Over the Years of Writing it Down

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Almost sunset so only a few more hours before kissing goodbye to December and another decade. I’m determined, by the skin of my teeth and a few hours, to maintain my record of not yet missing a month of posting at least something here.

I would have written more but for: computer problems, lack of discipline, lack of inspiration, laziness, existential questions about ‘what’s the point?’. You know – the usual. But I pay to maintain this blog – domain name, anti-hack security – enough that I don’t want to waste the $200 plus I just spent for another 2 year whirl around the dance floor. It’s a bit like taking a class so I feel compelled to periodically write.

The other day I ran into another blogger who lives locally and we discussed inactivity on our respective blogs. We agreed that we do enjoy it – the cyber community and the process of writing. Like right this very second — I feel good! The activity of ‘writing’ is mostly pleasurable for me and at the least, compelling. In parting, she and I committed to stepping it up and writing. (I can’t remember the timeline – but here I am, Susan – I look forward to yours!)

Recently I was speaking with my beloved sister. We speak often about everything and anything. She’s a great listener and asks thoughtful questions that land like stones in my often dull lake-mind, leaving ripples of insight long after we’ve hung up. Both of us have boxes of journals – the only place one might read what I’m sure is her stunning writing. Like I said, we talk about everything – including our inevitable demise. I asked her the other day what should be done with her journals when her number is up? Burn them – she said, somewhat to my disappointment. Too bad. I bet she’s got some great books in there.

It’s been a long time since I regularly kept a journal. Sometimes I might write down a dream but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll randomly look at one. Here, I’ll do it now… (I walked to a shelf and randomly selected) a journal from 2001. Again, I randomly flipped open to something written while Neil and I were on an AA/Al-Anon recovery retreat for couples somewhere up the coast run by an inspiring priest – Father Mike C. (Oh, we did try hard for so many years!) What seems uncanny is how much the pages relate to my current ramble. From all the journals and all the pages I could have opened to, here’s where I landed:

“Julia Cameron, author of The Artists’ Way” was at the store the other day – and although I didn’t find her earth-shattering, her message is definitely a good one. And some simple exercises like writing 3 pages every morning and making an “artist’s date” with one’s self…. I have moved so far away from doing my work instead, chasing Neil and his addiction. And this was a choice. And one I no longer choose. It is that simple. I need to be on my own road now – back to finding that peace and joy and discovery I feel when I create. This is my prayer.”

Thank you Julia Cameron –  I guess you are ‘earth-shattering’ enough in the end! I confess to never really reading her – but I will now and get to those 3 pages. Here’s to closing out this decade and entering a new one with love and indeed, a prayer for a road of peace, joy and discovery for us all. Happy New Year! xxx

Launching a Daily Practice

Years ago I blogged weekly, then it became monthly. Like in many things that feel good but require discipline – meditation, writing, exercise – my practice has become slapdash. Laziness is the only reason. My alarm goes off at 5:30 AM just like it did when I diligently got up to write the first draft of my memoir for more than a year without missing a day. Yes, I did do that, I remind myself. Now I hit snooze and seize an extra 15 minutes of slumber – about 3 times before getting up – now with only enough time to get ready for work.

There’s another reason why I posted less: self-doubt. Is this interesting to you? Am I being self-indulgent sharing on here? Do I think I’m Karl Ove Knaussgard or something? I’ve abandoned many drafts with this kind of thinking, wrestling with why should I blog? Why I should even write anything, anywhere – period?

Yet I like knowing about my fellow human’s day-to-day lives – moments, glimpses, meanderings. What are they thinking and talking about, what are they eating? Reading? What’s the view from their window when they woke in the night, the encounter on the street they live on? Who do they live with? What we each do with our time on this planet fascinates me. As my own time grows shorter, even more. So what the hell.

Here’s the thing: my aspirations and illusions are few but I like writing. The process helps me think and when it’s good, I feel as if I’m wake-dreaming or something. And in this space I have both my beautiful solitude and a community, connection. And I want to get my writing muscle back and I know that exercise is the only way. So I’m going to do that here by making myself accountable to this space and you.

I’ve become less inclined to raise my hand to challenges, less willing to push myself out of my comfort zone. And every time I hit ‘publish’ it’s a little bit of that jump off the cliff. In that spirit, as well to get my writing discipline back, I’m going to (try) to blog daily. Not long pieces, just something every day. I haven’t figured out the particulars yet, morning or night and what and all that. We’ll see.

I am inspired by a wonderful author, blogger and champion of other writers Cynthia Newberry Martin who wrote about one true thing about herself every day for a year. She too wanted to push herself out of her comfort zone. I looked forward to and loved reading those daily posts and remember the pleasure and interest I took, years later. (Check them out here.)

