determination · fortitude · health · life · recovery · spirituality · surrender

Snookered.

See, the thing about being saved is that it’s not an
absolution.  You aren’t swept back from
the cliff’s edge and wrapped in a cosmic swaddling, rocked into unseeing bliss.  What you are is placed back firmly onto a
path.  A long one.  Back from the edge, back from the place of
giving up on the work of this lifetime, you are nudged—not so gently, but not
without compassion—onto a path that will require of you work for the rest of
your lifetime.
The cliff’s edge, the leap from it, the ultimate sacrifice
as it might be called is the choice to give up all the work that will ever be
asked of you.  It is to say, Forget it,
too hard, too much, there’s no help, no hope. 
To be placed back onto the path you had made some kind of decision—by
omission or commission—to leave means that you are now responsible to take up
the work you’d abandoned.  It is to look
up from your crumpled knees and see winding before you the path of your
lifetime, the work that will surely be needed to accomplish it, and the
knowledge that to be alive is to do that work.
To be alive is to agree. 
To be alive is to sign an agreement daily that you will, however
falteringly, place one foot before the other. 
To be alive is to agree that you yourself and your life are more
worthwhile than eliminating all the possibilities it holds, all the better and
all the worse. 

And so, pulled back from the edge, “saved” as it were, you
walk with a grim humor, knowing that somewhere you have chosen this.

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fate · life · possibility · writing

storytime

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In soft, rainy weather like this, you warm up a mug of cider, coffee, cocoa, cradling your palms around it for heat. You sink into the couch and watch vaguely out the window as everything gets welcomely
drenched.
Your mind begins to drift, out of plan-making, errand-plotting, and back into the story that’s always being told.
It’s the one you were told before you were born. About wood
nymphs, and magic, and the luminescence of play. It tells of quests and triumphs,
failures and wounds burdened. It reminds you of the goat you rescue and the
crow you chase out of the darkness. The lovers you are meant to kiss and those who trick you into it.
In the story that is always behind thought, you meld
with ancient heroes, you are the foes they vanquish, and the cities they lay
waste to. You are the sword of justice and of vengeance. Both the hag and lady of the lake. You are the
unquantified stem cell of protagonist.
In grey weather like this, you aren’t yourself any longer,
because you’ve gone back to what you’ve always been: everything. nothing. and
teeming with every ending ever conceived. 

equanimity · interdependence · life · literature · self-love

Shel.

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Author, Poet, Artist Shel Silverstein played a significant
role in the formative literary lives of myself and many people my age. 
Who didn’t
have a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends
or
A Light in the Attic, with his
line drawings of a man who forgot his pants, or three children flying in a
shoe? Who doesn’t remember a few lines here and there of that one about being
sick but then, “What’s that you say, You say today is Saturday, Alright I’m
going out to play” or “Pamela Purse Yelled Ladies First” and then ends up
in a cannibal’s stew?
Shel’s poems are inventive, clever, imagination firing. And
yet. It’s his two “full-length” books that I’m considering today. Books whose
premise I simply don’t agree with, despite having heard others’ interpretations
and admiration: The Missing Piece
and
The Giving Tree.
In The Missing Piece,
we follow a Pac-Man-looking pie as he looks to find his own missing piece, the
piece to complete him. Like Goldilocks, some are too big, some are too small,
but in the end, he finds the one that’s just right.
In The Giving Tree,
we watch as a small boy enjoys the bounty of an apple tree, the tree offering
him fruit, a branch to swing from, its trunk, and then finally, simply a
stump on which to sit.
Both of these books, to me, reek of codependence. ! And, yes,
you might roll your eyes at me, analyzing a simple children’s book or reading
too much into a story. Many people have told me how lovely and generous it is
that the tree continues to give and give of itself until there’s barely anything
of itself left, and then finally the boy, now an old man, comes to appreciate
it.
Isn’t it a beautiful story of self-sacrifice and loyalty and
steadfastness?
Erm…
How about the Missing Piece? All Shel’s trying to say is
that we all walk around the world feeling slightly unwhole, slightly missing.
We are all trying to fill in a place within us that feels empty. Sometimes we
use things that we think will fit that place – sometimes we use people who we
think will fit that place. But we continue to go through our lives looking for
our missing piece, and when we find it, we are complete and we are happy.
Isn’t it a lovely metaphor for life, for our human striving for fulfillment and satisfaction?
Well…
As I said, I have a hard time appreciating
these messages as they’re written, if they’re written with those intentions at all. I
have a hard time integrating the message that we ought to divest ourselves of
our needs in order to satisfy others, as the tree did. Or the message that we
none of us are whole, and need someone to fulfill us, as the piece sought.
I recognize I may be being a little heavy-handed with my
interpretation of these stories, but as someone who’s loved so much of Shel’s
work, I bristle at the messages I glean
from them.
In fantasy land, yes, it would be nice to have someone
around who would give me everything I needed without asking anything in return
except my eventual appreciation. Yes, it would be lovely to find a human who
would complete me. But that’s not the way it works in reality land. And that’s
not the way I think it should work.
I think it’s a strange message to pass along to kids, and an
unrealistic vision of relationships that’s being set before us.
I was trying to explain “interdependence” to a friend of
mine recently, and I sort of failed. But in the world of these stories, I guess
the best I could say is if I am a piece rolling about the world, whether I feel whole or not, what I’d really want is another piece rolling alongside me,
looking to make themselves whole, just as I am. And, in the end, mostly it’s
about seeing that we already are, and discarding the skewed and broken glasses
we use to view the world and ourselves.
If I were the tree, I’d hope to get to say the to boy, you
know, I love you and all, but I could use some mutuality in this relationship,
if that’s something you’re available for. And if the boy really needs to row
a boat made out of my trunk, I’d hope for the strength to tell him … he’s
barking up the wrong tree.
That all said, I will continue to pull out my copy of Where
the Sidewalk Ends
and read a random poem. I
will hope to read it to a new generation of readers, and I will hope to be an
iota as creative and ingenious as he has been. But, I also hope to learn the lessons
I would have liked these books teach. 

