This poem comes in pencil only

This guy popped out of nowhere after 30 or so years just when I needed him most.

pencial sharpener antique 1980s

He looks like a dapper old cat, but what you can’t see … what he’s hiding behind his back … is his secret weapon.

And exactly what I need right now.

A pencil sharpener.

It’s hard to explain exactly why I found him where I did (inside a personalized pink plastic container holding personalized pink hair ribbons), but I’m not one to question serendipity (okay, I am.)

It just so happens that I’ve been desperate for a good pencil sharpener lately.

If I had my choice, I’d get a vintage one from a 1950s midwestern schoolhouse and hammer it into my kitchen wall — BANG BANG BANG — but those guys seem to be going for big bucks on ebay and anyway I need mine to be the travelin’ type.

And this dandy cat looks ripe for travelin’, don’t you think?

He needs to fit in my handbag, the one holding a heavy spiral bound notebook with a hard cover decorated in mandalas.

I’m writing more by hand these days, you see.  Not because I want to. (Frankly, I prefer the feel of a circa 2005 keyboard against my rapidly tap tap tapping fingers. I also covet the ability to quickly delete the last thought I just had. See? I just deleted a thought you will never know.)

But because  I’ve accidentally become a poet: a compulsive stringer together of words. And poets (potentially the most compulsive artists of all) need at their side a means to satisfy their urges.

A computer won’t do. One needs to get down words with haste.

A smartphone won’t either. My thumbs are too thick, too clumsy. “Bogus” accidentally becomes “booger.”

If only I had a secretary by my side. … the cat would surely do if only he was alive.

“Please, kind sir, take down this line,” I might say to the cat if only he could lift his  hand away from his orange man purse and take dictation. “No, strike that! Change compulsive to inveterate.”

Community, Letting Go, Love, Memory, Writing

Tell me a secret I don’t already know

Almost as much as I am fascinated by memory and by man’s search for meaning, I am insanely curious about secrets. I’m fascinated by why we keep secrets, and what happens when they’re exposed.

But I am also very, very afraid of them.

Not just mine. And what may happen if and when they are revealed.

But yours.

Your secrets scare me, too.

I’m deathly afraid of the unknown.

Of the uncertainty of what you might someday show or tell me.

Will it hurt me? Change my beliefs about you? About people? Will your secrets make me sick to my stomach?

Knowing how scared I am of your secrets makes me desperately want to keep mine safe from view.

* * *

What I mean by secrets:

The things we think at 3 am

The feelings we feel, but hardly ever show or share

The desires we have that we’re certain we’d be tarred and feathered for if we were found out.

All the thoughts we’re certain will cause people to stop loving us (or never love us at all). Never hire us. Immediately fire us. Look down upon us with condemnation, ridicule. Worse, stop looking at us at all.

This is what I think will happen when I think about sharing my own secrets. And maybe I’m right. Certainly some of them, if shared, would bring about moderate to severe consequences.

But not all of them. Some would liberate me. I just know it.

And yet, I keep silent.

* * *

I’ve had conversations with friends, acquaintances who insist they have no secrets. As if the keeping of secrets is scandalous in and of itself.

They insist even harder when I push them that their boyfriend/spouse/partner certainly keeps secrets. No way, many of my friends have said to me.

“He’s a regular guy. What secrets could he possibly have?”

I try not to smile an arrogant smile. Though sometimes, depending on my mood, I’ll argue the point.

We all have secrets. 

Especially the regular guys.

Not all our secrets are Melrose Place-worthy; not all of them would necessarily damage our reputation; or disrupt our lives if revealed. But they are secrets nonetheless, and they weigh on us.

Some are low-spoken whispers in the inner ear:

“You’re stupid.”

“This will never work.”

“You’re doomed.”

“He doesn’t really love you. He never did.”

“If she really knew, she’d never speak to me again.”

Some secrets are roadblocks. Others are dams holding back figurative flood waters.

Some secrets are background noise. Garbled truths we never quite admit to, but haunt us.

