Rose

The Work Is More Important

Photo: Alexis Fauvet

I was walking to town earlier and talking to my angel posse, the sky a brilliant deep blue above, my gait swift, the cold air refreshing after a morning indoors.

I was thinking about my website and how from time to time, I get carried away by thinking it should be better, bigger, or different — and how this habitual thinking is familiar and comfortable, like the coat I love but sadly, have outgrown. It’s snug around the middle though I’m loathe to admit it, and it doesn’t really give me room to move freely and stay warm at the same time.

Well, that thinking — the “not enough” stuff with its claws tearing open healed over places — doesn’t fit anymore, but damn if I don’t still squeeze myself into it on occasion.

What came to me was this: “The work is more important than the website.”

The work is more important than the website. Oh, right!

What actually goes on — in groups and one-on-one — this is the work. The creative process, the writing, the sharing without apology, this is the work. And it is such real stuff.

Websites are nice. They can be supremely useful and aesthetically gorgeous and wonderfully functional. But they are not the work itself, at least not in my case. Remembering this today felt so good, like coming home.

And then I was on North Pleasant Street — no longer talking to myself (I try to save that for less public spaces, lol). I spotted the guy with the clipboard up ahead and did a quick mental dance about whether I would stop or not. I decided to let him give his spiel, which was about Doctors Without Borders. I agreed to a one-time donation, and as I stood there filling out my information in his iPad, we got to chatting. I asked if he was a student, and then he asked what I do.

“I work with writers,” I told him. Before I could say another word he lit up. “You mean, like, with writing books?!” I laughed. “Yes, among other things. Why, are you writing a book?”

Not one, but seven, he told me, but he feels stuck because he doesn’t have people to share his writing with, doesn’t know about self-publishing, and wishes he had some community he could trust and learn from and with.

He asked if I have a writing group.

As a matter of fact…

I need to order new business cards, so I told him my website, showing him the home page and how he can contact me. The very website I had earlier today been focused on improving, until I returned to the essential fact that I am already doing the work! And the work’s more important than the website.

He said he’d have a look and get in touch.

Before we parted ways, he asked my name, extending his hand.

“Jena,” I told him, “with one n. What’s yours?”

“Yeshaq, with a q.”

Nice to meet you, Yeshaq.

Rose

On Being a Mensch

Metal Art by Jon Grauman

This morning, I’m thinking about how we are steeped in a culture that worships saviors and skewers villains, that rides into the sunset on a high-horse of good guys and bad guys.

The great American narrative rests on oversimplification, which by definition erases and denies whole swaths of experience and truth.

Celebrity and consumer culture get in bed together to back this up, and they both rely on us thinking we’re not enough and/or our lives are something to improve or escape.

Writing, art, and leadership that ask more of us, that mirror our capacity to grapple with truth and nuance, are more critical and life-giving than ever.

Who or what calls forth and mirrors your multifaceted brilliance, your innate complexity, your ability to think intelligently and act conscientiously?

Who or what banks on your reactivity or self-loathing?

Who or what feeds on your inclination to judge and condemn?

Who or what preys on hero-worship and wins every time you abdicate personal responsibility?

In Yiddish, the word mensch — something we think of as an exceptionally “good” person — simply means “person.” And to truly be a person, a mensch, requires a degree of self-reflection, awareness, integrity, and discernment.

Today I’m going to pay attention to what I’m paying attention to. Where am I choosing — and where am I asleep?

Rose

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.

Rose

Forgive Yourself for Each Time

Photo: Zoltan Tasi

For each time the words flew out of your mouth and you wished you could unsay them.

For each time you remained silent, only to wonder why you swallowed knives.

For each time you searched for but couldn’t find the perfect thing to say, and so you just sat with her, put your hand over his, kept company that which could not be consoled.

For each time your kids proved wiser than you (“she will see it as support later”).

For each time you hung up the phone and immediately wanted to call back to say, “I love you.”

For each time you were sure you’d fucked things up for good. For each time you learned to forgive yourself. For each time you spoke your heart with no way of knowing how it would be received — if at all. For each time you felt the ache of the world in your sinus cavity, your chest cavity, your belly — all of the hollow places where the body fills with breath, with longing.

Last night, you dreamed of a kitchen in a small apartment. It was elevated, modest in size, painted all white, and brightened by sunlight. A bank of windows overlooked sparkling blue, blue water in the distance. It was such a peaceful space, and you’d lived there once though you couldn’t remember when.

Standing there overcome by longing, you didn’t know if you could stand the leaving again. But you had to and you did, waking to a new day and a world of bright beauty and impossible pain, determined not to worry about getting it right but instead to be present. To love without interfering, to support without the pretense of saving, and to know that you aren’t here to be a saint but a person.

Today, you notice what quickens your pulse. What makes your stomach drop. What gives you a glimmer of hope and what seemed to urgent yesterday that you can simply set aside. You let the bread rise under its damp covering and the child grow towards her own sources of light. You learn, just a little bit, to let things be, thus becoming more available to what actually needs tending.

In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Go all the way with it. Do not back off. For once, go all the goddamn way with what matters.”

Rose

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.