career · community · death · friendship · fulfillment · life · love

Blood Brothers

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Yesterday morning I had coffee with a cancer friend, for
lack of a better term.
He’s someone who reached out to me when I returned to work last Spring,
who was 15 years out from his own similar cancer diagnosis, and said if I ever
wanted to talk, he was available.
Since then, we’ve had coffee about once every 6 months or
so, and we get to talk about walking back into a life that sort of looks the
same on the outside, but has completely changed. We exchange the requisite,
“Everything’s okay with your health?” question early in the conversation so we
can continue on.
We speak mostly about work and fulfillment.
At the time we first met up, he was in a transition of his
own, and now, about 18 months later, is again. And so we spoke about
meaningfulness, about intention, about the often tipped balance between the
checkbook and joy.
I love talking with him. Because he is my cancer friend. Because, it’s different than the
first coffee date I had even earlier yesterday morning (a Jewish holiday and
therefore a day off work), when I met with the home stager about potentially
working and apprenticing with her.
With her, I only said things like, I’m just looking for a
change and to instill more creativity into my every day life, to engage more of
my heart in my work. With him, the whole conversation is built on the
understanding of why that’s so. It’s not
just because I’m a flighty 30something; It’s because I’m a fighting 30something
(if you will).
I left the first coffee date with the home stager feeling
mildly despairing and depressed. And I left the conversation with my cancer
friend feeling uplifted, supported, and understood.
I know what he’s talking about when he says how it wrecks
him that he has been so wrapped up in work again that he hasn’t had time for
his outdoor hobbies. He knows what I’m talking about when I say that we have
the privilege and curse of not being able to run on the hamster wheel of life
without questioning what we’re doing.
I never wanted a cancer friend. I never wanted to be part of
a cancer support group, and tried a few times without going back. Therapy isn’t
the same thing either, though that helped. But talking with someone who also
had their next breath marched up to the guillotine… it’s different.
It’s not “all cancer all the time.” Our conversation wasn’t even about
grief or anger. It was barely about cancer at all, except that of course it
was. It is the reason we met, became friends, and can share with one another
on a different level what our life paths are looking like and what we want them
to look like and the struggle between just going along as planned and taking
the time to question it all.
I imagine in some ways, it’s like war veterans’ ability to
have an instant understanding of one another: You’ve both seen life and death;
you’ve both fought bravely and been terrified; you’ve both come back to
civilian life and are attempting to make sense of it all, while still paying
your cable bill and buying groceries alongside every other citizen.
But you also know that, conscious or not, you both make
every decision in reaction to and on top of your experience at war. You can’t
not. It’s part of your DNA, now. You’re blood brothers.
I never knew I needed a cancer friend. And I sit here
writing with tears of gratitude that I have one. 

action · courage · fear · life · relationships · self-support · self-worth

Oh My Dear, Who’s Ever Ready?

