I Had Stories, Once

I’ve always been a writer. Words on a page have come easily to me, naturally, for as long as I can remember. I talk a lot, too, and I’m good at that too, but when I’m writing my thoughts come to me in already complete prose, an architecture of paragraphs emerging fully formed like Athena out of the skull of Zeus.

(See? Only a writer would use such a hyperbolic and frivolous reference. Spare, I am not).

It occurred to me, while looking through the stacks of the local library, that I used to write stories. Now I write mostly these blogs, or Facebook posts, or essays or work memos-all informational, and while I hope entertaining, all based in my own head, my own personal voice. I’m not sure where the shift happened, or when. But I can remember-now, for the first time in a long time-night after night in my twin bed spent writing, well past the time the house got quite, and I should have been asleep. Writing with a pencil on lined paper (college rule only, thank you very much), about far away places, weaving in mythology, folklore, religion. Sex, too, from what I understood of it at the time. My fiction always explored the things that fascinated me, and that I didn’t understand. I didn’t journal, I didn’t keep a diary, I wrote fiction.

In middle school I remember this writing project included a boy I was “dating”, dating in this instance to mean for this one particular week we held hands on the bus. He tried on all the girls in class like we all tried on new shoes. I don’t remember if he ever found the right one. But I remember the writing. It was an elaborate epic, about a woman in what I think was supposed to be medieval Ireland or Scotland or somewhere British Isle-y who found herself suddenly in the company of a band of fairies (faeries, because #culturalaccuracy) who were battling some sort of evil mega-faery, and they needed her help. The Roman invasion was also involved in there somewhere; there was strong rebel, native rights message at the core (probably because Palestinian children are raised with some serious thoughts about occupiers). The story is fuzzy, but I do remember that this boy and I would trade pages back and forth, writing sections overnight and bringing them to one another in the morning, trading ideas on the page. At some point he lost interest and I continued, but I don’t believe I ever found an ending.

I discovered profound joy  in sharing ideas that way. Of having someone read my writing, and appreciate it. Collaborating and finding a story together. I don’t remember caring all that much about holding his hand on the bus, but I remember caring deeply about that story. I cared because then, as now, my words are my most vulnerable expression. If you want to know me, if you want to love me, read my writing. And then engage with me about it.

The number of men I have dated since who have taken no interest in my writing baffles me, in hindsight. The number of men I’ve dated who I’ve hesitated to tell about my writing, or share any of it, should be evidence of how few men I’ve dated who I trusted to actually like me, or show up for me. I’ve always been protective of writing (and singing for people, but that’s a story for another day). It feels like I’m asking someone to gently rub their hands all over my heart, and hope that it still works the same way when I put it back in my chest. Blogging started, years ago, as my attempt to feel less vulnerable about my writing, to be more brave. And it’s worked, but mostly by changing what I write about. Snark and sass and politics (geo-, body-, and sexual-). Dating mishaps and misadventures. Personal revelations. But I don’t share with you, dear reader, my imagination, my hopes and dreams, my girlish fantasies. At some point I decided (was coaxed?) to put away childish things, to take on more serious matters. I don’t think it was one thing that lead me to this conclusion, just the ordinary brutalities of being a dreamy, dramatic kid in a hard, suspicious world.

And perhaps that’s why the story, and that experience, and the memory that came to me today, meant so much: here was a person who read those words etched on my heart, and found joy in them. Who didn’t make fun of me or tell me I was silly. A boy no less. How lovely.

I write now, mostly in the first person, to express myself, to understand how I think about things, to share those ways of thinking in the hopes of persuading others. But there’s an entire interior landscape I have let lie fallow. I have covered it in career and bills and appropriate adult milestones. I’ve salted the ground with expectations about what life should be, about how I should be in it. But today, despite all my efforts to the contrary, a new green shoot came bursting forth from my memory.

There are worlds yet to be discovered, and words yet to be used to describe them.



Unaccompanied Minors

I can’t sleep tonight.

There was another night I couldn’t sleep, long ago. I woke up, in my house, all alone. My parents had stepped out for the night, and in my safe, small-town neighborhood, left me sleeping peacefully. No big deal, if I hadn’t woken up to find myself all alone, in the middle of the night (ok, like 8:30pm but I was a kid). It seems silly now, but the abject terror I felt, not knowing where my parents were, not knowing how I was going to take care of myself, was real. Luckily I went to a neighbor’s house and when my parents came back from a nice walk on a nice night, all was right again. I was fine.

But I remember that panic.

I cannot fathom what is happening on the border now. I cannot fathom the depths of inhumanity and unfeeling necessary to separate children from their parents when they attempt to cross the border. I cannot fathom what it takes to put children ranging from babes in arms to teenagers in detention facilities prisons. And I cannot fathom the severity of the trauma we are collectively inflicting on these children. Childhood trauma fucks you up for a long time, and we’ve just bought trouble in the shape of about two thousand children that are going to have some serious baggage. How’s that going to end up, do you think? We didn’t want gang members to cross our border-what do you think is going to happen with a generation of lost boys and girls who grew up in detention facilities? Play this out to it’s logical conclusion and tell me how this ends?

