Ever find yourself fantasizing about what you might write someday, if you just had the space or time?
If you answered a remote yes to this question, and you happen to live in the Bay Area, then I have a gift to give you.
My friend Susie Meserve, who also happens to be a riveting writer, is co-teaching a writing and movement workshop in Oakland on March 19th.
In this three-hour workshop, through movement, meditation, writing prompts, and group discussion, we’ll explore how creativity gets trapped in the body–and learn how to release it.
If you happen to feel like I did when I read that, (“Ummm. Yes, please.”) then you should sign the eff up!
Here’s more details to whet your appetite in flyer form:
And if you really wanna go, but just can’t swing the $75 right now, keep reading.
A very kind and very anonymous benefactor has offered to sponsor one writer who would like to attend, but can’t afford it.
How are we going to find this lucky writer?
I’m so glad you asked. All you have to do is write a brief comment below explaining what really gets you revved up about going to this workshop. We’ll choose one winner who will get to attend for free, and two others who will get $15 off.
It’s that simple.
So get on the horn, start making plans, stacking the particular house of cards required for you to get away on a Saturday afternoon, and share this with your friends!
And if money is an issue, than comment it up! We’ll sift through your comments and pick 3 winners on Monday night.
If one more effing person apologizes after sharing a sad, difficult, upsetting part of their lives with me, I’m going to scream. And my shriek will leave a tiny crack in the shell of robotic positive thinking that our happiness-obsessed culture shrouds us with.
It’s winter. Trees are bare, skies are cold and dark, the world around us is not bursting forth. And yet.
And yet. We expect the eternal fruits of summer from ourselves. Regardless of season or circumstance, we should keep our chins up, find inspiration and, my personal favorite, be grateful.
Gratitude can blow me.
Here’s why: it’s become the well-meaning friend who just doesn’t get it. She’s trying to help, for sure, but here’s how good old Gratitude misses the mark: She’s only makes it worse if you use her to avoid difficult feelings.
Which is how A LOT of people like to use her these days.
It’s the polite and sunny way to end a particular kind of conversation.
I’m so sorry about your favorite grandmother who is dying. At least you can be grateful for the time she had.
Yeah. Thanks. Sorry for bringing up the whole dying grandmother thing. I don’t mean to be such a downer.
Why are sadness, grief, anger, fear, or disappointment so disturbing to us that we literally apologize for sharing them? We wish we hadn’t done it. Sullied the moment, spoiled the conversation.
It’s hard to hang out with pain that we can’t instantly fix.
And yet. And yet.
Hanging out with it, with a person in grief, with a bitter sadness, can actually be sublime. There’s a deep sense of wholeness that comes from letting the dark winter simply exist, without trying to jack it up on silver-linings of gratitude.
That’s why I feel–wait for it–grateful when a neighbor admits in a casual conversation over the fence that her cancer came back. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I know this is really heavy.”
Quite the contrary. Sharing your heavy reality creates more room for my particular mess.
So please. Bring on the downers. What stray puppydog facts and feelings of yours get smothered by the eternally sunny, productive and happy waters we’re all swimming in?
Make my comments box your own personal repository for whatever downer you’re sitting on.
The song “Swing Low” is currently on the nap and bedtime rotation for me and Cal. Every time I get to the second verse — you know, “…looked over Jordan and what did I see?” — Cal pulls back from our snuggle and looks at me earnestly and says, “Angels?”
It’s happened a good handful of times now, so when he did the exact same thing during my encore breakfast performance today, I had to indulge myself.
You see, angels don’t come up too much in our everyday conversation, so I was intrigued about his connection with the word.
“Do you know about angels?” I asked him.
He replied with a definitive nod.
“What are angels like?”
“They’re loud,” he said, with professorial certainty.
“What else do you know about angels?”
“They fly into the trees.”
I was starting to get a little breathless at this point. I had been pitched into one of those moments that people talk about, when their child tells them about their own birth, or a past life or some otherworldly, spiritual vision.
