Not Too Soon

We often delay beginning our creative or spiritual work with the false belief that we must be ‘ready.’

It’s a protective measure, meant to preserve our egos and ward off detectable inadequacies.

I’ve of course been guilty of this same delaying strategy in my own professional life, in my creative life, in what amounts to my spiritual practice. I’ve dallied and delayed, and I’ve put off action by waiting for whatever skills I’m trying to flex to be primed, as if I’d just gone through a Rocky-like training montage out of sight of everyone in order to unveil to a surprised and unsuspecting world just how awesome I am.

Life is made in the doing, in the trying, in the failing and re-trying. We cannot be ready for this. There is certainly prepared, educated, practiced, but ready is something else. Ready is only accomplished in the doing of the thing in real time and with real consequences. Ready is open to the moment, to the nexus of performing work and to being yourself, to struggling and being vulnerable. Ready is being open to failing.

Waiting to be ready, as tantalizing an option at that is, only delays progress. Ready sounds like it’s about the future, but it’s really about the now. And as we all know, now is all we’ve got.

This One You Feed podcast addresses, among several other ideas, the fallacy of being ready in an interview with Srini Rao. Check it out here.

Words of Loss

Kathryn Schulz has a beautiful and devastating piece in The New Yorker about loss; the misplacing of essential, everyday objects, and the displacing, disappearing, of the essential people in our lives.

Two weeks ago I traveled alongside an elderly couple who were flying home to Seattle because their forty-year-old son had died the day before. The couple had lost another son years ago: the boy was three when he drowned in their pool. Somehow the couple had survived this devastating loss, had had more children, had had another son who in their words was a ‘blessing and a comfort’ after the loss of the first. Now that second son was dead, too.

Last weekend, near our house, a two-year-old boy wandered outside at night. When the mother awoke at 6AM the next morning and found the toddler gone, she called 911. Like many neighbors, as well as the police, we searched for him. Police found the boy several hours later, exhausted and suffering from hypothermia, in a bramble of blackberries a block from his apartment.

Perhaps it’s the national mood, perhaps it’s my own, but this feels like a season of loss. A season of misplacing, a season of losing that which is closest to us. Life changes on us quickly.

Despicable T – The Political Has Become the Personal

Mine was never intended to be a political blog, but I can’t remain silent in these weeks since Donald Trump was inaugurated.

I have disagreed with both Republican and Democratic presidents before, but I have never felt compelled to push back so hard and so forcefully against an administration. Trump’s strategy and tactics are obvious – his administration intends to overwhelm and to bully while piecing out little nuggets to the GOP in order to keep Republicans mollified against the more egregious and unconstitutional of Executive Orders (see the Muslim Ban).

As for the Democrats, the Trump administration simply wants to mow them over and expose at every turn how powerless they are.

It may be too early to know if these tactics (often attributed by the press as those of Steve Bannon’s) are working; much of this will depend on the how the GOP ultimately responds because, let’s face it, the Democrats have very few plays until 2018.

One would think that the GOP would stand up against Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, his flirtations with fascism, but either out of fear or because Republicans are making some gains (de-regulation of environmental measures, Neal Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination), they are either silent or quietly supportive of Trump’s actions.

This is a travesty. The GOP is being played, and the country is suffering.

The President of the United States is not a king. He is an elected official. And two weeks into his presidency, Trump has already revealed himself to be a deeply flawed official at that. The Trump Administration needs to be put in check.

Right now, that falls to us, the citizens. Both Democrats and Republicans. The judicial branch is rousing, some members of congress and the Senate are beginning to speak out, but they’re doing so slowly. In some cases, too slowly.

In the meantime, there is us. I won’t remain silent and neither should you. To coin a favorite Trump word against him, his presidency is a disaster. Whether that disaster limits itself only to his political career or it takes down the entire country is ultimately up to all of us.

The Bait and the Hook

For several years now, I’ve been working on incorporating a mindfulness practice into my daily (hourly) life.

I began the practice to deal with anxiety; as any sufferer of anxiety will tell you, being in the present is the antithesis of fear and panic, which depend on a tacky combination of circuitous inner dialogue, self-denigrating thoughts and a repetitive regurgitation of previously-felt emotion.

There’s usually a bevy of compulsive behaviors that come bundled in there, behaviors that are meant to drive off the fear and panic.

One of my challenges is that the primary way of coping with anxiety—using deep breathing and other grounded senses to bring me back into the present moment—runs counter to the work necessary for being a writer.

For me, writing requires a deep dive into memory and imagination that often means plunging into that very quagmire of inner dialogue, destructive thoughts and stale emotion that typically trigger anxiety, panic attacks, etc.

Fun.

I discovered Pema Chodron’s work near the beginning of my mindfulness practice, and I’ve found tracking on the Tibetan concept of shenpa to be useful for navigating these seemingly contradictory states of being. Here’s an excellent break-down by Chodron herself.

I’ve written many times in this blog about how very much I suck at noticing that I’m hooked. That doesn’t negate the fact that my goal is to pay better attention, to feel those triggers and those urges and not bite. 

I will fail, of course. And that's why I must begin again.

 

Poem, Poetry, Poet

Although I’m passionate about poetry, and I have written a number of poems (which the world should be grateful I rarely share), I can’t claim to be a poet.

In college I recall being fascinated by the discourse surrounding Poem vs Poetry vs Poet. I hadn’t given the terminology much thought up to that point, but in these (now many) post-college years where I endeavor to write novels, short stories, blog posts, I still reflect on these terms.

In my mind the definitions go something like this:

Poem – The artifact, the work itself

Poetry – The act and art of writing poems

Poet – The person performing poetry in order to create poems

Current or former Literature scholars will have to correct this, but I seem to remember that it was the Romantic poet Coleridge, who while writing Kubla Kahn, identified within himself a preference for writing poetry over creating poems.

At the time, I probably bashed the poor opium addict for his failure to finish a poem and get it out into the world, but now, when work and life threaten to consume most if not all of my time, I’m much more sympathetic to Coleridge’s plight.

We are, as writers, often addicted to the act of writing, the process of it. We’re collectively much worse at finishing our projects, calling them done, pushing them into the light for others to read and experience, and yes, judge.

In that space where poem, poetry and poet flow as confluence within us, we favor the rough incompleteness, the perpetual state of being unfinished. I understand why we do this—why I do this—and I wonder if it’s basal human nature, fear or something else.