Friday, May 31, 2013

Heart Full of Water, Gut Full of Woods

Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.Peter Drucker 

A vintage sign from Edinburg, Virginia hangs on the wall in my room. Its warning is clear. There is nothing vague or bullshitty about it. This is what you must not do, or this is what will happen when you get caught.

No Hunting Or Trespassing On This Land
                     Day or Night
Persons failing to heed this warning will be dealt with                     
                             according to law.

What is the law? It is the silver arrow, twelve inches or so in length, that hangs directly to the right of the sign. The warning without words is just as clear. Don't make me. I don't want to, but I will. Woe to the person who assumes it was left behind by Cupid. The warning of the sign is an act of compassionate prevention. Just get on out of here. Turn around. Don't do it. The warning of the arrow is the promise that follows if you don't abide compassion with compassion, or at the very least, a solid dose of intelligent fear.

Don't fuck with me. Don't fuck with the people I love. Reverse that. Put them in order of importance. Because if you fuck with the people I love, you are fucking with me in a far worse way than if you simply fuck with me.

The sign and the arrow were gifts from the same friend, given on separate occasions. She knows me well. So well that we have entire conversations where the questions or statements take place silently and the answers are given aloud. It's the sort of communication that works well in situations that call for camouflage.

I've been thinking a lot about the woods, lately. Everyone always associates me with the ocean, not the woods. This makes sense, because when I moved to the ocean as an early twenty-something, I knew that I had come home to something very important. I had started a long, slow, flowing process of forgiveness and redemption, mainly of myself, and I felt safe. I was safe. Yes, it was coming home. But it was coming home to a place I had never been, and it was familiar in the same way that meeting a relative you've never met before is familiar. Foreign-familiar. You don't know the face, but you do. Oh, yes, those are your eyebrows you're looking at. That chin looks like several other chins you know well. The ocean is my baptismal font, my  special blanket, my salvation and my soother. It softens me up and loosens my muscles. Whenever I return to the ocean, I tend to breathe more easily. I slow.

But I didn't grow up near the ocean. I grew up near the woods. I grew up in the Midwest, and I was born in late September. Falling leaves crunching underfoot intoxicate me. Trees are my undoing. Walking through the woods is not foreign-familiar, it is familiar-familiar. It is a completely different sort of homecoming. The woods do not loosen my muscles. My breath does not slow. The woods arouse my senses and wake me up. I am enlivened and alert. Bow hunting is on my list-of-shit-I-will-do. I could bury myself happily in a pile of field guides, binoculars, and camping gear.

Maybe this is why most of the time I lived near the ocean, I didn't live in a house. I camped. I camped for a full year of my life, in every possible scenario. A tent by a pond. A cabin in the woods. An RV damn near everywhere, including directly in front of No Street Camping signs a few blocks from the beach.

It seems ironic to me that during one of the times of my life that did me the most good, people expressed the most concern for me. "My god! She's moved to a place where she doesn't know a soul, joined a weird religion, and is living outside."

You can spin anything to make it sound more crazy and dramatic than it actually is. When I first moved there, into a very socially acceptable suburban apartment complex, with the requisite two swimming pools and a hot tub, with a strip mall across the road,  I was a mouse. I jumped at my own shadow. I cried the first time I heard a police helicopter. I couldn't sleep if I was home alone. I couldn't find my voice if someone cut in front of me in a grocery store line with fifty items in their basket. I was a mouse, and I was an angry mouse. Filled with fury.

By the time I left, I had shed my fear and burned off my fury. I was someone else entirely. I was someone who could swing an ax, lift more than you would expect, put down burdens that never belonged to me, and cook a five course meal on a camp stove or fire. I could wander through the fog on the beach before sunrise without a single thought that anything was going to find me while I was concentrating on the two steps ahead that I could see.

And now I am living far from both the ocean and the woods. I live in the middle of a great big city, in the middle of a desert. The desert is yet another kind of familiar, and the city is more familiar still. And I am still not afraid. The ocean still whispers for me to come home and tame myself. The woods still beg me not to forget my primal self. The sign, the arrow, the altars full of shells, the bookshelf full of homesteading, wild plants, and build your own shelter books.

