Wednesday, January 31, 2018

steel umbrella

There's an apparatus at the park.  A giant, steel umbrella with the bones of a canopy, which spins.

I have no idea how it's supposed to be used.

But I know how Judah likes to use it.  

He is lifted up, grabs on to the rim of the canopy, and throws his body in one direction.

Because of the tilt, the climb up is slow.  If he threw himself hard enough, the weight of his little body will hold him momentarily at the top before the spinning starts again.  This time on a downward spiral, fast, fast, fast.  

That's how my thoughts have been lately.  

Throw my whole weight into it. Hands gripped, knuckles white, legs dangling.  My whole self: doing my best to create momentum.

There's a reason we should not stay in one place.

There's a reason we should not let our lives grow stale.

I am here today, taking my feet and knees and thighs and hips and pushing them against air and angle and the truth is...

We do the hard work for the feeling of relief when our weight is matched with speed.

Something happened and because my world has gotten small, I thought it would never happen again.

Like light breaking through the dark curtains, when the sun breaks through the clouds.

Something familiar, but forgotten, returns.  And it took so long for it to come back, your first instinct is maybe to chase.

But your instinct is wrong here.  Because while it is good, it is not rare.  While it is what you need, in part, it is not limited in supply.

You just let your world get small.

And the weight and angle and grip carry you higher and you travel the circumference and remember.  

I know how to do that.

I had forgotten.  I had forgotten that what light broke through the darkness this time, was not new.  It was not special, in the sense it was like none other.  I had found it before.  I'd find it again.  I had just let my world get too small.

Deep breath, pause at the top.  A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth as I wait, legs dangling, the momentum does its job and 


Tuesday, January 30, 2018


We sat in the back yard and I knew him when I saw him.  The oddball. 

A surprise and a gift and we followed him around as he explored. 

Walked away, the three of us.

I knew, no one else did, that I was trying to replace what was lost. 

I was trying to fill a void, the space left empty. 

Let us take care of something.  Let us heal. 

And I was up around the clock. 

Potty training.  Softening food.  Bathing.  Snuggling.

I remember the night Judah got jealous.  I remember the night that he got his fingers gnawed on and he cried and panicked and I remember thinking, I did this for youHow could I have gotten it so wrong?

And what we had expected never happened. 

Voids never filled.  There was no fulfillment.  No peace.

Families have pets, I thought.  Somehow in my mind, this gesture, this gift, would make us whole.  Would repair what had been broken. 

So every time this oddball peeled and ate a whole bunch of bananas or dug through the trash or pitted an avocado or gnawed on a pair of eyeglasses, resentment grew.

This was supposed to fix it. 

And I had been wrong. 

When we moved home, he came with us.  Happier to have a yard, happier to have a friend. 

But what happens in May? I wondered.

When this pup, who turned out much differently than we thought he would, has to go back to living in a crate.  Has to move into an apartment.

What happens when we attribute so much meaning and so much expectation on one thing.

One person.

One job.

One degree.

One house. 

One salary.

One ring.

What happens when we wait to repair and we wait to heal and we wait to redeem and we wait to resolve and we wait to reconstruct because we feel we are missing pieces. 

We wait to live.

So I think back to the backyard.  Picking that warm, furry body out of the pile of warm, furry bodies.  Thinking, certainly, this will fix us.  This will heal what hurts.

And in hindsight, knowing I was wrong, I wonder how to let go.

When we attach ourselves to the purpose of something, the function it can serve, rather than who it is intrinsically... love has a hard time growing.  We become enmeshed, calling it love; except we only really love what it was supposed to do for us.   

What happens in May today turned quickly into what happens now?  And all over again I have to face this furry, oddball puppy who can't stay.  


Turns out, graduate school really takes it out of you. 

Not as if I haven't done all I knew to do over the past seven years to be my best self.  But the last eight months have been an entirely different story.  Rapid transformation seems to bring on a certain measure of shame for not changing, evolving, so quickly in the past.  

Education and resources and perspective have changed and elicited this transformation... there's no way my brain looks the same as it did at the beginning of last summer.

