Thursday, October 29, 2020

Pandemic Ponderings: Loneliness and Togetherness

Hello, Invisible Audience.


I have to admit, I thought I’d be speaking with you more than I have been. After all, I’m home more and my days are less busy than they were before. Nevertheless, I’ve gone strangely mute, even as I’ve craved connection. At first I thought it was me, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Have you been lonely, too, Invisible Audience? Because the pandemic is wearing on me, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels this way.


For a long time, I thought I could externalize my feelings. Once the election is over I’ll feel better. Once we have a vaccine I’ll feel better. Once I finish my novel I’ll feel better. Once the world stops tearing apart at the seams, I’ll feel better. And yet here I am, just days before the election, and something has come undone, in a good way. But just because it’s come undone now doesn’t mean it wasn’t a son-of-a-bitch to get here. Damn it.


I can summarize it now, after having mucked around in knee-deep manure for most of the last couple months. It summarizes easily in just three simple words: I am grieving. The tears, the sleepless nights, the weepy talks with friends and standing in the shower to try and sluice off the pain all condenses into a single sentence: I am grieving that I have spent the pandemic alone, because I did not have the presence of mind to become part of a hippie enclave before disaster struck.


I am somewhat making light of the situation, but make no mistake: to realize how much I crave human companionship has been no small discovery. It turns out the concentric circles of socialization I had were essential to keeping me grounded, including everyone from the baristas who sometimes know my coffee order but not my name to the students I taught to the friends I had at the coworking space who have since moved their desks into their homes and holed up with their families. 


A friend gave me a book to read a couple months ago called Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, by Vivek Murthy. It basically talks about how loneliness is the underlying reason for many of the illnesses and health issues we see in the modern world. It talks about loneliness at different levels – intimate partner; small group or family; and community – and how you can feel complete in one of these areas and lonely in another one, even if you have people that stand inside that particular circle for you. It took me forever to read this book because it was painful to read. It did not make me feel less alone to read about all the health issues that arise from feeling alone. Especially when those issues were manifesting in real time: headaches from too much screen time; hip pain; fatigue, despite a much less demanding schedule.


Resentment rose to the top of the many emotions that kept me awake. I wanted to blame others for this, but in reality there is no one else to blame. In truth, I chose to live alone. I have chosen the life I live and the people within the world I populate. In my opinion, Together and other similar books don’t talk about a specific piece of the puzzle that is paramount to my survival: it is connecting with the right people that matters. It is feeling seen and validated by a very specific subset of people for me that makes me feel like I belong. This is why my circles are smaller and why I live alone: just having someone in my space is not enough. It has to be the right someone, who I can love as they are and who can love me as I am at the same time. 


A lot of years ago now, I realized that I was unhappy and I made a decision to seek a new way to be that made more room for me—for more people to see me, and for me to see myself. Well, that process is still underway. I think my grief and loneliness now, in the middle of a quarantine and a pandemic, has come from an idea I had that I should have figured it out by now – that my decision more than 10 years ago to change what wasn’t working should have led to a happily ever after that would have found me surrounded by a group of people who got it, got me, and were all living close enough and were interconnected enough that we could quarantine together for a pandemic that came about and lasted longer than anything most of us could have imagined or expected. 


Here’s the thing: I’m not actually alone. Yes, I live alone, but every day I have conversations with friends who check in on me and I on them. I have cultivated an enclave that spans the globe, and I’m not just talking about people I only connect with on social media, either. It is true that I am craving human touch, but that does not mean I am not experiencing love or tender care from others, and vice versa. It just means it looks different today than it used to. Ironically, it just took a lot of time by myself—and reaching out for support and getting it from those very people—to figure that out.


I’ll tell you one thing, though: I will never take hugs for granted again after this is over.


Love and touching kisses,


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Writing with Conviction

 Hello, Invisible Audience.


The last time I wrote, I added a single line into the post that was likely the most important thing I had to say: 


“I have a single freelancing client left; when I have work to do for him, I spend that hour doing work that pays. When I don’t, I write a book I’ve been writing for years. I have stayed silent about this.”


There it was. Did you miss it? You were supposed to, because it was so important to me that I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. I was too afraid to get my hopes up that I would break the momentum I was gathering; that I would start to talk about the book, lose track and watch it spiral back to the bottom of the “most recent” files on my computer, until it was once again added back to the things I yearn to spend time on and do not do.


