Monday, July 7, 2014


I am a lucky fish. My family belongs to a parcel of land on the eastern shore of a large mountain lake. (We belong to it; it belongs to us--the distinction here is often blurry. Land owning in a place that wants to be wild is tough business; there are grasses to cut, critters to herd away, silt and sand to be filtered clean. But this is not a post about land owning; that's a post for another day. This is a post about precipices.) I have been going to this lake every summer and long weekend in between since I was just a bean in my mother's womb, and before that even, since I was just an idea, an unknown life. I have been going to this place, and letting it heal me in minute or momentous ways for a very long time. Each time I go, summer fall winter spring, I have a deep desire to let the lake water do its healing work; heal me heal me heal me I whisper, keening. Help me help me help me. Help me get done what needs to get done. Forgive him. Forgive her. Forgive me. Help me to be a better daughter, sister, friend, human being. I assume that because I am where I am, praying where I'm praying, that my simple requests carry more weight, and will be somewhat heard, somehow. The earth and the water are purer in this place, so my thoughts seem purer. At the hour of every departure, we each make one final visit to the water, together or in turn, and send out our final requests: take care of this place. Take care of us. Take care of those we love. Give us strength, and courage, and heart. I have a habit of closing my eyes and listening as hard as I can listen, trying to memorize the sound of the waves against the rocks. If I can carry this sound with me, I think, then I will be safe.

I was at this lake just a few days ago. I was standing waist deep in its clear water. At this time of year, that water is still cold, but warm enough for swimming. Our place is a simple place; we don't have a boat with a motor or a dock that stretches out far enough for diving. When we get in the water to swim, we do so gingerly and with devotion, feeling our way across the clean rocks and letting ourselves get deeper, deeper, until we're ready to make the final plunge and duck under. It takes a bit of bravery, this ducking under, even on the hottest of days. The water takes us in slowly, and as much as we say how nice it would be to simply take a running jump and just get it over with, I think we take a silent pleasure in the way we do things, in our slow immersion. The slowness is a kind of respect--for the lake, for the division between our bodies. As we walk slowly in, we are asking the lake to accept us. Take me in, we ask. And it does, time and again. And when we are waist deep, on the precipice of the plunge, it asks something of us. Come in, it says silently. This is the tough part. This is the part that demands bravery; a gulp of air, an expansion of chest and lungs and heart, a letting go of all thought except this: I'm going under.

Under you go. There is the startling cold of the water and tingling skin and the rushing sound of your own body getting swallowed up. Nothing else matters, but this. And then up, up, up towards the light (you can see it through the fine delicate skin of your eyelids, through the fine delicate skin of the water) and you breath in again, you are alive again, you are in a new place. You've crossed the precipice.

When I left the lake this time, I began a new tradition. I didn't close my eyes and listen as I've always done. Instead, I tried to memorize the feeling of going under. I would want to remember this feeling on other days, during dark moments when I can quite literally see beyond my own darkness, but am too afraid or caught or stupidly devoted to cross the precipice in front of me. I would want to remember that there is no easy way to go under, or over, the divide between what is and what can be; there is no easy way, there's only going. Gulp of air, expansion of chest and lungs and heart, a letting go of all thought. Except this: I'm going.

Go out slowly into the water, into the life, you want. There is nothing wrong with timidity, with tenderness. But when you reach the precipice, when your wanting fills you, go under. Do not be afraid. There is so much to be found on the other side.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

