Sleeping with the Enemy

A very personal and political piece posted this week on, a little out of the ordinary for me, but the times are anything but:

I have been sleeping with the enemy for more than two years. Rob is a Republican. But on the morning after the election, he held me close as I sobbed and promised, “It will be okay.”

He promised. But he doesn’t know. And nothing that has happened since that morning has made either of us feel better....(continue reading)

A Wonderment of Earth

earthquake image.jpg

My friend and gifted writer and photographer, Sandra Hunter, emailed our AROHO writing group this morning and said that in the 16th century, earthquakes were called "wonderments of earth." 

What a delightful way to describe the upheaval of earth and plane, the disruption, the stab of fear when you first sense the ground's movement. 

If we consider similar upheavals in our lives - emotional, psychological, mental, or physical - as wonderments of earth, it allows for a very different experience, doesn't it?

Instead of panicking, or reeling from something unknown and frightening, we can see it as a wonderment, a reminder that wondrous life is always about change, shakeups, the unexpected. And we can imagine them, then, as gifts - opportunities to view life differently, to embrace the change that is inevitable, to roll with the earth and trust that the ground will eventually stop moving.

It is, truly, a wonderment.


Completions, Pending

I sent my last packet for this semester to my professor last week. I can hardly believe I have only one more semester to complete my MFA in creative writing. I will travel to Los Angeles in mid-June for my next-to-last residency at Antioch University. Then it’s six months of writing like my life depends on it. My thesis, a memoir, is due to the program office in December. It has to be at least 100 pages of stellar writing, including insightful and thoughtful commentary on early-childhood experiences, authorial interpretation, exceptional offerings of universal teachings. Yet suddenly I am feeling terribly insecure about this process. The more I write the more I question its veracity and my abilities. Who is this person writing this story? Why should anyone care? I am in existential crisis – creatively, anyway.

I’m about to abandon the whole project and submit my blogs from the past two years as my manuscript. But I won’t. I will keep going, even if I haven’t a clue where I’m headed.

That’s what writing – and life – is all about, isn’t it? Continuing on in the face of adversity and uncertainty? I don’t know where I first learned that. Probably from my stoic Michigan-bred parents, who never gave up. It’s in my DNA.

So, I soldier on. I keep writing. I trust that in time it will come together. That I will experience the sense of purpose and creative outflow that will allow me to express the things I have to express. That they will be heartfelt and inspiring and helpful to others. That is my prayer.

This is the hardest writing I have ever done. And writing has always been easy, second nature, the place I was most comfortable. Now as I struggle to bring forth the past, emotional barriers emerge, blocks rise up and I am flummoxed. Writing has been my respite, the place I go for succor. Suddenly, it is my enemy. It keeps me in a place of uncertainty, a place unfamiliar and frightening. I want nothing more than to be back in equilibrium, trusting that my words serve me. Instead, they betray. They do not let me express what I want to express. They are like the childhood I want to write about: obstinate and inaccessible and riddled with grief and sadness. How to circumnavigate this? I don’t know. I look for inspiration. I hope for guidance from mentors. They offer good advice, but I can’t seem to access it.

I keep trying, but I feel so frustrated. So I wonder, should I stop pushing? Stop forcing? Stop doing? Allow the words to come when they will? In the way they choose? If I have learned anything these past few years of upheaval and change, it is to let go of control (well, at least I’m trying to learn this). It is all illusion anyway. Still I fret.

This is important to me. More important than almost anything (except my daughter, of course). I want the writing to reflect the grief, the joy, the whole journey, and I fear it doesn’t. Not yet. So, I am going to Central America for the month of October. I am taking my writing, and the thoughts of trusted mentors and friends. I am going to write and revise and look out upon the ocean and try out my limited Spanish on the natives. And maybe, just maybe, I will arrive at my residency in December with a coherent manuscript that I feel good about. We shall see. Wish me luck.

Feeling the Burn

Ok, I hit the wall. Yesterday was the fifth day of my 10-day master's residency at Antioch University Los Angeles, and I was weary as a jaguar after a 60-mile-per-hour sprint. My bones ached. My muscles ached. My head ached. I couldn't remember what day it was. I was emotional and overwrought. Did I mention I was tired?