I read something in Daring Greatly by Brene Brown a year or two ago... and I spent an hour trying to find it on the internet yesterday without having to check the book back out from the library.

Turns out everyone loves talking about bravery and vulnerability and what it does for us.

But not many people want to sound byte the narrative about what happens if we do it wrong.

And I wasn't doing it wrong on purpose.  But it still was happening. 

I got a nasty text from someone who didn't know me the other day.  Who talked about how I was too much, essentially.  That I had abandonment issues.  No wonder I was alone.  I took it with a grain of salt because, again, they don't know me.  But I sifted through the criticism and remembered this term from Brene's work.  Looked long and hard to find it.  The internet is a strange place.

But its called "floodlighting".  Defined by Brene as an attempt to elicit a response or to breed connection or a false sense of intimacy.  When we share too much too soon with the wrong people. 

Some people do it for attention (think: Kardashians). 

And then there are people like me.  Still working through a lot of shame and a lot of trauma and trying really hard to not let it fester in the dark. 

Maybe I want to know if you're okay with my story before we get too deep into this; it'll hurt less if you choose to bow out early.  There's a small part of me that still naively believes that if you know what I've been through, maybe you'll choose to engage me differently.  Not stay out of pity or choose me out of obligation.  But if you know what my family has been through and you recognize you can't fill a single need we have, maybe you'll just choose to go.  Maybe you'll choose to communicate. 

Maybe it's my way of normalizing some of what we've been through.

But it's not good.  And I know that.  I knew it before I just didn't have a name for it, and so now that I have a name for it I not only feel empowered but I have immediately done the work I know to do to fix it.

This space, my writing, is not so different from that concept of too much too soon with the wrong ones.  But you choose to be here. Over the years, you know whether you want to click this link and read along or not.  Really I don't share details here until after I've processed it all, anyway.  And that's one key component to healthy vulnerability versus floodlighting.  Being vulnerable not to fill a need and not dependent on a response. 

Yesterday I was talking with a friend who was describing herself as an empath.  I have spent my entire life with empaths. 60% of the women in my immediate family are empaths.  It wasn't until yesterday though, after my friend stated that she thought I was one too, that I realized I wasn't.

So, as per usual, I did some research. 

Turns out there are four common emotional personality types.  The Intellectual, the Empath, the Rock and the Gusher.

And guess which one I am. 

I am currently hitting my face with my palm, face red still from the embarrassment.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to find out who you are.

And I'm right there.

Gushers, according to Dr Judith Orloff, are incredibly comfortable with our emotions.  We express them, experience them, share them.  Sometimes too much.  We don't wallow in negativity because we are comfortable feeling it, but we often want to talk about it.

It took me a few minutes to get over feeling embarrassed and of course... shaming myself for feeling lots of emotions, which of course makes me the "gusher" that I am.  It took me reading through the other personality types to convince myself that I was not the only one with inherent and interpersonal flaws. 

And then I realized what the author recommended was not to change yourself, but to strengthen yourself; her methods suggested were everything I've been working on the past seven to eight months.  Somehow, without the words to describe myself, I had perceived my own need and begun the hard work. 

I also was able to recognize and acknowledge that this is one of the reasons why I am not too shabby at my job.  Why I thrive in these fast-paced, charged environments.

The way people feel doesn't scare me.

People's experiences and feelings and grief and joy... I am not overwhelmed by them. 

I understand them.

My empathy may not look like absorbing their energy or sharing their load. 

But I can sit with someone.  I can let them be, whatever it is they need to be.  I am a sensitive listener.

And that's something. 

Am I still a little embarrassed?  Sure.  Kind of like realizing you've been walking around with a hole in the seat of your pants, or your dress got caught in your pantyhose.  Nothing too mortifying.  Nothing anyone has not seen before.  Just a little embarrassed because here's a flaw.  And I know I have them.  I just didn't want you to know.

The other facet of this process has been resisting the urge to text everyone I've ever vented to and apologize.

I'm sorry for who I am, essentially. 

None of this is news to you all.  I'm sorry it took so long for me to see it. 

Growth sucks.  But here I am.  Neck deep in changing our whole lives, starting with my mind and heart.

