfort, with the privilege of employment that can withstand the weather and a warm place in which to ride out the storm: To stay awake to the inequities among us, to stay compassionate towards those more vulnerable to the elements, and to identify even small measures we can and must take to support and see each other through.

B+W

Big Y, Tuesday at 9:00pm

I went to replace a gallon of bad milk and return a bag of mealy peaches, plus we needed potatoes. The cashier, who couldn’t have been older than 16, admired my tattoo and asked me first what the Hebrew meant and then what *that* meant to me.

I told him “Aya” means hawk and is one of my wife’s Hebrew names. He went on to tell me that he’d have to think long and hard about getting ink, and I told him that had been the case for me, too. Then I asked if he had any ideas.

“Well,” he said, “I had a brother who I never met because he was strangled by his umbilical cord, so I always thought maybe I’d do something about that.”

“Did he have a name?” I asked. “BJ,” he told me. “My parents just called him BJ.”

Then the bagger, also of high-school age, chimed in. She gestured to her back and told us about the Banksy image she imagined spreading across her left shoulder blade– the butterfly girl. “Suicide has been a big part of my life the last few years,” she said. “And I’m a writer so I love defiance and symbolism.”

When I mentioned that I was also a writer, she brightened and told me she is a published poet and takes workshops with a local group for teen writers. She looked so proud.

I left the store with milk, potatoes, and a reminder that all of us carry so many stories, whether they’re visible to the outside world or not.

B+W

Mindfulness, Mad Milk, and Running Low on Dream

I look around the room, as if it’s going to tell me what to write. The dryer is spinning in the small pantry attached to our kitchen; my back is to the fridge and I’m facing a wall that’s painted a southwestern red, with lots of irregularities beneath the paint. To my left, my calendar sits open, with appointments scattered throughout the days in three different colors of pen — not by design but as a result of whether black, blue, or purple was closest by at any given moment. Just beyond that is a 90-page manuscript I’ve had the privilege of reading twice now, once last fall and a revised copy just recently; I have a call with the author in a couple of weeks to discuss her edits. To my right is my unlined notebook, the kind with the blue cover that I replace every couple of months at Hastings, the local stationery store that special orders them. The face-up page is divided into boxes — six for various writing groups and a couple more for other to-dos. Mani just informed me that the milk is bad and we’re almost out of cream — though with typos before I just fixed them, that read “the milk is mad and we’re almost out of dream,” which one could argue is how some poems and new ideas are born.

I used to blog this way, a long time ago. I’d sit down and just write. Sure, sometimes I’d have a thing I wanted to write about — a moment or collection of moments from my day that were swirling around my head, seeking some semblance of synthesis and accidental alliteration. These days, not so much. Maybe it’s because I do so many short freewrites in my groups, or frequently write little bits on Facebook; these are definitely factors. I could say it’s because I’m busy, but HAHAHAHA. When wasn’t that true and who among us couldn’t claim as much? Really, it’s not useful. Just say you chose not to make time write; there is always ten minutes, especially if you are willing to write something that may not amount to anything.

Today was a day of adulting: Parent-teacher conferences, conversations with my kids’ dad about various kid things, when the separateness of our parenting collides with the “co” part of it to which we’re both committed. Pulling together tax-related documents for a state audit notice that came in yesterday’s mail. I even walked to town to the copy store before remembering that our printer doubles as a copy machine! Um. Brain?

Around 3:45pm, I crawled under the cozy covers for a short nap. After thinking I would never fall asleep, I must have crashed hard, because when the alarm sounded, not only was I in a deep sleep, but I also had that strange sensation of time have shifted somehow, as if the earlier part of the day was long ago, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. I noticed my mind doing some obsessive-leaning theatrics reminiscent of some of my most reptilian tendencies, and managed to share with Mani some of my thoughts as a way of not letting them work me up or take m down.

Then I got up and confronted the kitchen sink, which over the course of the day’s meals had piled high with dishes, a daily result of not having a dishwasher + neither of us leaving the house for work. I sudsed up a sponge and adjusted the water temperature to where it was just hot enough not to scald my bare hands, and washed. Dish by dish, just like Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Peace Is Every Step, the very first book about mindfulness I ever encountered and read, back in my senior year of college. That was 22 years ago. I am very much still practicing and very much still failing and very much still growing and very much still human and alive — all of which is ultimate very, very good news. I’m alive!

