Layla-Saad

The Other Door

Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, Paris, France, by Alex Holyoake

The other door. A mouth. An ear. A nostril. An eye. A pelvic floor. A vulva. A body of doors, openings and closings. Go inward and there are chambers of the heart and esophageal flaps and valves controlling the flow of fluids through channels, maintaining order. Spine, neural pathways, veins, arteries, capillaries, so much anatomy, a house I’ll never explore fully enough.

The other door. The third eye, the mind’s eye, the wrist, the sacrum. Ridges of teeth against tongue. A pinch here, a pulse there. A room that leads to a room that leads to a room, a series of caves, underground tunnels, a palace built into the side of a mountain at the edge of the sea.

The other door. Scalp. Hair follicles. Nail beds. Reach, stretch, bend, bow. Break. Repair. Heal. Hurt. Fire, ice, water, soak, salve.

The other door. Phlegm. Spit. Cum. Blood. Yellow. White. Red. Black. Bruise. Blue. Green. Eyes. Seeing, translating, refracting, flipping over, inside out, rapid fire, REM sleep, deep dreams, doors through doors through doors, open, open, open, closed. Open, open, open, closed. Mantra, memory. Lullaby.

The other door. Images. Flashes. What makes a person, what makes a body, what makes a a life. Rooms inside of bodies and buildings inside of houses inside of dolls inside of cliff sides inside of families inside of centuries inside of stories inside of time inside of timelessness.

The other door. Listen. Watch. Float on a bed of salt. Squeeze your legs together, spread them wide, kick, pull, push, glide.

The other door. Spirit. Mystery. Sun, moon, plain as day, clear as night. Sky and floor, room after room. Remember this? Remember this place? Swim home through waters you were born from and to which you will return. Doors open, open, open. Open your mouth. Open your eyes.

Layla-Saad

I Am Here. I’m Here. Here I’m…

Hi. I am here.

I am here where I so often am, in a blue chair at the kitchen table. My back faces north and my front faces south. On my left is a pantry. A fridge. A coffee mug with a “J” on it. On the right, a wall with a bit of peeling paint on the molding. My right wrist rests gently on the edge of the laptop. I take a deep breath and this feels good so I take another and a third, through my nostrils. It’s nice to have clear nasal passages. The kind of thing you so often take for granted until a bad cold hits.

I am here and it’s Wednesday morning. The house is quiet. Mani is in our room. She might be meditating. Aviva is still asleep. Pearl rode his bike to school about half hour ago. Earlier I had music on, but now it’s just the sounds of the keys clicking, and the breathing, and if I listen closely, a faint humming kind of sound outside, the source of which I can’t identify.

From here, the mind goes in so many directions. To a dream I had last night, where I was holding a large, sharp knife in the middle of a busy intersection. I was standing on some kind of median. Plenty of people were around but nobody said anything about the knife and I was alarmed that they weren’t alarmed and knew this was privilege in action. I had no malicious intent. And then I realize I’d sliced my own leg — the back, inner right thigh had a fairly gaping wound. I was bleeding and ran inside to strip off my pants and see how deep it was. I also had my period and so there was a lot of blood.

I am here, still, even as I remember the dream.

For many years, “hineni” is a word that has spoken directly to my soul. God asked Abraham, where are you? Which in itself is mysterious, right? I mean, presumably God can see where everyone is, in whatever way it is God sees. But my take on it is that God was really asking Abraham, do YOU know where you are? Like, where are you REALLY? And Abraham answered, Hineni. I am here. I hear this as, I am here, and also I am HERE. I am here and I know I am here. The two are not one.

I am here and I know I am here.

I am here and I am not here.

I am here and I am a body and a mind and a miracle of all systems go. I am here and typing and imagining you there, which is another miracle. My god. My God. God, do you see how many miracles are taking place right this very minute? I sound like a religious fanatic and I’ve probably said it before but I am ok with that.

We started watching “Alias Grace,” a show based on the Margaret Atwood book. In fact, Atwood is one of the producers, which makes me happy because it indicates her approval of the show’s translation of her writing for the screen. Back then, did you know they didn’t use contractions? So there is a lot of “I do not” and “You will not” and “We are going” types of phrases. These lend a certain gravity to everything, and it fascinates me that a tiny symbol like the apostrophe, the slightest closing in of things, can cause an entire shift in tone. Suddenly everything sounds less important, more casual.

I am here. I’m here. Here I am. But “here I’m” doesn’t work without a gerund to follow it. I’m here writing. I’m here being here. I am here, gratefully so.

Layla-Saad

Tell Me About Moving On

Photo: Tj Holowaychuk

Regret is like striking a large bell in an empty field and then running through the empty grass trying to gather the sound of the strike back into the bell. It’s impossible. ~ Mark Nepo

Moving on. From the squabble. The sugar crash. The bad mood. The old moon. The first marriage. The mortgage. The last zip code. The eggshells. The old guard. The tension you carried in your esophagus. The pushing. The holding. The silence. The wishing. The wanting. The better life you never got to by trying to get to a better life. The binge. The bender. The way you berated yourself. The inhale. The exhale. The need to “go out.” The constant escaping, as if your self might be waiting for you on the outcropping of rocks at Oakledge Park or in the alley between buildings or on those three back steps behind the old white barn with the gnarly apple tree in the yard. From the hovering over kids and harboring resentment over money. The face tired from smiling. Doing the right thing. Keeping the peace. Making everyone happy like it was your Job. Keeping your guard up. Keeping your weight down. Keeping your anger down. Keeping your life together.