He swooped his finger up and down, “They fly like this, Momma.” I just sat, quite stunned, watching Cal demonstrate for me the swooshy sound effects and flight patterns of angels.
“They’re loud and they go fffffaaaaaaast.”
I fell right down off of my cloud of dreams with my magical, spiritual oracle baby.
The Blue Angels.
That, of all things, was the reference. When I sing “Swing Low” to my son before bed, he pictures the fighter jets that screamed over his head when he was with his dad and brother at Fleet Week.
I may have been particularly open to the existence of angels since one had recently appeared to my mind’s eye as I was meditating on a dear friend. She was facing a particularly pivotal and much sought after job interview, so I was trying to empty my busy brain of everything but my love and hope for her and blammo. I saw an angel.
I was surprised with the vision, since she’s been after this damn job for years. Y E A R S. I’ve supported her through the whole tumultuous pursuit, littered with false hopes, and crushing rejections. I was ready for this interview to wind up like all the rest. A curt “Thanks but no thanks.”
Well, wouldn’t you know it. This time–The Angel Time–she got it. The long sought after job is hers. She effing did it.
We went on a hike this very morning, right after the conversation that wound up Blue Angels.
As we circled the glassy, golden lake, she confessed that she was up half the night with crushing anxiety. Does she really want it after all? After all this time and toil, is this really the job for her?
One of the scariest thoughts she had on her sleepless night was whether the anxiety is a sign. That there’s something wrong. That her gut is issuing a warning: it’s going to end up one big disaster, and she traded her perfectly good and stable life for a catastrophe. She should have kept her ambition in check and appreciated the good life while she had it.
Before I could even speak, I was laughing it off. Of course it’s not a sign. Just the typical feeling you’d have, being a thinking, breathing, sensitive woman sitting on the verge of huge life change.
But wasn’t I right there with her in spirit, envisioning the routine unions that my 2 year old had with angels, waving bye bye with his doughy hands as they flew off into the trees, loudly, as angels are wont to do?
I find myself desperate at times to find the magical thread tying things together. Ye olde “everything happens for a reason” or “sign from the universe.”
But what if it’s equally comforting, even more so, that regular, old, normal life has its own strange magic:
That a squadron of jets weave their power and might into a timeless, spiritual ballad. (I mean, who wouldn’t want a band of Blue Angels commin’ for to carry them home?)
That anxiety and fear are the body’s way of reminding us that birth is also a kind of death–any transition into a new phase of life means the loss of the way it once was.
That we all get to decide for ourselves if we think angels exist. And how loud, or not, they might be.
I’m bored at the park but I go anyway, because the boys want to. And I sit there on the bench and feel a little less alive.
I want to read my book, but I wash the dishes instead, because it’ll be that much sweeter to crack the book open with the clean dishes steaming in the rack. But then Cal wakes up and the book sits still. And I feel a little less satisfied.
Reading this, I was reminded of how compressed life gets, under the routine requirements, obligations, appointments, demands.
It may just be the path of least resistance to turn our aliveness down under such circumstances, under the weight of many tasks that we wouldn’t willingly choose, but that relentlessly nudge for our attention.
There is always space to be found.
Like in the atoms I was explaining to Jo before bed.
There’s more space inside an atom than stuff. And we’re made up of atoms. So that means we’re made up of more space than stuff. Our bodies, this table, my shoes, that lamp, they’re all mostly space. Isn’t that crazy?!
It’s the smallest choice to read instead of wash. To pause and let the sun breeze over my cheeks before buckling a boy into his car seat. To ignore the robotic pull of dinner prep at 6 on a Tuesday and instead sip on champagne and watch the boys whiz by on their scooters.
Some pretty mind blowing stuff went down for me in September that I’m only just beginning to articulate. I went to this rad women and kids communing with nature power weekend with Jo. We ate and sang and played and learned and gathered around the fire together. And once Jo got his bearings, and he and a friend were absorbed in scratching at the dirt with sticks, I took a class about energetic boundaries. Which is to say that for a couple of hours one morning, I sat in a circle of women on the ground near a big fallen tree I wish I knew the name of, and listened to this woman share her wisdom about the ways we habitually do and ideally can choose to create boundaries that protect or reveal ourselves.