So now I’ve written what I’m committing to, I’ve dilly-dallied and edited all day, anything to avoid actually posting this. But I’m ready to close out an Easter Sunday of rain and clouds, flashes of sun with a glorious finale sunset – by going ahead with a promise and ‘publish’. Thanks for reading.

This Fever I Have

Sorry I’ve been away so much these last months. It’s like I’ve been a little ill. You know, like when you have a low grade fever but it’s not enough to send you to bed but you wish you could climb between the sheets and sleep until it goes away? That’s the way I’ve been feeling. For almost 2 years.

But I’m not sick. I’m angry. That’s what’s heating me up, twisting like a knot in my chest. Fury is constantly simmering in my system, sometimes spurting and steaming like my old radiators in winter. It’s not a good way to be and I don’t know how to shake it. Worse, I am unable to turn away from the wrecking ball. I regularly check the latest news of the backward steps or outright assaults on civil rights, the environment, healthcare, veterans, poor and working class people, babies separated from their parents (last count – over 500 children still not reunited), outright racism, that continues everyday under this dreadful administration.

The problem is, I don’t know what to do with my fury and sometimes, like here, it’s been debilitating. I lack the political eloquence and appetite to write about it. I am a sputterer and that’s not useful. Engaging in these discussions with someone who is (so bewildering!) on THAT side, is like road rage – it’s a no-win situation. And too late. He was successfully installed and the damage is well underway. So if you had a role in this, I’m pretty damn mad at you too, I won’t lie. I don’t know what to do with that either.

So I haven’t been able to share my usual passages of lovely morning walks or garden capers. I’ve been paralyzed and that makes me mad too. Over the years this blog is where I share meditations, stories, challenges of my life. It’s a personal blog – begun as good practice for maybe one day (or not) putting my memoir out there and I have come to love it. It’s lovely to have readers and people who cheer me on, to say, yeah – I hear you. Being part of a cyber blogging community feels rich. And, it gets me writing regularly. That is until I hit this roadblock.

But the hell with it. Today I’m going to put this out there and figure out where to go from here. That’s all we can do, isn’t it?  And come November — let’s vote the bastards out.

Forced blossoms

I pruned the dickens out of the two peach trees a few months ago. Ever an optimist, I stuck the branches in buckets and vases throughout the house and breezeway hoping to hurry Spring. It didn’t really work. Out of the many dozens of sticks, one bloomed. While my experiment ended up making my house look more like Miss Havisham’s than Martha Stewart’s, this one elegant spray was enough to make it worth it. See?


It’s a little convoluted but somehow, these pink beauties encouraged me to pay attention to my neglected blog. I’ve started many actual posts that remain sitting in my cyber home as drafts. I’ve ‘written’ even more – mentally. During the last few weeks there have been a few nights when I woke up with what seemed like almost formed essays and thought – grab your computer – do it! More devoted to sleep than words, instead I rolled over. I’ve been inspired on many meanders with our little mutt Rufus. Captivated by something on a sparkling morning or moonlit night I thought – today I will blog – and didn’t.

I’d like to say I’ve been writing other things – but I’d be lying. For me, writing is like exercising or yoga or meditating. If I don’t carve out a time to do it everyday – it falls by the wayside. My discipline in all things has lagged. The hours are eaten up by mundane routine of life – work and socializing or on the couch reading and watching what always feels like too much television even if I insist to myself that it’s mostly good stuff – English mysteries and reputable news. Ha! And let me confess too, my shame about lost hours staring at social media sites like some bored teenager. Ugh. So that’s what happened.

My lone blooming peach branch out of all those branches in 4 different buckets and 2 vases, made me thing that as well as being lazy, maybe I’m being too precious lately about about what I post here. There’s certainly a bit of existential angst – why am I doing this for all these bloody years? But I’m pushing back against this paralysis! Inspired by the damn twigs so hopefully sitting in water for months, I’m going to write and trust that out of it all, sometimes there will be a beautiful bloom.

Creativity is a lot about showing up and doing it. I need to get back into working the muscle. Like moving my body or eating right, getting enough sleep – all things I feel better doing so why not do these things? Yes – it’s been winter, hibernation and all that. But enough. The blossoms are blooming and today, without rereading this a million times, doubting, tweaking, fussing — I’m going to press publish.

How was your winter?

Lurking Beneath

‘So what’s going on in your life?’

The Doctor’s question gave me pause. Or maybe I was still stunned by the diagnosis she’d just delivered: shingles.