My wild self is shaped and sheltered, contained and unleashed, by water and trees, sand and concrete. When I leave this place, I wonder what it will have done to me. I wonder, but I don't predict. All I know is that my wishlist doesn't contain much. Just a wedding ring, a typewriter that isn't dependent upon electricity (in case of emergency or choice), a surfboard, and a compound bow.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Incredible Disappearance Inherent To Emerging

It was not like I had died, except in all of the ways it was. I quickly figured out who would actually show up after the funeral. Whatever went  into all of the arrangements and rearrangements of life during death, I was never alone. Not even once. Not for a moment. It is like that when things go in unexpected and heart-wrenching ways. Everyone always talks about people disappearing during tragedy, but in my experience, that's not true. After the excitement of mourning, that's when the crowds actually part.

Things are quiet now. Life is different now. It will never again be as it used to be, and I am learning to go with that. The quiet may be a gift in disguise. If tragedy equaled a sort of death, perhaps I am still in the gestational phase of reincarnating into my next life. It is rather womb-like. Insular. I hear the vibrations of the outside world, and I respond in my own ways, but really I am somewhat cocooned.

But I lie. Things are not quiet now. They appear quiet from the outside looking in. Those who know me well, the small handful who inquire, know how much is happening on the inside.I spend at least ninety percent of most of my days in my home. It's not like there is nothing to do here. I venture out to take care of outside necessities, and the sort of things I deem necessary, but others might not, and not much else. My energy is here. My soul is alive and well, but outside of the soul, things can get tricky, and I've had enough tricky for a little while. So. Here I am.

I'm sure that most people have abandoned all hope that I will ever again offer up any sort of fun or excitement, but back to that whole gestational analogy, it's because I'm busy growing things. My mind and heart are bustling with energy and excitement, but most of the tangible evidence is not ready for the outside would. Its skin is thin and papery, and the layers of fat are still building up. Soon enough, practice breathing will give way to actual breath. A series of biological events that many have explained, but none understand, will unfold in the predictable chain reaction that defines a species, and then maybe I'll let out a primal scream, or maybe I'll moan, or be silent, but things will get beautifully messy, what with the blood and fluid everywhere, and I'll remind myself that hemorrhaging three times is quite enough for one person, and I'll remember not to do that again, and something will be born.

Of course this is an inherent part of the process. Emerging looks like disappearance because it is. It is impossible to move into something new while remaining where you were. It's a beautiful thing to see the sun and the moon at the same time, and how often do we? We still trust that they are both in existence at all times. I am trusting the sun and the moon of my life. They will not disappear for good, and neither will I.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day Ten

It is early, you said
but early is the only time
the sun rises and ten
is more than nine
is more than eight
and you are weary
but you are awakening
the light always returns
the birds are singing
just for you
they are chirping
out a chant
of keep going, keep going
and I am making altars
lighting candles
wrapped in rosaries
not a prayer
to any god
but whispered, nonetheless
just for you
my faith is strong
keep going, keep going

In celebration and gratitude of a dear friend's recovery process, I would like to mark her tenth day of recovery by offering a ten percent discount to anyone who enrolls in my e-course before midnight, and one completely free scholarship to the first person in recovery from addiction who asks. Register here.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's a Good Look For You

"What you weave is what you wear" - John Trudell

How we live matters. Today I am settled in for a long day of work. Yesterday I started around noon and finished up around two in the morning. Today will probably be similar. I have several projects going simultaneously, building a freelance portfolio, working on a novel, and designing an e-course, In the Details: Dwelling In the Epicenter of Beauty.

Work has been a shifting and multi-faceted endeavor over the last several months, and the concept of right livelihood has been one that I have been contemplating a lot lately. What exactly does that mean? I think each person has to define it for themselves.

Obviously, everyone needs work that provides at least enough income to provide them with the basics of survival. We all have the right to food, shelter, and other necessities. Because I have children, I will do damn near anything (as long as it is legal and ethical) as a way to provide those things, and I have gladly and gratefully taken jobs in the past that were never a part of my dream scenario. You do whatever you have to do, and while you are doing it you can always take steps to move towards something more fulfilling.