I love these residencies. They are chockful of seminars, workshops, lectures and readings. But after four days in which I arrived before 9 and left after 9, well, let's just say I can't go the distance like I could when I was 20 - or even 40. So I skipped the cohort dinner last night and went to the movies with a friend, just to clear my head. (By the way, loved "X-Men: First Class.") And I slept in a little this morning.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am "genre-jumping" - moving into poetry for the upcoming semester from creative nonfiction, which is my emphasis in this program. I had some specific ideas of what I wanted to do this semester. So yesterday my mentor laid out the expected work. Whoa. It wasn't what I had planned, and I spent the better part of the day struggling to get my head around the new agenda. What it came down to is this: I had to let go. You know that old yarn, If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans? Yeah, she was getting a good guffaw at my expense.

Today, I'm feeling better, realizing I'm likely going to learn a lot of things I didn't know about poetry (and probably writing), and I'll be stretched by that. Also, I'm discovering much about myself, and about giving up control (geez, that lesson just keeps coming up and up). Good thing we're never too old to learn. Yeah, that.

Living Fearlessly

Sunday’s LA Times op-ed pages carried essays detailing three women’s responses to the recent Japanese earthquakes and tsunami, and what struck me was the thread of fear that ran through them.

Amy Wilentz wrote that despite the assurances of all the experts, she just wasn’t able to move beyond her fear of radiation poisoning from the Japanese nuclear disaster, even though she lived an ocean away in Los Angeles. So she brow-beat her physician (in a manner of speaking) into prescribing potassium iodide pills for her and her family – just in case. This admittedly intelligent woman, a writer, was so wound up about emails she received from non-experts that she did something totally irrational.

I remember enough from high school and college science classes to know about radioactive isotopes and sieverts and half-lives. I’m also a careful reader and a critical thinker. News reports on the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan repeatedly spoke about the unlikelihood that damaging radiation would come across the ocean and fall in Southern California. Tokyo, only 150 miles away from the site, experienced no significant radiation from the blasts. But thousands of miles away, people in California were freaking out.

A friend of mine in London even sent me an email urging me to go out and buy potassium iodide pills. This, despite the fact that taking such pills when there is no danger of radiation poisoning can actually be harmful.

The other essays, written by novelists Cheryl Holt and Diana Wagman, both of whom live in Southern California, were also rife with fear. Holt’s, it seemed to me, was the most rooted in reality, though. She wrote about living on the Oregon coast and realizing after the 2004 Indonesian quake and tsunami that she would never be able to outrun a tsunami if a devastating quake struck in the ocean near her town. She ultimately moved to Southern California, in part because of that. But she wasn’t irrational about it.

Wagman describes how the world’s disasters, natural and manmade, are ever-present in our media-saturated world. She watches her daughter fall apart in the onslaught, and feels her fear.

Why does it bother me that all these writers are women? I have a hard time imagining a man writing such fear-filled pleadings. Is it the maternal pull, the constant worry that mothers feel over the welfare of their children and families? What happened to the Age of Reason? Why is our culture so woefully incapable of risk-assessment?

Last May I interviewed Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California and the author of “The Culture of Fear, Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.” He told me then that when people succumb to fear, they are being manipulated by someone who stands to benefit from our anxiety.

“The main advice I give is ask yourself who’s trying to benefit from making you afraid,” Glassner said at the time.

It’s important to keep things in perspective. The fight-or-flight response is triggered in the ancient reptilian brain, but there is opportunity to bring higher thinking to bear, thinking that is based on true risk assessment.

If there is a 1 percent chance of something happening -- say, a terrorist attack -- the opposite perspective is there is a 99 percent likelihood that one will not happen. Yet fear of a terrorist attack is repeatedly recounted as one of the top fears Americans share today.

A little over a year ago, I made a conscious decision to live without fear. I had been through divorce, loss of a business, bankruptcy, and the death of my mother (who lived with me) in the space of a year. Several years of therapy had helped me through. But it wasn’t until I realized I had no control over any of it that I finally let go and started to live for each day.

I guess you could say I’m an existentialist. A fatalist, even. One cannot control the world around us, no matter how mightily we try. So why spend emotional energy worrying about things that may or may not happen? If something awful happens, you have the opportunity at that moment to decide how to respond to it. It’s all about the response. And a critical assessment of risk. But living in fear that something might occur? Life’s too short for that.