wild and precious

January 17, 2019 Leave a comment

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

~Mary Oliver

 

Mary Oliver was one of my favorite poets. Her words were uplifting, raw, encouraging, and almost always a dare. Her examination of the seemingly mundane transformed an observation into a challenge, an urging to live a full, boundless life—bolstered by joy, propelled by bravery.

 

Oliver died today, and my first reaction was a simple, “Oh, no.” I couldn’t manage anything beyond that, until now. Her words were something I often reached for when I needed to be bold, to turn back the tide of fear that threatened to drown one hope or another. Her words were something I recited like a mantra, whenever I felt constricted by expectations, demands, other people’s fear.

 

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.”

 

She taught me that it isn’t necessary to be perfect. That it is not healthy to crawl in supplication for any reason. I am not less than someone else, and sometimes forgiveness is an unnecessary thing. My life is my own, and it doesn’t have to be flawless. In fact, it’s braver and more authentic if it isn’t. If the mess and chaos of life is embraced, fully, for all its madness.

 

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it.”

 

Joy is an important pursuit in life—chasing after the things that light us up, that illuminate our days and our hearts. It’s so easy to get stuck in the trap of surviving from one day to the next. There are always bills, responsibilities. But you cannot measure a life based on a mortgage. You can’t even really measure life in days, can you? I like to think it can be parsed out by happiness, the laughter, the uptick of a pulse, the moments of unsettling comfort. That’s a purposeful phrase.

 

You see, you’ve got to shake up your world sometimes. Otherwise, you get stuck in complacency, routine, the notion of “good enough” or “it’s fine.” But if you go after what sets your heart aflame, despite your fears, there’s a true delight in it. There’s a true ease it in, even though it might throw your whole world in disarray. That’s love. It is always, in some form, chaos—if it doesn’t in some way terrify you out of your own skin—it isn’t love.

 

“How do I love you?

Oh, this way and that way.

Oh, happily. Perhaps

I may elaborate by

demonstration? Like

this, and

like this and

no more words now”

 

You can talk about love, crafting perfect metaphors and tapping into words that resonate. That’s beautiful and powerful in its own right. But Oliver is correct, when she points out that words only go so far in conveying love. You can explain love, but that’s never the whole story. It’s never the whole picture. It’s one part of its depth, not the ocean of it. Love, to be explained to the hilt, has to be demonstrated—a creature uncaged by language.

 

That’s how I know love—something with and without hands, something that can take up a whole universe of space and none at all. Love isn’t quantifiable, but it is knowable. You can set your entire life by it, the only clock worth knowing.

 

Mary Oliver gave me this and so much more. She made me a better person and, I hope, a better poet. A light went out with her passing, a cliché in the best of times. But the thing about light is that it often carries so far. The stars shine from far away, and so Oliver will still be with us, shining in her words. We still have that gift and the wisdom she wove so deftly with them.

 

May we all be a little braver, a little bolder in her absence. Tell me what you’ll do, with your wild, precious life? I’ve got hopes for mine—what are yours?

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In Which I’m Buddy the Elf

December 12, 2018 2 comments

The end of the year is hinting at the horizon, and it always makes me introspective. It has been, to put it mildly, an interesting year. Some good, some bad—some decidedly grey. There’s a lot to reflect on, but let’s be honest: the holidays always make me sentimental. And I’m a huge sap to start with, so that’s a whole lot of CareBear meets Elf (because hugs and omg smiling is my favorite).

 

I’m super proud of the writing I’ve done this year. I’m also proud of the decisions and choices I’ve made (even when they weren’t easy) and the ways I stood up for myself (again, even when it wasn’t easy). Lately, though, I find myself falling into the same trap I often do around my birthday in thinking that crazy miracles happen. Sometimes, I feel silly, having such a ridiculously hopeful personality. It’s something people don’t always get. But honestly, I’d rather hang on to that slanted thinking, pondering impossible possibilities, than not.

 

So, yeah, I’m a sap, dork, nerd, and general unicorn of affection. I’ve never had a small heart, and I’m glad for that, even when it’s lead me sideways. (I’ll take sideways over straight lines, any day.) I’ve been thinking about that, lately. I’ve always lead with my heart; I don’t know another way to be. Sometimes, that means I get hurt. Sometimes, it means other things. For me, a heart is a compass. You can go another direction, but you bloody well know where north is.