Some are stories we’ve told ourselves so long we no longer recognize them as secrets. We believe they are real.

Everyone knows already, we think to ourselves. Why bother sharing them?

But they don’t know.

Or they do, but they need you to say it out loud.

“Nothing,” writes Paul Tournier, “makes us so lonely as our secrets.”

* * *

The best of what’s been written on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by drug overdose was Tom Junod’s op-ed in Esquire magazine. In trying to capture what drew us all into Hoffman’s character roles, Junod writes:

He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized.

When Hoffman died of a drug overdose, I was sick to my stomach. His secret made me sick. I won’t deny it.

The thought of him there in the bathroom. The thought of his wife; his children left behind. The shame. All the shame.

But within hours, my sick turned to compassion. To understanding. To love for someone I never knew.

Secrets are funny creatures. They soften and sweeten us in a way.

Not all of them, but maybe most of them.

Allowed into the light, liberated secrets prove not to be little monsters. But offspring of the human condition.

More commonplace than we realize.

In fact, there is a gift in the reveal of secrets. For sharing them shows others they’re not alone in their suffering.

* * *

This is what I do here, with you.

I liberate my secrets … a little.

I do it under my own name — on purpose.

I dare myself.

I work my “brave muscle.”

And most days, you are kind in return.

Proving my hypothesis. Allowing me to creep closer to freedom.

I hope I offer you some relief in return.

I hope you feel a little less alone.

Kibbutz, Making Friends, Memory, Mindfulness, Relationships, Writing

Return to sender

I let go of Shira yesterday.

I called her up on the phone, walked over to her house, met her on the path there, and let her go.

She laughed.

So did I.

It was swell.

I had in my hand 18 year old Shira.

With love, I gave her back. To 40 year old Shira.

Some would call this surreal. Others would call it silly. I call it an extraordinary gift.

How did it happen?

In my cardboard boxes, I found letters. Shoeboxes filled with letters. Composition notebooks bookmarked for years with unsealed envelopes torn open by younger hands. Manilla folders stuffed with old exams, but peppered here and there by notes unsigned; the author’s identity only revealed by her handwriting.

I found a few from Shira. (Even if she didn’t live across the street from me here on this kibbutz in Israel, I would have recognized her 18 year old handwriting. It’s distinct. And handwriting, like phone numbers from childhood, is something I tend to hold on to strongly in my memory.)

The letters were from 1991 and 1992. The summers she and I respectively traveled to Israel for the first time.  In 1993, we’d arrive here together one winter break during college as participants on a 2-week volunteer program. We’d be stationed on an army base that’s now less than an hour drive away from where we live.

shira and jen 1993

The letters, when I read them yesterday for the first time in more than 20 years, emphasized a certain awareness I’ve already arrived at on my own.

Shira, I’m so grateful to say, has known two different Jens, maybe three, maybe even four or five, depending on where you slice me.

It’s a gift, indeed. A friend who knew you as a girl. Who knew you when you were thinner, blonder, filled with greater energy than you are now.

But an even greater gift is a friend who notices how much you’ve grown since then. Who knew you when you were less worldly, to say the least, less clever, less kind …and has forgiven you your youth.

In reading the letters, I remembered a younger Jen and a younger Shira, and a much younger friendship. I remembered the moments that punctuated that time. In her short letters — one scribbled in cursive on airmail stationery, another stuffed inside letterhead from her father’s business — our world in ’91 and ’92 came  alive for a moment and made me smile. In a different voice than the one I know today, 18 year old Shira reminded me of who we were then.  I was touched by the Shira I had forgotten; touched by the Shira I had never known then. I also fell in love for a moment with the Jen I must have been then. A Jen I never knew I was; not at the time.

It’s complicated — the gift of old letters, of old friends — but it’s also so very simple.

I could have thrown them away, the letters. Like I’ve tossed other papers found inside the cardboard boxes.

Instead, I decided to return them to sender.

It seemed symbolically appropriate. I can’t explain it, though I’ll try.

