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The Darker the Night… Reflections on 2017


The past few days found me in a funk. Nothing major, but sometimes that makes moods even harder to bear; you feel like you should at least have a reason for being irritable or sad. But this was free-floating, hormonal, and seasonal, with nothing to do but try my hardest to just stay with myself, not be a jerk to my wife and kids, and self-manage as gently as possible until it passed. (Would it pass? This is always the question. And the answer is always the same.)

Emily Dickinson must’ve experienced many a similar mood. After all, she’s the one who wrote:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

This morning, the sun is shining on the newly fallen snow. It is falling in shimmery drifts from the pine boughs just outside my bedroom windows, and the southeastern light looks like something pure and hopeful. I may not be super psyched to dig out my car later, but there’s no denying the particular beauty this season offers in moments like these.

Perspective is one of the first casualties – temporarily, thank god, of the kind of mood that hangs out dangerously close to the border crossing into depression. It’s more like a white-out; driving snow, limited visibility. I’m relieved and grateful as I sit down to write this morning that the sky seems to have cleared and I can see a bit more clearly again. A tiny sparrow dive-bombing a snow drift 100 times its size; a hawk overhead, sun illuminating its underside; and room to breathe.

Yesterday, room to breathe felt more difficult to come by, even though nothing externally was really all that different than this. That’s the thing with aliveness. We must learn how to sit with ten thousand states of being, some ecstatic and others downright sucky. Squirmy, uncomfortable, climb-out-of-your-skin, and ever so easy to want to draw your bow and aim the sharpest arrow for the person closest to you.

If you have a spouse or partner or kids, yikes. You may become convinced it’s their fault, in ways that may not make an iota of rational sense. Or you might start pummeling yourself with darts, instead, losing sight of your amazingness, convinced you’ve fucked it all up, failed at everything you’ve ever tried, and are, in three succinct little words, a lost cause.

Ouch.

It can really, really hurt, this place of scary driving conditions. Probably best not to go out. Maybe a good a time to clean the bathroom, sweep the kitchen, plow through stacks of papers where even the stink bugs found safe harbor when the cold weather came.

Meditation may tell us to sit with these difficult emotions, and the cushion is definitely one good place to practice surviving them and observing the shitstorm passing through your mind and body like a short-circuiting machine. I also believe there are many ways to meditate, and sometimes being in motion and touching the real, tangible things in my immediate sphere is incredibly grounding and can help me come back to a more forgiving heart.

This morning, I woke remembering a film reel of disturbing dreams. Mani brought coffee. I plugged in the twinkle lights. And as I began to wake up and feel my way into a new day, I realized something: I felt better. I noticed on Instagram that several friends had created “best nine” photo montages from 2017, so I decided that might be a fun exercise. As I scrolled my camera roll through hundreds of images, something beautiful occurred: I began remembering and letting myself really appreciate the fullness of the year that’s coming to its end. The sense of not-enough-ness that plagued me the past few days dissolved in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.

Concerts with Mani – Laura Marling, numerous kirtans, Ben Sollee, Iron & Wine, and Regina Spektor. An overnight to NYC with Aviva. Swimming at Puffer’s Pond with Pearl. Two writing retreats, one in Amherst and one in Wisconsin, and a summer writing group down at the Nacul Center, back when it was still light out as we wrapped up at 8:00pm, and more than a dozen online writing groups. Visits with friends, tears, outrage, words, typewriters in town, and all the ups and downs that make a life a life. Seasons changing, bodies changing, relationships changing, kids changing. Mani weaning off of hard-core pain meds, devoting every ounce of her being to recovering her health. Kind neighbors. Steep learning curves. White privilege and misogyny and heteronormative lies falling like flies. Trees and trees and trees and trees. Shabbat, week after week. COFFEE.

I’m reminded of the song from Rent: 525,600 minutes… How do you measure, measure a year?

Those lyricists nailed it.

This post goes out to all of you. You who offer me so much kindness and encouragement to keep going. You who choose to write with me. You who make me laugh. You who challenge me to shed harmful beliefs and ways of being. You who inspire me with your own perseverance and courage, though it may not feel like courage to you. You who teach me how to have and hold boundaries. You whose everyday existence testifies to the fact that the world holds so much fierce truth and beauty.