I'm doing the best I can.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

when it's over

Endings are wildly irreverent, sometimes. 

But I tore it to pieces and I'll throw it in the trash on my way out.

No ceremony.  No celebration.

Just an ending.

A debt paid in full. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018


January 28th 2007.  

A heavy breath of fog had descended on the bus station, causing lights to blur, and a layer of dampness to cling to every surface. He watched as drivers and security filtered through the automatic doors, and he felt the gust of warm air on his face every time just as the doors closed again. 

He had finally worn holes in the soles of his shoes. His threadbare scarf was wrapped tightly around his neck, and his fingerless gloves were fraying. He lowered his head, lifted the burning cigarette to his lips, and drew a deep breath. He had been sitting here for hours.

Beside him on the ground lay a duffel bag. Green canvas, his name was printed on the side. It was stuffed, filled to the top, and these days the seams were stretching. The shoulder straps were darkened from his sweat, the bottom of the bag blackened from the many station floors it had fallen upon. His own shoulders had taken shape to accomodate the heavy bag, and he couldn't even remember what it felt like to walk without it.

A bus pulled into the station, its brakes exhaling and whistling. He looked up and caught a glimpse of the bus' number. The headlights penetrated the fog and darkness, and then was absorbed by the fluoresent glow. This was his bus.

He stood up, dropped the cigarette butt on the concrete, grinding it with the thin toe of his boot, and shouldered the heavy bag.

The sun would rise in a few hours, but he would already be on the road. When natural light was cast upon the bus station again, he would be gone. His bag a few pounds heavier, his pockets that much emptier. The thing was, the bag would only continue to get heavier. And his pockets would continue to be lined and then spent, his belly continue to get fed and then become hungry again. The only consistency was what was so inconsistent. The only thing that never seemed to change was the bag.

He shifted the strap on his shoulder and took a step forward. The windshield wipers on the bus began to sweep back and forth as the fog released cold rain. Taking a deep breath he left his bench and walked towards the bus, stealing one last look at the station through the corner of his eye.

There were days this bag groaned beneath its own weight. There were days when he wept for the weight of it on his own shoulders. The days of inspiration came and went. Days when he would stand up and leave the bag on the bench, or in the restroom, or in the overhead compartment. On those days he was done with the weight of it all. He was done with tying the top closed, making sure nothing fell out, reminding himself that his identity was carried in that bag. On those days he would leave the bag.

Those same days were the days he picked it back up again. Turn a corner and be struck by shocking vulnerability. Who was he without that bag? And he reminded himself he was nothing, that he was empty without it, and he would turn around. Usually running, he would return to pick up the green, canvas bag with his name on it, stained and smelling. Shouldering it again, he would continue on his way, he back aching from the weight, his soul darkened by the presence of the baggage.

Today was another day of inspiration.

Oh! what he could do without this bag. He could live a real life, find love, find his way back home.... the thoughts and ideas and dreams churned like turmoil in his heart until he could muster enough courage to lay the bag down again. Those were the days of inspiration. Those were the days, which inspired change. Those were the days when his heart, body, mind and soul wanted freedom from this burden.

He had grown strong for carrying this bag. He was powerful for having it. He was in control of his identity because of this bag. No one could take it from him, he was in charge.

But there were days when the bag had all the power.

He shook the thoughts out of his mind this time. Too much had been tucked away in that bag today for him to leave it behind. Someone might find it. Someone might see.

So he handed his ticket to the attendant, nodding silently and blowing the last of the cigarette smoke out of his mouth. He wondered if the attendant would think it such a "good morning" if she carried a bag like his. Would she be so happy if her shoulders ached like his did?

And then they reached for it.

This was why he hated traveling. Why he would rather hitch hike, sleeping in the bed of an old Chevy as it rumbled down the road. His fellow travelers never took his bag away from him. Some of them even had their own baggage thrown in the passenger seat, making the journey too.

The buses always took his bag. Every time.

He slipped the bag off his shoulder, feeling for a brief, strange moment what it felt like to be free. But only for a moment. He leaned over and picked the bag up in his arms as if it were a child and handed it over.

