I have been living beyond my means, again, which means a lull in life, writing becalmed. I’m shipwrecked, dogged daily by whether to stay with the ship, relive the storm that has passed, or let it go.
I know that life is one experience after another, including shipwrecks. When aground, why not explore where I am rather than reliving the wreck. I get that now, at almost 66. “It’s not a thing” unless I make it one.
I cannot claim this brilliance as my own. This sliver of light belongs to a trusted friend, cheerful in all weathers, especially during my storms. She’s my lighthouse.
I set to salvage operations.
Most of my writing is beyond saving, easily recycled. Momentarily, I anguish over the gap between blog posts, once an ego favorite for shaming. I made it “a thing” for years.
What seems salvageable are pieces of a pirate story, although grounded in place rather than plot–as always–as well, a pitch for a resistance essay that is all thought and not yet a word.
Neither is yet a place on a map still to be drawn.
I’m fascinated at the idea of writing a pirate story, which does not mean it will end up being a pirate story. I am not good at writing fiction. I know that. For years, every time I failed it became “a thing,” a true tempest. Shipwreck after shipwreck.
And then it wasn’t “a thing” anymore. I stopped reliving the storm and discovered that my elaborate exploration of setting was its own story, and the map began to reveal its treasures.
Not all my expeditions take place on the screen. Sometimes, I visit actual lands, like Spanish Hole, where some 500 years ago at least one exploration for gold turned into a quest for survival.
Familiar story, if not exactly about pirates, but who has not sought one treasure only to find another? Is that a pirate story?
Where the St. Marks River flows into the Gulf of Mexico is Spanish Hole, its secrets intact. And that is its own kind of treasure, too. Like writing a pirate story. Who knows what it may not reveal.
As I was writing this post my dad sent me photos, as he often does. This one is from his cabin on Treasure Island. And I realized, I had set sail.
It is not as if a life lens comes with a ready-made life. It’s just a lens.
Failure is its own kind of boomerang, and the sooner taken in hand the better for everyone. I know this, which is not to say that is what I do.
I’ve learned that to reach for failure is to seize the spectacular. I avoid it for as long as possible. I stay in step with my ego as it tells me, quite forcefully: “Just keep at it. It will work.”
All the while my body sends signal after signal to stop: ”This is not working. Let it go.”
My heart opens to failure as my ego flashes a neon sign: “Don’t screw this up.” Of course, I already have. I am too busy to hear the sound of failure.
Ever patient, my heart shows me a seat to the spectacular while my ego offers only the slough of despond.
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves
over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible
be found in us.
Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart
This is a failure I feel in my bones, literally, and my heart oozes with pain. I did visit the shores of the slough of despond momentarily, too tired to indulge in labels and finger-pointing, mostly at myself.
After spending the last 24 hours alternating between sleep and the meditative state, I hold failure’s boomerang in hand, feeling anything but spectacular. Still, I stay in my seat.
When things fall apart, it is not an easy view. Yet, the heart is compassionate and knows nothing is revealed in angst. That is a scene best left on the cutting room floor.
Best to begin from the beginning.
This past week, I signed on for a writing gig that may have been possible back in the day–eight or nine years ago, maybe longer.
Yet even with better health and greater stamina, it would have been challenging, as I did not have sufficient background. I had to spend too much time researching, which did not leave me enough time to write.
I kept working harder but not smarter. If I had, I would have heard the sound of failure.
I was fortunate to have a thoughtful and compassionate editor who recognized my limitations and as much as she helped me, there was no meeting the deadline.
It was up to me–and no one else–to say, “I cannot do this.” I waited too long and now others must scramble to complete my work, in addition to their own. My concern for failure was greater than my consideration for my colleagues.
Therein lies most of my pain but what is done is done. To anguish over what cannot be changed benefits no one. That is not admitting failure. That is hopelessness.
To admit failure is to fall apart. Only in such moments does forgiveness reveal itself. I suppose that doesn’t seem spectacular—maybe I misuse the word–yet to sit in the seat of self reveals the human drama, and I know of no more breathtaking experience.
Only the heart can put on such a spectacular show, absorbing the annihilation that failure feels without judgment or looking through the colored lens of blame.
Failure reveals more than a wrinkled reflection; it is beyond the reach of any selfie filter. It is not a gloss. A reflection ripples with the tide or the wind, never providing more than a moment’s glance.
It is the mirror of the heart that reveals all failure, each one its own crack, healed in its own time. Forgiveness is the glue and knows no deadline only the steady beat of renewal. And that is indestructible. To me, spectacular.
I wonder how many times letting go is accepting what has already gone.
