Winter Stay-cation

image3 The company I work for is very generous this time of year. We basically shut down for the last two weeks in December, meaning that I’m off the hook from work in ways I’d never be on a regular vacation. The problem with regular vacations, no matter how grand or peaceful you make them, is that everyone else is still working, so no matter how hard you try to get ahead of the current, by the time you get back to the office your inbox is crammed, your work has piled up, and you spend a disproportionate amount of time playing catch up. This is not the case when everyone  is off! When the whole company is on snooze you get to really unplug, because even if you tried to be a good soldier and log into VPN, there isn’t anything there to work on. (If an out-of-office auto reply goes out and no one’s there to read it, does it make a sound?).

Now, usually I try to cram as much into this indulgent break as possible – trips to LA to see my family, or across the country to see distant friends. I make big plans for all the things I’m going to work on and write and sort out and organize and see and buy and…! But this year, after a pretty quick chat, my boyfriend and I decided to take it easy as fuck, and man am I glad we did. I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to have spent all this free time. And because of that, I’m feeling ready to go back to the grind… excited even, because I feel like I’m going back legitimately recharged and refreshed.

image1And we still got a lot done – I joined a new gym, started a journal, fired up my blog. I got to spend time with local friends whose schedules don’t normally line up with mine. I completed a ton (a ton!) of weird home projects that have been haunting me all year – finally replaced the stupid dutch oven (welcome back, braising! You’ve been sorely missed), bought a desk and set up a work area for myself because I really needed a dedicated space to practice my craft and reinforce the validity of the work I’m trying to do. I’m 36 years old. I’ve been writing my whole life. And I’ve never given myself a real place to work. I figured out some really important things about what foods and activities are working for my body right now (Crohn’s disease is a moving target, so it was great having time to really observe patterns and set some guidelines for myself). I got to see what the fuck my cats do all day while I’m at work (hint: it involves sleeping and napping, and more sleeping)

The important takeaway is that I got way more done because I approached the break with an attitude of “I’m relaxing here! If there’s any time or energy left when I’m done, THEN I’ll move on to doing stuff” which is the exact opposite of the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality of my entire life up to this point. Coming into adulthood, I had to move fast, like disgustingly fast, just to survive. But that part’s over now. My life and my body have been trying to slow me down for the last few years, and I’m starting to see why. Some things can move a lot faster when you slow down and let them.

image6Winter is the perfect time to study hibernation and repose. It feels good to follow the rhythms of nature, to sleep when the world sleeps, to go indoors early when the sun goes down early. Largely because when it’s dark out it’s harder to dodge all the human feces on the sidewalk (I’m looking at you San Francisco!), so you may as well take that time to paint your nails, take a nap, watch the new season of Revenge, read thirteen books, and plan which seeds to sow come spring.

Today we go back to work. Back to morning commutes…and evening commutes. Back to desk life and emails and social interaction. It’s time to plant now, and lay down the roots for next year’s harvest. And I’m rested and ready. Bring it on.image5

Resolution

I started reading the Best American Essays 2013 yesterday. I usually hate these things and only read them mainly to confirm my suspicion that the same stories keep getting told over and over. But I have to say that so far the first three essays of this edition have been refreshingly interesting and inspiring. In fact the third one resonated with me so much that I’ve decided to make it my first post of 2014. The quote below is from Richard Schmitt’s “Sometimes a Romantic Notion”, and it sums up exactly what has inhibited my writing for most of my life – not the fear of failure or success or whatever, or even lack of time or resources or support (although I’ve never had much of any of these), but something even more strange and probably unique to fiction writers, and possibly “romantic”.

As a writer, I spent years hiding and denying my connection to the circus because I had the romantic notion that fiction writers simply made things up out of thin air or their intrinsic, God-given genius. An idea, I see now, about as crazy as running away to join the circus.

It’s fantastic to see someone else name the thing I’ve struggled so hard to define, and while he’s referring to time spent in an actual circus, the metaphor still applies – we all come from circuses (and by “all” I mean all us interesting people) – but some of us, for various reasons, are reluctant to draw from that rich, seething soil. I have long shared the weird (and inaccurate) notion that good writing is supposed to come from someplace foreign, that it had to be entirely made up in order to be of value, so I’ve avoided telling all my best stories, the easy stories, the ones that are constantly on the tip of my tongue, just trying to keep them from blocking the really, really good and unique and original stories  that I might possibly invent from scratch. But I’m finally realizing that it’s taken more effort to suppress my own crazy circus full of stories than it would have to just write them down. So that leads to my biggest and most cherished resolution for the year: in my writing, I’m going to do my best to come home to the circus, and stop trying to run away to the normal. I’ll be sharing it here. Happy New Year!

Settling In

My Crohn’s diagnosis is fairly new, just a couple of months so far even though I’ve had symptoms for over a year. Some of the symptoms have gotten worse, some have gotten better, some are new. So I’m still learning how the disease is going to manifest for me. I don’t know yet if I’ll be one of those people who goes into remission or one whose condition doesn’t respond to medication. I don’t know if my symptoms will get worse or go away or come and go. I don’t know yet if the adjustments I’m making now to my diet and lifestyle are temporary or lifelong. I don’t know what my patterns are yet. But I’m learning! Everyday I feel like I learn more about what my body needs and what it doesn’t need, I learn more about what feels good and how to maximize those feelings. I’m learning how to really, deeply care for my body in a way that just never occurred to me before. I’m becoming gentler and more forgiving of myself. Mainly because even though the disease is unpredictable and destructive, I kind of understand now that my body’s natural inclination is toward wellness. Even the destructive inflammation is my body’s (overzealous) attempt to be well. And knowing that helps me be a little calmer about the whole thing.