But apparently-astoundingly-there are different opinions on this situation. Ok. Let’s discuss.

They didn’t have to come here if their parents had just stayed in their own country.

First of all- fuck you if you think this. No seriously. Go fuck yourself. You know why they are coming here and you suggesting that this is their fault because they are in all cases seeking a better life and in many cases fleeing from war, death squads, gangs, famine… seriously, fuck all the way off.

But let me indulge this idea for a second. I come from a family of immigrants. Not just immigrants-refugees. We’re a proud family and we aren’t going to wave it around but at various times in history my family has lived in refugee camps, fled from war, and came in through Ellis Island. Even well after she had become a naturalized citizen my grandmother would recite her Social Security number with an “A” at the end-for Alien. That identity lingers. There’s a reason my mother doesn’t speak Arabic fluently, and that’s because my grandparents wanted her to be an American. They understood that part of the trade off at the time they came here was abandoning parts of themselves. Not seeing family, being far from friends, and sacrificing to make the dreams they had for their children come true.

So when you tell me that parents had the option to stay in their own country-no they didn’t. You can’t stay in a place that will kill you. Your choices for your future-for your children’s future-is to be killed or risk everything on the possibility of a better life. You will watch your child be dragged away from you kicking and screaming if you think they might possibly survive.  You would rather lose your children with the sliver of hope of a better life without them, then watch them die back in your home country. I’m not even a parent and I know that’s true. And even if they had totally-ordinary-more-opportunities-not-seeking-asylum reasons for wanting to come here, fine, turn them away. But separating parents and children to actively prosecute the adults is a waste of resources and a moral outrage.

This is the law, it’s just being enforced.

Wrong. If this were a law, why is this part of it only now, suddenly, being enforced? What did the world’s most evil Keebler Elf state outright that it was meant as a deterrent, complete with Bible passage (don’t even get me fucking started on that one)? It’s policy. And you know what policy is? Optional. For instance, it’s policy to refer to these children as “unaccompanied minors.” But that’s inaccurate. They are very much accompanied, right up until the moment we arrest their parents and send them to detention centers.


And I got a law degree just to make sure. Don’t let them gaslight you, this is a new “zero tolerance” policy.


Speaking of which…

Let’s think about the logistics. Prosecuting every.single.person. who attempts to cross the border is a ridiculous proposition-an incredible burden on an already overloaded legal system. It is also arguably extra-judicial, in that we are preemptively depriving them of their rights before a conviction (and yes I know that the Government has a greater security interest vs. civil rights at the border and that these aren’t citizens. See law degree, ibid.)  We are literally buying trouble. We could turn these people away for free. Instead we’re bringing them into the country, feeding, housing, clothing, while waiting to prosecute them, all at a cost. To accomplish what? Deterrence for future immigrants? Never mind for the moment that when you’re fleeing from a Central American death squad a prison in the US is not the worst thing you can imagine. The cost-benefit ratio here is ludicrous.

Factor in the kids- babies in arms in some cases-and what the actual fuck are we doing? Like literally- what are we doing with them? Who is caring for these children? Are we under the impression that HHS or CBP employ an army of preschool teachers? Wet nurses? I spoke with someone at HHS today about this and they are siphoning off resources from every other part of the agency to get more bed space for these kids. No one was equipped to take them in at this rate (approximately 60 per day).

This whole process feels like a fever dream that no one followed all the way through to its logical conclusion-which, of course, is a warehouse prison full of bureaucratically orphaned children. It’s the Lord of the Flies, the Hunger Games,  the Maze-Runner; name your dystopian future and we’re in it.

Or, rather, these children are in it. Unaccompanied.

I could keep making arguments here, but really-it doesn’t matter. If I have to explain why this is wrong to you, then none of it matters. And I know we’ve done this before: slavery, Native boarding schools, Japanese-American internment camps. To exclaim that this isn’t American isn’t exactly true. What it isn’t is a reflection of American values, or at least the ones we claim. We cannot be a great nation if we continue to not just abdicate but actively reject basic human decency. Fix our immigration laws, fix our policy, close the fucking borders if that’s what you want (ignoring for the moment that doing so is also antithetical to our values, and would deprive us of the best and brightest minds from all over the world). But cruelty is not a strategy. Traumatizing children is not a reasonable policy position.

Find a better answer.  For the country, for the world, and for God’s sake for these children.






One Thing

I am writing this to avoid writing something else. I am at my most articulate when procrastinating. I would say it’s part of my process but that’s a lie. I don’t want to write the other thing, so I’m not doing it. I’m doing this.

But the truth is I’m doing this, and I’m doing seven other things. Don’t believe me? I’ll count them for you: 1) Checking and responding to email; 2) Making a to-do list for work; 3) Planning my weekend activities; 4) Listening to a voicemail; 5) Checking Instagram and Facebook notifications; 6) Worrying about The Thing I’m Not Writing But Really- Really-Need to Write; 7) Eating lunch.