When reading a book, I have been known to pause at the end of a chapter. I like to sit with good writing and let it wash over me. Sometimes, the better the writing, the longer it takes me to finish a book, as sentence after sentence illuminates.
This past week has been one of letting go, recognizing that a beacon now shines in another direction. It no longer lights my path, and I pause in acceptance and gratitude but also in love and loss.
I change my routine and walk away from the written word. I call a good friend and say, “Let’s have coffee.”
We did, which was stimulating for my mind-body and lasted into the evening. I do not remember the last time I drank a cup of coffee, much less two.
I was awake most of the night but this brief foray into the world was not one I regret. All day long, there were smiles and no doubt a bit of giddiness. And when this moment revisits, it will wash over gently in remembrance.
Not all the week’s memories will be so kind but that is also the life experience. I continue to work with a group of women committed to a better world through the written word—we wrote a book together–through our resistance, we join a larger grassroots movement. That path is not without its obstacles.
There is so much light in this group it sometimes blinds me–I step back–before I can once again bathe in the light that is these women. Here, I know wonder again, the kindness of human beings and of what they are capable–so much good, which is so easy to forget.
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves
over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible
be found in us.
Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart
This quotation is from a sign that Chödrön had on her wall before she embraced Buddhism in any form. She said it was her first inkling to the core of Buddhist teaching.
It hurts when things fall apart but in letting go— experiencing groundlessness–there is at the very least familiarity if not comfort. For me, the more I open myself to the impermanence that is life– exposing myself to the annihilation— the less I struggle with accepting there is no ground beneath my feet.
Groundlessness is never all dark. Always, there is light, be it a sliver or a beacon, and I immerse myself in it. I know it will not stay and that when it leaves, I will discover something I did not know previously.
And on mornings like these when I know the light is already gone— some lights are that bright— my heart is not heavy but joyful. Yes, there are tears– for light is always love–sometimes a great one. I know only gratitude in that it lit my path for a mere moment.
It will live on in the caverns of my heart, this light, for there are still shadows that reside there. Each time such a light crosses my path, my heart opens just a bit more to the world around me, no matter how difficult a moment.
I now appreciate that the bodhisattva’s greatest power is compassion. My practice is limited, of course, but I know of no other that can dismantle fear, perhaps even crack open a heart or not.
Compassion extended may be felt in days yet to come.That is not for me to know nor should it be.
Rather, I return to the wisdom of the written word. This time, May Sarton’s “loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Of all this past week brought me, it was not poverty of self.
As I told my friend yesterday, it is Zen that opens me to my life. I’m not afraid, which is not to say I am fearless. My knees wobble and threaten to buckle from time to time.
I anticipate less. Often, I forget about expectations altogether so when fear comes calling, I respect its appearance of power but recognize its façade. And that is the result of only a sliver of light in my heart.
Imagine a heart full of light–not a shadow to be found–when risk and grace are intertwined as one and the bud bursts into bloom–one bright, shining moment.
I scroll screens by night and have been since November 8, 2016. It is how I first learned of the Nasty Women Project.
Arguably, many believe I am and have been a nasty woman all my life–in every sense of the term–I’m not disputing that. 😉 I am also a citizen in a republic whose duty is to be vigilant but I admit to complacency.
I’m on duty now. That’s all I can do anything about.
I contact members of Congress–someday, maybe I’ll be able to attend a town hall meeting—until then, I read newspapers and books like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s My Own Words and Ron Chernow’s Hamilton.
#TheResistance is not about going back–that world is gone–it is about working through this moment. Yet, the past is not without its information.
Sometime around last Christmas, editor-in-chief Erin Passons put out a submissions call for a book she wanted to publish March 1–an anthology about the effects of November 8, the night the world changed.
I knew I would submit a piece but I had no idea my essay would begin 18 years ago–1998–on the day of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Then, I was a middle-aged lesbian living in Wyoming. I was angry and too naïve to be afraid. I believed hate would not win but on that day, it did.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church gained worldwide attention for their protest of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. I joined others in holding up my umbrella to block the signs of Matt in hell and God hates fags.
Our umbrellas sagged under the weight of snowflakes. I looked into the eyes of a young man from Westboro and found the hollowness of hate. He had won.
These 18–now 19 years later–I know winning is not when the heart is hollow.
My essay, “Confessions of a Closet Activist,” appears in the Nasty WomenProject: Voices from the Resistance, Volume 1. 80 women, 80 stories of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. 100% of the profits go to Planned Parenthood.
In the first two weeks, we raised over $2500 for Planned Parenthood. Our support continues no matter what Congress decides about healthcare, on any week. The attack on Planned Parenthood is a long and familiar one.