Well, guess what, Invisible Audience? I FINISHED THE BOOK. It is a book it took me 14 years to write, and nearly half of its 275 pages were written over the last three months. It is not my first book, but it is my first work of fiction. In a nutshell, it’s about how the walls we build around us for protection can turn into prisons that keep us stuck.


When I finished it and made it through one final edit, I started to cry. It took so long. I had do to so much before I could finish it. Some of those pieces had everything to do with the writing – I wrote the book into a corner several times over the years, then I’d have to backtrack, cut out whole sections and start over. But most of the reason had nothing to do with the writing at all, Invisible Audience. It had to do with whether I could let myself be a writer.


Let me digress slightly for just a moment and address those of you who are parents. If you have a kid and they tell you that they have a passion for something and you try to gently or not so gently steer them toward something that will make them more money or be less unpredictable, know this: you are creating a tearing wound in their bodies where they have to decide whether to disappoint someone they love or do what they love to do. They do not know this is what is happening. Later, all they will know is that when they try to do the thing they love, a momentous wave of naysaying will rise before them and they will have to either choose to try to keep their head above it or let it wash them back into what is normal and expected. You may be trying to help them, but the truth is you will not quash their dream. You will quash their ability to believe in their dream, which will cause no small amount of suffering in the future. 


I have spent so much time trying to convince myself that I should give up on writing, I could have written a set of encyclopedias by now. I have had countless other jobs that weren’t hard and paid well and I hated them and became sick with regret and resentment and anger because they are not writing. And worst of all, I have hated writing because I thought that was the problem, when it wasn’t. The problem was all the bullshit someone had heaped on the idea of writing that made it impossible for me to trust myself in finding a process that worked for me instead of deciding I couldn’t write because I wasn’t worthy.


So I finished writing the book, and I have just turned it over to several people to read. Since then, I have found yet another wave of fear: what if they hate it? What if it’s terrible? What if I am fooling myself into thinking that just because I have something to say it means anyone else has an interest in reading it?


In a piece of advice to a writer in Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed talks about writing her first book and the two-sided chalkboard she kept close by during the process. On one side she wrote surrender; on the other side humility. There is a third word I’d add, Invisible Audience: conviction.


I don’t know what will become of this book, or any others that I choose to write. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write exactly what I want to and get paid enough to live on. I don’t know if my writing will ever be as cathartic to anyone else as it is to me. Those are things I can’t control; I must surrender what will happen with this book and my future in those terms. However, there is one piece that I will not surrender: the conviction that I’m supposed to do it anyway.  


It doesn’t matter if every friend I gave the book to tells me it’s shit. It doesn’t matter if I send it to every agent listed and none of them want it. It doesn’t matter if my social media posts get more readers than the 70,000-word book I just cried over when I finished. I did it because I needed to. 


There is something in me that yearns to write; for the first time ever, I managed to take that piece, place it front and center, and find a way to make it enjoyable and sustainable. And now that I’ve figured out how to do that, you can be damn sure I’m not going to let it go again.


Love and kisses of conviction,


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When the Silence Defines Us

Hello, Invisible Audience.

The last time I wrote, I spoke of the relief that the foundation of the life I had built was crumbling around me. It seems that many foundations are in the process of crumbling. It seems that the whole world is crumbling and seeking to find something new to stand on in the rubble.

The last time I wrote, I was in the midst of finding some space. Well, I found it. Then – as usually happens with me – I discovered that the space I found was not to simply lounge around in. It was there so I could work. Not work for a paycheck, like I had been doing. No, work throughthings: icky, heart-wrenching beliefs that have kept me stuck and stinging, trying to convince myself that the life I had created was enough of a life to continue on with.

Sunday was Father’s Day. A shitty day for me usually, Invisible Audience, since I cut my parents out of my life five years ago. This one was no different. I didn’t feel physically well, but then again, the line between my emotional and physical wellbeing has been blurring more and more over the years. I am no longer able to say with any certainty that my exhaustion is purely related to food intolerances or illness, or that my grief is purely held in the tears that I cry and not lodged in my chest like an actual stone. 

On Father’s Day, I was hot, and cold. I was exhausted, and angered. I fell asleep during a guided meditation on a women’s group call, and when I was asked what gifts I could honor in myself, I burst into tears as I admitted that I am Sensitive with a capital S.I kept my peace on Facebook, letting my mouth turn up at the odes to wonderful fathers as they skated across my feed, but the smile didn’t reach my eyes. I stayed silent.