I would venture a guess that many of you reading this do the same thing. We are multi-tasking machines, at work, at home, at play. We’re never just doing one thing at a time; having a conversation while you’re still scrolling through social media, talking on the phone while flipping through cable, or my absolutely worst, getting ready for the day or cooking dinner while being on conference calls. I’m always doing while listening, looking, reading, absorbing. My life is full of noise and information. I imagine most of ours are.

And I wonder if that’s part of why I am (we are) exhausted and itchy all of the time. Why I feel like I’ve inherited my mothers pathological inability to sit still. It drives the cat bonkers-I’m never standing in one place and he HAS TO KNOW WHERE I AM AND WHAT I AM DOING AT ALL TIMES ALWAYS MEOW. It starts to become a chicken or the egg issue: am I anxious because I’m always moving and doing, or am I always moving and doing because I’m anxious? I’m an ouroboros of frenzy.

On an animal, critter, rat-brain level I know this is unhealthy. That while multitasking is a great and helpful skill, this amount of diffuse focus means I’m never luxuriating into any one activity, just skimming the surface of engagement on each thing. Some days you’re in the flow and multitasking feels effortless and productive, but lately, for weeks, months, it’s felt like the amount of plates I need to keep spinning is untenable. I’ve lost track of which plates can fall and which can’t-a bad sign. When everything is equally important, it’s impossible to prioritize, and prioritizing is how we keep it all from going off the rails.

I was thinking about this last night after I left a work happy hour, where I was forced to put on high heels and a smile even though I’d worked an exhausting day, I was starving, and just wanted to crawl in bed. I showed up already angry and sick to my stomach from a lurching trip through crosstown traffic, and too-low blood sugar due to being too busy to eat a decent lunch. I was unpleasant towards people who didn’t deserve it, who were only trying to give me a nice evening. I didn’t like anyone or anything; I resented having to be there. When I finally did leave, it was oppressively hot and humid outside; a storm had been building all day-actually for the last few days.

And I could feel it building in me, too, like the need to scream or cry or rage. Full of electricity and menace. The energy has to go somewhere. It has to dissipate somehow. Something had to give, and it looked like the only thing that was possible to give was me. Just as the clouds cracked open with lightening I opened my door, and crashed on my couch. For 20 minutes I laid there, motionless in the dark, just watching the storm roll in, the rain pour down, no phone, no tv, no computer, no voices. Just me, the cat, and the storm. I felt every ounce of tired, every moment of frustration, every tense muscle. I breathed, deeply, for the first time all day. One breath in, and out. One thing. Until my storm passed.

13 Going On…

I had dinner with a group of middle school students tonight, invited by a friend who is now their teacher. The idea was to share about our lives in DC, our jobs, and general advice we would give ourselves, if we could go back and talk to ourselves at that age.

Which of course, got me thinking: what would I tell 13 year old me? First of all, I probably couldn’t have told her much. I have always insisted on learning my lessons personally, the hard way. No one’s advice ever made much of a dent compared to personal experience. I had to touch the hot stove, no matter how much I was warned away from it. I still do.

But even so, if I could sit her down and tell her anything, I would tell her this:

I would tell her that having your heart broken will always hurt, just as much, just as deeply, but you’ll get better about picking up the pieces and moving on with your life. You will cry in the bathroom and at night in your bed, but otherwise you’ll be able to hold it together pretty well. I would tell her this is important-having a heart capable of being broken is how you know you’re still in there, somewhere.

I would tell her that you’ll get better at managing the fear of putting yourself out on a limb, not knowing what will come next. That much of being an adult is managing the fear of uncertainty, of sitting in that discomfort and making friends with it. I would tell her that most people are not this brave, and this is a feature that will propel her to many, many amazing experiences, and a few really difficult ones. I would tell her that vulnerability will hurt like a son of a bitch, but that so does the loneliness of not opening up to others. I would tell her she doesn’t get to avoid pain, but she can usually choose which kind she gets.

I would tell her that many men will find her alluring, despite what everyone is currently telling her about her body. I would also tell her that attraction isn’t the same as respect, and lust isn’t the same as love. I would tell her not to worry about whether they like her, and focus on whether she likes them. I would tell her not to get addicted to that dopamine hit- it will fade and you will be left chasing it forever. I would encourage her to embrace the slow burn and not jump to the ending out of a deep discomfort with uncertainty.

I would tell her that there is very little she can control in this life, and that worry is not an action, it’s an illusion. That the world will try to convince her otherwise, that if only she was a little prettier, better, smarter, whatever-er, she can will the world and the people in it to respond the way she wants. I would gently, lovingly, tell her this is deeply wrong. It will have nothing to do with her, in most cases (I would also tell her that I had to be reminded of this fact again-by a friend, gently, lovingly-this very week).  I would tell her that five year plans are bullshit and she should deeply distrust anyone or anything that asked her to develop one.