For me, it goes as far back as 1976. It is not impossible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion. Human beings are “walking contradictions.” There is no one way for everyone but for everyone there is a way.
Complacency is easier than activism. I’ve always known that but I’ve not always been aware of the privilege I have. As an old, white lesbian, it is considerable.
We all have privilege. It is not something new but an awareness of who we are, how we intersect with everyone else. We live in a republic whose survival means we must participate–always.
The failure of the healthcare bill shows us we are still able to make a difference. We are not yet staring down the hollowness of hate but we are not far from it, either.
Sometimes we see the danger and it kills us—
and sometimes we see the danger and it sets us free.
I did not immediately recognize the connection between the way I dry laundry and the way I write. There is a bit of forever about the time it takes damp laundry to dry in a subtropical climate. As well, for some time I have been content to let my sentences grow at will. For both, time seemed not of the essence.
Repeatedly, I assured myself that sentences would be trimmed, ordered. Some words would not survive the page, as always. Laundry would find a fold or a hanger in a drawer or closet. Well, of course.
Impermanence does wend its way through laundry as easily as it does through words. Yet, I suspected I was trying to catch it on a shirt or in a sentence, trying to hold a moment longer than it lasts.
Laundry does dry, and if it is a high plains desert climate— a mile high and more— it dries quickly, reflecting the scratchy, arid climate. The soft, pliable cloth of a subtropical climate leaves just a hint of moisture.
Regardless, a moment lasts only a moment– a routine of no routine–endless and timeless. It is for me to work with the reality I experience as it presents itself. It is the stuff of choices.
I decide the laundry will finish drying on my love seat, recliner, and every available piece of furniture/doorknob. I save $1.25 in quarters but it seems I always receive more than I give.
Feline EmmaRose revels in “laundry days.” At less than 5 pounds, she can sneak in, under, over and around almost any piece of laundry. It gives her such joy to explore her landscape in a new way.
Her joy is not lost on me. I am aware of words left here and there in moments already passed.
As ill as I have been this past year, most of my writing has been recording details and research. Deliberately, I was not attaching any feelings to those events. That would come later.
Yet, the laundry did dry as later passed. Both laundry and words were taking up space that EmmaRose and I do not have. We share two rooms and a bath. We’re full up.
As I folded laundry, I reached for a pair of socks, a Christmas gift. One sock is a list of banned books; the other is the world with those words, peaceful and rebellious.
A moment lasts only a moment, long enough for the world to change, and there is nothing comfortable in that. The comfort comes in recognizing we, too, are capable of change.
The laundry can only lie around so long. And so it is with writing.
Physically, the way I am able to write is both new and old. I’m no longer sure what tool will be required on any given day. It is its own routine of no routine, as it always has been.
If the “obstacle is the path,” and I suspect it is, a broader perspective can only mean another way to view the obstacle. A new angle, requiring new tools as well as new ways to use old tools.
I no longer type to write–mostly–I use voice recognition software. I decided it is more important to use my hands for chopping vegetables, picking up a capsule/tablet, and measuring a half milliliter of liquid prednisone in a syringe for EmmaRose.
There are no medications for my motor control, hyper-reflex, and nerve damage issues. My mind-body works with each signal or lack of signal. It is a lesson in letting go.
Some kind of sensation is evident in my fingers and thumbs, different and worth exploring. It is as if through the gnarled roots of tingling/grittiness/numbness, there is life.
Once again, I receive more than is asked of me.
In using voice recognition software, my thoughts— air abstractions—become concrete representations through speech, a tool once reserved for conversation. It is a new role. This, too, feels like life.
The physical sensation of fingers on a keyboard is a different creative process than speaking those same thoughts. One is halting, dependent upon a stroke or even a missed key; the other is expansive, born free of grammar, ever ready to roam.
And then there are completely new tools. When I updated my voice recognition software, I received a Digital Voice Tracer. It transcribes my thoughts/research notes into a text document. It is remarkably accurate.
The Tracer will fit in any outstretched hand or most any pocket. It takes up just a little space on the nightstand, ready to capture ideas as they occur. Well, almost. There is always that moment in between.
It is more than I was able to do before, once again.
And I have returned to using a chalkboard, 35 x 23. I suspect I still cling to a physical way of writing; the chalkboard provides connection. Ultimately, what is written in chalk dust finds its way to my laptop through my digital voice tools.
Like EmmaRose, I, too, enjoy a change in the landscape of our apartment. I sit on the floor with chalk and my board, drawing connections between pieces of writing. I get another visual of words working together.