Until January I was doing work that I loved, and providing for my family's basic needs and some fun little extras here and there. Life took some unexpected turns, and due to unanticipated events, there was a period of a few months where it wasn't possible for me to work at all. I'm not even going to front, I found it terrifying. After a time, I also found it soul crushing. Aside from money issues, which were bleak, I like working.

Beyond the very important goal of providing for my family, to me right livelihood means:
1. Doing no harm. I would not consider a job that causes harm to people or the environment.

2. Working with integrity. I won't sell a product or service I know is crap, lie, take advantage of vulnerable people, or step on anyone else to get ahead.

3. Contributing something of value. If I am not forwarding something I believe to be useful, beautiful, or preferably, both, it feels pointless.

Over the last couple of weeks my situation has shifted again. My life is no longer in a place where I am unable to work, but it also isn't where it was before. I can finally get back to work, but I can't go back to working outside the home at this time. My presence is needed here, and even though it doesn't pay, this is my first and most important work.

The other thing I have had to consider is that my hours of availabilty vary drastically, which rules out a lot of more traditional work from home jobs. I can easily fit forty or more hours of work into my week, but one day I may have to work for two hours, pause for several minutes or several hours, work for an hour more, and then stop. The next day I may be able to work for sixteen hours, only pausing to pee or scarf down some food.

In other words, it was time to get really creative, really fast. What appears to be a hindrance at first glance can sometimes turn out to be a blessing in disguise. As I brainstormed possible ways to engage in right livelihood under these extenuating circumstances I can't change, the answers arrived in a flood of clarity.

I had always wanted to write for a living, and I have always enjoyed helping people love their lives a little more. I like working weird hours, often in the middle of the night. Although I have dabbled in these sorts of endeavors over the years, I mostly wrote them off as impractical, something to play with when my kids are grown and out of the house, after I had retired from my "real" job.

But when you run out of options, you also run out of excuses. In the midst of what had felt like this area of my life falling apart, the vision started coming together. Funny enough, I looked for other, more practical options. There weren't any. It is kind of a riot, but I was actually forced into trying my hand at making a living doing what I love.

I am doing my best to be impeccable with both my intentions and my work. I know for certain that Trudell is right. We do end up wearing what we weave. Sometimes for the rest of our lives. I want to be sure it looks good.

What are you weaving right now? Does it fit? Does it feel right? Will you be proud to wear it? Life is too short for anything less.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Inside of Out

Jena Strong's second book, The Inside of Out,  is a continuation of her first book, Dont Miss this, in which she shared her personal journey of coming out, motherhood, the end of her marriage, and at last, coming home to herself. It also stands solidly on its own, a complete story in its own right.

The book vacillates between poetry and prose in Jena's inimitable voice, each piece painting a picture so vivid and clear, you will feel as though you are living the events alongside her. The broad spectrum of human experience, so unique to each individual, binds us by the common thread of emotion. Whether or not you have ever been in love with a woman, are personally impacted by gay marriage and politics, or have ever had children, the emotional landscape of Jena's story will feel familiar.

When you look beneath the surface, we are all so much more alike than different. Jena is a gifted storyteller whose words have the ability to make a wide variety of readers focus on our human sameness, without sacrificing the grit and struggle inherent in being different.

Order your copy today. Drop her a note after you have read the book and let her know what hit home for you. I know she would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Birth, A Story of Living

Tomorrow my middle daughter will turn sixteen. Sixteen always feels like such a significant birthday, and this will be the most poignant one I have yet to experience.  The past year has not been an easy one for her, and there were many times that I feared she might not live to celebrate this birthday at all.

Had things kept going the way they had been, death before sixteen was an entirely reasonable possibility to consider. Eating disorders don't fuck around. Once they get their foot in the door, they take over with ruthless dictatorship. Hers had her so convinced that it was a beautiful way to go out that she even feared consuming water. Water. Let that wash over you for a second.