I would tell her that her parents were right about a lot of things- whether to take trigonometry, whether to join a sorority, whether you need to go out or stay home, whether you should be friends with those people, or date that boy. But-and this is perhaps more important- that she will realize one day that her parents were really, really wrong about other things, things that you believed like breathing, things that were based in love but also fear, and also their own stuff. And I would tell her that she could choose to put those things down, and not carry them with her, even if it feels impossible.

I would tell her to trust her gut, because it will rarely be wrong. I would tell her that her gut will keep her safe, even if it doesn’t make her happy. If she cultivates it, listens to it, trusts it even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, she will know what to do next. Her gut is her connection to the Divine. Even when it doesn’t make any sense on paper, her own inner knowing will walk her home.

And, I would tell her that one evening you’d look around a table of friends that had come to you in various ways, and you’d be joking about something unremarkable but erudite and you’d realize with a start that this was what you’d longed for most in your young life, to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, by people that you respected and adored.

And you’d remember that if that dream could come true, even 20 some odd years later, than so can others.


The Lawyer, the Magician, and Me

I’m currently on a plane, flying to San Francisco. I fly to San Francisco a lot, and besides the 6 hour journey in coach, it is not the world’s worst place to have to visit with regularity. Even the 6 hour journey can be welcome. If I don’t log into the in-flight wifi, I can ignore the real world and give myself some time to read, to think, to write, or to catch up on TV.

Which is what I opted to do this trip, to catch up on my latest obsession, The Magicians. It’s on ScyFy (the dumbest possible spelling) and is full of wry humor, pop culture references, and unsentimental heart. It’s ostensibly about magic, but it’s really about people. I’m not going to ruin it for you, but I encourage you to watch it, as a flight of fancy and also as a meditation on love and humanity.

I knew the show was more than a trifle when one of the characters tells another something to the effect of, “you treat magic like a drug because the people that taught you to use it behaved like drug dealers. Magic is everywhere, you don’t have to barter and bargain and sacrifice for it.” That resonated in a deep place for me, except replace “magic” with “love,” which is basically what the show does. I’ve written about hustling for worthiness-for love-before, and I suspect I’ll write about it for years to come, but this statement was shattering. Because that is how I treat love. Not the love I give, but the love I want to receive. I give my love to others freely, but for some reason expect that theirs comes at a price, it comes with conditions. Only if I’m good enough, or give them something worthwhile of mine, will I get that love. And perhaps love feels like a drug to me because it always seems like the first hit is free. After that it will cost you. And dearly. It costs me a piece of myself, which is exactly what magic costs this character. But it didn’t have to- it was just the only type of magic she knew about.

That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately too, if there are other types of magic, figuratively speaking. Magic, and love, that is less painful. Less costly. Before I went to law school, I was an actress. I was also a mortgage officer and a concierge and a lot of other things to pay the bills, but what I went to school for, what I felt called to do, was be an actress-a creative artist. But good God was it hard on an emotional, sensitive person like me. When I was performing, it was like I had magic running through my veins, electricity emanating from my heart. The constant rejection, the fear of failure, the feelings of not being good enough. It felt like I had purposely chosen the hardest possible path for myself, because of the rare moments of fun and passion…. Sound familiar? Sound like anything else in my life? Love feels this way for me-like letting a wild animal made of light run around inside your chest.

So after a few years of deeply unhappy struggle, in love and in life, I made a new choice, I decided on law school, which I’d always sworn I would never do, and I moved half way across the country and I started a new life, a completely different timeline. I put away performing and I didn’t even go to see a play for about 5 years. It was too hard. It felt too raw, like seeing an ex who had hurt you deeply. Like with anything I love that betrays me, I walked away and avoided it entirely. I embraced this new person, the student and the lawyer and the civil servant. I made new, wonderful friends and built a new beautiful, challenging, rewarding life in Washington D.C.

And yet.

It would bubble up. It started with singing in the choir at the National Cathedral. The amount of emotion that I felt from those practices, from that experience, told me the door I’d tried so hard to shut, hadn’t been totally barred. I started writing again, not just memos and briefs, but blogging, and writing some fiction. The words flowed easily, pouring out of my like a dam being released.

Other things started to come back to me, other loves, from even earlier in my life. Mythology, history, fantasy-magic. Things I’d been fascinated with as a child, that I’d put away when I thought I had to grow up. Things that I decided weren’t acceptable for adult, professional women. Soft, lovely, joyful things that have no particular utility other than making me happy, the things that make you feel like there’s pop rocks in your heart.

For a while I didn’t know what to do with these things. I kept picking up the old books of my heart, uncertain in what order to shelve them. I liked being a lawyer, I liked the skills and the logic and the order it brought to my chaotic, reckless, overwhelmed and overwhelming heart. Learning to reason in this way gave me rules, and rules have always brought me comfort. Rules make sense when nothing else seems to. Rule provide boundaries that have always been porous for me; rules are safe. At a time in my life when I felt like the magic I’d once had inside of me had dried up, or wasn’t enough, the rules offered me a place to lay my head, and feel normal- even strong. But it was, I see now, an overcorrection, a pendulum swing out of frustration and deep longing. The rules weren’t enough. The safety wasn’t enough for my big, chaotic, reckless heart, the heart that just couldn’t convince itself to settle for comfortable security instead of an epic love story-romantic and otherwise.