I still don’t understand exactly what it was about that class that changed things for me, but it did.
Here’s the best I’ve got:
It helped me understand the fundamental way I align myself with other people. In short, I’ve got some pretty loosey goosey boundaries. And I always track the people around me. I take in what I think their needs and feelings are. I’m like an octopus with hyper extended tentacles, constantly scanning in all directions for what my people are feeling, thinking, wanting.
It. Is. Exhausting.
And obliterating. Cause where do my thoughts and needs and feelings come in, given the OCD tentacles? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. My needs and feelings are stifled at the bottom of the heap. They play second (or third or fourth) fiddle. Those suckers languish deep inside the proverbial haystack.
But somehow, in a circle of women sitting on the ground of a crisp fall morning, I gathered my tentacles in. I chose to create some boundaries. Now I look more like this.
I deliberately chose to disengage with the endless stream of
Jo is happy and absorbed (sigh of relief) . Cal wants water and needs to put his pants on. Where are his pants? . That guy on the sidewalk seems really desperate . AJ is still mad at me after last night, but I don’t want to say I’m sorry . Jamie wishes I visited her more . Cybil called me three days ago and I haven’t gotten back to her . Ryan seems pissed, is it something I did? . This person wants . This person needs . This . Person . Feels . . .
Reeling in the tentacles made me lighter, buoyant even.
I started to float.
I could see and hear and feel things that hadn’t gotten in for a long time because there was so much noise and obstruction, and so little of my attention left over.
Here’s what I saw:
Everything is a game.
Every relationship, project, chore, obligation.
Some games have higher stakes than others, but at the core, there is a lightness, a playfulness in the atmosphere around all the heavy stuff.
The playfulness is this: in every game, you get to choose your move. Every time. And you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Then the other people get to choose their moves. Now it’s back to you. And the game plays on.
For years and years, I’ve gotten stuck trying to play other people’s moves for them, while my piece languishes in one damn square not very far from START.
That hyper focus outwards, on other people, has been crippling. It’s been deafening.
It has weighed me down, drowned me out, and left me listless on the couch because I’ve quite literally forgotten myself.
It was part of the reason for my post-partum depression with both kids–in that first year, rarely was I able to see and act on my own feelings and needs in the snow-storm of everyone else’s.
Well, I found my way out of that bullshit.
I have a new sense for where I end and everyone else begins.
And I wanna play.
For now, while I’m still learning these new moves, and how to keep my own needs and feelings at the core, I try to keep the tentacles for me. I use that super scanning empathetic power on myself first, because then I know the most key intelligence about the game: where I’m starting from. If I don’t know that, I can’t really play.
My phone has been beeping its phone face off for the last few days.
Months ago, something automatically set itself up on my phone (this happens more often than you would think) to brrriiingg this magic wand sound anytime someone likes or follows my blog. Over time, it’s turned all pavlovian. I hear that sound and my eyes dilate, I salivate. “Blog attention!” I chirp to AJ. He’s even started to say the same thing back (with enthusiasm, even!) when he hears the bbrrriinngg.
Its been a little over 2 weeks since I started to practice my new mindful/intuitive eating thing. I’m shocked to discover that my body requires much less food for survival than I originally thought. Growing two babies in utero and then on breastmilk is a distorting and delightful experience in that eating more is necessary and celebrated. But since I’m not with child and barely nursing Cal anymore, my nutritional requirements have tapered off a lot, and I hadn’t even noticed until I recently started to pay attention.
Also, I don’t always get it right. Just like any conversation, sometimes you fall off and stop listening, sometimes you misunderstand, sometimes you interrupt because the thing you have to say is just so damned interesting. Sometimes I convince myself that I really am hungry so I can have the slice of lemon cake. One night, at Prime Celebration Time, I knew I wasn’t hungry and was straight about that with myself. And I still wanted some cookie dough. So I had some. Maybe 3 spoonfuls after my body politely raised it’s hand and said, “Thanks, I’m good. No more, please.” And then I put the lid on the container and Put The Cookie Dough Back In The Freezer! VICTORY. Three weeks ago I wouldn’t have even heard my body’s subtle commentary over the gnash and hum of my own Desperate Need For Cookie Dough. And I would have finished the whole container.