T is for Thirty

Me: Hi twenties.
Twenties: Hey.
Me: I'm going to be thirty this week.
Twenties: Don't I know it.
Me: I'm actually kind of glad, Twenties. I feel pretty steady.
Twenties: But thirty means that you're getting old. I'm young. Stay young.
Me: I do feel a little old.
Twenties: Exactly.
Me: But saying that thirty feels old is a little insulting to people who are older than that. Thirty is young, twenties. We've still got a lot of life in us yet.
Twenties: Let's talk about this 'life' of ours. Don't you want to come back to my side and do things a bit better?
Me: Such as?
Twenties: Love. Work. Money. You know, the big stuff.
Me: Money? Maybe. But we've got a nice home, and food in the fridge, and a crap-load of education. Work? We did good work, twenties. Remember how alive we felt so often? We feel that alive now, too. I'll fight to do the work that makes us feel alive, I promise. Love? Whatever I did wrong, it brought me to this love.
Twenties: You're not married.
Me: I have time.
Twenties: You don't have a kid.
Me: I have time.
Twenties: You haven't published the book.
Me: I have time.
Twenties: You won't always have time. Come back to my side; we'll have all the time in the world.
Me: Sorry, Twenties. It ain't gonna happen. You're not gonna win this argument. Let's talk about the things we love about each other? I'll go first: I love you for letting me figure myself out.
Twenties: I love you for figuring yourself out.
Me: I love you for letting me do stupid things sometimes. I needed that.
Twenties: I love you for knowing how to recover from the stupid things. Solitude. Apology. Truth-telling. You got better at those things every time.
Me: It took me awhile though.
Twenties: It's okay. That's what I was for.
Me: I'm sorry that it took me so long to say 'This is who I am'.
Twenties: But you said it.
Me: It made me lose people and places. It made me hurt people.
Twenties: But that's one of the things I taught you, remember? You're going to hurt people. If you want to be who you are in this world. If you want to tell the truth. When you walk away, brush the dust from your feet. 
Me: And just send back love.
Twenties: Exactly.
Me: My birthday is on Saturday, Twenties.
Twenties: I'll be there.
Me: I'll have to walk away from you.
Twenties: Brush the dust from your feet.
Me: I'll send you back love.
Twenties: Only love.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Sometimes, I'll Write.

On my desk is a book by Julia Cameron called The Right to Write. I don’t open it very often, but I keep it here, where I can see it, because I’m a writer. I’m a writer who doesn’t write enough, by my own (often too strict) standards. I keep the book where I can see it in the hopes that I’ll get into the habit of writing every day (just thirty minutes, I tell myself. Just one page). You wouldn’t think it was so tough, and while I could give you a long, detailed list of reasons of why it is indeed that tough, I think I’ll condense it down to one simple life fact: there is a lot of other stuff to do. (I know you know what I mean.) More than that, there’s a lot of other stuff I’d rather be doing. Maybe this means that I shouldn’t be a writer; maybe it means I should give up the ghost. But I’m not going to. I’m going to continue limping along as a would-be-sometimes-eager-maybe-good writer. (A note: sometimes limping is a good thing; it denotes devotion, and it often makes you look your courage straight in the face.)

As a writer of this ilk, there’s another reason I like to keep Cameron’s particular book in front of me; it’s full of short writing exercises, and it presupposes that any act of writing—from love note to novel—is genuine. It counts. It makes you a writer in the most basic, unpretentious sense. I like Cameron’s book because it lets me off my own hook; just because I didn’t finish editing the tenth draft of the novel today and secure a publishing deal doesn’t mean I’m not a ‘real writer’. It means that today I was a writer who chose to also be a runner and a student and a dog owner and a human being who needed to catch up on some sleep. So be it.

But today, in and around running and dog-owning and waking up when my body said, you feel better now, I also thought I’d get around to a little bit of writing, because it makes me feel good. The truth underneath all of it—the self-inflicted ‘not-enough-of-a-writer’ thing—is that writing shouldn’t really be a label; when we label ourselves certain ways, we’re unknowingly committing ourselves, and that leads us to the dangerous territory of expectation. If I’m going to be a ‘writer’ (or runner, or teacher, or artist—fill in the blank), then I expect myself to act in specific ways. I’ve grown tired of this train of thought. I’d like to make it simple:

Sometimes, I’ll run, because it makes me feel alive.

Sometimes, I’ll sleep until I wake, because I want my body to know I still love it.

Sometimes, I’ll put in ten hours on the job, because I like feeling useful.

Sometimes, I’ll write, because it makes me feel like I’m in communion with my soul.

When I opened Cameron’s book today, the task at hand was to write a list of fifty-one things that made me happy. That was my original goal when I began this post—to try and do the ‘writerly’ thing and construct a list so vivid and humble it would move you. It would make you like me. (I do hope you like me.) Instead I’m going to sign off, and take a hot shower, and walk the dog through the new snow that has fallen. I’ll write the list of fifty-one happy things at some point, and no doubt ‘writing’ will be on it, but so will hot showers, and my little orange dog, and the days spent limping forward, courage in hand. I’ll write about the days spent bounding forth with bright abandon, and the days when I let myself off the hook, and simply rest. 