I have been reeling for weeks from headaches and neckaches and an achethat has no name in itself, Invisible Audience. I have silently given up all screen time; most work; anything to do with computers, save for about an hour in the morning. I have a single freelancing client left; when I have work to do for him, I spend that hour doing work that pays. When I don’t, I write a book I’ve been writing for years. I have stayed silent about this.

I have been doing a workbook called Me and White Supremacy with a friend. I have had to face all the ways I have worn my privilege and held it close to me like a cloak; all the ways I have either ignored and dismissed others’ pain. All the ways I stayed silent.

Then, yesterday – the Monday after Father’s Day – I got a text from a friend. She knows how hard Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are for me, and she usually reaches out. She was out of town on the actual day, she said, but how was I? I don't expect her to call, but I'm always grateful when she reminds me I'm not alone.

Suddenly, I realized how little my silence serves, Invisible Audience. Because suddenly I remembered a conversation I’d had with a friend from high school who told me a message I’d posted about Father’s Day one year had moved him to tears. He lost his dad in college, and clearly still felt the loss.still feel the loss, of what was both the best and hardest decision I have ever made, and in my case it was my choice.

I realized that by staying silent on social media I am making it more the kind of place I hate. I realized that I could easily think of a dozen friends in the midst of divorces from their kids’ dads; whose dads had recently died; whose relationships with their fathers are painful; whose children will never meet their grandpas. And by staying silent myself, I was perpetuating the idea that only pretty pictures of fatherhood are allowed on Father’s Day; that others’ experiences have no room on those days. That we are cannot be all together in this messy, chaotic life because we are all so different.

Then I thought about my Black friends. How none of them have ever shared with me the extent of the racism they have experienced, and how sometimes, when they tried, I was too uncomfortable to hear it. I thought about how I never once considered until recently the terror that likely accompanied many of my Mexican classmates growing up, wondering if an ICE raid would tear their families apart, whether they were American citizens, Green card holders, or none of the above. Friends whose hearts might have started to pound every time a cop showed up, simply because of the color of their skin.

So I spoke up. I wrote a post of Facebook, because I wanted others to feel less alone on Father’s Day; Iwanted to feel less alone. I thought about how ultimately that’s why I’ve taught kids Spanish; why I write about my time in other countries; why I write out loud to you, Invisible Audience. Sure, it’s a cathartic release for me, but it’s also because when I do it I am reaching out a hand, both to give and to grasp, so that others know they are not alone, and so I can know I’m not alone, too.

Several people commented on my Facebook post. Most said something about my bravery. It struck me: all I have to do to be brave is write. That is why I am here on this earth, Invisible Audience. I am not here to tell you your story. I am here to tell you mine, in the hopes that it creates a bit more space in the room for you to tell yours, too. 

Love and Not-So-Silent Kisses,

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Crumbling Into Something

Hello, Invisible Audience.

I am nestled into my cozy home, watching the spring arrive one unfurled leaf at a time. I am marveling at the moon that continues to run through its phases and the sun that keeps climbing into the sky before falling into the mountains, day after day. I am marveling at how nature does not seem to have received the memo to stop everything and stay home. I am simultaneously glad; puzzled; amazed that this is true.

It is roughly a month into quarantine. I am not sick – in fact, I feel better than I did when my business went away overnight. I am more grounded than when I had somewhere to go every day and children to teach.

I have an admission to make, Invisible Audience. When the world shut down, I felt relief. I could not keep up. I was like someone in the middle of the race who watches others prance by as her reserves slowly fade to nothing and she wonders if she will make it to the finish line after all. I was relieved, because the quarantine meant no one would know that I wasn’t going to make it; it meant the race was canceled for everyone all at once and I could slink off the course as part of the crowd without any shame.

Suddenly the most joyful parts of life I had put down because they didn’t lead straight to a paycheck have demanded room in my routine: time in nature; books and podcasts with authors I admire; healthy, slow-cooked meals. Suddenly I am confronted with the life I have created and how little room I made in that life for me.

I have been listening to a new book on tape, read by the author. It’s called Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. It is a wholly inspiring book, by a woman who has chosen to trust herself over the many other authorities who have insisted they know what is best for her. She is honest and courageous. She admits to the ways she has abandoned herself in the past, and counts the ways she numbed herself out. She has promised herself and her children that she will not abandon herself anymore; that she will be an example of what self-love can be instead of the martyrdom often attributed to motherhood and womanhood. 

