Spinning

Photo: I'm going to miss my coffee friend while she's away for summer.  Diana F+

My head is spinning over here from the flurry of activity this week.  My project is heading to the printer today--more news on that next week.  Amelia's last day of school is today, so I'm going to do something to celebrate that last bit of freedom for me before summer. The urgency of a hundred little tasks has crowded out my writing time these last days, which is most concerning because so much is happening that I want to document. 

This afternoon I'll visit a quiet coffee shop without my computer, and in my little journal I will try to write down it all.  What I did, in what order, and what's left to do with target dates.  I want to remember these things for projects to come.  Production and design are two of my weakest links for sure.  If the tasks to come have target dates, maybe I won't feel like every single item needs to happen this very second. I just wanted to check in and tell you I'm still alive.  Check back next week for fun news!

Time Slides

Planning a project launch is a little like planning a wedding, or any other event, in that no matter how much work you try to do ahead of time, there is always a flurry of activity to attend to at the end.  I am definitely at the end now, with an exciting new collection coming very soon.  I'm also in the last week of school for my oldest girl, who just got sick last night.  I hope she makes it back to school soon and doesn't miss the end-of-the-year celebration. Time is sliding so quickly.  I'm trying to keep it feeling fun and playful, like when my girls launch down the curly slide at the playground.  It spins, they speed up, the twists and turns leave them feeling disoriented at the bottom--but it's all inside of an experience called, fun.  Even when they're nervous on the first few times down, even when they're scared because they didn't mean to topple mid-journey and wind up head-first at the bottom, they are still clear that they are having fun.

I'm taking this lesson from them today.  Time slides.  It leaves you dizzy and disoriented, it sometimes shoots you down and other times ooches you slower than you hoped.  You can have all kinds of feelings in your chest and your tummy as you ride.  But however it goes, you can always be having fun.

The Seasons Don't Wait

Photo: Diana F+

Sure signs that summer is soon upon us are all around. Sun dresses flowing in a flea market breeze, decked-out kindergarteners celebrating their graduations (ours is today), bell-ringing ice cream carts in the playground. The kindergarten graduation confuses me a little--perhaps because I didn't go to kindergarten, myself--but I'm sure our students will look super cute in their fancy clothes and wrist corsages. In a place where kindergarten is the new first grade, I'm not certain what it is exactly that we're acknowledging or celebrating, but I'm betting they'll have coffee.

As with any season, I don't know how this coming summer will change me or what it will teach me. Or, if it's anything like last year, in what ways it will bring me to my knees. But the seasons don't wait for our invitation or assent to come, they deliver themselves to our doorstep and leave it to us to adjust our garb. They stay until they've had their way with us, and just when we've made our peace with them they pass us into the hands of the next one. It is a good reminder that I am not the sun, that this world revolves around something outside of me. It is good for my companionship with the earth, as she holds me and we spin through the warmth and the cold, the light and the dark, together. It is good, I keep telling myself, and surely it is so.

Perhaps My Filter is Broken

I usually have my finger on the pulse of my own soul. I can tell you at any given moment how I am. What I'm deconstructing or recreating, or what's unraveling or healing me. I can see it, think about it, talk about it, analyze it, share it, even obsess over it. Lately, though, I feel like a blindfold has been slipped over this part of me, and I only get a peek underneath from time to time.

It doesn't feel good to be blind.

Under normal circumstances, I'm hyper-aware of social cues and mores. I can read body language from half a block away, and I know intuitively who wants to be talked to on the subway and who's praying to be left alone. But over and over again in the last month or more I've just stumbled awkwardly through life, certain that I'm understanding others and being understood, only to find messes in my wake. Then I try to clean up the messes, only to make them even worse.

It's a precarious feeling, this creeping suspicion that maybe I don't know what to say and to whom to say it. That perhaps my filter is broken. In my community and on my blog I say some vulnerable things pretty publicly. Not to mention the true stories I tell on stage, which I consider my most private venue. It makes me feel quiet, I guess because I'm growing afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Not only am I not prepping a story for tonight's slam in the city, I'm hesitant to even talk to people in line. I have blog posts asking to be written, but I know as soon as I hit "publish", all hell could break loose at the rate I'm going. (I'll probably unpublish this post by noon.)