And this morning. I was hungry. Ordered 2 poached eggs and latte. Didn’t listen for when I should stop. And now my stomach feels gross.
But it’s okay! I get to try again in 2 hours. Maybe 1!
Just like any conversation, it’s a back and forth. It keeps unfolding. And forgiveness is important. You can always say “Sorry.” and “It’s okay.” and keep on going.
I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.
This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.
I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.
R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.
Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.
My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.
The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.
The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.
I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:
I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.
One feeds my body. The other, my soul.
In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.
When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.
And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.
This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.
To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.
Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?
So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:
I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.
It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.
When I wrote that one and hit the old PUBLISH button, I worried that it would thud into your lives as a big ol’ downer. Maybe it did. But as usual, reading your responses helped me feel like part of the human race again instead of like a lack-luster misfit.
Something else interesting has happened.
I’ve started to daydream. I did it right before I sat down to write this. Instead of hurdling myself straight from work into writing, like some sort of eternally productive robot, I first found a grassy field, popped out the kickstand on my bike and laid down. I do my best daydreaming supine on grassy fields. After a while, I took off my shoes. And that was that.
Taking the space to require nothing of myself has been glorious. I lay. I breathe. I close my eyes or leave them open. I smell the exhale of leaves and damp soil.
Today, the idea to write this came to me. I also saw myself planting some grass seed or sod in a little strip of ground we have that the chickens can’t destroy, so I can have my own little daydreaming patch at home. And do you know what that is folks? It’s a dream. A good old-fashioned dream like I haven’t had in years.
I didn’t realize how compressed my days had become until I started breathing some space into them. I lurch from waking to dressed and making breakfast in 5 minutes or less. And on and on through the demands of the day. It’s easy to do with work and kids and bills and Netflix On Demand. There’s little if any space. By default, the days are dense. And they keep stacking up.
But something shifts when I’m laying down with my toes in the turf. My arms and time stretch out. There’s a drifting. And sometimes it’s magical.
This last week I had a Rough Day with the boys and called AJ in a very mature Take Care of Myself moment, “I need to get out of here when you come home,” I said. “Will you tell me what time that will be, so I can hang all my hopes on it?” He agreed, and I pedaled away from our house without an idea of what I was going to do.
Cue laying in grass.
I had three thoughts while I watched the wind tickle the boughs of my favorite redwood tree in the park:
I felt weird about bellying up to a bar for a cocktail all by myself. And I didn’t have Sonya’s number. So I just started riding towards the rice bowl place. Just before I got there, I saw Sonya’s husband standing outside their parked van, and I raised my arm and eyebrows in a “What the Eff?!” Then, who but Sonya emerged from the van, and I explained how I had actually just manifested her.
She came with me to get a rice bowl. It was great. And then we walked back to her house where her husband made me a gin and tonic. Also great. And just what I needed.
Check check and check.
The thing about daydreaming is that it’s receptive. And that’s a stark and medicinal shift away from the monotony of productivity.
When I saw people with more than one kid or considered my life that way, I would shake my head or cringe or feel nauseous.
My body was quick to react to my worries. How could Distractable Me pay attention to two whole, independent, needy children? I considered a life where I was always chasing something—the conversation I wasn’t having, the connection I wasn’t getting, the moment I was missing. Cringe-worthy indeed.
I was right to be worried.
There is no such thing as fairness or equality in mothering. I don’t love my kids the same way. I don’t pay the same amount of attention to each. Depending on the day, the hour, the phase, I prefer to connect with one and avoid the challenges with the other. And then, when I factor my needs and desires into this crowded picture? Woa, Nelly. Good luck. I spend a very significant amount of time stomping my resentments around: that I don’t get enough time—to write, hang out with AJ in that spontaneous way we used to, check my phone, sleep, not wash dishes…
The dishes are relentless. I am always aware of them. And no matter how angry or accepting I am, they just rest in their plastic white tub, the crust of egg curling up, tipped at an angle by the glasses and spoons and bottles and soggy zip lock bag beneath them.