I didn’t know anything about my body’s drive toward healing until last year when I was run over by a motorcycle, suffered multiple fractures and got to watch them heal. In fact I resented all kinds of thing about my body, always wanted to change my weight or my height or the thickness of my legs, and even while I watched my bones heal, I still thought that the process was something I could and had to control. In my mind I couldn’t figure out how to make the bones fuse, make the swelling to down. I couldn’t even conceive of what a normal body would feel like again or how I could make it happen but I tried! I actively and enthusiastically iced and elevated and flexed and did everything I could to help the process along. And in the end I realized that while that stuff may have helped, my body had it under control the whole time. It knew which cells to send where, what to add and take away, and in its own time it righted itself. Knowing that gives me tremendous faith that it’ll work this out too, as long as I do my part and be gentle and keep faith.

One of the things that’s helping me adjust and settle in is meditation. I practice mindfulness daily, really just by quieting down and experiencing the present moment. Meditation has made a tremendous difference for me already!  I’m learning to spend more time in the spaces between the pain, and that makes the spaces feel bigger and the pain smaller. I’m actually less scared of the future now than I was before I got sick in the first place. And I try to approach my symptoms with a sense of curiosity rather than dread. This is all helping it feel less cataclysmic, and more manageable.

The Grass Is Greener

So I was doing my daily hate-read of Refinery29 this morning.

This usually involves me clicking through some of their fashion slideshows and thinking “Are you fucking kidding me with this shit? What are they even selling here? Are they encouraging me to wrap myself in that hangover blanket of depression and sit in a cold miserable garden of mildew? Is that fashion?” Then I email any articles that particularly stick in my craw to the friend who introduced me to R29 in the first place. We have a back and forth thing now where we send each other the most obnoxious thing we’ve read on any given day. It’s like playing “What’s Grosser than Gross” but with ugly clothes.

Occasionally they do a profile series showing the “coolest” or “hottest” or “most awesome” bachelors a town has to offer. The San Francisco one was priceless and made it seem like San Francisco was just full of assholes. I shared the link with a male friend who said the article made him want to vomit on his own dick and marry his girlfriend, and while I thought his response was vulgar and gross, I totally saw his point.

So when I saw the profile on New York’s single guys this morning, I had to click through just to see if it’s as bad on the east coast as it is here (“It” in this case meaning both the dating scene and R29s journalistic talent).

And would you believe what I found was not a hateread at all! Instead I found, in a line from one of the guys they profiled, a quote that actually resonated with me! Here goes:

“The grass is greener when you water it, not on the other side”

It was a sweet reminder to spend energy on what’s around you instead of always looking for something else.  Nourish the life you have. Nourish the relationships you have. Nourish the community you live in. Of course this doesn’t always work and sometimes you do have to move on from things, but it’s a good starting point, and if the lawn goes to seed anyway, at least you can move away with a clear conscience, knowing you did the best you could.

That’s my Friday motivation, and I’m damn glad I got it from such an unexpected source! Now I have proof that all my hours of hatereading have not been in vain.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Positive Ain’t Where I Live

This is my first blog post in a very long time, and I’ve been meditating on how to open back up to writing, to sharing publicly, to engaging after a tremendously difficult year. Should I go with something funny to break the ice? Should I start with the story of the really hard year and get that out of the way? Should I begin with something boring and quotidian and slowly build up to the big stuff? But I realized that whatever I write is going to be confusing until I make one thing clear: Life is hard.  And all the good and fun and fascinating and transcendentally joyful things that come along with it ride on that foundation, and everything I write and think and know and do in the world rides on that foundation. In this world of wild of wisdom, that’s our starting point.

Sure, I say a lot of positive shit, and I do a lot of positive shit, and I can even put a positive spin on some really negative shit, but I’m never going to forget where I came from or what brought me here. And readers will stand a better chance of understanding me if they’re aware of that.

The one thing that most baffles me is how many people there are who don’t know that life is hard. I struggle, daily, to make sense of it, and it always comes back to startle me. There are many, many people in the world who simply do not know. And when you mention truly difficult experiences to them, you’re met with anything from bemused oblivion to outright contempt. They either don’t believe you, or they resent you for being negative. But worse than the people who have no clue, are the people who think they’ve suffered and survived hard times and give themselves an awful lot of credit for it, but when you look deeper what you find out is that their “struggle” was a basic quarterlife crisis, and that their daddy was the one who actually swooped in to fix it all with sound advice and financial support. These are not my people. I have neither time nor tolerance for them. I don’t wish them harm or suffering, but I don’t wish to give them audience either.

I believe in the hard times, I believe in the gifts they bring. But what I believe most is that it’s the serious work you do to turn suffering around that shows you the sincerest beauty of life. The wisdom comes to you through suffering, not at the threshold of suffering, and certainly not from mere proximity to suffering.

I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You are already more than strong enough. The things that nearly kill you are simply opportunities to flex. But let’s be frank about the fact that there are things out there that might nearly kill you, and the trick isn’t in pretending those things aren’t there, it’s figuring out how to deal with them.

So that’s where I’m coming from. It’s not a popular perspective, but it’s mine and I’m going with it.