I had given up this practice of sitting on the floor with my chalkboard. But in viewing my obstacle from a new angle, solutions once unlikely, reappear. Like walking in the air, it just a matter of taking the first step.
Of course, the chalkboard is great for hanging laundry. As one set of thoughts turns to dust, another lies in wait. It is never-ending.
Grace is the bud of a rose in late summer risking the security of self to burst forth as a blossom that cannot close again.
…and the day came
when the risk to remain tight,
in a bud,
became more painful
than the risk it took to blossom.
This line has been appearing for around 35 years on journal covers, inside greeting cards, on opening pages of published books and, of course, on the Internet.
The only attribution I had seen was to Anaïs Nin who did not, it seems, write these words. There is a tangential reference to a bud in one of her novels but these words do not seem to appear in any of Nin’s work.
As much maligned as Internet resources are, this misattribution precedes the pervasive use of the worldwide web. I had to reach way back into my memory but I remembered first seeing the quote in the mid 1980s. This time, my memory was accurate.
It seems Elizabeth Appell wrote these words in 1979 when she was known as Lassie Benton, Public Relations Director at John F. Kennedy University (Orinda, CA) and editor of its adult education brochure.
Appell maintains she was “on deadline” when she scribbled those twenty plus words for the opening page of the brochure, perhaps determining their destiny to appear on other opening pages.
As editor, Appell would have not provided any personal attribution. In the ensuing years, the single line would also be offered as a poem with the title “Risk.” Yet, life and truth have a way of revealing their sources, ultimately.
In 2009, the Anaïs Nin Blog received an inquiry about the risk line’s source but it was not until 2013 that Appell decided to offer her story as well as provide a copy of the brochure page that first featured the line.
Appell revealed that she has known of the confusion as far back as the 1980s having read her words in a greeting card. She wrote to the card’s publisher who never responded.
There does seem to be one instance of the poem attributed to Appell as Lassie Benton as well as some anonymous attributions but mostly, the poem is attributed to Anaïs Nin.
It was only when two of Appell’s friends brought her their published books with the quotation attributed to Nin that Appell decided to correct years of misattribution.
And she did so with the grace of the line she wrote. Honored that her hastily scribbled words to meet a deadline have meant much to many, Appell may have taken another risk in her response to a comment on the Anaïs Nin Blog:
I have been writing for a long time. Every now and then I hit a chord, but never like the chord I hit with the “Risk” line. To be in the literary circle of Anaïs Nin is a thrill. I’m proud and grateful.
To me, this story of grace in a line of risk demonstrates the lifetime that unfolds in each moment we experience. Rarely can we know the impact of the series of snapshots that are the moments of our lives. Yet, some snapshots will return revealing their source.
May we have the grace of Elizabeth Appell in the face of risk and blossom.
Each morning, I drop into a reverie that is becoming more routine than not. It occurs after my meditation and yoga practice but before that meditative state settles into my day.
It is a time in-between, this hour between the dog and the wolf, this waking up to the day where thoughts define what must be done but being present provides the focus.
Breakfast often serves as a bridge for the meditative state to make its way into my day. A steaming bowl of oatmeal and coffee brewing simultaneously reach a point requiring a similar action, to pour.
The thought of pouring defines what is required but being present focuses the thought, which is either to pour almond milk into a steaming bowl of oatmeal or to pour freshly brewed coffee into a mug. If the general thought of pouring swirls between oatmeal and coffee, what was one or the other might just become another.
Such coffee-in-the-oatmeal mornings bring reality to our attention, courtesy of the meditative state. The realization of what has occurred intensifies our focus on what might happen next. This shape shifting of our lives uncovers us.
Mindfulness does not multi-task but awakens us to where we are, to what we are doing. It is a snapshot, a jolt of opportunity to consider the untried, the untested. When our real being emerges, it is an hour between the dog and the wolf not so much of reverie but of reality.
I have many coffee-in-the-oatmeal mornings and just recently, I watched a writing life I had envisioned evaporate. The writer I was trying to be was not the writer I am. It was just that basic. I was trying so hard to secure a writing life not meant for me that I almost missed living the writing life I have.
I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.
I am not a writer of fiction but for years fiction is what I thought I heard yet no center of any story I wrote ever held.
In my poetry, prose crowded meter, and the lines went flat. I did not distinguish what I heard.
Some sentences stand alone until the day they pour into a single paragraph not about one or the other but another, like coffee in oatmeal. For me, this shifting of my writer’s shape is my awakening to the writer I am.
Rather than hearing story or rhyme as one or the other I hear another, a beat in-between, a meditation on the story of a human being, sometimes a verse worthy of song.
If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.