I returned them not because I was certain Shira would want them or need them (though it was a kick to laugh over them for a minute or two), but because handing over Shira to Shira seemed like the right thing to do.

Giving Shira’s letters back to her — instead of holding on to them — allows Shira to be whoever she wants to be in the world. Now.

And forces me, in a way, to accept her as such.

Not the Shira I used to know. Not the Shira who was what she was then. Not the Shira I thought she was yesterday.

Just Shira. Now.

Giving Shira back her letters gave me the opportunity to explore a concept I have great difficulty with (and the chance to practice on someone I knew would make it easy on me!)

The concept? Giving up my past so I can be present.

I can’t say I know what the outcome of this experiment will be. But something about it just seemed right.

Just like, I suppose, something felt right about saving letters in a shoebox.

* * *

This is one in a series of essays inspired by my cardboard boxes. If you like this post, and want to know how it began, read A Case for Hoarding. One post in the series, Note to Self,” was recently featured on Freshly PressedAdditional posts are tagged “the boxed set series“.


Letting Go, Love, Writing

Pretty lies

If I could play piano as deftly as I do in my dreams

If I could sing and you could hear the rich tones I do when my voice echoes in my ear

If I could put down words, the true ones that bubble up and swell in my heart

This is what I would bring forth into the world.

Something like this:

But I only tap, tap, tap a little Heart & Soul

I only whisper my skirmish with harmony

I reveal the yellows, the pinks, the browns of my soul only.

Not so much of the blues.

Or the blacks.

Pretty lies. Only pretty lies.


What’s Off-Limits When I Die

Who gets to decide what of yours gets published after you’re gone?

Who says that your journals, your letters, your doodles in the margins get to be publicly shared posthumously?

I assume the obvious: Your next of kin. Your estate’s executor.

But I wonder — those of us who read the words of the dead without their explicit permission (The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, The Diary of Anne Frank, Kafka’s The Trial) — do we care whether or not the author wanted the materials published and read? (Kafka apparently vehemently did not. Tough noogies for him.)

Sure, it’s fun to discover that Tolkien had a “semi-secret” talent for sketching. And Jim Morrison wrote psychadelic poetry.

Fun for us.

But for them?

I’m not so sure.

Of course, one could argue that they’re … um… dead. That would be a pretty good argument for why it doesn’t really, truly matter.

But why, then, do we respect the dead in other, superstitious ways? We wear black, hold our breath, cover our mirrors. Shouldn’t we think twice before reading their private journals?

Presumably their material was published in the name of art by someone who had something to gain from the publication: money, fame.

But does this mean we have to read it?

I think about this a lot as I go through my cardboard boxes.

At the end of the day, I save stuff for me. I might think I am saving it for my kids, but I’m really saving it for me to share with my kids. Not for them to discover on their own with no historical reference. No filter. No explanation.

And I wonder, what would I be okay with them sharing after I’m gone?

Anything marked “FINAL DRAFT,” I’d be good with, I guess. All files tagged “SUBMITTED_2_2013” or any such combination of publication name + date, I’d be good with.

But the other stuff? My journals? My notes to self? My letters? My teenage angst poser poetry?

I don’t know if I want those aired out in public by anyone else but me.

I might change my mind when I’m famous. (I’ll let you know.) But I doubt it.

What about you? What are your thoughts about publishing rough work or private writings posthumously?

Community, Letting Go, Memory

The Things We Keep

When my husband and I were first married, we were part of a group of people in Tucson, Arizona designing a new cohousing community— our very own little American kibbutz!

This is actually how the community was described to us by a colleague, and why our ears perked up when we heard about it. We had never heard the word cohousing before then, but we knew what a kibbutz was (or we thought we did) and after the first informational session, we handed over a check and joined as one of the first young couples in a group made up mostly of divorcees and soon-to-be retirees.

We participated in a year or so of planning discussions — during which time I got pregnant with our first child — but in the end decided the community wasn’t an ideal fit for us. When I think of why, I remember most the day we had to decide if we would build a community laundry facility or instead choose that private homes would have laundry rooms.