Well, I suppose work is stressful. That’s what I told her – the easy answer. I have been very busy. But it’s a job I’ve done for 20 years and still enjoy. I mean it’s books I sell. And I’ve actually been taking a fair amount of time off. No, I don’t think it’s really just work-stress that triggered this weird virus to emerge from dormancy more than 50 years after chickenpox ravaged my little body with excruciating sores and scabs I couldn’t resist ripping to bloody shreds.

I love that my Doctor asked me this question. Always up for a metaphor, I’ve pondered during this past uncomfortable week, what IS going on in my life – while wincing from stabbing pains, flinching from any touch to the affected skin, strangely on fire. What in my life awakened this virus in me now? What do I need to be attending to? Is it my subconscious screaming at me – too long ignored as I busily go about my life.

Two friends and I recently coordinated our first community building story-telling project a la The Moth, with the idea of strengthening ties in our very neighborhood-centric city. The first one, held last week, was a great hit with so many inspired to share personal stories with more than 50 strangers, that we ran out of time to accommodate them all.The power and joy of sharing stories was apparent in that beautiful space on a summer evening. Every one there was attentive and moved. Jennifer, Judith and I were elated and are planning the next for October. I did not tell a story.

I have long reaped the psychological benefit of telling stories, yet since I began purposefully writing, I have never felt so far off-track as now. I have lost my personal creative practice.

‘What’s going on in your life?’ That question. Are these stories, my own stories, that I’m not listening to – making my skin crawl and ooze? I need to dig deep, dive beneath to uncover what’s there — including toxins that have laid me low.

If I’m not carving out enough time to be contemplative and creative, I begin to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. That’s a message I’ve felt before but never has it manifested itself in such an excruciating way. Community storytelling is brilliant and I’m excited about it. I feel passionate about the importance of gathering people to listen to each other – a small local gesture against the nasty forces of this time. But I also need to heed my own hollering nerves with roots deep beneath childhood scabs. Write, sculpt, paint – get up and tell a story – it doesn’t matter. What matters is to pay attention to my heart and soul – below the surface where endless untold stories and viruses linger for life.

PS: I’d get the vaccine!

Showing Up

How to explain my silence? I’d lost my voice. My excuses were: the election dismayed me, retail work during the crazy holiday season exhausted me. The longer I went without writing, the more I lost that muscle.

Since my dear dog died almost a year ago it has definitely been harder for me to find the quiet place from where my writing emerges. Our required walks together provided me with precious time for contemplation, observing nature, just being. I miss that and have yet to figure out another daily rhythm to regularly find that time and space.

But maybe in this interesting time of transitions in my life I’ve been looking in the wrong place for inspiration. Perhaps, rather than trying to replicate what worked before it’s time to find a new way…

Yesterday millions of people took to the streets. While 100% of me was willing to be there in spirit, I dragged my feet about going myself. When the friend I was going with decided to go to the NYC march instead of the one 15 minutes away I thought – I’m off the hook! No one will know and I can stay home and cheer my sisters (and so many brothers!) on from home! I know, I know – shame on me. But I’m not a fan of crowds, blah, blah, blah. Really, I had no good reason not to go. I went.

Surrounded by thousands of other peaceful protestors, I realized that of the things that have saved my life: friendships, writing, yoga, AlAnon – just showing up is the most important thing you can do.

Here I am.

Out of Shape: A Ramble

My writing muscles have atrophied from lack of use. Here’s what happened today when I decided to sit down to blog:

I’ll wash the dishes first. Is that a cloud? I better take the laundry off the line. Phew, it’s hot! I need a cold drink. I better refill the ice tray. Now I have to pee. I’ll text Molly and see when she’s heading back from her weekend jaunt out of town. I’ll just read the first section of the newspaper…

You get the idea. In the end it took me nearly an hour to finally hunker down. This is typical these days as is using the delete key like crazy, backspacing out as many words as I write, sometimes clearing away full paragraphs so I’m facing the same blank page I began with. Left to ferment, my perpetual inner-critic has grown bigger than ever.

From lack of use, I struggle to find my voice again. And then there’s the existential part. Why do it? This is what I’ve been wrangling with.

Last autumn I experienced a big change – I felt like a rock at low tide – upended to reveal things I never imagined beneath me. I’ve yet to process it all and will not do it here except to say I ended things with the man I’d lived with for 10 years. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a brief statement about the break-up of her marriage that resonated with me. “…I trust that you understand how this is a story that I am living—not a story that I am telling.” I can write about my late husband because he’s dead and because my daughter’s okay with it. Thanks to the gift of time, I do so from a loving place. But this new chapter in my life, put my writing life on pause.

