I am grateful to have crossed paths with Carolyn Porter a few years back. The journey that unfolds in Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate, is an amazing tale. For more, see… More
The corners of the sky glow pink and red as the last of this New Year’s daylight slips away.
I’ve just come through one of the more difficult parenting months of my life. The months ahead do not look less difficult, but perhaps unknown light will emerge around the edges of the darkness. There is, in any situation, always room for hope.
Last night, I journaled about the low lights and highlights of 2017, a practice I learned from Sister Karol Jackowski. I was blessed to take both Spiritual Writing and Nature Writing from “Karol” during my MFA program. From Karol, I not only learned to write better, I learned to live better.
In accessing my low and highlights, I recognized (which I think is the point of this exercise) the kernels of grace that exist in each down turn, each dark path. Many of the seeds of my highlights were germinated in the low lights.
Whether fortune or foe, who is to say, goes a familiar Buddhist teaching.
“Barn burned down, now I can see the moon.” Mizuta Masahide
Now I can see.
Sometimes, you meet a person who just opens your heart and soul. This past October, I met writer Ann Klotz at a Kate Hopper retreat. Ann and I had known one another online for a while, but this was our first in-person meeting.
Everything Ann wrote at that October retreat was a heart song. Ann seems to possess an almost natural ability to spin words into gold. Not only a writer, Ann also is the Headmistress of Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ann writes in her latest essay, “Writing is Everything,” about the struggles she has with finding writing time. I relate to everything in this essay at a deep soul level. Yet it seems that Ann, when she does write, has no trouble dropping right into the kind of soul writing I wrote about a few blog posts back, after I returned from the October Kate Retreat.
These days, whenever I see that Ann has published a new essay, I drop everything and read it, right away. I know it will move me, I know it will be important in a way that elevates the everydayness of life into a heart-gripping tale of my own life. Ann has an uncanny knack at tapping into the universal. If you too are trying for a writing life, I hope you too drop everything and read Ann’s latest essay up on Brevity today.
My love, my latest CD mix for you is our origin story, told in 15 songs.
This thing called “we” is a space we first began to occupy on this night, ten years ago, at Lee’s Liquor Lounge. Multiple things converged in the perfect storm for this “we” to begin.
Our friend and coworker, Aaron, and his band–The Rhinestone Diplomats, had to be playing at Lee’s on that particular November night. Our friend and co-worker, Justin, had to pick you up at Rod and Amy’s house and bring you to LLL, where I was busy dancing up a storm.
I had to sit down next to you on a table and feel the atomic energy moving between your skin and mine. Yeah, there were sparks.
The band played a fantastic cover of Cortez the Killer (did I request this, I wonder?) and I danced my ass off; you watched me from a bar stool.
I remember approaching the bar after Cortez concluded. We may have hugged. Hold me closer, tiny dancer.
Justin was ready to leave. “Come in,” she said. “I’ll give you shelter from the storm,” or at least a ride home in my little white Honda Civic.
Later, while loading up the bands’ equipment, Aaron may have averted his eyes when he saw a little white Honda in the parking lot with steamed up windows.
We barely made it up the stairs to your apartment.
*Okay, I cheated here. I couldn’t find anything other than Marvin lip synching this song, so I linked to Jack Black singing “Let’s Get it On” in one of my all-time favorite movies, High Fidelity. But my compilation CD for you uses Marvin’s version.
Lee’s happened on a Friday. By Sunday, you invited me out to brunch to tell me, “We’re not supposed to date. That was the last time.”
You didn’t miss me, most of the time. But I . . .
I burned for you; But I burned quietly. When you asked me at work how I was doing, I’d say, “I’m fine.” You’d tell me, “I’m fine too.”
So, knowing you were spending Christmas alone and my kids were with their dad, I invited you to coffee. Instead of meeting you at the coffee shop as you suggested, I recommended one near my house. “We’ll walk over together,” I said. We never found our way to the coffee shop and we shared our infamous “three days.”
But then, once again, you said “This is the last time.”
I said, “Fine. I’m fine” as you dated the girl you met at a New Year’s party. I made you the first in a long line of mixed CDs with a mixed purpose. You made me one in return. “Sideways” was on your playlist for me. I would wait patiently for you to realize what I already knew.
When spring came, I grew less patient. When you were done with the girl from the New Year’s party and the woman from Dallas, I began suggesting outings. I took you to a Jackie Greene concert for your birthday. You kissed me in the parking lot, but would not invite me in at the end of the evening. I saw you hiding in the bushes, making sure I could get my car off the icy, steep hill outside your place.
I took care of your cat while you did a solo trip to Paris. After feeding your cat, I would stand in your closet and take in the smell of your perfectly spaced work shirts.