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I tore this quote from the back of a playbill a few years
ago, and taped it to my fridge.
The play I’m in, there’s a song about waiting: waiting
for marriage, for children, for your husband to come home, and eventually for death. The
character pleads with us, with her husband, with herself: How long do I have to
wait?
The ideas I have for my future are not unheard of or
unrealistic; I’ve just been telling them to wait for so long that they feel
out of reach. If you’re not moving toward them, your dreams will always feel
that way.
I’ve been thinking this morning about worthiness: Who would
want to hire me? What do I have to offer? Why would someone pay me instead of
someone with more experience?
And, as romance and finance are never far from one another,
I’ve been thinking about replacing some of those words with the same sentiment:
Who would want to date me? What do I have to offer? Why would someone date me
instead of someone who has their shit together?
The theme of worthiness is the undercurrent for both places
of lack in my life. Or, more accurately, both places of unrealized dreams.
I do know
intellectually, and often in my soul, that what I have to offer is not only
magnificent, but unique. It’s about showing that to the world (and myself) in a way that I
can support – in a way that I haven’t been ready to support or stand behind.
But, my dears, Who’s ever ready, indeed?
There has been a lot of waiting in my life, too. Waiting
for me to get better, to get healthy, to get stable, to get grounded, to get
organized, to get … “approvable.”
And mostly, that approval is internal. Waiting for my critic
to shut the hell up long enough to see the beauty and the awe (that we all
have, by the way).
Why haven’t I ever submitted an essay to a publication? I’m
scared I’m not good enough (aka unworthy). Why have I never applied for an
English professorship? I’m scared I don’t know enough (aka unworthy). Why do I
… well, why do I remain single despite my awesomeness? I’m scared: my “picker”
is broken, I can’t handle heartbreak again, I’m too gun-shy to really try. Aka,
unworthy of letting myself try.
These are not easy admissions, but they’re also not the all
of me, yet they’re part of the truth of me.
You can’t wait for someone else to knight you “worthy.” To
pour magic bravery potion on you that enables you to write something you feel
proud of and submit it. Or for someone else to see a potential in you that
you’re terrified yourself of seeing.
You have to see it for yourself, and you have to make
decisions from that place.
I’ve read enough Brene Brown over these few years to know,
a) we all go through this in one form or another, and b) that there is a way
out: It’s through.
It’s the small steps we (I) decide to take. Why didn’t I
ever apply to teach English? Doesn’t matter – can you do it now? Why haven’t I
ever coalesced my ideas for children’s workshops? Doesn’t matter – do you
believe in yourself enough now to try?
I will not wait until I’m ready, because that’s an illusion.
We (well, many of us?) are going to question our worth now and then, but it doesn’t
have to hold us back from taking action anyway. Readiness is an illusion, just
like perfection. Because, surely, that’s what I’m meaning, isn’t it? When I’m
finally good enough to try, to be original, to be seen, to be loved, then I can masterfully get on
with my business of being awesome?
That’s really not the way it works.
You take the steps, and hope the rest of you catches up. You
overreach yourself, and yes there’s a moment of will you make it or not, but if
you’re not reaching, you’re waiting. And the next step will never ever get closer, no matter how long you do. 

abundance · adulthood · community · joy · life · love

Having My Cake and Eating It Too.

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(Yes, I’m gonna go there. Bear with me!)
In 12-step recovery it is custom to acknowledge lengths of
sobriety or abstinence. Within the first year, we often acknowledge monthly
mile-markers, and after a year, we acknowledge annual “birthdays” or “anniversaries.”
Why do this? Why stand up in front of others and say that
you’ve accomplished something? Isn’t that selfish and self-seeking? Why does it matter?
Well, the conventional wisdom is that it shows others that
it’s possible. You’re not actually doing it for yourself, although that’s quite
nice; you’re helping others to see that “one day at a time” adds up to months,
and even years. You’re offering hope to others.
In our “belly-button birthday” world, why acknowledge our
birthdays either? I have friends who eschew celebrating their birthdays. Why
celebrate? It’s not like you *did* anything. You just lived another day.
And, just as with recovery, to me, that’s the point these
days.
It’s to celebrate and share the fact that you made it. That you are alive. You did do something: You lived.
A former mentor of mine used to call this our “precious
human life.” A Buddhist, her meaning is how rare it is to inhabit a human form this lifetime. We
could have been a tree or a toad or a fruit fly, alive for 24 hours, unconscious.
But we’re not.
We’re animated, active, Fate-affecting. And Fate-affected.
We’re constantly learning and changing and fighting and
hoping and loving and hating and struggling and triumphing. We’re constantly
forming ideas of who we are and who the world is; where we are and where we
want to be.
We’re creating our lives with every breath we have the
privilege to draw.
So when a co-worker the other day shushed everyone as we wished her a happy birthday, saying she doesn’t do birthdays, I did whisper to her, But imagine the
alternative.
We do fight to be here, conscious or not; every day, we are
making a decision to try. No matter what that looks like, even if it looks like
stagnation or the mundane. Even if we are
the tired, poor huddled masses. We
try.
The celebration of a birthday is an acknowledgement of a
year of living. A year of something precious and rare and teeming with
uncertainty and, hopefully, love.
Today, I turn 33 years old. I have survived alcoholism,
dysfunction, gang rape, and cancer.
I have formed and smashed relationships. I have melted and
embraced. I have survived my own machinations. And become a metallurgist.
I, my friends, am an alchemist. And I honor us all today by
showing you:
We live.