Did you see Everything is Copy the excellent documentary about Nora Ephron by her son? I flinched more than once at how meanly, even if brilliantly, she wrote about people in her life that she’d once cared for. I don’t have the stomach for inflicting pain with my writing. My blog once went ‘viral’ read by thousands a day for a few days. Part of the blog was critical about someone I didn’t know, who I never imagined would read it since I usually had only a few dozen followers. My thrill at having so many hits was eclipsed by a sick feeling when the person (not identifiable except to her) read it and let me know. I was mortified, deleted the reference and still feel badly. I could never be a critic! And where does that leave me as a writer, period? Am I brave enough to write without restraint? I grapple with that.

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Then there are safer subjects – my meanders through the world, observing nature through the seasons. Without the sweet ritual of morning walks with Tetley who died in early Spring, I have floundered. My quiet time out on the street at the beginning, the end of the day, to look at the sky, smell the change of seasons, search for the songbird in the wood, feel the grit or slip under my feet. This discipline put me in a good place to write from – all senses alert. I miss that, but no I’m not ready for another dog. For one, it’s not fair to leave a dog alone all day and I haven’t won the lottery yet and must keep my day job.

Why write? Why blog? Even an inkling of those questions will halt my presses and the less I wrote these last months, the more I questioned.

I started this blog years ago on the advice of someone in publishing who said I should ‘establish an internet presence’. Initially I was reluctant thinking it self-indulgent. I hesitated to reveal myself to complete strangers – or even friends. Ironic since I’m also flogging my very personal memoir.

But in blogging I discovered the joy of being read. And of reading other blogs. And the tremendous benefit in regularly excavating, spewing and honing and finally letting go of something, surrendering it to the world.

Ultimately I know getting in shape is like any exercise: it’s about discipline. I also know it’s worth it. When I am in the flow of writing a piece, even if only for 30 minutes before going to work, I get to carry it with me as I go about my day, incubating my piece. It almost feels physical – a sense of well being, excitement.

That’s it, I guess – why I write at all. I feel better for living a creative life. In examining the unexpected world beneath that rock at low tide, I learn things about myself. Writing helps me figure out where I am, where I to go. Sometimes I think you, my dear readers, find it interesting too. I cherish that and frankly – wouldn’t do it without you.

If You Know What’s Good For You…

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I get up at 5:30 on weekdays and about 7:00 on weekends. I’ve been doing this for the past few years so I can write for about an hour before taking care of required life business. Too often, instead of writing I do the following:

  • Water the garden
  • Pick blueberries from the yard (okay, this is lovely, right?)
  • Check emails – mostly from Talbots, Lord & Taylor, J. Jill, Real Beauty (??) – I never shop at any of these places
  • Look at Facebook posts
  • Read other people’s blog posts
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Grocery shop before the weekend hordes descend
  • Read the newspaper
  • Cook
  • Laundry

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Yes, a few of these are necessary, constructive and nourishing things to do. But this is supposed to be my writing time. Why don’t I honor that? Why am I distracted by nonsense?

If I write at the very beginning of the day, I get to walk around all day with a happy secret practically humming inside of me. It’s beautiful. I can physically locate that good feeling right below my ribs. Yes, as I sit here I feel like I’m charging my Solar Plexus – like I’ve got a little Sun in there glowing brighter as I put words to page.

Only in writing this today did I realize the physicality of what happens to me when I write, that I can actually locate a place in my body (besides my stiff shoulders) where I feel this. Of course I had to step away for a minute for a little (distraction??) online research and found this on balancechakra.com:

Solar Plexus Chakra – Manipura

The Solar Plexus Chakra is a center of personal strength, learning and comprehension. It guides you through life by creating a strong sense of self, setting personal boundaries and building self esteem and willpower. The ability to bring change into your life and to the world is born within this Chakra.

No wonder starting the day by writing feels good! I’m feeling my Solar Plexus, baby!

So why do I procrastinate rather than head directly to a beautiful accessible place? Do I need to look at those pictures of Amal and George Clooney instead? Really?

Yes, I do shit like that. Do you?

What Would You Say to the HONY Guy?

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Let’s say you were walking in Grand Central or relaxing on a bench in Central Park, and the guy from Humans of New York sauntered over and asked if he could take your photo? Would you agree?

In case you aren’t familiar with Brandon Stanton’s work here’s a link to his website or you can follow his HONY site on Facebook. These vignettes – a photo and a few sentences, capture a flash of someone’s life. Usually, people look straight at the camera and within minutes of meeting, tell this stranger intimate things, sometimes sharing secrets — and in doing so, expose themselves to the world. The results are moving, transformative or sometimes, like his kid and dog shots, simply delightful. They are snaps of life, a compelling, random smattering of who we are, what we do, what happens to us, us humans in New York, on this planet.

