November 17, 2016 § 1 Comment
Last week, after the election, I invited participants in my workshops to write through their strongest emotions during this time. Today, each writer read their responses aloud.
Ache and raw despair.
Honesty, strength and commitment to love.
And the question threading through all: How far would I go to stand up for what I believe?
I walked home in tears—not tears of sadness and trepidation, but tears of thankfulness. Thankfulness in knowing there are so many, many extraordinary people in this world around us.
July 25, 2016 § 7 Comments
Years ago, I wrote out a list of my strengths with the misguided notion that if I reviewed the list often enough, I could actually rewire my genetic tendency toward perpetual self-doubt.
One Saturday, a week after my fiftieth birthday, I’d felt imperfect as hell and pulled out the list. I’d had a hard week. Among other things, I’d forgotten my address while filling out an AARP form—it was as if touching the form itself, had flipped off my hippocampus and I was now forever chained to the sinking ship of memory loss.
I stared at my list of strengths and felt anxiety rather than comfort. The problem was not that I knew these words were actually reframed flaws—pigheadedness disguised as confidence, indecisiveness spun into flexibility. The problem was that most of my strengths required my mind, and I knew where that was headed.
Mid-way down the list I noticed the word compassionate. Aha! There we go! A trait that evolves from the heart—an organ I was still feeling pretty good about. Empowered, I strategically moved “compassionate” to the top of my list, and committed myself to deepening its development.
My shit shield now sturdy enough to re-enter the world, I headed out to the farmer’s market to feel the love. The sun beamed enthusiastically, so I cranked down the roof of my VW bug and cranked up Marley’s, Love Is My Religion.
I’d driven maybe a ½ mile down the road, when out of the slits in my car hood, a small rodent emerged. We made eye contact. He stood stock-still for only a second before leaping onto my side of the windshield. He stared straight at me. I could see the tiny pink suction cups between his sharp little nails and then—scritchscratchscritch, he began to climb up the windshield, his quivering nose in the air.
I knew what he wanted.
He wanted to bite me with his pointy little teeth, his secret rabies injectors. He didn’t seem the type who cared a bit if he caused an accident, maybe even a death. His predicament was making him irrational and I could see it on his face.
“Holy shit!” I yelled as he climbed higher and higher up the window. I couldn’t bring the car top up because I had to be stopped to do that, and I couldn’t stop because there was a ditch to my right and a line of cars behind me. And then, I had a brilliant idea—the windshield wipers! I flipped them on– but what does the little vermin do? He grabs on with one hand, ok claw, but god those claws look like the kind of tiny horror story fingers you’d see in a Stephen King movie.
So there he was flying back and forth, back and forth, across the windshield like a trapeze artist receiving a good day’s pay and fulfilling a life’s dream. I switched the wipers to hyper-fast mode. He accepted the challenge and grabbed on with both claws, his legs and tail flailing out behind him, and his face stretched out tight as a Kardashian’s.
“Alright you little Willard wannabe,” I shouted while trying to stay in my lane and wondering if this was how I was going to die—fighting off a mouse in my car. Time to get serious. I pressed the window washer button. Through a soapy blur I saw the flying fugitive release the wipers and land back on the windshield directly facing me, blinking the water out of his eyes in such a sorrowful way that I turned off the washer, wipers and Bob Marley. Clearly, love was not my religion.
I watched as the mouse, a glaring metaphor for my absolute lack of compassion, slipped backwards on his hairless tummy, his drenched body sliding down the hood, neck and arms stretched out wide as he tried to hang on—until finally, he disappeared over the edge.
I arrived at the market and sat in my car. Guilt and doubt taking their rightful places. What kind of monster had I become? I used to be the one in the room who would catch a wayward fly in a tupperware rather than smash it with a swatter, who would fling the winged creature out the window calling, “fly little fly, fly!”
Then, on the ground in front of me, I saw the mouse standing on his hind legs with his back toward me. He cocked his soggy head side to side and ran straight for the cheese booth.
That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t about me. It was about the mouse. He probably had persistence at the top of his list.
September 9, 2015 § 11 Comments
For the last few weeks I’ve had a recurring dream: I’m in bed and hear loud voices in my living room. I rush out to a crowd of unfamiliar men and women dressed in semi-formal wear, laughing and drinking cocktails. And, they are stealing things. They are yanking books and photos and souvenirs off the shelves and stuffing them into their bags. One guy rips a photo out of an album and sticks it in his wallet. He shows his friend and his friend laughs his head off.
Then, in the center of the room: Aylan Kurdi’s three year old body. Face down. His red T-shirt. His blue shorts.
I scream, but I can’t. make. sounds. Only gaspy breathy noises. My arms flail. I run to the child. Take his pulse. No beats. Run to the phone. Still. Can’t. Make. Sounds. Only horror breathing. I grab a woman pilfering through my cupboards. Point at the little boy in the red T-shirt. She doesn’t see me or feel me, only shoves a coffee pot into her bag along with my favorite mug. I grab a man plucking yellow tulips from a vase. He doesn’t feel or see me either. No one sees me, see them, not seeing the little dead boy.