My husband and I were strongly in favor of an easy access washer and dryer. We had spent too many years shlepping canvas bags to and from laundromats in various cities to give up what we now saw as a necessary luxury. Furthermore, dirty bibs and stinky onesies were in our near future.  But the majority of the group thought that building one community laundry facility better fit our group vision. It would be more environmentally-friendly (we could use the gray water on the central lawn!) and would mean our homes would take up a smaller footprint.

This conversation spiraled out of control pretty quickly.  Soon it wasn’t about the laundry room, but about how much space we occupy and why. Which became a conversation about the things we need vs. the things we can let go of. Which became — finally! — the real conversation, which was:

There is a stage of life for acquiring things. And there is a stage of life for letting things go.

My husband and I were acquiring.  We’d been married less than a year. We had a new baby on the way. Stuff was in our future.

The rest of the group, most of whom were 20 – 30 years older than we were, were ready to let go.

I understood then, intellectually, the difference. But I couldn’t possibly comprehend how I’d ever be ready to let go of my things. I could see parting one day with my Dyson vacuum or saying goodbye to my extra set of Pottery Barn bowls. (Even though I really liked both sets, which is why we registered for two in the first place.)

But I couldn’t visualize or emotionally connect to a time in which I wouldn’t need extra space. For I didn’t travel lightly. In addition to all the gadgets I used to make my life more comfortable, I also carried with me all the signs and symbols of who I was and who I wanted to be.

Art on the walls.

Tchotchkes inside cabinets.

Magnets on the fridge.

All those things that reminded me where I’ve been and where I wanted to go.

All the things we keep so we know when we’re home.

* * *

Since not choosing to buy a house in the cohousing community, my husband and I have lived in 5 different houses. We’ve moved across country, across town, and across the sea.

We’ve lost some tchotchkes along the way. And half of our Pottery Barn dishes.

Accidentally, of course. But, in the larger scheme of life, very much on purpose.

You can’t keep on acquiring forever.

There’s only so much space.

In your closets. In your house. In your heart.

And there’s only so much time.

Losing the Pottery Barn dishes is preparation for the greater losses to come. Dirty bibs and onesies — as stinky as they get — are gone with the blink of an eye, don’t you know? As are the wee ones who used to wear them.

Letting go is a tool we must learn. We have no other choice … but learning to let go is not a group decision.

It’s one we each arrive at on our own.

In time.

Little by little, we get there.

Broken plates, missing teacups, forgotten floor lamps become stacks of letters, boxes of mixed tapes, address books from long ago.

Little by little ...

Regrets, broken promises, what ifs.

Little by little

Fear, anger, shame.

Little by little…we get there.

We let go.

Childhood, Family, Letting Go, Memory, Mindfulness

Since I put your picture in a frame

There’s a photo in one of the albums in one of my cardboard boxes that nobody posing would want me to scan and post anywhere. It’s a #TBT that will never happen, and yet I almost wish I was bold enough to post it anyway because there’s a glorious photobomb inside an awkwardly posed reminder of a difficult time.

In the photo, I’m looking particularly young and particularly blonde —  caught in a rare moment of photogenicity. (Yes, spellcheck, that’s a word!)  I’m standing in front of a DoubleTree Suites in Washington, D.C. with my left arm around my 12 year old brother (his cheeky adolescent face accentuated by a blonde bowl cut) and my right arm around my then-boyfriend.

What you can’t see in the picture, however, not unless you know, is that I’m also in the middle of the end of my parents’ marriage.

That weekend — the weekend my other brother graduated from college — lives in my memories like a rotten piece of fruit.  Because even though my parents wouldn’t actually split up for another six months or so, it was during that weekend I knew their marriage was ending.

In the years since, I’ve told both my parents as such. And both were surprised. I’m not sure if they were surprised because they didn’t yet know their marriage was ending or because they were surprised I could tell.

I was surprised, too. Not at the certainty of it, but by the sorrow it caused me.