 

This year has been a mad, strange one. The turns have been unexpected, the disappointments sharp and jarring. Funny, sometimes, how looking backward with a little distance can bring a precise clarity. People aren’t always what, or who, you thought. The trick is, sometimes they’re not even who they thought they were. And my goodness, how we sometimes lie to ourselves to get through a thing.

 

But I digress, because this post isn’t about that. No, it’s about the unexpected joys, the unanticipated conversations, the way we sometimes turn a corner and find what we didn’t know we needed. You can call it fate, kismet, whatever. But it’s those moments, where you veer off course and reach out a hand and find something brilliant. A risk you take pays off. A text you send opens a door. Something you’ve been working toward finally comes into view.

 

People often eye the new year as a fresh start. And it is; it can be. But the thing of it is, every moment you’re breathing is potential. Even second you have can be the one where you change your direction, change your life. You have infinite chances as long as you’re here. And it can be overwhelming, thinking about that. We like to put things off, sometimes, until a magical moment where it will be easier or we’ll feel comfortable. But it’s just out of fear.

 

Don’t get me wrong: fear can be a motivator. If you’re afraid of losing something or someone, you throw everything aside to ensure that you don’t. You can after it or show up for it, because the alternative is terrifying. I think that, in itself, is a kind of magic. I’ve often made a point of telling people how I feel and how I value them, because I cannot stand the what-ifs and uncertainties.

 

It’s cliché, but if I die tomorrow, I want everyone I love to know I love them. I’m not shy in this respect, because I’ve lost people I loved. And you cannot get that back, that conversation you didn’t have, that thing you never said. You can’t steal a time machine and go back and tell someone you love them. I’ve doubted how people feel, and I refuse to let someone else wonder. Sometimes, this means I ramble a lot. I’m okay with being a huge dork about it. It’s not easy, but it’s honest and important.

 

So, I’ll challenge you to this: tell the people you care about that you care. Friends. Lovers. Crushes. Acquaintances. If you appreciate someone, tell them. Don’t let them waffle in uncertainty or wonder. Because life is bloody, insanely short. It might mean more to them than you realize to just…hear the words. Even if it’s just to say them. Even if it’s just so that you’re heard. People never get tired of hearing what you value about them, what you admire about them.

 

I’m book smart, but someone once told me that I was the smartest person he ever met. I still smile when I think about it. Because compliments often get buried by the bullshit we are told—or that we tell ourselves. So, shout that good stuff. Don’t worry if it seems corny or hooky or cheesy. BE CHEESY. Be sincere and open. Be recklessly loving and brave. Be the reason someone else smiles or feels good about themselves.

 

It has been a hell of a year. Throw some love and some light at the rest of it. You won’t regret it.

Categories: Uncategorized

steal a star

November 20, 2018 1 comment

I used to hate the quiet. Not all the time, but enough of the time. The silence tended to fill up with anxiety or worries or moments that repeated, like a bad movie. Stupid thing I said in seventh grade? Sure. Awkward business meeting? Yeah, why not. Things I left unsaid? Heaps. Piles. A universe of those. A small universe, but still.

Unsaid things are strange creatures. There are a host of reasons we don’t speak up, and they all cast their own inexplicable shadow. Sometimes, we just lack courage, because words are scary. And words are always attached to feelings. And feelings, they can be terrifying. I say that as a person who feels more deeply than is reasonable. Then again, no feeling is reasonable. They’re the opposite.

I went to a family reunion over the weekend. It was the first one I’d been to since my mom died. Every time I thought about going to the previous ones, I couldn’t do it. It hurt too much in a way that I can’t pin down. No, in a way I don’t want to pin down. But I will: it’s hard being there without her. That emptiness where she used to sit, the space she used to take up. I didn’t quite know how to occupy it without her. So, I held myself back, because it was safer. Or it felt safer.

It wasn’t safer. The truth is, when you hold back, that’s the most unsafe you can be. You build things up in your head, all the what-ifs turn into mountains or monsters. It feels insurmountable, so hanging back gives the illusion of safety. A harder truth: safety is often an illusion. It’s something we cling to the idea of, because the alternative is alarming. I could cross the street and have a heart attack. I could trip over my insanely giant, but somehow always underfoot, dog and break my neck. I could choke on the damn taco I’m planning to have for dinner tonight. (Betrayal!)

Sometimes, in life, we hold our breath instead of breathe. There’s no magic in it. Nothing happens, because it can’t. And we lose that time, those moments, the things uncountable and unknown. Time, once it passes, is gone for good. It’s why poets write about seizing the day, the wreck of things we’ve lost or let slip, all the heartbreaks and heartbeats, the kisses, the adventures, the glorious moments we surprise ourselves.