And oh man. Life, yo. It keeps being interesting, that’s for sure. And after listening to wrenching news this morning as I wound my way over the Notch — the tiny mountain pass between Amherst and South Hadley — about the chemical attack in Syria, I see that what I might label as stressful or challenging is real but also needs to be held in perspective. Comparing lives is not useful, but awareness is one of the sources, for me, of compassion. When I lose track of myself by getting tangled up in the nets of what I can’t control, I’m of no use really to anyone. But one thing I really appreciated and needed to hear this afternoon was this: “That is a lot.” Mani said these words, or some version of them, and I felt the tears spring just for a moment then to my eyes. I didn’t need a big heaving cry, only just that acknowledgment. Someone to say, “Hey, it’s ok. You’re allowed to feel overwhelmed.”

Making the space for it helped me move through it.

I dreamed last night that a man I worked with was working, it turned out, three days a week, but getting paid the same as if he was working five days. I was furious and there was nothing I could do about it. From a Jungian perspective, if I am all the people in the dream, then maybe I feel like I’m working way more than I’m being compensated for. Welcome to motherhood. That is the nature of the beast, and a beautiful beast it is. One I give thanks for every day, no less so when we’re bushwhacking through all kinds of uncharted jungle with a hand-held machete. Turns out there are some pretty stellar guides who are familiar with these jungles, and while no one else has answers, I am not alone, and neither are my kiddos. This is comfort and courage alike.

And this, I remember as I wrap up — must go to the store now before it gets much later — is why I used to blog this way, dropping into the moment without a clue as to what would come out. Practicing writing is how I navigate through these days of mad milk and stocking up on dreams.

B+W

A Side of Breakthroughs with Extra Ketchup

I’ve been staring at a blank screen on and off for well over an hour. I tell people, just start, and keep going. But fuck me, it’s hard. I could start and delete and start and delete — this is where the “keep going” part comes in. But keeping going is not easy when nothing is flowing and you are doubting that you have anything worthwhile to say at all. Couldn’t the world use more silence? How is it contributing to write this kind of unedited dreck? I just listened to Julie Daley on Facebook Live talking about the status quo and about creativity and how creativity is so much more than what we relegate to what we call “The Arts” but really life itself. Life force.

And, there is also this balance — one I’m so aware of — between listening and speaking. Reading and writing. Taking in and adding to. I share my practice in part because it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff we too rarely get to see, of how creativity actually happens. It happens in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s insufferably stuck-feeling and you need to step away and get into some other state, some beta state let’s say, like walking or showering or reading, where your creative brain can catch a breath instead of you breathing down its back, demanding output. It doesn’t work like that. We are not machines. Creativity-on-demand doesn’t exist. Can you imagine, if we could just put in our order:

Hello, yes, I’d like three chapters of my novel today, two epiphanies, and a side of breakthroughs with extra ketchup?

I came down with a cold today, a bad one. It came on like bam, out of the blue. I worked and napped — a fairly usual Monday. And then I stared and started and deleted and thought, this whole start and keep going thing may be bunk. It doesn’t work. It’s awful and stupid and I hate it. Ever thrown a tantrum and realized it had nothing to do with anything and maybe was a sign to wave a white flag of surrender to effort and try again tomorrow?

It is ok to try again tomorrow. It is ok not to be creative all the time. It is ok to read, to listen, to absorb, to ring it all out in a hot bath or a cold sweat, and to notice the ways in which sitting still is squirmy. Where creativity is in its dormancy, where beauty is the growing mountain of Kleenex telling you to get in bed, sister, and get some sleep. We have miles and miles to go, and so much to learn. If we worry so much about saying it right or waiting until it’s perfectly crafted, we might never step foot outside our comfort zones again — which is exactly where the world needs us.

Can both be true? I think of the old “two Jews, three opinions” axiom and chuckle. Yes. Both can be true. Be gentle with your creativity, your spirit, your words — but ask a lot of them, just as you might with your own children. Love means holding each other to the highest expectations, while forgiving each other’s constant and inevitable failings. And I’m here writing, not deleting, because I love you and this life and this work and this world. And because the world needs your patience and your urgency. Your imperfect offerings. Your best effort and your unwavering commitment to growing things that feed others — literally and creatively.

Now let’s order another basket of fries. I’m buying.

B+W

Evening Prayer

evening-prayerPlease let me never lose my humanity.
Please let me never lose my empathy.
Please let me never lose my open mind.
Please let me never lose my patched-up heart.
Please let me never lose my priorities.
Please let me never lose my patience.
Please let me never lose my perspective.
Please let me never lose my compassion.
Please let me never lose my integrity.
Please let me never lose my humor.
Please let me never lose my creativity.
Please let me never lose my humanity.

And when I do, please let it be brief
and please bring them back one by one
as the ocean brings stones and sea glass
to our searching hands
and empty pockets.