Because as I’ve let the magic come back in, I can understand that I am both of these things: sense and sensibility. Lawyer and Magician. The Lawyer is the “adult,” she guides and counsels the Magician. She tells her when to go to bed, and when to eat at a reasonable hour. She dries her tears and reminds her that things will always look better in the morning, and you can do anything for one day at a time (perhaps unsurprisingly, the Lawyer often sounds a lot like my Mom). But because the Lawyer is there, the Magician can be all heart, and no fear. I had to experience the one to appreciate the other. I had to discover them both, to be whole.

But what do I do now, now that I’ve let the Magician come back out to play, to stretch her wings, to be her chaotic, reckless, gentle self again? How do I fit her into the life I’ve created, the one with clear rules and boundaries? Do I let her blow it all up? What comes next for us all?



Seasons of Blergh

Where the fuck is Spring?

Seriously. It’s April 9th and it snowed today. Not a lot. But it still snowed. In April. In what is essentially Virginia. Not cool (or rather, too cool. Words are weird).

I’m not the only one kvetching about our missing spring, and discussing the weather, is not, as a rule, what one might consider interesting. But this never-ending winter has been trying my patience, and I am not known for that particular virtue. It has been working on it in a way that seems significant.

First, some context: I have never been a patient person, from childhood on. I wasn’t raised by patient people. On both sides of my family you can find individuals that range from driven to relentless to rat-terrier-trying-to-dig-a-hole. We are powerful and dynamic and smart and committed, but patient we are not. We want what we want when we want it, and not just a bean feast or a cute yet vicious anthropomorphic squirrel (raise your hand if you got that *very* attenuated Veruca Salt reference). Once an idea has entered this steel trap of a mind, it very rarely shakes loose until satisfied. Even to my detriment. It’s a lesson I have been taught time and time again, but rarely retained.

But this winter, something seems to have shaken loose. It feels like giving up, a bit, to a person so hellbent on maintaining control and moving ever forward. But somewhere along week 17 of January, I felt something shift, something give. The idea of surrender popped up everywhere. In church, at work, in books I was reading. A trainer asked me what would happen if instead of trying to change my circumstances, I simply worked with what I had? Not embraced it, not keep a gratitude journal (an idea that makes me instantly bratty), just accept it. Surrender.

It was a terrifying thought. If I’m not keeping those plates spinning, if I’m not shouldering the world on my back, what happens? Does it all come crashing down? Or, do I find that things tend to resolve themselves without my interference, for the most part. Turns out, it’s the latter. It wasn’t my will that was keeping things afloat, but rather my anxiety I was keeping at bay. Or so I thought. Mostly I was just giving that little rat terrier inside my head other things to chase, when really what it needed to do was lay down on it’s dog bed and fall asleep.

It also turns out once you take the pressure off yourself, it’s a lot easier to take the pressure off others. When you decide that it’s not up to you to decide, you remove a lot of judgment and neediness. If I don’t have to have things perfect, then others don’t have to be perfect to participate. And it is truly amazing how people show up when you don’t expect anything of them, if you just let them be. It’s amazing how much they can give to you when you aren’t sucking it out of them, or smacking them like a ketchup bottle.

Resistance, persistence, struggle, surrender.

Case in point, I recently started dating someone I stopped dating a year or so ago, because things weren’t moving as quickly as I liked. But when we came back together, I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t have any expectations. I let him lead (which is the hardest), I let him reveal himself to me, and I’ve learned so much I never let myself see when I was trying to force an outcome. It may go somewhere, it may go nowhere, but I’m enjoying this a hell of a lot more than treating our interactions like chess moves.

I don’t think it was just the winter, though, I think it was also an important piece of growing up that I’d simply never quite mastered. Realizing that planning for every possible eventuality might be good business, but it means I miss everything in the moment it’s happening. And there’s some good stuff happening in those moments. Some great stuff. And if there are no more moments, then shouldn’t I enjoy the ones I’m in, instead of worrying about how to preserve those that may come in the future? None of that is promised, but this moment is. It just is. It’s an excruciating paradox of life, we must live it, second by second, plans or not.

I’m not saying I’m good at it. It’s an experiment, leaning back and just seeing what happens. It’s not easy for me. It drives me crazy sometimes, but it’s a different sort of crazy than compulsively trying to control things.  Being open to possibilities other than what I think should happen feels unnatural, but it’s far more natural than what I was doing. It is natural like this endless winter; I can’t do a thing about it. It just is. It’s working on me, and it’s leaving in it’s own sweet time. I can accept it, or I cannot, but neither choice matters a damn bit. So why not keep my powder dry for things that matter?

As Florence and the Machine sing, “I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in.”































