It is a little past 10pm on New Year’s Eve. I’m alone, and the house is quiet. A neighbor invited me to stop in for a drink and an appetizer, so I grabbed a flashlight and my heaviest coat to walk over for a little while and home again now to find my warm bed and a book. It is cold – for Georgia anyway. A solid week of freezing temperatures ahead. Tomorrow begins 2018.
I drove 45 minutes today to spend a few hours at Atlanta’s Korean Spa and Wellness Center. My friend introduced me to this spot earlier this year, and today I went alone. It seemed to make sense to end the year this way, and I needed the physical element of self-care today. It’s gender-segregated with nude areas, and as I sat there in the hot tubs – not knowing a soul around me – I considered how much change I have seen in my own self in the past few years. Most of my timidness is gone, and what is left underneath is someone I genuinely like. This is important, I think. To like yourself. At 36 years old, here in 2017, I figured that out.
I had a body scrub where I laid still while someone scrubbed every bit of outer skin from my body to leave me feeling like velvet. Then I laid in various saunas – charcoal and salt and clay and jade – for hours, stepping out only to cool off a minute and refill my water. I sweat out and sloughed off every last bit of 2017 today. My body is ready to begin the new year.
When I got home, I took a minute to relax a bit more and light candles and pull out my journal. I made a list of the most beautiful and meaningful moments or experiences in 2017. There are so many. I will forever remember this year as the year I got out of survival mode and ran forward in a real way. I scribbled a list that runs the length of the page. … The kids learned to swim. I began my online writing workshop. I deepened my yoga practice. We spent a weekend alone in the woods that was perfect. I embarked on a relationship, and it broke and was mended again in a different way and left the two of us with a deeper friendship now that we are on the other side. I began my book. My confidence grew in a million tiny ways that somehow add up to something big.
Then I wrote a list of the things I want to leave behind in 2018. They are no surprise. All the shoulds. Needless apologies. Self-judgment. Fear. Timelines.
Rather than abide by regular formal goals and resolutions, I’ve been looking to theme words this past few years. 2016’s was write. 2017’s was intention. This year, my word is trust. I want to lean into the unknown with the assurance that I am held. I want to trust that everything is right on time.
I added a Rilke quote on the back of our Christmas cards this year. And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. I have such high hopes for you, 2018. For abundance and clarity and trust above all else. So many things lie ahead. Things that have never been.
Fall has finally arrived in Georgia. We’ve bundled up this week to walk to the bus stop, and afternoons are that perfect breezy and 75. It’s over in a blink, but that makes it sweeter. We have two weeks left of Daylight Savings Time, and dark is coming fairly early even now. We are finally moving to a new season.
We had a neighborhood festival yesterday afternoon with a cake walk, kid games, a ticket booth, a chili cook-off competition, and a hayride. It’s an annual event here, and it gets more comfortable for us every year. Faces we know well and a place that feels like home. Every afternoon, the kids are outside with friends on bikes and scooters or playing “capture the flag” in the grassy area beside the playground. Life is stressful beyond belief for me on some days, but I have to pinch myself sometimes that this part is even real. We created a home that somehow feels more solid than any other home I’ve had as an adult. Sometimes it really is possible for things to turn out even better than you ever dreamed. It’s so incredible to bear witness to things like that unfolding in your own life. The miracle of it doesn’t go by unnoticed for me.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things I care about and the things I don’t, about where I spend my energy. I caught an interview with Joan Halifax this week on the latest On Being. She talks a lot about “compassion fatigue” and the general sense of helplessness and burnout we can encounter in the face of what we see around us everyday – sometimes in our own lives and sometimes on the news. It’s hard to care sometimes. It takes a lot out of you to care about things that you cannot easily change.
She encourages, as she calls them, antidotes for these moments we are pushed to our edge. Beautiful spaces that are safe for us to retreat to can be an antidote, as can stillness and meditation and spaces of contemplation in our own lives. It occurred to me as she was talking that writing is my antidote certainly. It functions as a space for me to retreat and a form of stillness. I’ve seen this work with all kinds of situations I cannot easily change, all the continued difficulty of a blended family where my idea of boundaries is entirely different from the view of the other adults involved. I feel pushed to my edge a lot these days, but the blank page is where I sort it out.
Halifax talks about how we can deal with the despair we feel looking at the world at large, but I hear echos of my own life’s path in her answer, too: We can look back through history … when systems break down, the ones who have the resilience to actually repair themselves, they move to a higher order of organization. And I think that this is characterized by something the complexity theorists call robustness, that we can anticipate both a time of great robustness, which we’re in, with tremendous potential to wake up and take responsibility … we need resilience to make our way through this change.
My own resilience and robustness are what enabled me to move to a higher order of organization, as she calls it. So I can say, as I did earlier, that I’ve watched a miracle unfold as I feel such solid ground beneath my feet. But when I look a little more closely at the past few years, I see why. Everything about my present life operates on that higher order of organization that I was forced to reinvent. And I was given this gift of time to thoughtfully put it all together piece by piece with no rush and nothing to prove. What I’m left with is something that can never be shaken. It’s no wonder this home feels more solid and true than any other place I’ve been. I built it with intention.