A few months later, I asked for your help picking out a new digital camera. We’re just single friends helping one another out, I told you. You picked me up in your beater Jeep with the top taken off to let the warm late spring air in. While driving to Best Buy, I told you it was like riding in a boat. That made you smile.
Then I dated the young Buddhist poet. I got sick. You checked on me five times in one day when I was sick; you checked in on me when I was in the emergency room. The Buddhist Poet couldn’t drive. When I was getting better, he biked over the High Bridge with a tincture of yarrow that he grew in his garden. Not long after, I broke up with him because he wasn’t you. Your actions spoke louder than your words. Your actions told me you loved me.
We went out for drinks with my best friend, Shari, when she visited from Montana in August. She told you, “Admit it. You love her.” And you did. You admitted it. You decided to give us a chance, in spite of work rules to the contrary.
We let it be and life let us be together, eventually.
Through the years, we’ve both put this song on many of our compilation CDs. And now, tonight, it really is our Ten Year Night. The night the “we” that is “us” all began, one decade ago. So happy to round a decade with you, my man.
I’m always holding back. I hold back my writing, because maybe I’ll use it somewhere else someday. Maybe there will be a better time or place to put my words out into the world.
I hold back feelings of hope in a futile attempt to tamp down the potential for disappointment.
I hold back feeling joy, in an effort to stave off feeling sadness.
I hold back love. I’m not sure why I hold back love. I sense it has something to do with trying to keep chaos at bay. For me, love and chaos were once intimately linked. At the very least, I know I hold back love when my world is at its most chaotic. For example, whenever my youngest son’s health issues creep into the forefront of our lives, as they have this fall, I fold deeper into myself. My capacity to show love to those in my life declines. My life becomes singularly focused on trying to control the uncontrollable: my son’s health.
I attended Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words writing retreat in northern Wisconsin two weeks ago. It was my fourth time attending this retreat and I always come away with new insight and new words. I’m still shaping some of the essays I started at that retreat and I’m mulling over the direction I received from Kate, other attendees, and my inner guidance: Overhaul your entire manuscript. Begin again. Rewrite it a fourth time. This time, actually retype the whole thing. I’m kind of resisting the direction right now. I know this because I started applying for editorial jobs. Wouldn’t it be better to be an editor again, rather than a writer, I ask myself. I ignore the writing contract that I made with myself last May, when I graduated with my MFA, when I agreed to let my “writing self” have a year before my “get-shit-done self” stepped in and told writing self to get a real job.
Even in my resistance, I’m still thinking about the rewrite and how it will be done, how the manuscript will be shaped so differently this time around. I’m reading about five other memoirs right now (not unusual–I live my life juggling numerous books). Reading to observe structure, more than to absorb content. That said, I’m sucking the marrow out of Claire Dederer’s Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses. I’ve come late to the Poser party, but am so glad I came.
Another bit of wisdom I brought back with me from Wisconsin is an idea that another writer shared. This writer shares a first name with me, so it’s only natural that her wisdom would resonate deep within. She told us she was trying to move from “ego writing” to “soul writing.” She described the difference. Ego writing resists going deep and, instead, slips safely along the surface. Soul writing, in contrast, dares to reveal the shadow side, dares to become all it can be. In other words, soul writing doesn’t hold back.
It feels scary to me, but I am going to watch for the places where I am holding back. In those places, once observed, I will ask myself if I can give a little more. I will take small steps until it no longer seems so scary to give myself to my writing, my loves, my life.
Like birds do, I want to enter each day with a feeling of abundance and generosity. I’m tired of living small; I’m tired of holding back.
Today, I’m struggling through my first cold in over a year. It’s actually somewhat of a relief. I questioned whether my immune system was in overdrive this past year, never letting me get the colds that passed through the other family members in my household. I am the only one with this cold today; I am the beginning (and hopefully the end) point.
Instead of working on my book or tinkering away at essays today, I spent most of the day holed up in bed, with a box of tissue and a glass of water, trying to keep my nasty germs confined. I read and slept; read and slept; read and slept. Then I went to do the school pickup route and after-school activity runs. Now, I’m back in bed.
I’ve been seeing lots of blue jays lately. The other day, I read this phenomenal essay by Kerry Neville. This essay is about blue jays and divorce and the need for hope in our lives. Sometimes, divorce is necessary; sometimes it is the kindest thing we can do for our children and other family members. Don’t stay in the box if the box is killing you.
I wrote the poem, “I Do Not Have Dreadlocks,” just before turning 40, when my youngest was still a baby. My youngest turned eight years old yesterday and I have dreadlocks now, at least sort of, kind of, maybe. Never say never.
I’ve been rather busy this month. I think I’m back at my writing desk now, for the school year.
I have nothing to share quite yet, but will provide a link to Penny Guisinger’s brilliant essay, which captures the experience of co-parenting post divorce. Thank you Hippocampus Magazine for publishing such fine essays!