With a special dedication to Emily Dickinson, Susa Talan, and Tia Finn — who all share a birthday today, and who teach me how to pay attention and stay true. I love you. 

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The Little Things, Like Offerings


MailChimp sends me a report from my list activity for the week.

2 subscribed. 0 unsubscribed.

These are big numbers in my world.

I just spent an hour FINALLY tackling the unwieldy pile of receipts that’s been accumulating for months.

I just wrote a sentence with not one, but two words with i before e except after c. I actually misspelled unwieldy the first time, and again just now, and had to go back to fix it.

These are the little things.

The single person or two who decide to sign up for my newsletter.

The receipts that represent manuscripts printed on recycled paper up the street at Collective Copies, stamps and books mailed, coffee dates with writers, ink and paper and notebooks and all of the completely unglamorous stuff that goes into my everyday work, the work that is, here in my kitchen, as much a part of life as boiling water for tea, helping my kids navigate big decisions, and watching TV in bed at night with my beautiful wife.

The little things. The piles that pile up. The stuff we avoid and move around the house, from one room to another until the evening comes when we sort and record and file and purge. The notes from folks who say how are you doing what you’re doing and instead of writing back, I say when can we talk. And we talk and she says I think you are awesome and I say, wait, I think *you* are awesome, and we agree that the irony is complete because each of us thinks the other is rocking their business.

The little things. The way I always come back to this, it seems. This being the real, the tangible, the mess, the clean-up. All the times I feel like oh shit, what if this isn’t working. And then I think, wait, that’s just part of it. Everything keeps changing, and this is not an emergency. I tell my nervous system it’s safe, we’re ok. We can rest. We can adjust. We can even take our time.

The little things that are big things.

Like how the sanctuary volunteering isn’t ultimately about security but about human presence. And how I am walking through my days freely without an ankle bracelet that the government is tracking.

The little things like taking a moment to breathe and appreciate what is ending — a month-long poetry group that knocked my socks off — before catapulting into the next thing. Trust, trust, trust.

She asked if I have a strategy.

I laughed.

Not really, I said. I try to come back to ease. I try to recognize the expectations I’ve cast off like someone else’s idea of who I would or should be. I try to check in with what freedom feels like, and joy. To remember that there are so, so many of us. And when two people say yes, I’d like your words in my inbox, when one person says, yes, I’d like to trust you to read my unedited words, I am floored. Every time.

We live in a competitive world. Women are taught to look at each other uneasily. The “how does she do it” trope is so so tired and worn. None of us does it all. Not a single one. None of us is a fucking Marvel comics character.

All of us have such full, full lives. Lives filled with little things and big things and medium-sized things. Lives that are mired in grief or soaring on reclamation or plodding along somewhere in the muck or going by so fast we don’t even remember the last time we really, really stopped.

This is often what I crave the most, the stopping. In the past, I imagined it as a kind of all-or nothing. Surely stopping meant going away, checking out of the demands and responsibilities and having a room with a view, preferably of some mountains and oceans and palm trees and white against blue. We are sold this, too. Town & Country magazine’s top 10 places to restore your soul.

But no. Stopping is a little-big thing. A way of coming clean. A way of being real.

It’s this.

It’s sitting down after recording the i-before-e-except-after-c receipts and then stuffing them in an envelope in case you ever God Forbid get audited. It’s going to bed early tonight. It’s a hug in the middle of the kitchen and it’s the lingering.

Is it amazing? It is, sometimes.

Is it exhausting. It is, sometimes.

Is it too much? It is, sometimes.

Is it sustainable? That question always stops me in my tracks. I don’t know the answer. I notice how this makes me uneasy, the not knowing. And I decide that I can let it in, the question. I can say hello, question. Have a seat. I’m making tea. You might have to stick around a while, giving me time get to know you better and you to get to know me better and we’ll see what this thing is between us.

The little things, like Bukowski’s shoelace, can be the death of us, that which makes us snap.

Or the little things, like offerings — like nickels and twine and stones and twigs — can bring us back, back to right here, back to right now, back to what’s solid and known and seeable and do-able, trusting that the rest will come or go or some combination of coming and going, and we don’t have to know, what happens next.