To say I’ve been thinking about this dream would be an understatement. It has shaken the hell out of me. Its message of lost/stolen identities blatant. The child’s image making it hard to function at work. I’ve become irritating to others as I try to control minutia because I can’t control the big important things.
People say: AVOID LOOKING AT THAT PICTURE. Their reasons are many and some are understandable—I grasp emotional sensitivities to the core. Yet.
I can’t not look.
I can’t not look because I’ve been a child on the floor in a room full of cocktail drinkers, laughing their heads off while I sit there in bright colors that hide unspeakables. I can’t not look because I am grateful beyond stars for people who reached in and pulled me to safety. I can’t not look because it’s a little boy left. I can’t not look because it’s the only way I know to help bring his voice back.
I’m angry we didn’t get there in time for this little boy. I’m angry this happened in 2015. And…and…I’m determined to stay hopeful, because consciousness is changing…more people are looking and asking questions and getting angry. And when that happens? When we unleash collective anger? Raise our collective voices? A tremendous creative power is released and life begins to change. We find new ways to battle cruelty and injustice.
Right now, there are people working 24-7 to support insufficient refugee services strained to breaking, while hundreds of thousands more humans are on their way, hoping for a better life, hoping someone will pull them in before they drown.
So even if we disagree with the insanely complicated politics about the right or wrong of all of this, or whether Aylan’s father should or should not have taken his family on that boat—ultimately, it’s about humanity and those who will die today seeking a better life. We have the resources. We are not small, powerless children. We are adults with huge hearts and incredible strength. We can look. We can ask questions. We can respond from the gut. Maybe it will seem futile. Maybe it will seem like we failed? But we won’t have failed because there is monumental meaning in taking action. In the effort, we strengthen our voices and with stronger voices comes truth and freedom.
If you haven’t already seen ways to help, here are a few:
The UN Refugee Agency: Provides cash for medicine and food, stoves and fuel for heating, insulation for tents, thermal blankets and winter clothing.
Save the Children: Supplies food for Syrian kids and supports education in Syrian refugee camps.
International Rescue Committee: The group’s emergency team is in Greece, where nearly 1,000 people are arriving per day.
World Food Programme: The agency says it is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of millions of displaced Syrians.
Mercy Corps: Refugees are most in need of clean water, sanitation services, temporary shelter and food.
CARE: Reaches Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen and those displaced inside Syria with food, hygiene items and emergency cash. It’s also helping refugees crossing into Serbia.
Migrant Offshore Aid Station: This charity runs independent rescue boats to rescue migrants at risk of drowning.
Médecins Sans Frontières: The humanitarian agency has three rescue ships in the Mediterranean.
Unicef: The UN’s children’s charity is providing life-saving supplies such as clean water, medicine and psychological support. $10 could provide an emergency water kit for a family.
- The US refugee charity the International Rescue Committee has opportunities to volunteer at all of its 22 offices. Roles include mentoring refugee families and helping refugees find jobs.
July 21, 2015 § 22 Comments
When I first laid bare my personal writing in workshops, I puked before and after each meeting. I’m not talking about exposing my nature poems or opinions on the current state of education—I’m talking about writing with a truth stake driven through its heart.
I puked before the meeting, because I had no idea how the other writers would respond, no idea if they’d appreciate, reject, ridicule or judge. I puked afterward, (even if the critique was good, maybe even more so) because in some weird way, I felt I’d betrayed self, stopped protecting self—I’d allowed the dangerous, naive part of me to dance naked in the streets, arms open, face lit with desire and possibility—I’d unlocked the door of the safe house, knowing she’d run out, knowing she’d get hurt.
And when I signed with an agent to sell my novel?—the story of disrupted identity and power imbalances that might cause people to speculate about who the main character really was, I puked for three days straight.
My therapist told me puking was to be expected. Apparently, I was tearing apart some pretty hard-ass wiring. Apparently, it wasn’t the dangerous, naive part of me dancing naked, it was inner warrior woman, and like pupae ripping from industrial strength thread and bursting through membrane, discomfort was inescapable.
“You’re creating a new person,” he’d say. “You’re acting as if you are worthy. That’s no small thing.” He’d pass me Kleenex, shake his head and say things like, “The dangerous part of you isn’t naked woman or warrior woman. The dangerous part of you is underground veiled woman.”
He encouraged me to continue putting my voice out there—to say what I felt like saying, in the way I felt like saying it. To consider vulnerability as strength. To trust more. To say “fuck it” to anyone who thrived on tearing down, rather than firing up. To tell myself, “Your voice is beautiful.”
And so. With each new page of writing I exposed for review in groups, with each essay and social media post I didn’t delete, each time I said, “Fuck it,” and “Your voice is beautiful,” I felt less susceptible to harm. I began to taste, feel and smell the intoxication of a sturdier more resilient infrastructure. And as corny as it sounds, I felt different, in a sacred kind of way.
There are still plenty of days I worry about what people think, and my sentences crumple to dust and blow away before I can grab them and hide them under the bed. And there are nights I fail to believe I’m more than a story, rating or ‘like’, and lay awake in a hot sweat, cheeks wet with doubt and shame.
I will never again underestimate the power of saying fuck it and your words are beautiful—because it feels like something wrong is slowly being righted.