The cold rain fell on his skin and began to soak through the shoulders of his coat. The percipitation darkened the green canvas, making it appear black. He turned to climb into the bus, feeling the emptiness of his arms and the absence of the load on his shoulder.

And then he heard it.

He had known the bag was too full. He had patched and mended the seams too many times to count; this morning when he had dropped the empty flask onto the top and then clasped the bag shut, he remembered wondering how much more the bag could hold.

He heard them exclaim their apologies. He saw her bend down to retrieve the contents of the bag before they rolled beneath the bus. He watched as the wind caught hold of the loose strap and he felt his heart sink.

There, scattered on the wet asphalt, caught in the damp glow of the headlights was his life. Or, what it was his life had become. And he fell to his knees. He pushed her away, trying to hide his belongings as quickly as he could. There were, perhaps, a few more secrets, which hadn't been exposed. He wrapped up contents in the ripped bag and stood up. Shaking his head, holding back the tears, he stood up and walked away from the bus.

The rain came down harder. He felt the raindrops chase down the back of his neck, sending shivers up his spine. He stared down at his life, laying helpless in his arms. And he felt the hurt.

That's what the bag was for, anyway. To hide the hurt. To keep it. To numb it. Open the bag and it all returned... the memories, the addictions, the loneliness, a little bit of joy every now and then. Open the bag and his life would rise up, and he could smell it. He could taste it. He could hear it. The bag was to keep it all at bay.

The bag was broken now.

And he felt sick.

And he felt tired.

And he began to remember what it was like to feel...

And it was no longer inspiration... nor was it embarrassment.

But he felt something, heard it rise up with the fog.

And he stepped into the bus station, feeling the warmth on his cold, red cheeks again, letting the water drip from his boots. And he dropped his bag, dropped what was left of his life into the trash can.

He backed away slowly, still worrying that someone might find his secrets. But he left the station again, sat back down on his bench, lit a cigarette, and waited for the next bus. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tell Me About the Time You Did the Dishes

Old Friend from Far Away / Tell Me About the Time You Did the Dishes

There was a season in our life that made a lot of sense.  

I had moved out of our childhood home before it all happened.  And then he moved out too. 

And for a long season, there was a lot of secrecy and a lot of dinners at restaurants and a lot of cleaning up whatever he left behind at the old place and a lot more of feeling left out.  

And then Fiddler's Creek happened.  

New beds happened.  That sectional happened.  A whole season of 24 happened.  

We'd all be there.  The four of us and him.  And it was clean and it was sparse and it was the best thing I can ever remember.  We would cook or order out, usually on a Monday night so that afterward we could watch Kiefer Sutherland save the world.  

After dinner he would always move to the sink in the small kitchen and wash the dishes.  

We would offer to do it for him and he always shook his head.

He liked washing dishes, he said.  

Most of what goes on in my days doesn't make sense, he tried to explain.  

When I wash a dish it's dirty, then it's clean, and I get to put it away.  Eventually, the whole sink is empty.

That made sense to him.  That was his resolution.  

A few years later I lived in a studio apartment and was a few months pregnant.  I had let the dishes pile high and couldn't bring myself to tackle the job of washing them.  

Finally, whether it was really that bad or pregnancy had heightened my sense of smell, I couldn't take it any longer.  I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.  

I remember being done and looking at the empty sink and knowing nothing moving forward would resolve quite so beautifully.  And I was thankful.


I spent that whole day trying to make it go away. 

The chest tightness, the tears welling, the short breath. 

All day I followed my own advice.  I did what I have been taught and what I've been teaching.  Breathing deeply, calming the amygdala.  Trying to regain control of my nervous system.  Filling my nose with air, I tried to taste it as it left my mouth.  But nothing worked.

In fact, it climbed.

I convinced myself of a truth that I had no idea about.  And I became overwhelmingly uncomfortable in my own space.  I made myself sick.  A fear of missing out, a false sense of urgency.  My chest wall tightened and my skin was hot and I could feel every nerve-ending in every fingertip.  