What would you say? Presuming you don’t say fuck off, I don’t want you to take my picture and it’s none of your B-I-bizness? How would you answer his query: What’s your biggest struggle? What was the happiest moment of your life? What was the saddest moment of your life? Could you answer these questions on the fly without wracking your brain? (I can’t) If you could, would you reach down into your heart and reveal to Brandon and the world, your deepest wishes, desires, regrets, dreams? Your pain or joy? Would you be honest like so many hundreds have been with him, with us?

I’m not sure. I surprise myself, for how can I blog and write memoir yet feel private?  In this unguarded cyber-space and in my memoir, I share intimate details of my life, past and present, the struggle of my marriage to my late husband, living with his addiction, after his suicide, I write about dashed and now, renewed hopes and dreams. I write to better understand myself. I am private in that I have no longing for fame, only for connection. It’s this feeling of connecting that is so moving in Brandon’s work, we feel it because he made it, he won that trust from his subjects. So why would I shy away from his camera and his question? Because I don’t know what I would say.

‘What would you say to HONY’ could be the new party question to replace ‘what do you want to have on your epitaph’. What sound-bite would I want to sum up my life for the world to see?

‘In spite of some terrible shit in my past, I’m joyfully ready for the next adventure and most of all, determined not to live in fear.’

That might work.

What would you say? Or would you (nicely) say fuck off?

Where’d My Mojo Go?

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Where’s it gone? Where’s my fire? Waiting around for a lightning bolt of inspiration is not the answer, so this morning I sit rubbing my mental sticks together hoping for at least a spark, maybe enough to ignite a long-burning flame. I know what it takes – I’ve done it. For years I had disciplined practices for yoga, for writing, meditation. Had. I have no idea what happened. It’s been awhile and have no excuses, no good reason.

I churned out a complete manuscript while Molly was still living at home. I made her breakfast, her lunch and took her to school each morning just after 7. I did all this and still managed to write – as if in a trance, for an hour. I did that. I marvel now. Now, I go to work at 8 – giving me almost another hour and my daughter’s away at college so time is all mine. Plus, I have my own little room to write in. There’s no reason I couldn’t get in a few yoga stretches and a page or two.

Instead, I sleep a little later and when I do get up, I dawdle away my precious daybreak reading other people’s blogs or worse, scrolling through Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Really. I admit this shamefully. Instead of doing what I know makes me feel centered and purposeful and healthy – writing, yoga, meditating – I aimlessly fritter away my time with mental junk food.

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Why is it so hard for me to get back into that magic zone? I know I’ll be happier, so why don’t I just do it? I have piles of books to inspire and guide me. In the dark moments before falling asleep at night and rising in the morning, I sometimes mentally write a post, start an essay, another book – and poof! – by the time I get back here to this chair, it’s gone. I know the trick about scribbling notes. Trust me, I have plenty of scribbles. But I’ve still got to put my ass in the seat and lay down the words, take my spot on the mat and stretch out my achy hips. And I’ll feel better.

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It takes regularly sitting, breathing, focus, writing, breathing. Writing becomes like a meditation only my fingers move. And don’t, don’t move away from this screen, this lovely clear, empty, distraction free space. No emails, no news – that’s the end. That’s what sucks away the morning, leaving me no richer, providing no sustenance.

It’s discipline – practice. Life feels much better when I have a practice in place. I carry the focus, the story, the posture with me throughout the day — a rich, quiet center that feels like the true me. I move through the day carrying whatever story I’m telling, with a sense of my body moving, standing tall, stretching, breathing, being in the world — not just within the parameters of my working hours, ringing sales at the cash register or staring at computer screens to answer emails — but a rich interior life I get to carry with me. The life that doesn’t pay my mortgage but sustains me just as much.

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That’s what I want back – that sense of who I really am in the world. That’s why I write, stretch, sit, breathe – a way of being that gives me joy. It has to do with seeing more than what is apparent – that which is only visible if you pay attention both inwardly and out. When I have a practice in place, I feel an incredible awareness of time and space with every breath. How delicious breathing becomes!

I know this — so why have I slipped? Why is it so hard for me to get back in the groove? Now it’s colder and darker in the mornings – even more of a challenge to crawl out from between the sheets. But that’s just another excuse. I have no good answer for losing myself like this.

I feel like I’ve come clean here, confessing to you – and it feels good. Having spent many years reaping the benefits of the AlAnon rooms, I know the power of ‘admitting’ and I suspect, I’m not alone. Any one else with ‘mojo’ problems out there?