There’s a pretty common saying that “what you resist, persists.” I have found that to be true.  For instance: I don’t do well alone. Not in a occasional Friday night in, or a living by myself, or a going to dinner or the movies for one sort of way, all things that I do, and often enjoy. I mean fundamentally alone. Without someone who knows you, or knows what you’re going through, or can bear witness to your life.

It should be mentioned here, that I am an extrovert. That is an understatement. Saying I’m an extrovert is like saying that Grand Canyon is a pretty decent hole in the ground. I can’t function without people. My motto is the more the merrier, even when it’s probably not. I process everything externally, needing a sounding board for the smallest decisions (what do I wear today) to the largest (do I take this job out of town). Now, often this external dialogue is just a quick photo text to a friend, or a one-sided dialogue with my cat (although Gary has a lot of opinions). I don’t wish to convey that I can’t make my own decisions-it’s that coming to my own decision requires me to talk it out, like contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I usually emotionally know what answer I want to get to, but because I’m also a lawyer, I need to back it up with logical steps.

Part of this is inborn, part of it is being an only child who’s only hope at siblings was friends, and part of it is moving so much as an adult I got good at building community whereever I landed. But regardless of the reason, this is a fundamental truth for me: I do not want to be alone.

And yet, I find myself alone again (and again, and again), in the sense of romantic partnership. Surrounded by friends, embraced by family, some very fun flings, but coming home to an empty house. For a person like me, who is a Cancer (like Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote “I am the planet’s most affectionate life-form, something like the cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle…,”) it feels cosmically cruel. I tried to explain this to friends recently, when I said I wanted a partner to build a life with. One of them asked me what the hell I had been doing-was this not a life? And yes, of course this is a life. It’s a great life. But lately I’ve been craving a deeper one.

I’ll admit, for years I would say I was ready, but I wasn’t, not really. In going back through blog posts on this very site, you’ll see me saying similar things. But a disastrous relationship where I lost myself seemed to confirm my deepest fears: I could be alone and deeply unhappy, or with someone and totally lost. Pick your poison. After that experience, where we had talked about marriage, deep down I thought of marriage and kids as anvil and anchor, and I didn’t want to stand still for long enough to get tethered. It made me itchy. Pushing things away that didn’t look or feel perfect, hiding behind “rules,” saying I was making room for better things.  Running away, traveling, focusing on work, pushing the fear and loneliness away with all manner of bad habits.  What I figured out was that I craved the validation of a relationship, but couldn’t come up with better reasons than “achieving appropriate adult milestones and feeling pretty,” which I think we can all agree are shitty reasons to get hitched. If you’re only seeking validation, you’ll keep trying long past you know you should stop. You’ll keep chasing that dopamine dragon, looking for love in all the wrong places.

But the slow realization has been dawning on me that while that definitely was very true for me, it isn’t any longer. I’ve come up with better reasons than validation.

I’m not sure when I fully understood it. Maybe when my Dad was in the hospital, and with it the realization that he could be gone and never walk me down an aisle, never hold a grandchild. That was terrifying in a way I didn’t expect. Maybe it was watching my friend and her family at church, the little unit that fits all together like a lovely puzzle. Maybe it’s seeing the joy in another friend’s face even in the midst of exhaustion. Maybe it’s seeing how they didn’t lose themselves, but became deeper versions of themselves. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, love looks different from the inside. And there are scarier things, it turns out, then loving someone and letting them love you.

I think it is all of these things, and this: I’m ready for the life I’m building to grow much deeper, and I’ve reached the end of what I can reasonably accomplish alone. I need teammates. And while I have amazing friends (and I think our friendships are sorely undervalued in a society that places so much privilege on romantic relationships), they can’t grow with me in this way-they are growing their own families. Turns out marriage and kids aren’t anvils and anchors; they’re roots, and roots can come with you and be repotted. You don’t have to stay in one place.

I feel exposed and vulnerable acknowledging this now. Wanting something, and worse admitting you want something, opens you up to the possibility of failure. But on this score I am already living the worst case scenario, and it’s honestly not bad at all. It is a great life. I just want to root deeper into it.

Personal Brand (Or, a Recap and the New Way Forward) (Or, the Longest Saturday)

Easter Sunday feels as good as any day for a relaunch. The story of Easter has three parts over a weekend- the tragedy and loss of the crucifixion (Friday), the uncertainty and despair afterwards (Saturday), and then the promised redemption, the pronouncement that all is not lost and in fact, all has been gained (Easter Sunday). I don’t know about you, but I have living in the Saturday, for months. For at least all of winter, if not longer. Maybe since the election. This Saturday has been for-fucking-ever, just a long expanse of unmet hope and expectation. Of disappointment, loss, and confusion.