The words are slowly turning off like a faucet. Now I'm blind and mute. Maybe this is just a result of feeling over-exposed. Maybe it's something that I'll get to the bottom of, or that I'll muddle my way through. Perhaps my courage is on vacation--I don't know. But I think I'll just be with my photos this week, and a few safe friends. I hope the words return soon.

A Shower for One

Diana F+
Sometimes it is good to be alone,
in this strange universe
bounded by four white walls
and a bright plastic globe of a sun.
Here I can undress,
and let my body be soft.
It is not beautiful,
this droopy display of freedom,
but it need only be true.
At least in this place.
The water picks the thoughts
from my tangled head
and runs them down a long journey
to my feet, which are not troubled by them.
The trail of them running over my front
and down my back remind me
that for these few minutes,
I can stop
apologizing
to all the people trying to
make sense of me
without the rest of the story.
I stop dodging verdicts
like "crazy" or "neurotic".
It seems that everything I do is
an apology.
Only this water can take me as I am,
with my crevices and curves.
It won't misunderstand a thing.
I let it wash away all the words
I've been donning
to try to make everything okay.
They aren't doing anything to make
me okay.
I towel off my disappointment that
welcome
is so hard to find in the world.
I try to hold on to this feeling:
disrobed,
true,
clean.

What I Can Tell You in 7 Minutes

Having people or publications you respect express their admiration of your work is a great gift. Seeing a project begin to take shape in your hands can give you the last burst of excitement you need to make it to the finish. There is no substitute for good friends. And friends that send good mail should never be let go. Seeing others give the gift of their stories and presence on a stage before strangers is the ultimate inspiration. Sometimes people think you are helping them, but the opportunity to contribute gives you something they can't imagine.

This Bud's for Me

I've been studying these marigold blooms in the evenings on my fire escape, when my children are in bed, the dishes are done, and the light is still hanging on a little longer.  When I saw this bud, I thought, that's me.  It's easy to compare myself to friends unfolding in their splendor all around me; it's effortless for me to make it mean that I'll never catch up or I'll never get there.  I'm growing too slowly, or I'm not the blooming kind.  These thoughts do not have to be sought out or invited into my company--they loiter always in the corner and butt-in at will. What does take effort is to look at how far I've come.  Out of the seed, up through the soil.  It's an act of attention to notice the stem and its strength, the leaves I've grown to sustain me.  It takes faith to see the tiny tips of orange peeking out and to trust that my own kind of beauty is coming, and that I will unfold in my own time.

A Category for "I Love Your Guts"

Photo: potato heads and pieces, Diana F+ It was years ago when I was sitting in a room with a group of people who were engaged in an inquiry about authenticity, that one man got up and began to tell the story of how he had done something so heinous to another person that we would usually shrink back or lock one up behind bars for such a confession.  He was ashamed, and frightened to be so exposed in front of so many, but this thing was not going to let him go until he cleaned it up and left it behind.  He wasn't making any justifications or excuses, he was seeing and understanding the harm he had done and he was completely broken over it. 

I wasn't shrinking back, I was leaning forward.  I wasn't locating evil over there with him, I was seeing my own humanity in his eyes and I was filled with compassion.  He went on to tell about how he had called the woman he had hurt, so long ago, and how she forgave him.  I watched the forgiveness undo and then mend his soul, right before my eyes. 

I had been frightened, too, when he began to speak--I always was when anyone pulled back the curtain on their true selves, because I thought that some cruel abandonment was surely looming.  But I learned that day that I, too, could be brave.  That I might tell it the way it really is and magically find the room filled with love and not judgment.

I forgot that story, until yesterday when Phyllis told me another one like it.  She told me about a mentor who would point out this phenomenon in one of her groups.  When authenticity broke through like a ray of light through the clouds, he would say to them, "Look at this face. Have you ever seen such beauty?"  He would do this with men and women alike, and he challenged them all:  dare to be beautiful.  When we pull back the curtain, when authenticity breaks through, we are stunned by the beauty of the human soul.  It's sacred.  It's holy.