I'm still surprised as I sit here and can breathe all the way into my lungs.  On the other side, I am still fascinated it's over. 

It's over, in part, because someone said this...

"Anna, you're having a hard time because you're trying to make these feelings stop."

I'm listening.

"You are having a hard time because you've convinced yourself that you shouldn't be feeling this way and you're trying to make these feelings go away.  But what you're going through is a hurricane.  And people don't make hurricanes go away.  They protect themselves from them.  Hunker down. Wait it out.  Step aside, let it through."

This particular friend is usually the friend who tells me to suck it up and quit being a wuss.  Man up, they usually say, you sound like you ain't been through shit before.

Instead, this time they said:

"You've never done this before.  The whole point is to mess up.  The whole point is to get through this shit you don't know how to get through so that you can get stronger.  So you can grow.  The point of life is to screw up some.  And really, it doesn't sound like you're screwing up that much at all.  You're still supposed to feel this shit."

Tears streamed down my face. 

 I realized how hard I had been trying to keep my composure. How my body needed some release, some relief, and I had just been trying to stay calm.  I was trying to make something go away, which really needed to run its course.  I was trying to outrun something I wasn't meant to outrun.  I was trying to escape something, which wasn't designed to be escaped.  

Later that night I sat down and read this: 

"I had completely clear insight that my whole personality... was based on not wanting to go to the groundless place.  Everything I did... it was all to avoid feeling this way.  

By learning to stay, it gradually loses its threat... 

We think that facing our demons is reliving some traumatic event or discovering for sure that we are worthless.  But in fact it is just abiding with the uneasy, disquieting sensation of nowhere to run and finding that -- guess what -- we don't die; we don't collapse.  In fact, we find profound relief and freedom." 

(Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron, p. 19)

Chodron recommends we practice what she calls the "pause".  

Which, I suppose, is not the same advice as hunkering down in a hurricane.  

But I think I understand the idea.  

The practice of pausing--ritualistically, intentionally--and bringing yourself to the present moment. Attending to whatever is true right now -- whether it's a  groundless or not.  The practice of mindfully extending kindness to yourself, exploring what it is you are feeling without judgment.  Without criticism.  

Sometimes, it turns out, I just need time.  And the pause allows for time.  The pause creates time.  A brief moment of grounding yourself, despite groundlessness, despite ego, despite attachment.

Maybe I've gotten it all wrong.  But this is what I understand it all to mean.

What I'm struggling with now is understanding how to manage my expectations without negotiating my way out of a dream.

How do I hope for a new job, the opportunity to move to a new city, a 4.0 for graduation, or for love, but also manage my expectations for those things?  Because it turns out, my knee-jerk response is to talk myself out of wanting it.  

To detach from hope by denying its worth to me.

How do we both want something and have realistic expectations for it?  Can we release attachments to these narratives and still hope for them?  Without punishing ourselves if we don't achieve what we are striving for?  Without shaming ourselves for the wanting?

I spent the majority of that day sifting through cognitive distortions and assigning myself the same homework I've been assigning my clients.  

I don't have the answers yet.  But it's the healthiest way I know to be.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


With each of my clients I sit down across a wide conference table and I complete an assessment.  

There's only a few rules, I tell them.  

The first rule is that I want you to tell the truth.  Even if at home or at school or at work you get in trouble for telling the truth.  I want you to tell me whatever you think the truth is, whenever you're ready to tell it.

The second rule is that if I use a word you don't understand, I want you to tell me and we will pick new words.  

I ask them about home, about transportation, about legal involvement, about medical history, about family composition.  And then I ask them a series of questions, questions that I did not write.  Questions I hate asking.

1. Are you having any trouble with people in your life right now? 
2. Do you have any reason to feel frightened in any of your relationships? 
3. Do you ever have any thoughts of hurting yourself on purpose or thinking you were better off dead?
4. Have you ever had anything horrible happen in your life that was outside of the ordinary?

I have had to ask these questions to clients as old as 18 and as young as 6.  

We also talk about depression.  And we talk about anxiety.  We assess mania and hyperactivity.  

But it never fails.  There's one question, smack in the middle of the assessment.