Anais Nin once wrote that we “write to taste life twice,” and it’s true in a lot of ways. It won’t taste the same as the moment, but it’s like a familiar smell triggering a memory. For a moment, you’re back in a car with someone kissing your forehead, walking down an alleyway, or holding out your hand to someone. For a second, you’ve taken time and feelings and put them in a bottle. That’s a kind of magic right there.

All my best decisions, all my best moments—they haven’t been neat or orderly. They have not be silent or withheld. They’ve been noise and mess, calamity and laughter, inexplicable yeses and full of brave. The other day, I was reminded that the best things often emerge from the instances in which we surprise ourselves. The pulse-jarring moments in which we truly, for better or worse, grow.

The life we get is often shaped by outside factors—people, circumstances, choices. But the life we dream about should not be limited by anything. Often, it seems like there’s no way to grasp the hopes we’ve glimpses. The rare moments of bright, unruly madness that shine like stars: far away and breathtaking. But what if you could reach up and steal a star out of the night sky? What if you could rearrange the world—your world—by daring to?

Sometimes, in life, we start on a path and assume we can’t change it. That’s remarkable, decidedly not true. The only time you cannot change something is when you’re dead—or, if it involves someone else, the other person is. If you’re alive and reading this right now, congratulations, you have this moment—what are you going to do with it? (And if you’re dead and reading this, my apologies—and stop stealing all of my left socks.)

When my mother died, I promised myself I wouldn’t hold back when it mattered (for the most part, I have succeeded). I gave myself permission to do the scary things, the unexpected things, the kind of stuff that leaves you smiling at the memory. And the truth is, the more you reach for life, the more it offers you. You owe it to yourself to show up to this chaos circus of a life. To open every door or break every window. To dream big and wide and go after what might seem impossible.

I used to hate silence. I used to hate waiting. I used to hate the unknown. Now, I speak when it matters. I exercise patience when it’s needed (that is still a work in progress). I look at the unknown as an opportunity. Because, man, life can be surprising. What if the surprise, what if the adventure just around the corner is good?

It’s not time to chase after it. No, it’s time to meet it halfway. Pull the stars out of the sky and embrace the whirl of the unexpected. The best things in life are almost always found in the madness.

when desire is an ocean

November 3, 2018 1 comment

The world is a secret, a deep sea,
brined to the brim,
and this slick curve of want
howled itself into existence,
bright as a reborn moon,
swayed by the tide of a kiss,
and then another
until breath is nearly forgotten.

A trail of hands, indelicate,
a sharp shiver,
a hurricane so delirious
it leaves fingerprints of bruises,
little marks
of longing, offered up,
a constellation
of sighs, the shuddering way
one
meets another,
a welcomed downing.

Here, a body becomes wine,
and we are drunk,
then drunker still,
until everything is spinning,
tongues like magic,
turning want
into mess, extraordinary
and honest, no promises,
just the miracle
of the way you dissolve
into me.

Categories: poem, Poetry, Uncategorized

around the mess

October 22, 2018 2 comments

The other day, I headed off to the vet to pick up some meds for my recently acquired cat, Thor. The tiny god of thunder needed a little care, no big. I turned down the road I normally take to the vet’s office to find a sea of police people and fire trucks, rendering the road impassable.

 

I’m a person who can lean too heavily on routine. I hate getting lost, even though my sense of direction is admittedly good. (Just don’t ever ask me road names, because I’ll tell you to turn at the blinky light and if you passed the sheep, you’ve gone too far.) When faced with this roadblock, I wasn’t quite sure if I should just head home and go back the next day.

 

And then I realized I knew exactly where to go, how to get around the mess. Sometimes, we are far more capable than we realize. So, I went off on my alternate route, based on a vague memory of a way I’d gone twelve years ago—and I got to where I needed to be. It wasn’t the way I’d intended on going, but the end result was a win.

 

It struck me that life is often like that. When we’re faced with a difficult thing, a detour, an impasse—we have a choice. We can turn around and run, or we can figure it out. If it’s worth it, you muddle through it. Sometimes, you might even surprise yourself. A roadblock doesn’t mean you have to quit. It just means there’s another way—you just have to find it. It might lead you somewhere weird, on the way to getting where you need to be. It might make you nervous. But things that seem impossible are not always so.