Since last we met I’ve had two sad breakups in rapid succession, both with nice people where we were both trying our best, but for personal reasons or physical distance, we just couldn’t work it out (which, let’s be honest, is way harder to deal with emotionally than shitty behavior or a no-holds barred breakup. Anger is so much easier than sadness). Then there was a parental health scare, drawing my family into itself and making us all confront some hard truths. And then work continues to be… I don’t want to talk about it. So in conjunction with all of that, this blog has ebbed and flowed and lately it’s been in a hard ebb. But so have I. I’ve struggled to put into words all of the heavy feelings we’re swimming in these days, and the joy feels more blanched and hard to keep ahold of. I’ve been fixated on my phone, on posting things, on likes and loves and comments. I don’t know why. I guess we all have a gaping hole of some sort inside of us and mine needs near constant validation. That’s my monster, what’s yours?

When I’ve mentioned my blog recently, the feeling that I need a revamp, or I need to be more relevant, people-well meaning lovely people who only want me to be successful- keep telling me I need to own a domain, I need to post pictures, I need to expand, I need to be strategic. They’re probably right, but all I want to do is tell stories. My stories. They’re personal and they may not always be on message, on brand. But neither am I. Because I’m not a brand- I’m a person. I contain multitudes, I don’t want to be a commodity (but we’ve even tried to commodify Whitman).

But that’s what we’re trained to be. It’s been recently revealed that Facebook users aren’t customers, we’re the product. I have lots of friends that work for or adjacent to Facebook so this isn’t a conversation about what was or wasn’t done or why. Merely that in a social media landscape, and I’m including blogs here, we’re trained to market ourselves. In online dating profiles, we’re selling ourselves as “perfect wife or husband (or “non-label-having partner of limited to long-term duration”).  We’re doing it the same way I pick out a toaster on Amazon. I used to think of it as auditioning, but that’s done in person. This is catalog browsing.

This isn’t a novel revelation, but it certainly was one to me. It recently occurred to me in a conversation about online dating with someone new to it why I was so resistant to dive back in-not into dating, but into the online arena: I’m tired of marketing myself. I just want to be myself. And myself- my real, authentic self-comes across as deeply weird in an online snapshot. Truth be told, I am deeply weird, but it’s charming in context, when you get to know me (I think. I hope). When you can watch me flail about with my hands when I talk, when I get darkly funny about inappropriate topics, when I touch people-strangers, friends, small children-like I’m patting a horse, because I find touch reassuring. None of this is stuff you can-or should!-say in an online profile. The me you get online is two dimensional, basic. Flat. Geared towards the common denominator with the pictures that make me look uniformly pretty and appealing. Not the real best pictures, the ones with my face cracked into a chortling laugh, or lost in blank-faced thought, or scrunched up in incredulity, as is most often the case. I don’t particularly like the person I am on an online dating site. I don’t know how to showcase the things about me that I do love. And that’s what I get back, from the men I meet. Our least offensive selves, trying to find intimacy.

I’ve been thrown by someone I found myself liking in real life, because I’m so used to meeting men in contexts where I already know they at least find me somewhat attractive; it has made me realize how intolerant of vulnerability I have become. Online dating is the least vulnerable why to meet a person because it tries to control all the variables. All it really does is suppress our most interesting characteristics in a risk-averse pas a deux. How can you connect with your soulmate from the most beige part of your being?

I have to find a better way. For my own sanity. The need or comments, or likes, or trying to game the system brings out a really unflattering side of me (and I’m not talking about Instagram selfies). I’ve been running to the same well I always run to-pleasing and performing-whenever I feel vulnerable and uncertain. Even now, as I write this, there are people I hope read it, because I’m hoping it will bring them closer to me. I don’t like that I want that. But I can’t help that I do. Part of it is how I was raised, but I think a lot more of it is about the society we live in-where we’re all encouraged, now explicitly, to think of ourselves as products, as a value proposition in a person.

A friend of mine recently shared her theory that we’re all suffering from a low-grade simmering rage, because of this life we live in a capitalist society, where we’re always in a constant state of anxiety about having enough, making enough, being enough-and we’re starting to suspect that the game is rigged. We can’t actually get ahead in a meaningful way, not most of us. Not enough people are buying our personal product. And so our rage comes out against our bosses, our work, each other. It’s why you don’t want to go to work on a Monday, it’s why you get the Sunday Scaries, it’s why you wake up in the middle of the night asking yourself if you’re living the life you imagined? Did you, in fact, go confidently in the direction of your dreams? Do you even remember what those were?

Or is that just me?

(It’s not. I know it’s not. You don’t have to raise your hand, but it’s not.)

I have a lot of friends who are entrepreneurs, who have that hustle or die spirit. Who sell themselves and their work and do so joyfully. I do not. I can hustle, certainly. I do, often. But sitting in that energy for too long makes me edgy and full of anxiety. I’ve felt a lot of pressure lately to fit that mold, but every time I do, I feel exhausted and incompetent. But I’m not incompetent, it’s just not my highest vibration. My inner voice doesn’t tell me to conquer-it tells me to care. To tell the stories and hold the space and be a witness and a scribe.  It’s that voice I hear when I start to write. It’s the voice that tells me just keep writing. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense in the moment, if it’s on message, if it’s funny, if it’s poignant, if it’s total dross. Just keep writing, in the way a ditch digger keeps shoveling. You keep writing to get to the bottom of things. Or at least I do. And that’s enough. Writing because it’s how my brain turns over an idea and polishes it until it’s shiny or grinds it into dust is reason enough, even without hashtags and links. Not everything I turn over is going to be pretty. Not everything will even be worth reading or looking at, not everything will be a product you want to buy or an idea you want to endorse. But for once, I’m ready to say, it’s not really for you. I hope you will read because I very much hope you’ll find something that resonates, that helps you find your own voice. But it’s not for you. It’s for me.