Don't drown in the thought, though. She is very much alive. Due to the love of a whole lot of people who donated money towards her treatment, and the dedication of the outstanding team at the UCSD Eating Disorders Clinic, and most of all, her own determination and bravery, she is clipping right along in the recovery process. There are good days and bad days, and she still struggles. It will be that way for awhile. But she is fully weight restored and maintaining, and that is no small feat.

She will not spend tomorrow in a hospital. I will not spend tomorrow forcing syringefuls of Gatorade down her throat. She will be going to Comic Con with her best friend. Her sister will be baking cupcakes for her, which she actually wants. She requested vanilla with lemon cream cheese frosting.

This girl. This life. This landmark. We have a lot to celebrate.

Monday, May 20, 2013

This Isn't Berlin

I noticed the bald white patch
of painted over brick
where the command
that read
more like a question
used to live
and for a moment I wanted
to cry
until I remembered
the day I snapped the picture
then I just wanted
to find out the penalty
if I happened to get caught
in the middle of the night
dripping heat
and paint and love all over
that wall and myself
responding to stark white...
Is that a no?

Blank space that never
held a place
for taking three girls
out in the middle
of the night to gather
bags of chips
and pints of ice cream
eating disorder
clinics and 3 a.m. vitals
or taking someone's son
covered in scars
and cowering in corners
from a park bench
watching him sleep
in safety
for six weeks or so
before he ran
because stability
felt too uncertain to trust

Did empty remember
sore nipples and soaked
shirt fronts?
What about chemo
and tumors
crushing pain and kisses
on high cheekbones?

What does cleanliness
have to say
about the night
I almost died during sex
or the way she
gathered me in her arms
the cry, the wail,
the undone
doing time to heal
the sharp smack,
the rough bite,
the soft rain
the climax and the fall?
Love me.
Love me?
Oh, that wall.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Open For Business

Gestation, incubation, new life. Jena and I have been playing and working, loving and creating, and we are so excited to share our love with you. Most of the time we do that through making our poetry and love notes to each other, our children, and the world at large  public. As an added outlet, we invite you to visit our new store.

This is how we love: Out loud, by seeing what is right in front of us, by finding the beauty in the everyday. All of our stories and poems are highly personal, but they are also universal. Our pictures tell stories in the same vein. They are fully ours, but your interpretation is fully yours. We unite through the sharing.

Faith That Isn't

Hanging on by a thread
is still hanging on
and all of the imperfect
comes home to roost
in the rafters of discontent
where you perch
ever so precariously
on the verge
of all you ever hoped for
when the faith that isn't
pretty or precious
pokes holes in the loft
of puffy white clouds
called next time or maybe
landing you presently
on your bruised
and battered ego
ass kicked
no gain or glory
but still hanging on
by that one
sacred thread that
hasn't snapped yet

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Clean Break

I'm ready for a clean break
not from a relationship
or a dead-end job
or a dead-on criticism

Not even from a place
I have outgrown
or the tedium of days
that roll one into another

Without stopping or staging
I am ready for a clean break
from old prose and problems
creeping into new territory

Of battlegrounds and mythos
tales of comings and goings
that never go anywhere
but into cycles of repetition

I want to break it down
into something I can digest
without getting sick
of the sound of my own voice

I want to shatter heartache
in a wake of crashing
into the sweetness of
something other than walls

I want to snap the bones
of this one time I...
leave them in the desert
let the vultures feast

I want to leave it so
defiled and unrecognizable
that even my ghost won't
believe that it was me

I'll make a clean getaway
to the back end of nowhere
ditch the truck in a ravine
light a fire to raze the dead

A clean break coming
after dirty and broken
after the lost and found
I won't be anything at all

I'll be everything, instead.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Next Thing Coming

Yesterday I sold my bike. I also sold an extremely overpriced Urban Outfitters stool for next to nothing. Two very happy men walked away with these things, things they procured from Craigslist ads I posted without a second thought while drinking coffee and letting it all go. Little by little, nearly everything I own is making its way into other people's hands. We all feel like we are getting the better end of the deal.

Yesterday, as I wheeled my bike out the front door, my oldest daughter turned to her boyfriend and said, "She's selling all of her stuff! She always sells all of her stuff!"