I never really thought I’d be terribly sad if my parents’ marriage ended. And yet, I was. Deeply. When my boyfriend and I returned to our apartment in NYC after that weekend, I remember crying and crying and crying. Sad not just for my parents, but for love, in general.

I understood then that love, while well-intentioned at the start, was ultimately doomed.

In the picture, in the three of our faces, you can tell something is wrong. An uneducated acquaintance might browse through that album and think we were just annoyed at having to pose.   But knowing what I know, I can see a certain heartache in our eyes.


The gift of cardboard boxes is that you can hide away pain until it no longer hurts as bad. Until you can bear to be with it. And look at it from a different perspective.

Discovering that photo from 15 years ago while digging through my cardboard boxes, I automatically zoomed in on the sadness. It’s where I’m programmed to look when I think of that time. It’s how I frame my picture of May 1999.

But the distance allows me to zoom out.

And there in the corner of the picture, under the awning at the DoubleTree Suites, is a photobomb of my Bubbi.

There she is with her hair done, in her special occasion outfit — a blue knit two-piece, she’d probably call it — beaming.

Her smile is real and touching. It’s the most real thing in the entire photograph.

She’s watching us and she is consumed by joy, for though happiness was no easy feat for my Bubbi, she adored her grandchildren. Through us, I dare say, she rediscovered love.

Just beyond our gloom, my Bubbi radiates happiness. Smiling, for she must have seen the larger picture.

Or decided to enjoy the moment in spite of it.



This is one in a series of essays inspired by my cardboard boxes. If you like this post, and want to know how it began, read A Case for Hoarding. One post in the series, Note to Self,” was recently featured on Freshly PressedAdditional posts are tagged “the boxed set series“.

The title of this post was inspired by the Tom Waits song, Picture in a Frame. It’s perfect background music for when you decide to dig through your cardboard boxes.


The poetry inside other people’s cardboard boxes

A new hobby is birthing itself, pushing its way out. 

Like when I took to exploring New York with my neck cranked back

gazing up at building sides looking for signs of  shoe polish advertised 100 years ago.

A new research topic. A new obsession.

The confessional.

Sylvia Plath. Anne Sexton. These are writers I never read.

Can you believe it? I’m embarrassed to even admit to it. (Though I already did.)

I never read those ladies on purpose. Their tragic endings were enough to put me on alert.

Enough to scare me into avoidance.

I was terrified of discovery. Worried that by exploring their darknesses, mine would be triggered. I didn’t need any more triggers — my mind’s been busy enough for decades.

However, slowly, slowly — as I’ve begun to creatively confess here on the blog and privately in long-form and poetry — I’m dipping my toes into their confessions. Learning from them. Growing. Chuckling. Feeling relief that I am not the only one pained by the beauty of tulips.

Today, I discovered “All My Pretty Ones” by Sexton, and smiled as I realized her poem is a consequence of rooting through cardboard boxes, both literally, i imagine, and figuratively. 

“a gold key, your half of a woolen mill,

twenty suits from Dunne’s, an English Ford,

the love and legal verbiage of another will,

boxes of pictures of people I do not know.

I touch their cardboard faces. They must go.”

It’s humbling, knowing that you’re not the first person in this world to suffer. It’s reassuring knowing you’re not the first writer to reach for a thesaurus in search of just the right word because your mind will not allow you to escape from the hunt until you do. It’s a relief, in a sense, as Lena Dunham shared about her experience reading and exploring Plath in college to know that your darkness is a little bit lighter than it could be.

It was good I didn’t read Plath or Sexton until now, I suppose.

In the same way it’s all good.

All of it. The stuff we hide away accidentally or on purpose until it’s ready to be discovered, explored, shared.

Turned into poetry.


Egyptian Eye

The weekend arrives and most of us crave comfort food.

Doesn’t matter if we’re so old we force ourselves to gulp down steel cut oats with flax seed meal and craisins. What we really want is challah french toast. Or bacon. Or grits.

We want our mom, our dad, our Bubbi over there in the corner, back of their head to us, shoulders hunched over, feet inside slippers, flipping something hot on the stove with our name on it.