I’m so excited to pass along to you a closer look at the writing workshop I’ve completed. I’ve spent the past couple of years answering a lot of questions and building friendships across wide spaces as a result of this blog. And I kept finding myself again and again answering some similar questions — How do you find clarity in the middle of all this? Do you ever move past pain and onto something else? How do I get there? I want to write, but I don’t know where to begin.
I’d answer when I could and offer little pieces of my own experience here and there, and it finally occurred to me that I should just put together a more polished path to share the tools that worked for me with anyone else who needs them. I’ve worked really hard on this over the summer and spent the last couple of months having a few friends do a trial run for me and offer honest feedback. I wanted it to be something I felt good about sharing with all of you and something I could potentially build on in the future.
It’s a 5-week course where you are given a theme each week to write about and consider. I created these by looking back on my own path and seeing what worked for me, how I made it through from one end to the other in a major transition. The result is a string of lessons and writing prompts that carry you through the process from asserting and exploring your own independent identity to reconsidering past experiences that shaped you to capturing a better presence in your everyday life and eventually setting goals that you want to manifest for your own life. It’s a path that can offer clarity and empowerment for anyone – not just in the throes of grief or major transitions, but in life’s more subtle storms as well.
Registration will open on November 1st, and I’ll be sending out a 15% discount code to those on the email list, so be sure to sign up there if you haven’t already. I use that list to update on the course enrollment and also send along writing resources and journaling prompts every now and then. I’m thinking I’ll do another run of this workshop in 2018, but this will be the last one for the year. I hope you’ll join me if you have an honest curiosity about your own life’s questions and want to shape whatever lies on the other side. You can build it with intention, too. And I know from my own life that writing is a powerful tool to get you there.
I spent yesterday afternoon sweating and writing my way through Jennifer Pastiloff’s Atlanta workshop titled On Being Human, and I was still humming a little on the inside this morning as I sat down with my coffee in a quiet house to flip through my journal and put all the pieces together.
This is the second time I’ve attended one of Jen’s workshops, and the last was two years ago when I was in the midst of such major and difficult transitions. It was enlightening to be there again in this next chapter of my life where I feel so different than I did in August of 2015, so much stronger.
I managed to recruit two friends to join me because I’ve bragged on Jen so much and explained the transformation that happens when you attend one of her workshops. But even so, I find it hard to really explain the alchemy that happens in the room. 76 women in attendance yesterday, yoga mats laid parallel and touching one another. Jen explains the rules when she walks in — only two things: tell the truth and listen. And somehow it works and people do just that.
Though she is a yoga teacher and it was held at a yoga studio, there is pretty minimal yoga involved. She uses the poses (and the warm room) to break through the shell of the body, so to speak, and come back to ourselves so that we can write the truth instead of the buttoned up version of the “truth” we carry when we are dressed in our finest and sitting comfortably in an air conditioned space. Before you know it, the magic comes along and it’s 76 of us laughing and crying and sharing and nodding in that way you do when real resonance happens and you can say yes, me too. The thing that astonishes me as I sit here putting the pieces together is that it is such a simple formula and yet so transformative because we never get this in our daily lives. You shed every last bit of your ego and look someone in the eye – a stranger no less – and tell the truth and listen. That is all. And it is somehow so terrifying at first, but unbelievably liberating when you drop into your body and out of your head and get out of your own way.
Some of her journaling prompts were the same as when I took the class in 2015 and some were different. I used the same little journal I’d carried to her 2015 workshop, so I can flip back a few pages today and compare my lists when she asked us to write what we were afraid of. Some things ring that bell both times, then and now. But I also see ways my life has expanded and some things that were overwhelmingly terrifying to me then have completely fallen away. I can see it so clearly in my scribbled handwriting.
What I fear (2015)
failing my kids
What I fear (2017)
not making the time to focus on the big things because I am always drowning in the little things
waiting too late
not finishing the work I know I am meant to do, the book I know I’m meant to write
What a shift that is, right? I think sometimes we change in huge, monumental ways, but they happen so incrementally that we don’t feel it in real time. It’s only when we look back that we see that staring back at us in undeniable ways. It’s one reason I love writing and one reason this blog has become one of the most cherished things I’ve created in my life. I can get caught up in my own bullshit stories, as Jen calls them, and I can neglect to see what is actually written in the beautiful details of my own life. You know the bullshit stories; we all have them. The ones that say You should already have this figured out. You are always failing. You’ll never get where you want to be. You’re just a ___ (fill in the blank – just a mom, just a teacher, just a woman.) But as I look at what I’ve written and recorded here and in scribbled notes from Jen’s workshops and other raw journaling I’ve done, I can see these stories for the lies they are.