And how!

With love,m.

ambition · faith · fortitude · gratitude · joy · life · participation

Third Star to the Right…

Call me a navel-gazer, but as the Jewish High Holidays approach, I get reflective.

At work, I’m neck deep in preparation for them, and acutely aware of their significance on the calendar than I ever was: Two years ago, at the end of September, I was diagnosed with Leukemia on the evening of Yom Kippur, our “day of atonement,” the day on which we are either “sealed into the book of life” for another year … or not. It’s a pretty significant day on the Jewish calendar, and I have come to hate it.

I hate what it “means,” about being sealed or not into the book of life. I hate how much changed in an instant, with one sentence told to me by a doctor. I hate remembering the sore throat that began the whole prelude to my ER visit, which kept me working from home, and feeling so badly about it since it was a brand new job.

But, what remembering this day also does for me is cause me to reflect on what has changed, and what has happened in the two years hence. I have endeavored to create “a life worth living” for myself against all the internal railing and nay-saying, against all my own self-sabotage, against all the foot-dragging and self-immolation I had previously submitted to.

In the last two years, I have dragged myself kicking and screaming into a life I consider worth living.

This isn’t to say that I’d done nothing beforehand, but here’s a list of experiences I’ve had & actions I’ve taken in the last two years, post-cancer:

  • Hosted my Creativity and Spirituality Workshop
  • Began blogging daily again
  • Went to Hawaii for the first time
  • Got a bedframe for the first time since childhood
  • Sang at a café with friends
  • Joined their band on bass
  • Played shows out, nearly once a month
  • Started ushering at Music shows for free & have seen,
    among others:
     – Paul McCartney (about to see him again next week)

– Red Hot Chili Peppers

– Doors guitarist Robby Krieger play “People Are Strange” with Warren Haynes…!

– About to see Dave Matthews

  • Bought a car
  • Celebrated July 4th near my old hometown with my mom and
    brother
  • Busked on the streets of Oakland and SF singing Christmas
    caroles
  • Got real headshots
  • Auditioned for plays and musicals
  • Got cast in 4 shows
  • Modeled for friends
  • Submitted photos to modeling agencies
  • Visited Seattle for the first time
  • Visited Boston to try out a new relationship experience
  • Dated with craziness
  • Dated with less craziness
  • Got laid well
  • Got laid poorly
  • Visited a best friend and her newborn baby for a week
  • Hiked Tilden & Marin
  • Took accredited acting classes
  • Took voice lessons
  • Flew a plane(!) — and landed it 😉

Any of these things could have happened beforehand (and some were indeed happening, with less gusto, determination & regularity), but most of the activities on this list are new to me.

I was talking with a friend a few months ago, another cancer survivor, and she said that she feels complete with the world – that if she died today, she’d be okay with that. I noticed how not okay I’d have been with that; virulently not okay. Granted, she’s about 10 years older than me, has a daughter, teaches in a way she loves, is married.

And I think those are key differences. Having created your own family, having a career you feel impassioned about. Those are items that are not yet on my above list, and I want them to be before I expire, thank you.

I do however, write this list to reflect to myself that there are things that I’ve done that are miraculous, fun, and inspiring for anyone to have done, let alone l’il ole me. I forget this, frequently.

It’s hard to admit this here, and it’s not precisely the entire truth, but if I were to expire sooner than later… Well, I won’t say, “If I died today, I’d be okay with that,” but that I am exponentially grateful for this role I’ve recently landed. To play in a musical, comedic role at a community theater is the cat’s pajamas. (If I have to go soon, I hope it’s after we open!)

When I returned from teaching English in South Korea almost 10 years ago, I said I was coming home to “break onto Broadway.” Then instead, I got sober!

And now, 8 years since then, I’m taking steps that are developmentally appropriate to that dream. It’s in the right direction, even if I never get there. It’s my impassioned avocation, even if it’s not a vocation.

I do not wish to expire soon. I have more experiences I want to add to that list, and more sanity and evenness I wish to accrue. But I feel more comfortable now than I had been even a few months ago in noticing that I am accumulating the experiences that, to me, express a full and well-lived life.

I wouldn’t have as many regrets if it were to happen soon. I have a few regrets of things I’ve done & ways I’ve re/acted in the last two years, sure. It’s not as if I’m a saint, and sometimes I still choose experiences I know are more damaging than useful.

But instead of waiting to be “inscribed in the book of life” by some entity or religion or benchmarks of success otherwise prescribed to me by my childhood, my faith, my inner critic…

Instead I am coming to believe that I am following my own North Star: I may never get there, but I’m headed in the “right direction.”

And for the first time ever, I deeply feel that.