 

Maybe you need this reminder. You don’t have to go the way you’ve always gone. You don’t have to turn around and give up. You can take a different path. You can try a different way. You can decide that you’re more than a comfortable routine.

 

Bravery, darlings, is never an absence of fear. It’s not letting fear take the wheel. This is your wild and precious life. How will you live it before you leave it? Because this I know: no one regrets being too open, in the end. No one ever whispers on their death bed, “I wish I was a little more closed off. I wish I was a bit more timid.”

 

You get this life. You owe it to yourself to live, not just get by.

Categories: Uncategorized

a crossroads, an unusual love

October 16, 2018 Leave a comment

So, I adopted a cat on Saturday, because my best friend is amazing. She took me to get one, because it had been a little over a year since I had to put my last kitty to sleep. And it was time.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted a kitten or a cat, but I was leaning toward cat. I swore I wanted to get a black kitty, because they’re less likely to be adopted. But when I got there, looked around and met all the little fur monsters, I had to leave my expectations behind.

The black cat I saw didn’t have the right personality for me. The black kittens were far too energetic. But then there was this diluted calico who seemed perfect. She was sweet, cuddly, loving. I nearly adopted her, but she needed thousands of dollars of dental work right off the bat — and as cute as she was, that was not a good choice for me.

Then, I met Bernard, a grey, polydactyl cat ( not pterodactyl, which is what I keep wanting to say) — who looks to be part Maine Coon. He’s wee, only five pounds, and very sweet. And I had a choice to make: put my expectations aside and go with heart or not.

I went with my heart, as I tend to do, and brought him home. His name is now Thor, because who names a cat Bernard? He’s a love monster, with soft fur, and he doesn’t shed. I’ve never had a cat who didn’t shed, so I’m assuming he’s some kind of feline magic. Regardless, Thor thinks he’s a dog and settled in quiet perfectly so far. He loves to play. He gives kisses and will shove his whole head in your face for love. Basically, he’s my kind of kitty.

But this experience made me think about life, too. Sometimes, we have a plan, a way life is supposed to go. Then we’re presented with a choice, a crossroads, an unusual love. And you stand there and you think, “Okay, to the left is what I’m SUPPOSED to do. It’s what I thought I wanted.” And the other direction, “But there’s this heart space, something I couldn’t have foreseen or guessed at. It requires leaving expectations and old thoughts/ways behind.” So, what do you choose?

The answer is simple and complicated, twined together. Because there’s always a “right” answer, but it may not look right for the outside. There’s always something that lights you up and makes your heart say, “Yes, this.” But it might be terrifying. It might require you to step a different way, and that’s rarely easy.

The truth is, when you choose the answer that’s right for you, it can often make you want to throw up. I mean, obviously, not in terms of cat selection, but life stuff. Life is a messy labyrinth that gets us all in end.

But you know where you heart lies. You know the way it leads. You know the direction it points. It’s possible to shove it down and continue on with the ordinary, pull expectations around you like a blanket. Only that blanket has holes in it. It’s too short. It’s frayed. It never keeps you as warm as you think.

And one last thing: sometimes, you have to figure things out as you go. Sometimes, life is one plot twist after another, and you have to decide on-the-fly. Sometimes you may even surprise yourself. When you do, you might end up with the most unexpected bit of love.

Categories: Uncategorized

Cat Friend

September 26, 2018 3 comments

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of kindness. I’ve been, for a few months now, making friends with a stray (feral) cat. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. He used to bolt as soon as he saw me, but he’d turn around if I called to him. Soon, he started waiting every morning on one side of the parking lot. Once I went into the building, he’d cross to get the food I’d left him.

 

He’s officially known as Cat Friend, which is a title more than a name. He waits for me, now, every morning. I can get within two feet of him. He comes when I call him. Sometimes, he meows at me in greeting, but only a little wisp of a squeak comes out. I haven’t been able to pet him, yet, but it’s safe to say that he’s my little buddy.

 

Yesterday, on my lunch break, he came running when I called. He’s started doing that too. He spends most of the day hanging around, but always comes when I call. All it took was patience, love, and food. All it took was kindness without strings, care without expectation. I think that is, in its own way, a kind of magic.

 

It made me think about on how such small gestures make a difference, how little kindnesses add up, making a person feel loved, cherished, thought of. The simpliest things—not just flowers or declarations, but small bits of sweetness. Not just words, but followthrough. It matters, truly.

 

The world is full of chaos, and I needed that reminder. Perhaps you did too.

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Categories: Uncategorized