Phyllis and I talked about this kind of love for a long time.  It's distinctive from friendship because it doesn't really require a past or all the other kinds of knowing that friendship entails.  It's a kind of love that stirs you, wakes you up inside.  A kind that makes you want to reach out and take someone's hand or fold them into your arms or just look into their eyes in a way that says, I see you.  I know. Or, amen.

Classic movies like When Harry Met Sally have long occupied themselves with that old tennis match: friends or lovers?  Friends or lovers?  But I was so relieved when Phyllis told me these things.  "Thank you," I said.  "I just needed a category to put that in."  And I knew I wasn't the only one. 

This is an occupational hazard of doing authenticity work, whether you're a storyteller or an artist or even the rare scholar.  You can't help being wakened by the beauty of others' souls, or falling in love over and over again.

"It's really sad, isn't it," Phyllis replied, "that we don't have a category for I Love Your Guts."  Yes, I said. It's time for that to change.

A Good Way to Shut People Down

When we moved to Brooklyn, I didn't expect it to be easy, but still I was surprised at how brutal our introduction was. My girls were three years old, and four months old. I was coming off a C-section, and I'd been sick with some virus or another since Lucy was born. When we boarded the plane, both girls and I were fighting stomach viruses and colds. Simultaneously. I was nursing. We arrived in the dark on a cold Sunday night in March. Justin picked out our apartment alone while I was putting our house in Colorado on the market, so I hadn't seen our new home yet. Seeing it that first night was tricky because the electric company was working in the street and our building was completely without power when we arrived to inspect it. I walked into the entryway with the girls, and every possession that hadn't gone in the moving truck, and the hallway suddenly filled up with flashlights and voices. Our neighbors had come out to introduce themselves. There's nothing more reassuring than disembodied voices in the dark, right? Someone loaned us a flashlight. I accepted reluctantly, worried that it was an imposition. I helped the girls up the precarious staircase that felt downright treacherous in the darkness. After "seeing" the apartment, mostly by street light, we rushed to the store to buy the air mattresses that would be our only furnishings for the week, until our moving truck arrived the following weekend. My husband went to work the next morning (the rest of us were still horribly ill and stumbled out in search of toilet paper), and he was kept an hour and a half late in meetings. I saw the neighbors again, in the light where I met their faces. A family below us had a young son and seemed excited to have more children in the building. Emma offered to watch the girls for us when the movers arrived. I thought she was being polite. Then she offered again a couple days later and I considered the possibility that she really meant it. The baby was pretty stationary, but my three-year-old would have trouble staying out of the way as movers carried heavy loads blindly through two entrances. So I accepted. I think I went back to get her three hours later, but Emma says it felt more like twenty minutes. (It was at least two hours.) I was worried about imposing,leaving her so long that they'd regret offering and never do it again. When I knocked on the door, Emma asked, "Are you sure?" Movers were still filing in and out. But I was at the limit of what I was able to receive. "Yes," I said. I thought I was not overstaying our welcome, but when Emma and I tell the story now I realize that "whisking" my daughter away made Emma feel like we didn't trust them. It took me a year to confess to her how difficult it was for me to receive that gift, how I couldn't even believe they really meant it--100 percent and all day long, if necessary. It took two years for me to learn how my "manners" really made her feel. I'm really thankful that our friendship survived that hard day, and I'm sad that my struggle to receive shuts down the people offering me real and true gifts. When someone offers me anything that is hard for me to accept, I remember Emma on moving day. I say, "Thank you." And then I say, "Yes."

Taking Time to Integrate

Today I'm swimming in to-do lists.  Some things, like purchasing food, seem more urgent than others.  Some of the work needs to wait until next week while I reconnect with my friends.  I spent three of the last four weeks traveling or hosting company, I've performed stories live the last two nights in a row, and I'm so far out of my routine that it's hard to know where to start. So I think I'll begin with a cup of coffee, and if I'm feeling ambitious, a shower.  I think I'll define a successful day today as one in which I mail my packages and put away the rest of the laundry.  I'll give my mind another day off.  I've taken in so much new information that I'll do well to write some notes about the stories I don't want to forget and then just try to move my body (run, walk, sweep, scrub) until it catches up and I've integrated the stories into every cell. Times like this used to stress me out.  I would feel anxious until everything was "just so" and "on schedule" again.  But now it feels good to just breathe and to just be.  I'm thinking that maybe the schedule is overrated.  For me, this is a very good sign.