Have you experienced any loss or grief? 

And unless I have a really emotionally intelligent teenager sitting across the table from me, I watch young brows furrow, watch these children chew on their lip, swivel in the chair.  I pause.  Wait for it.  Let them ask.  

What does grief/mean? 

And so we talk about it.  

Sometimes a parent is sitting with us  and the look on their face when I ask this particular question breaks my heart.  

I don't want to ask it either, I promise.  

So I lean in.  

Is it when someone dies? They always ask this.  Grief happens when someone dies.  

I nod.  

It can be. 

You can feel grief for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes we lose something we thought we could keep.  Sometimes things change that we thought would never change. 

Some of my clients list grandparents who've passed, and you can watch their little minds working to capture a concept so abstract.  So intangible.  This answers my question for me, essentially.  For these clients, the answer is no.

But the others...

Their faces say yes before their mouths do.  

me too

I liked him, I thought.

A few months before I'd had my heart broken by someone who had no ill intentions, but hadn't been careful with my heart.

I was 22 and childless and I don't remember who I was back then.

But I remember a week night.  After work, heading to the apartment close to campus.  Drinking a little too much on the back deck.  Everyone leaving but me.

Belt buckles left bruises on my hips and I was angry and I punched and pushed and pulled my bra back into place and scrambled to find my keys.

Drunkenly he offered to walk me to my car, because "campus isn't safe for girls at night".

And the next day he didn't remember how he got the bruise on his arm from where I had pushed him off of me.

I was careful.  Walked outside with my best friend.  I was sober and had my key in my pocket.  All night someone had been bothering me inside.  Walking up behind me and pushing himself against me.  Once he pulled my hair I told the bouncer to watch out for me and I left.  Walked to my car a few hundred feet away.  I pulled my key out of my pocket and it fell on the ground.  When I bent over to pick it up I heard my friend scream my name and the next thing I knew I was being thrown against my car.

He'd just gotten out of prison, he had told me.  He pushed his body against mine and kept me suspended feet above the ground.  All he'd done while in prison was work out, he said.  He could do this all day.

My friend yelled at him to drop me, but he ignored her.  His hips pinned me against the car and his hands pulled my hair and he described vulgarly what he planned to do.  And I looked for the police over his shoulder and finally between gritted teeth I reminded him that if he wasn't careful I could get him sent back to jail.

And my friend showed up.  Upstate New York in a black trench coat who had been watching from his two story walk up apartment, unsure whether we were playing or I was scared.  When he saw me pushing he walked down and stood in the glow of the streetlight and simply said, "drop her".

Which he did.

And he ran.

Or the time I was standing in the restaurant and the young man walked back and grabbed my ass with his hand.

Or the time he pulled me into the back room to put his fingers up my shorts.

Or the time he pulled me into his lap and kissed me without permission.

The time he grabbed the back of my head and pulled me towards his lap.

The time his hands kept coming back every time I moved them.

The time I don't really remember.

The time he made a decision for us that we were not ready to make.

The stories go on and on.

Not a single one of those men believed at the time that what they were doing was inappropriate.

And I could have made a scene about every single incident.

There are days I wished I had.

 I could have aired their dirty laundry.  I could have publicly shamed them.  For a couple of these guys... I could have ruined their careers.  As preachers, as barbers, medical students, small business owners, as politicians, as husbands.

But there are people right now who are telling my stories without my permission.  Rape culture reminds me daily what kind of role I played in each and every scenario.  Rape culture adjusts and amends my expectations of the behavior of men.

I had to make a decision each and every time about how to handle what happened.  With the expception of a few cirumstances, wildly out of my control, I handled it in a way I felt proud.

A couple of the incidences required that I seek counseling.

To this day I think about the worship leader and I have deeply rooted skepticism, distrust, for men who work for the church.

All I am saying is, me too.

Me too.

And in the moment I wish I had talked more about it.  Maybe I wish I had been more vocal.

But I never wished I had been more vocal in order to draw attention for myself, or to punish the man (men) who'd hurt me so badly.

My thoughts on this go on so far as... what do we do to protect those women (or, let's be honest, men too) who come after us.  This is the gray area.  This is where grace gets sticky.  This is where the lines are blurred.