In my imagination, this something with my name on it is called “Egyptian Eye.”

Some people call it Egg in a Nest. Others Frog in the Hole. But in my childhood home, an egg over easy inside a piece of toast paid homage to the Eye of Horus, which, if you knew my dad, made perfect sense.

Despite the fact that gluten makes me cranky, and eggs make me bloated, I fried myself up an Egyptian Eye this morning. I did this as an Ode to Joy.

I forced myself to remember how much joy I used to find in breakfast.

In being a grown up.



It all started with an irritation.

A cranky feeling stuck in my throat, which is where cranky lives in me.

Didn’t feel like washing the dishes left over from being too tired last night. Didn’t feel like making my kids anything healthy to eat, even though weekend mornings are when I usually make the effort to do so.

In general, I felt annoyed. With adulthood. With obligations. And in that moment in particular, with the burden of breakfast.

Then I stopped, chuckled.

For years, you yearned and burned for this, I told myself. Don’t you remember? Isn’t it funny now?

You wanted to be a grown up. 

Don’t you remember how you screamed at your parents, “One day! You’ll see! I’ll get to decide! I’ll choose!” How you longed for your own money? For work that paid? To stay out late. To sleep where you wanted when you wanted. Eat sugar. Drink vodka. Tell people what you thought of them.


What happened?

I think I completely forgot what was so great to be a grown up.


I remember once feeling joy and gratitude for finally being out there in the world on my own; responsible for my own well-being.

I remember my parents leaving me at my college dorm. I didn’t cry a single tear. I felt FREE.

I remember walking through the deep tunnels of the subway system of New York City when I first moved there after college and thinking, “Nobody knows where I am right now. I can go anywhere I want. And nobody is here to stop me.” I felt FREE.

I bought groceries — first at the local market and later at the health food shop — with such pride.  I strolled the aisles with curiosity. I carefully chose interesting items and paid for them with money I had earned. I felt FREE.

I woke up on Sunday mornings, turned on some Stevie Wonder and danced around the kitchen while I made challah french toast, or pancakes, or Egyptian Eye. I felt FREE.


It’s easy for me to lay blame.

Blame the absence of joy on things being “different now.” Harder. Busier.

Blame it on the kids.

Blame it on the government.

Blame it on my work.

Blame it on my neighbors.

Blame it on modern living.

Blame it on my own choices. My husband’s. My generation’s.

I could get sucked into this blaming so very easily.

In fact, I often do.

I often get so sucked into blaming others or blaming myself that I forget what I once held to be true.

I am an adult now. I am free.

The responsibility for my well-being is on me.

I get to choose.


So I chose.

I made myself an Egyptian Eye. Truth is, I offered one to my kids too. They declined, choosing “sugary cereal” instead.

Secretly I was happy.

Happy to make something just for me.

I ate it alone. Burst open the gooey yellow center with the fork prongs, watched it seep over onto the toast. Lapped it up with joy.

Felt free.

egyptian eye

Letting Go, Love, Philosophy, Writing

An Open Letter to Time: I Know the Truth About You Babe

Dear Time:

Your linear passage is ruthless.

We notice this early, but don’t grasp it til it’s too late.

Your strict adherence to forward motion is maddening, and yet reliable.

It is a gift, in fact,

For we must flow with you, while

we foolishly ache to change you

(as if we could).

We cling to you, but you move at lightning speed.

We can’t hold on.

We spend you like there is no end

to you.

Waste you.

Take advantage of you … like you’re giving it away for free.

We kill you. And then beg for more.

For mercy.

Our love for you, Time, is a comedy.

Our abuse of you is tragic.

Be stingy with us, Time, as you would an ungrateful child.

But be loving, for we sigh (weep even) when we lose you.

We are just simple travelers, Time.

Greedy, yes,

But hopeful.

Never meant anyone harm.

Least of all you.