Thanks for reading. 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Truest Stuff of You

Late January marks Small Soul's second birthday. She came about in the dark winter weeks before what would become, in my short and lucky life, the deepest hurt I've yet known. I'm sad to know that greater heartbreaks will eclipse that trauma; now, far past the grip of its crushing fingers, I see how small it truly was, in the scope of a life. How small but also how meaningful; on a bleak day in early February my life turned a very definite corner, and sometimes I feel as though I have spent every day since hanging on that curve, turning and turning, letting the momentum of loss push me forward into new and beautiful territory.

It is new territory, and it is beautiful--surprisingly so; still, I know I didn't get here without some rather wrenching (often slowly realized) lessons. So, on this anniversary month, I thought I might consider some of the things I've come to know these past two years--many of which were solidified in me through this writing, in this very public space (thank you for reading).

1. That which we lose will become a stranger to us, one day. 

Let me just say: I didn't lose much. A man. Some hopes for the future that hung on me heavy. I didn't really want what I thought I wanted, but damn if I was going to look like a failure. I don't say these things to be unkind, but if I've learned anything in these two years, it's that some things--the people and places we believe are dear--can become utterly insignificant if we spend enough time apart from them. The time apart tells us: they weren't that dear at all. (The lesson here is to pay attention to those things that no time nor distance can cleave from you; the lesson is to notice that which you yearn for, long after its loss. Then we might see--here is the truest stuff of me.)

2. The truest stuff is often the most quiet.

From this vantage, it's pretty clear to me now how bad I was at simply listening to myself. There were the louder voices--comparison, loneliness, fear, embarrassment. But beneath them there was another voice, small but insistent: this is not enough. There is more. There is better. It got louder, and one day I simply wasn't afraid of it anymore. Regret may tell me--if only I could have heard it sooner, the pain I could have avoided (for myself and for others); but it came when it came, that willingness to listen, that sudden association with the inside voice that was always inside me, waiting.

3. Quick fixes don't fix. Do them anyway.

You are a creative genius! All these emotions, all these things you're learning--you've never been so prolific, so...non-fiction! So write about them late into the night, put them on the web (your bravery is new and thrilling). A new haircut can make you a new person, and the next day it is just a new haircut. Late nights with wine and gossip lift you up, make you laugh, carry you further away and away from the day. But you go home alone, and in the morning you have blog-post hangover--what will they think of me?--and you still have the yearning inside of you to return to yourself, because you have lost something of yourself, this is true.

Still, the haircut makes you see the lines of your own face more clearly, and your face is familiar to you. And the writing is steadying, and sometimes even good. And your friends listen to you, and they are blessed in their devotion to the you that they know.

4. When you find yourself again, you are sometimes a stranger to yourself.

Perhaps this was inevitable, considering the rhythm of this place--how everything, but everything, moves in cycles. Birth, life, death. Birth, life, death. Over and over again. So you are new to the world and the world you know is new. It is best not to fight this, but to accept the strangeness of it, and the fear. (Fear is just afraid of the light, and there's so much lovely light in this world; so many new strains to consider.)

5. Forgiveness can just be about forgetting.

No more, no less. This is okay.

6. Hurting others is inevitable.

This is perhaps the toughest beast to handle; why must this be true? And yet it is. If we're to listen to that quiet voice, we will hear that it tells us to say goodbye to certain things. Not because these things are bad, only because there are other things coming--and these things fit us better, our particular shape. We've got to make room. I console myself: by forcing myself to stick around in the old life I was taking up the space that belonged to something else. I console myself: I've gone away so you can have better things than me. There are better things for you, for me, for we. 

7. Expect the unexpected.

The life you've been looking for, it may come at you big and fast and not at all how you'd expected it to come, and you'll probably break out a lot for the stress and the glory of it all, and wonder what the fuck you've gotten yourself into, but it feels good (because it feels true), and you want to just. keep. going. To see where it all gets you.

So you keep going. And you leave people and places behind, and you miss certain things (the old house at full summer's bloom; the promise of getting all dressed up and going out, not knowing what you'll find; the riverbank where you knelt to rest on every single run; the apartment where you wept and loved and grew and slept and woke, alone), and you're sometimes afraid of what you now stand to lose, but you also feel a kind of deep and solid comfort, and this is new, and this makes it all worth it.

The loss. The guilt. The fear. The quick fixes that don't fix.

It is worth it, to let the momentum of change fling you forward,
to crash land,
to get up,
to listen.
To do the work it takes to get closer to the truest stuff of you,
to spend your life doing this.
To get as close as you possibly can.

Thank you, always, for reading.