What do we do to maintain that private relationships and relations are respected, that shame has no part in our narrative.  Not for ourselves, not for our perpetrators, because justice doesn't require shame.  But what do we do... how do we behave, so people are made aware that what they did was wrong.  While also behaving in a way which is above reproach?  How do we create room for redemption, while still allowing breathing room for the reckoning.

I believe this is the only mentality that will survive this movement.

We could "trade licks" all day long.  And the feminist movement could gnash our teeth and wail and groan and raise our voices so loud to make sure we overpower the louder voices of our male counterparts.  We could embarrass all of you.  If we all told these stories, we could dismantle entire empires.  But that's not sustainable.

With the exception of two... I have never been hurt by a man who knew what he was doing was wrong.

This does not excuse them.

But it draws attention to a problem much deeper than publicizing sexual misconduct allegations and hashtags can reach.

*** I wrote this months ago and feel like this is the hurdle I must overcome to be able to write anything else.

Monday, January 8, 2018


I had a moment this morning.

One of those moments.  The one I had been waiting for.

The moment when the blood pumped a little faster and my cheeks pulled at my mouth.

Gears slowly slid into place for the first time in a few months and the fluidity of connectivity gave me peace.

I've been learning.

My brain has kicked high into consumption mode and the dry sponge that was myself has leaned in to absorb.

To soak it all in.

The information I suddenly realize I don't have.

Curiosity, they say, is an understanding of the difference between what you know and what there is to know.

Part of generating motivation is identifying discrepancies between who we say we are and how we behave.

We are scared of fear and of suffering and of sadness and instead of working through we attempt to override.

But feeling is the way.

To exhaust your emotions and feel in totality.

I am learning about attachment.

About mobility and the ways we have to sit with our pain.

About how every muscle and fiber and nerve is somehow connected and when part of us hurts, we have to look above the pain and below the pain to find the source.

About the option of suffering and the way we choose to be in the moment.

About strength and how our bodies compensate for our weakness.  About nutrition and how you can exhaust yourself, but your body can't grow until you give it what it needs.

About meditation and mindfulness.

About rumbling with the truth, about the stories we tell ourselves.

I asked the question yesterday.

What do I want?

I can never answer this question.

They say not to share your goals but I struggle to even share them with myself.

Do I say them out loud for the first time and risk sounding silly?  Risk sounding childish.  Risk sounding small minded?


We are afraid of feeling anything but happiness.

Avidly, religiously we avoid anything which might hurt, which might remind us of lack, which might create distance, which might stretch us too thin, which might put us on the ledge, which might lead to failure.

We play it safe.  With our hearts and careers and words, navigating narrow roads with trepidation.  Slowly.  Because it's scary.  We self-protect, forgetting that hiding from the wind means hiding from the light.

We tell ourselves stories about inadequacy.  Laboriously mulling over our shortcomings, the ways we could be better in order to win affection, promotion, achievement, acceptance.  We create shelves and boxes and entire closets to store backboards and storyboards, canvases for which to paint all our experiences.  The stories we tell ourselves guide the dreams we are willing to pursue, the risks we are brave enough to take, the relationships we allow to develop.

We starve connections, which perhaps only need honest communication.

We turn down opportunities, which would have maybe only required the bravery of rearranging.

We experience pain and then experience suffering regarding pain.  The pain of two arrows, as the Buddhists say.

We experience anything, and shame ourselves for feeling it.

We lack compassion for ourselves.

And we tell stories, sliding ideas and thoughts onto shelves where we think they belong.

Sometimes missing out on truth entirely.

And so the circle connects, returning us back to the mirror to examine our image.

Are we behaving like ourselves?  Are our actions and interactions congruent with who we know ourselves to be?  For where we want ourselves to go?

Are we telling ourselves the truth?

Are we leaning into curiosity and allowing it to guide us through to a life well lived?

Or are we sinking, settling into a routine, which lacks conviction or discipline when what our souls are hungry for is funneled energy; effort channeled toward purpose and rallied for all that is freedom and clarity.