How to Look Good and Be Alone

Yesterday my friend, Christiane, and I talked at length about engaging with our communities.  For both of us, there have been times when we've been more engaged than others, and here are a few things we discovered about this:

  • It's easier to invite people to help us if we're in the midst of a Big Event than it is when we're just experiencing every-day kinds of difficulties or needs.  You can say things like, I'm planning a wedding, or I'm finishing my PhD (Christiane), or I'm moving in a week, and you feel more confident that your request will be seen as legitimate or understandable under the circumstances.  But what if you ask a friend to come help you with the kids while you clean the house for company and she arrives and says it already looks clean to her?  Your reaching out for help won't feel legitimized or understood, and if fact you may feel embarrassed that you imposed unnecessarily.
  • We often worry about seeming too needy for asking someone to contribute something to us, yet we would happily oblige the same request from a friend.
  • We respond to the previous fear by either outright hiding or just "not bothering" our friends with our struggles, which creates the image that we're doing better than we are.  Sometimes we do this because we think we're supposed to be able to handle our load without assistance, whatever that load may be.  Sometimes we do this in an attempt to manage our image so we can look strong and capable, like we have it all together.
  • The more we try to tough it out on our own, the more distant our friendships become.  Our friends might decide they aren't needed, or feel shame about their own struggles in light of our fake competence and they may drift away.  If I really think about it, it probably brings my friends great satisfaction when I let my weaknesses show because it probably humanizes me and helps us both see our common ground.  We all have joys.  We all have struggles.
  • We're going to now call this way of being I just described, "How to Look Good and Be Alone".

Togetherness, however, requires a different way of being. I used to worry that if I had local friends, they would have needs that were inconvenient for me to meet.  I have found this to be true in a way that surprises me.  Sometimes things are cut-and-dry, like, No, I can't pick up your child at school today because I'm across the country on a trip today.  But when I can do something and it just seems inconvenient, for now at least those inconveniences lie in the "I'm Busy Looking Good and Being Alone" category, and exchanging looking good for togetherness actually leaves ME being the one who was rescued, in the end.  It reminds me that being just as I am and just as I am not is enough. 

Being loved and being together free me from all kinds of unnecessary striving. The double standard mentioned above is still in my head, so to help myself re-program I'm going to write little notes to myself and post them around my place.  I'm going to pretend my best friend just confided in me that she's struggling with asking for help and I'm going to write down the very true things I would say to her.  Things like:  You can ask for what you need, or,  Your needs are not too much.  Then I'm going to hang them up and receive them as things that are just as true for me as they are for my best friends or for my children.

These are my first steps in recovering from "How to Look Good and Be Alone".  I'm trying to recognize each baby step I take and feel proud of the journey.  I started by confessing these things, first to my friends and then to you, so please use the comments section if you want to say how these things or others affect you.

Wrecked By Love

There is a way that love--real, true love--can unlace you and leave you undone if you are ever so lucky to be submerged in its deep waters.  It sometimes takes a community to convince you it's not just one person being nice.  It may take days or weeks for your defenses to be dismantled before it has an opening to get through.  All your good ideas and all your hard work aren't needed here; washing the dishes is enough.  The only job you get is the job that anyone can do, because otherwise you might confuse your acceptance with your contribution. 

You know this, because you do it all the time. You think if you cook good meals, if you keep the apartment looking good, if you're good enough in bed, he will keep loving you.  You think if you call on the right day and stick to the script  you can stay in their good graces.  If you keep writing, keep producing, keep selling, you might be seen or heard or wanted.

You might not be standing alone at the end of the story.

You spin and labor and try, until the day you are wrecked by love.  Then you remember the things you always forget--that you don't actually know what to do.  That sometimes no doing is required.  That you can stop, lay your weary head on the pillow and rest, and the world will hold together even without your tight grip.  Your timing will unfold without you driving it with a whip.  The affection for you in the universe will not not dry up so easily.

You listen to music and relax your face.  You let it all catch up to you, and feel your own exhaustion.  The people who know you best know the real work is happening now, that only good comes when you let your soul be mended by being undone.

Only courage lets you be seen in such a state. Only love got you into it.