Moving on made room for you to learn new things.

Like how to relax. How to stop putting so much pressure on yourself to get it right. How to recognize the way perfectionism and comparison are no better than the mean girls your own daughter confronted in fourth grade (and fifth, and sixth). How the voice in your own head wasn’t a reliable narrator, and you could start to tune out much of the noise you used to take so seriously. How to be silly and lack all accountability and still be loved. How to stop jumping through hoops. How to have fun. How to wear tight jeans and shake some booty. How to get out of your own way and just try stuff. Take risks, fail, disappoint, and not die as a result.

Learning these things, you find yourself here, full of ravioli, about to have a conversation about everyday magic with a kindred spirit, knowing it’s neither luck nor blessing that landed you here, but something more akin to love and truth.

Layla-Saad

Already Whole: Day Three

In today’s edition of Real Life, we present the sink full of dishes & the laundry that needs to be separated into 4 piles. Not shown: Trash & recycling, unmade bed, desk in disarray. This is my kitchen. It’s also my office.

This morning on a short run, I reminded myself: You are out for a short run at 10:00am on a Thursday, clearing your head between waking, a couple hours of work & a call with a writing coaching client. It’s easy to forget that this was what I once longed for. I would sit in my office on campus, looking out the giant window at the summer day, watching the clock, wondering how I would survive indoors till 4:30.

I didn’t quit my job as much as life pushed me out of the nest. My wife was in very serious condition health-wise, with a steep, narrow, lonely & painful climb ahead. My being home was imperative for practical reasons. I didn’t follow my bliss as much as I pried fear’s fingers away & chose to believe we’d be ok.

It’s not always easy or pretty. I don’t work in a Pinterest-like space or have someone come clean my house. We rent our apartment & pay more than I once spent each month on a mortgage. But it’s our home and I say thank you every single time I leave the grocery store with a cartful of food, every time we go to the doctor and pay the co-pay.

The ACA made it possible for me to leave my full-time job two years ago. Health insurance was vital, as was my being home. If it hadn’t been for the connector care plan we’ve been enrolled in since, I honestly don’t know what we would have done. Like millions of Americans, we would have figured it out–or not.

Running a household and a business, being there not only for but with my wife and kids, and taking care of myself– it’s a lot. We *all* have a lot. If I’ve learned anything from leading writing groups, it’s that.

You know what? Our real lives are treasure troves of amazing stories. Shitty, hard ones. Gorgeous, glorious ones. And 10,000 in-betweens, where life unfolds & surprises us, plunges us down & lifts us up again.

Every day brings new dishes & laundry: Evidence that we’re alive. Yay. And sometimes a drag, too. I’m all about the space where both get to be true.

What stories are you ready to shed or share?

Written as a member of the support team for Already Whole, a 3-day storytelling campaign created and hosted by Andréa Ranae Johnson and Cameron Airen to launch Whole Self Liberation

Layla-Saad

Already Whole: Day Two

My mother has blue eyes. So do both of my kids. Mine are green, with tiny brown flecks in them.

My mother’s hair was pin straight when she was a young woman. I think later she got a perm. Later, it seemed to get curlier on its own, but nowhere near as curly as mine.

People came up to me on the street my whole life, asking if my hair was naturally curly, telling me how much they spent to get hair “like yours.” My kids have straight hair, but Aviva has recently started showing signs of curls. To my surprise, she’s happy about this.

I married a woman with curls, and people have often asked us if we’re sisters. I have two sisters; they have straight hair. Genes don’t make sense so much of the time.

My Grandma Lee, or Nona, was the curly-haired one. It’s said I also got her eyes, the way they squinch all the way up when I smile. When I was little, kids used to ask me if I could even see when I smiled. Nona chain-smoked & fed everyone, which frankly doesn’t sound so bad to me. She was also known as a psychic and a seamstress.

Today Pearl and I went to a funeral. Someone told her she looks just like me. She doesn’t agree. She does look a lot like her dad. In fact, when she was born, my ex-mother-in-law pulled out a baby photo of him, and we couldn’t tell them apart. Meanwhile, Aviva has started looking more and more like my mini-me, and to my surprise, she doesn’t seem to mind the resemblance.

I didn’t know I was Jewish growing up. It wasn’t a secret but it also wasn’t common household knowledge, at least not to me. I loved Christmas morning & later spent years as a young adult trying to figure out where I belonged. I cried in synagogue after synagogue, feeling at once alienated and home. I dreamed of the ground itself in Israel & decided to become a rabbi, them instead kept being a poet and found other ways to whisper to God. I wanted to be a translator. I wanted to learn all the languages, disappear into the world completely. Instead I got married, had babies, and wrote my way to what I’d always known was true.

Women are my home. Challah and dancing and justice and poetry are my home. Babies, all the babies, and the kind of fierce listening I do when I’m alone.

What stories are you ready to shed or share?

Written as a member of the support team for Already Whole, a 3-day storytelling campaign created and hosted by Andréa Ranae Johnson and Cameron Airen to launch Whole Self Liberation