I left feeling so full and inspired and curious about the faces I encounter everyday. Everyone in that room had a story, and everyone in that room echoed the fears or worries of someone else. Here we all are, slogging through the difficulties of our daily lives and feeling alone in our struggles, and as it turns out, so many of us have the same things tumbling in our hearts all day long – the same fears and bullshit stories on repeat. We all need friends who will tell us our stories are false, and I’m lucky enough to have a few people like that – one of whom came with me yesterday. Both of us left feeling full and happy and ready for whatever comes next. (Also ready to stuff our faces with Indian food at a local favorite spot.)
One of Jen’s prompts yesterday asked us to write what we are saying yes to. Mine is a list I think I need to read every morning in this season of my life, a daily charge to do what I am here to do. Today I say yes to sweating, listening, feeling, dropping judgments, letting go of expectations (and of my bullshit stories), working harder than ever, new pages, better chapters, what I sometimes think I should have been doing all along, but it took there to get here. And here is good.
What is it about a pen and paper that offers something so magical? I don’t know. All I know is that when I lie to myself in my own head and offer these untrue assessments of my life or untrue evaluations of what is in my heart, I can sometimes take them to be the truth. But the second you write something that is not the truth of the matter, you can tell. It literally jumps off the page for me and feels stiff. When you write that truth inside, it feels soft and real and puts all the pieces together. It clarifies my intentions and my feelings every time. That’s the power of the pen in getting to the heart of the matter for all of us.
I’m opening registration in October for my online writing workshop designed for women who want more insight and clarity and offering some guidance patterned after my own journey as I’ve written through my life’s challenges. I’m so excited to get started with this new project! Details here, and get on the email list for upcoming news and free journaling prompts by signing up here.
My friends and I have had this weekend on the calendar for a while as a chance to catch up and do something fun. In the past few days, we decided maybe a North Georgia winery would be a treat, and we made plans for a tasting followed by dinner followed by staying the night at my house.
I wish I could somehow reach back to that person who was so itchy and uncomfortable in a house by herself. That person who was so scared and intimidated at a new life alone and trying to fit in new boxes. There’s this thing no one tells you about single motherhood after a divorce which is that it absolutely sucks sometimes and you think you might not make it out alive, but then once you get past the transition, your solitude will feel like a gift. You wake up. You suddenly have time again to do anything you want – to catch up with friends, to try something new, to dream and plan for what’s next, to invest in yourself. When you sink your heels in instead of trying to fly as fast as you can to the next chapter, you see it’s actually such an incredible place to be.
I woke up yesterday to the usual sound of the dog whining to go out. I let him out, brewed coffee, and took it back to bed with me. I read a little (a book that is not typical for me but I loved it) and drank a second cup of coffee in the bed, cuddled under my covers and surrounded by the quiet of a house that is clean, for once. I traded funny texts with a friend for a while and eventually got out of bed to do a little yoga and get in the shower.
When friends showed up in the afternoon, we piled in the car for a drive to the mountains just north of where I live and indulged in a wine and chocolate tasting at a small winery.
After we finished, we sat outside for a while with breezes that were more generous than the usual July heat and then eventually headed into the small town nearby for dinner and hours of conversation. We laughed a lot. We walked around in the blue summer dusk after dinner and then piled in the car to head back to my house.
This morning, I made waffles with sliced strawberries and we talked about big and small things until well past noon before realizing what time it was. After they left, I headed to my neighborhood pool to sit alone in silence, swim a bit, and finish my book. This afternoon brought a few house tasks and a quiet dinner alone and now some time to write so that I don’t forget all these tiny pleasures.
I wanted to round out my summer by reading a book about goal setting and “manifestation” which is a term that understandably makes people roll their eyes. It’s not as easy as claiming you want something and having it delivered on your doorstep. But when I dusted off the journal I used at the Jen Pastiloff Atlanta workshop last year, I see this list of things that felt so incredibly far away for me that have become my daily reality now: writing for an audience of connected readers, deepening my friendships, feeling comfortable and authentic as a mom on my own with my two, a sense of home and community for us, comfort in my solitude.
These are things I lusted after a year ago as such far away goals, but when I look at my life as it is now, every one of these things is my daily reality. Every one.
I’m not done yet. I have more to do. I’m ready for the next chapter, and I think it’s going to be a big one. I wrote a list today in that same notebook, and I trust that these things are coming for me. Moving in the direction of joy is the answer, I think. When you feel that stir of curiosity, that voice that says yes this is it, you have to do it. There’s that famous Rumi passage that claims, “What you seek is seeking you,” and you can feel it push, push, pushing when you follow your own calling. It’s incredible to see the way your heart finds its purpose, bit by bit.
There are so many things I will never be because that is not who I am, and the older I get, the less afflicted I am by the list of things I am not and the more interested I become in the list of things I am. There are so many dreams I’m fulfilling that only unfolded after a long, meandering path that no human could ever have orchestrated. If I made a list of all the seemingly random occurrences that led to my life unfolding in the way it has, I would never stop writing. One tiny thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. And eventually you arrive at a destination that feels like home. I had no idea this season would feel like such a gift.