It's not entirely true. I do sell a lot of my stuff, but I give a lot of it away, too. I used to haul it all to thrift stores, but that was before I started paying attention to the ways people need stuff where I live. Every day, the shopping carts and trucks rumble through, the lids of the dumpsters clunking noisily as people hop in and out of them with the hopes of finding things mistaken for trash. So now I just scrawl FREE/GRATIS in Sharpie on the sides of the boxes and place them outside. I've yet to see a single thing remain through a night.

What remains is what matters. The things I keep are merely symbolic. They symbolize people and moments, neither of which can be bought, sold, or given away. A silver ring with engravings of Hebrew, promising me nothing short of everything I could ever need,
my grandfather's ID bracelet, reminding me of who I am and where I come from. My mother's ashes, heavy and dust, the whisper of where I will go without input.

There is more, of course. I am sitting on a couch and I am not naked. The walls are not bare. There is art. The mantle looks like a tornado swept up the altars of seven different religious traditions and swirled them with family pictures and low budget antique store findings. The bookshelf could not possibly accomodate one more book on its Jenga tower.
The desk is cluttered with manuscript pages in an arrangement that only makes sense to me.

What matters is that what remains is my life as it is. Simple until I clutter it up with too much thinking and not enough living. It's a tendency that holds less and less appeal with time, just like a piece of overpriced and mass produced furniture. It is a cheap way to live, and I can't afford it.

Last night I watched my daughter as she sat on a stage in a bright blue cap and gown, and listened to person after person give speeches about what comes next. Her face flitted between expressions of joy and hopefulness to fear and trepidation. What actually came next was she handed me a rose, there was lots of hugging, and we got milkshakes. And that was that. She had graduated.

It made me think about the feeling that has been relentlessly pulling at me over the last several weeks. It is a feeling of being on the brink of a big change and needing to be ready. It has been occupying more than a little bit of headspace. The reality is that it is already happening. All I need to do is this moment as it arises, and then the next thing, and just like that...

Yes. Just like that.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Like an Exhale, Not a Dude

Over the past thirty-five years I have lived a lot of lives in a lot of places. I love all of the twists and turns that always deposit me exactly where I am. Change is nothing to fear. It is an invitation. Sometimes I turn down the invite because the party just isn't my scene. Sometimes the invitation isn't to a party, and you either show up or everything falls apart. A lot of the time, change is neither. It is more of an embrace, welcoming you into whatever comes next. Over time I have realized it is always best to go with my gut when it comes to change. It always feels like a risk, but never as big of a risk as remaining stagnant. Besides, it isn't like I ever really fail, at least not permanently. Life is self-correcting, and I am usually well attuned to when it is time to move on.

My life has changed in some pretty major ways over the past couple of years, mostly for the better. My writing has changed a lot in that time, too. When I made the decision to stop writing at The New Face of Poverty it felt like the decision to move across the country into a new home, in a new climate, with a new way of life. It is always a big decision to make such a drastic move, and part of the process is deciding what to take along and what to leave behind. After some careful consideration, I decided to leave everything right where it was, as both an offering and a parting gift. Just because it doesn't belong in my new life doesn't mean it is worn out or broken, and if it suits someone else, they should be able to access it.

If you followed me from there to here, all of the old content will remain on that site, but from here on out my new writing will land on this page. If you didn't follow me from anywhere, welcome. Nice to meet you, my name is Mani. You pronounce it Mah-nee, not Manny. Think of how you exhale when doing yoga, not of a big hairy guy. You get a few freebies, but after that it will cost you an iced vanilla latte, or a day of hearing me call you Jane when your name is actually Jen. Your choice.

I have a lot of things in the works that I'm really excited about, and if they happen to be the type of things that appeal to you, I always welcome conversation. I want to know who you are and what your changing life looks like right now. Our stories matter, just like our lives. Tell me about being alive, whatever that means to you.

Today I am living a short walk and many fence posts through my neighborhood, my oldest daughter graduating from high school this evening, missing my fiancee, and crazy good love. I am living in the here and now of writing a novel and knowing I should get up and do the dishes. I am living the day I was given, and it is all good.