She is both inspiring and intimidating, because I have something to admit, Invisible Audience: I have chosen and abandoned myself more ways than I can count. Unlike Glennon and many of the other women I admire whose books I read and interviews I listen to, I have found myself on a rollercoaster of courage followed by fear followed by blind faith followed by a need for someone else to take the reins because I did not physically have it in me to hold my own head above water. This has been my past, and it is still my present. This ever-peeling onion of mine makes my life look like one step forward and a dance back past the starting point. Or at least it feels that way today.

Here’s the truth: I have built myself a life. At this moment, when much of that life has been swept away, I am glad. I needed the break. When I think about taking it up again, my soul resists and my heart aches. The truth is I am not made for this existence, Invisible Audience. I am not made to toil and convince myself over and over again that what I have is good enough.

I recently ran across a picture on Facebook of me when I lived in Panama. It was taken by a professional photographer at a jazz festival. I am radiant. I am happy. I was also working through some serious shit, but there was joy in my face that I have not seen there since.

There’s an old saying: we are not meant to simply pay bills and die. Although I thought I was feeling the old ways crumble before the pandemic hit, in truth it was me that I was feeling: am crumbling away to nothing. Not in a nihilistic way – in fact, it is the most freeing way I know how to be. Suddenly the flesh has been scraped off the bones of my existence and I realize the underlying structure is crooked. No wonder it hurts. No wonder it is so hard to stay upright.

Fortunately for me, I know this feeling and this place well, Invisible Audience. I have been here many times before. There is no longer fear in this place. Instead, I hold hope: hope that the demolition of old systems makes way for new innovation. Hope that there is more joy in a new iteration. Hope that I have an opportunity to make changes so that once again I can see the joy etched into my face where now I see only exhaustion.

I have been hesitant to write, Invisible Audience. To even have the room to contemplate this change is a gift during such a shitty, scary time. And yet I can no longer deny who I am and what I need. I need something different from what I have. What does that mean? I’m not yet sure. But I can’t deny what I need anymore. Not for that woman who shone in Panama. Not for the woman who looks at life a month ago and doesn’t want the same life back again six months in the future.

Love and something new kisses,

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Ponderings in a Time of Quarantine

Hello, Invisible Audience,

I am writing you from the comfort of my kitchen table, with a cup of coffee by my side and a fully stocked fridge in the kitchen.

I am so, so lucky.

I am lucky because, despite the fact that 75% of my income disappeared overnight when I shut down my group Spanish classes, I still have a place to live, food to eat and savings -- for the short term, anyway. I am lucky because I never completely gave up on my freelance writing, which is a mostly online gig, and I can continue to do it.

Every day I wake up and I feel how lucky I am. There are people out there out of work. There are people out there scrambling to find work, because they have no idea how they’ll pay for the food they need in the ransacked grocery stores. There are people out there that still have to go to work, despite the danger of contracting something that may not just hurt them, but their families, too. There are people out there whose jobs now continue from home, even as their kids call for their attention and assurances, while their bosses expect them to carry on as if nothing has happened.

It is from this place, where I feel lucky, that I sit and look at the economy and society reeling around me, and I wonder if now is the time.

Many people have said they didn’t see this coming. I may not have seen this specific thing coming, but I certainly felt something coming. A feeling that the current system was unsustainable; that our booming economy was operating in an unsustainable way. 

Why did I think that?
·     Because the only way to get really great health insurance is by working, which seems to be an oxymoron. If you’re sick, how can you work to pay your premiums?
·     Because statistics say that 60% of U.S. households don’t have enough savings for a $500 emergency.
·     Because of the local taxi driver who picked me up, who works seven days a week to support his family and keep a roof over his head because rent is so high. That taxi driver had to give away all his pets to be eligible for that rental at all.
·     Because few of the people we currently depend on to stock our groceries and run other essential services at this time can afford to live in the town I work in because rents and home prices are so astronomically high.
·     Because when I needed to move in January, my choices were a hovel over a garage that reeked of gasoline and oil for $1200 a month, or a much cheaper and more amazing alternative 20 miles out of town.

I feel lucky because I chose the cheaper location outside of town, which was available to me because I’m friends with the owners, a privilege I don't take for granted. I feel lucky because that choice for cheaper and farther away means I’m now in a much better place for this crisis than I would have been even three months ago.