What's the truth then?

How can you know?

Find the grit.  Slide your palms and trace your fingers on the surface area of this whole experience.  There are injuries, keeping blood from flowing.  There are stories, and they are just that.  Tissue, knotted up, deprived of oxygen.  Blocking healing.

What it will take to heal, will hurt.

Dissecting poor attachments disguised as compensations, stories which don't support our truth and power.  Being willing to move slowly while something firm and sturdy rebuilds.

It will hurt, and we have will have to sit with it.  We will have to show ourselves compassion for it, patience while we unload and correct our movement patterns.  Loving-kindness applied like a warm compress, where we've piled high our damaging narratives.

We don't want to do anything that may not lead to happiness.

And happiness may not be what's on the other side of this discomfort.

But, love, there's life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Test One/ Prompt One - Old Friend From Far Away

One goal for 2018 is to write every day.  Whether it's one-line journaling or blogging.  I have an intention to work through Natalie Goldberg's "Old Friend From Far Away", which is a helpful book on how to write a memoir.  Most of the entries are exercises, which I find useful for dislodging some writer's block.  I have worked through her first two exercises (about what we see and what we remember) multiple times over the years.  So for today's entry I started on chapter 3.  I do not intend to edit or even proofread these entries.

Test One / Begin each answer with "I Remember" 

1. Give me a memory of your mother, your aunt, or grandmother

I remember getting in the minivan with aunt Donna.  We drove for hours, a loop of highway around the foothills of the Rockies, slowly climbing.  She drove with her left food on the door panel of the minivan.  I, afraid of heights or falling or sliding whatever, was unnerved by the nonchalant way she navigated the winding narrow roads.  Up, up.  I think I remember later telling Larry that Donna wasn't the best driver and he laughed, already knowing this about his sister in law. 

2. Give me a memory of the color red

I asked for a sign.  The streets of Addis were crowded and colorful. Children begged on every corner.  There were merchants and we were the only white people for miles.  I was fighting, with everything in me.  They all knew it.  There had already been doves and there had already been prayers answered and they were putting things on me I didn't want to carry.  We walked into the Orthodox church, surrounded by deep brown women in stark white head coverings. The only colors left unsullied, left pure.  I remember there was no light.  Just towering windows with stained glass.  The ceilings were vaulted and it smelled hot, but there was relief there.  It was not the hot, dry season yet.  But it also wasn't Kentucky.  I was dared.  I was challenged.  I responded with an attitude and rounded the corner.  The nativity was depicted in stained glass and for a moment I stood still, with the worshippers moving around me as water does a boulder in the stream.  I remember whispering, "who didn't tell the Italians that the Virgin Mary is supposed to wear blue?"

3. Give me the memory of a sound

I thought I would sit here and tell you about the piano. 
But that's not it. 
What I actually remember is the emptying of pockets. 
The wooden porch echoes a certain way, before the screen door creaks a certain way, before the front door catches as it tries to unlatch.  
We memorized footsteps.
To this day I can tell you who has come home. 
I could probably tell you exactly how many seconds there were between that front door catch and the back room - where we sleep now - and the long, low dresser that keeps Judah's clothes now.  And I'd count those seconds and wait. 
The drawer would open, catching like the front door does. 
And he'd empty his pockets. 
Loose change, keys, and half of an unwrapped pack of Certs.
Settling noisily on that long, low dresser.

4. Give me the memory of meal I loved

There was a joke, about Norman Rockwell holidays on Severn Way.  A joke that turned into expectation.  That house used to be full of life, long before we all knew the secrets. And on Christmas Day the kitchen would be full and the back sliding glass door would be steamy.  Sliding open and shut while meat was grilled in the snow. 

5. Give me the  memory of rain

The little yellow house had a small front porch.  Up the street there was street light in an empty parking lot.  And he'd pull the old, tan lawn chairs back as close to the house as he could.  Sit, cross his calf over his knee, and watch.  In the darkness the only way we could see the rain was in the cast of that street light.  We could hear it.  We felt it spray our faces, as we sat on the shallow porch, feeling the foundation shake every time the thunder clapped.