Grace Period

Last year New Years Eve felt primal. We lit things on fire. We screamed and laughed and got drunk. 2016 had been a surprising bastard of a year, killing beloved pop culture icons and arguably American exceptionalism and basic democracy, and we all wanted to joyously kick it soundly out the door, thinking that 2017 would have to better.

[Narrator: 2017 would not, in fact, be better.]

As we now know, if 2016 was a horror movie with terrifying twists at every turn, 2017 was a slow, inexorable march of numbed grief and sadness. Like having a low-grade emotional flu for the entire year. In fact, 2017 felt emotionally the exact way I felt physically throughout 2015, when I was battling an auto-immune disorder. Constantly foggy, tired, frustrated, and scared.

So this year for New Years Eve, if felt like whatever happened was going to be a let down. Plans were murky until the last minute and so when 2017 became 2018 I was on a friend’s couch, watching the countdown on CNN, wrapped in a blanket and joking about how bad the chemistry was between Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper (who looked like the Night King, for some reason). No one was feeling NYE 2017.

Night turned into morning and now it is a new year. My house is a wreck from guests and my own complacency. My usual fit of New Years KonMari hasn’t quite kicked in, and I go back to work tomorrow after a week away. I feel like I could easily nap for a decade. This is not New Year-New You, it’s New Year-Same Dumb Crap As Always.

So fine. I’m giving myself a grace period. Maybe that’s what we all need in 2018. A little bit of grace. The Wise Men didn’t show up for another week, and if our Lord and Savior could cool his heels for a week, so can I. I declare this the Week of Grace. On the other side is Epiphany. And maybe by then I will have a clear and quiet enough mind to really know what I want out of 2018. Instead of setting resolutions this year, I’m looking for epiphanies. I’ll let you know what I find.

So this is Christmas

It’s Christmas morning, 2017, and I wish you good tidings of great joy. I can’t quite make it to merry, myself.

I’ve shared before that I often find my strongest connection to God (/Spirit/Universe/whatever-you-like-to-call-it) through music, and the Advent and Christmas season is no different. Since I was little I’ve always been drawn to the darker, more somber carols. The ones in a minor key. The ones that seem best sung at night, in the mysterious twilight when the Angel came upon the Shepherds and said “hey, dudes, there’s this baby you might want to go see.” And they did it, because it was an angel and you don’t really say “ok, maybe in a minute” to an Angel.

I might be paraphrasing here.

But the point is- I’ve always been drawn to the melancholy just under the surface of Christmas. Even in the modern ones, you can keep your “Jingle Bells” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”- give me  “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which is just the most haunting and hopeless song, written at a time when many men and women were very far away from home, fighting what was arguably the last clear war we’ve fought.

There’s a bitter in the sweet of Christmas, the open secret we all know. From the moment of his birth Jesus was doomed to die. I  mean, so are we all, I guess, but he was fated to do so as a sacrifice. Imagine looking at your infant son and knowing upon him rested the fate of the world. Imagine knowing that every second of his life would be shrouded in the awareness of the painful ending. And imagine doing it all anyway, in the hope and faith that something greater would come from it. Even his gifts were a reminder- Mary, don’t get too attached, and here’s some Myrrh that can be used in funeral rites (a lesson I learned from the OG of creepy Christmas carols, “We Three Kings”).

I don’t share this as an armchair theologian, as there are far smarter people who can do much more significant analysis. But as a reminder that in the bright there is the dark, and in the dark there is the bright. Yin and Yang are Eastern concepts, but we ignore the ebb and flow in our western traditions at our peril. We cannot experience joy without loss and sadness, and vice versa. Trying to focus on one without the other leads to a spiritual stomach ache, too much sugar without enough substance.

And Jesus H. Christ(‘s birthday) was this a substantial, heavy year. We thought 2016 was bad-2017 said “hold my beer.” It was gut punch after gut punch with (still) no end in sight. It was understandable that some people would embrace Christmas even harder this year, diving head first into lights and tinsel and food and frivolity. And I think equally understandable that others like me, would struggle to care. To feel much of anything at all. If all year has been one long continuous loop of grief and panic, you get numb to much of anything after a while.

But then I think about Mary. And I think about Jesus. And all the people in his short life that allowed themselves to love- and love deeply-knowing the ending all along. Believing that after the night comes the dawn. To follow the current of melancholy, to better locate those moments of joy along the way.

Maybe that’s the best we can do this year.  Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, in whatever way you can.

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