At the same time, I am realizing how unsustainable my own life was, now that it has changed so drastically in such a short amount of time. I am not restless and overcome with energy, cleaning my house and power lifting boulders to keep myself in shape. I am taking more naps, handling things that have been on my plate for months, and taking more walks without music, where I can listen to the leaves in the trees and notice the smell of spring coming. 

I had already felt myself grinding to a halt before all this hit, Invisible Audience. Now, I am grateful for the lack of frantic activity. I am wondering how I did it for so long. I am wondering if I want to have it again. And most of all, I am wondering why it’s so necessary.

If life is built on the idea that one must hustle and pound pavement and go full speed, of course it will collapse when we all have to stay home. But I find myself curiously watching my own reaction, and wondering at the parts of life that are trying to continue as if nothing has changed. 


I don’t know how long this will last, but I am already seeing that am different now. Things will not remain the same for me. I am suddenly clearer on how little I was able to find myself in the frantic pace I was trying to keep up before this. I may choose not to do that anymore, Invisible Audience. I may come out of this forced but not unwelcome isolation and realize that it’s time to make changes to my life so it doesn’t require me to be part of the rat race. 
It’s not that change is coming. Change is here.

Love and socially isolating and changing kisses

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Holding It All

Hello, Invisible Audience,

A very happy new year to you. May 2020 bring you more of your favorite things.

I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because they make me feel like I’m supposed to change too many things about myself all at once and I’m a failure if I can’t make them stick. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made a lot of really important changes in my life – but as I’ve said before, they tend to come in small increments, not larger resolutions that require big changes in a short period of time.

Anyway, there’s something I’ve been thinking about for several months now that could possibly count as a resolution, although maybe it’s more of a change in mindset: I want to work on being able to hold it all.

Just to clarify, I did not just misspell having it all. As far as I’m concerned, that phrase and what it entails carries far more baggage than joy. When I think about what having it all means to me, I think about people who work their tails off, party their asses off, can buy everything they want and have zero time to actually enjoy all they have. I am not saying that’s what your life is like if you think you have it all, Invisible Audience. I am simply saying that those words strung together inflict misery on my system in a way that I don’t want to carry with me.

No, holding it all is a concept that’s been a long time coming for me. It has to do with actively letting go of black and white thinking and coming to grips with the fact that the world does not work in absolutes. 

This is a hard one for me. A part of me wants to think that someday I will be all happy with no sad; that I will love myself fully without wishing parts of myself were different. Part of me wants to think I will fall madly in love with someone who always says the right thing, and I will stumble upon a job that never feels like a slog to get up for. And as far as we’re talking about fairy tales, I’d like all this to happen on a warm tropical island with an endless supply of margaritas and mangoes. 

Well, shit, Invisible Audience. I hope I’m not crushing your dreams if I tell you that I don’t think that world exists. Instead, I have slowly been realizing how much wishing for that dream has been negatively affecting my reality. I have learned that, if I want relationships without conflict, that means I will have less relationships. I have discovered that even jobs and tasks I love get tedious, and that exhaustion and illness can make any great thing feel awful. I have learned that expecting to find equilibrium means that I am setting myself up for failure, because I can’t be satisfied with the days that I don’t feel steady, even if they turned out well. 

For me, holding it all means owning that I can have several conflicting feelings at once, and that doesn’t mean they cancel each other out. I can think my job is worthwhile and also wish I didn’t have to do it sometimes. I can dearly love someone and not agree with their life choices or politics. I can be doing my very best, and still always find ways to improve, but that doesn’t mean my best attempt was meaningless.

Maybe this all sounds logical. Maybe you figured this out a long time ago, Invisible Audience. But the shades of gray of this chaotic, messy beautiful existence have always felt absolutely mystifying to me. I’ve spent a lot of time – and a lot of cognitive dissonance – trying to fit a square peg (either/or thinking) into a round hole (reality.) 

So, does that count as a resolution? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe resolutions feel a bit too black and white these days, and I’m looking to give myself a little more grace in the process than a resolution seems to encompass. Instead, I think my goal for this year is to embrace more of all those seemingly contradictory things that float through my day-to-day life: the rainbows on snowy days; the anger that rides on the tail of a big laugh; and the joy that sometimes comes coupled with fear.

Love and holding it all kisses,