Cal is persistent and driven. Also relentless. I try to cook and he clings to my legs, screaming UUUPPPPPP! I ask him to please stop taking spoons out of the drawer and he just starts throwing them onto our tile floor with more joie de vivre. He does all the things that toddlers do to drive parents crazy. And it’s had me avoiding him like the plague.
I’m pissed off. And I just want Cal and the dishes and all this shit that I have to deal with to go away so I can sit in a silent room with a bowl full of grapes.
Since I don’t have a silent room or a bowl full of grapes, I do the next best thing: I pack my day full of friends and errands and watching the kids but not really having to connect with them. I distract myself. By the end of the day, the damned dishes are still leering and Cal is as feisty as hell. It grates at me–knowing that those things are still chasing me and I feel more depleted than ever.
Once again, I’ve painted myself into this tight, bitter corner that I’ve found my way in and out of a zillion times before. I know how to get out–the things that torment me grow smaller and softer when I pay more attention to them, not less. Ugh. It’s such an un-sexy, tedious solution.
If I just did the stupid dishes and built time into our evening to talk to Cal and acknowledge his needs, then I might not be so desperate for the silence or the grapes. Because the dishes would be washed, and Cal might tone down the screaming if he felt I was listening.
This last week we’ve been hanging out at a sweet spot just a couple hours away. I chose it because of the stream running by—big enough to splash in but small enough that it didn’t set off any alarms in that “I could drown your children” way. I had visions of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the boys splash and explore.
It hasn’t been *exactly* like that. The deck wraps around so that it takes long enough to get to the creek from my wine-drinking perch that it didn’t feel safe to have Cal down there. What we’ve done every day that I didn’t envision is rock hopping downstream, looking for crawdads and picking the juiciest blackberries along the way.
I had an afternoon while Cal and AJ napped to do just this. Me and Jo splashing around, the gentle joy of discovering what’s around the next bend and the next, feet sloshing through cool creek water. A hot topic of discussion during our meander was conceived of by Jo: “No, Mom, it’s not beautiful. It’s awesome.” He was talking about some moss or a tree or some ripples in the water. And so a new game was born: Beautiful or awesome?
Discarded crawdad claws we found on a river rock after someone’s midnight snack?
This dreamy riffle?
J0: awesome and beautiful. Me: I love this kid.
These are the moments when I totally get my kid. When we’re outside, exploring, both alert to discovery. Our chatter ebbs and flows. Our attention doesn’t. Just two companions, with nothing but interest, space and time.
Should life require a modest vacation budget and a creek-side cabin to enjoy the people we love in this spacious, easy way?
I’d like to say no, but then I wouldn’t completely agree with myself.
There’s something about being away from the place you know (or think you know) that allows these other parts of yourself to light up. The explorer part, the bored part, the lazy-in-a-good-way part, the “sure, let’s try it” part.
Life at home can bog me down. The relentless weekly schedule, my constant tracking of things that need to be done, the unending stream of things that need to be done. It’s no wonder I angle for boy bedtime so I can lay on the couch and hypnotize it all away with a little sugar and internet tv.
Here, I have actually enjoyed doing the dishes. In a day with no demands, only options (and fewer of them) I’ve become interested by daily chores. Why should sweeping feel any more or less monotonous than reading a magazine? The truth is, both can be relaxing or drudgery, depending on the context. Yesterday’s highlights were spent on my knees cleaning my yoga mat with soap and water and scrubbing the brownish crust from around the burners of the stove. I leaped into both activities with the same interest and satisfaction that I see in Cal while he spins the clear glass knob on our bedside table for 20 minutes while I doze.
I’m hoping that these reminders – that time can feel big and open and interesting, that dish-doing can be a sensory reprieve – will carry over into my regular life. But I know that within a few weeks I will have forgotten. Maybe that’s why vacation exists.