Mindfulness, Modern Life, Philosophy, Relationships, Spirituality

The Unlikely Path to Inner Peace

I just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a story of a man who sets out on a journey, both metaphorical and literal, in search of inner peace and acceptance. A friend, after hearing about “the boxed set series” project I’m working on, recommended the novel as a complementary “research tool.”

It was a good suggestion.

Harold is in his mid-sixties when he receives a letter from a former colleague – a terminally ill woman with whom we understand from the beginning he has unfinished business. On his way to the post office, to drop off a return letter to the woman, he instead decides to deliver the message himself, by journeying on foot across England.

In addition to the truisms delivered throughout the book – wisdom worthy of highlighters and stars in the margins – I walked away with a sense of hope … and of more time. After all, if I am facing and acknowledging my past now at 39, I’m a few steps ahead of Harold, aren’t I? Doesn’t this mean I might actually find my inner peace SOON?

I smile even as I write the words. I know how silly this mindset is – how contrary it is to the intention of finding inner peace.

“Finding it” requires work.  “Soon” implies a deadline. Neither of which allows for the relief that I associate with inner peace. Did I learn nothing from Harold Fry? My imaginary book club asks me right now.

What I did learn from Harold is that we always think we are wiser than we are; that “now” we finally get “it.” And this is where we trip up.

At least, this is where I trip up.

So often, I cringe at or even attack my younger self, as if I am oh-so-much-wiser now than I was then. (I’m not.)

As if I am not making the exact same mistakes now that I did then — just with different supporting characters, and saggier boobs. (I am.)

What if the way to inner peace actually is acknowledging we will never truly be wise? Just more aware. Just more willing to learn from our past and from our present. Just more compassionate of ourselves and others when we trip up (again and again and again).

And what if the work to do was actually not such hard work? What if the assignment was to simply be more open to not knowing.

Not knowing the way to inner peace; and saying, “cool.”

Allowing for the possibility of finding it in unexpected places, faces, and moments.


I imagine a fat, happy Buddha smiling at me and nodding.

“Yes, my young padawan, that is Buddhism 101.”

What can I say? I’m a slow learner.

Very, very unwise, indeed.

Relationships, Religion, Writing

View from above

No matter how blurred or undefined my picture of God is, no matter how my connection to religion swells or retreats; the one God-related belief I hold fairly dear is omniscience. If God were a storyteller, let’s say, he’d be third person with both a bird’s eye and a worm’s eye view of all that ever was and all that ever is and all that ever will be.

Which means, I also believe, that God laughs a lot.

Laughs at our missteps, our confusion, our despair — in a loving, playful way, the way a parent might smile watching her toddler fall hard on his bottom over and over again in his attempts to learn to walk.

Or the way a writer foolishly grins as he shapes his characters because a writer is, in a way, in love with all the characters he creates — no matter how ugly or beautiful, how wise or how foolish.

I don’t necessarily believe that God is omnipotent, however. I don’t believe he interferes in the doings of man, though I do imagine that he might adjust the direction or speed of the wind from time to time so that man might meaningfully turn his head or shift his gaze. I believe that God watches us, and more than anything else concrete, I understand God as a representation of that great unattainable knowledge and understanding I’ll never have, but will never stop seeking.

I imagine, too, from his third person point of view, God watches us with great compassion.

I wish I could borrow some of this compassion from time to time when I tell myself my own story; as I do when I lie in bed at night and review my day; as I do when I tell “truths” about myself or make claims about how other people see me (as if I could really know).

Or when I dig through the first person evidence of my life: When I read my old journals (and cringe at my naive innocence or unabashed immaturity); or remember (out of the blue or obsessively) the things I’ve done I wish I hadn’t or wish I had handled differently.

Did you ever notice how much compassion we can summon up for others? For strangers especially? How our hearts swell when someone else is dwelling on what they once did wrong?

Yet, it’s insanely difficult — if not near impossible — to summon up that same compassion for ourselves. To allow ourselves to view our stories as God might or as the third person omniscient narrator would– minus regret, minus shame, minus fear — simply with close observation, the space for varied interpretations, and occasionally, with a playful compassionate laugh out loud.