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Weeds

Weeds push out between the stones lining the path to our front door. When they reach a critical mass, so shabby and untidy that even my eyes cannot pretend not to notice, I renew my campaign to eradicate them. I sit on the path cross-legged and armed with a screwdriver, podcasts and overheard conversations of passersby for company. One hour at a time, day after day, I chip away at the task from sidewalk to door. Oh, the satisfaction of seeing measurable results.

“Satisfaction of seeing measurable results” is the antithesis of my writing of late – and by “writing” I mean revising. Where Elmore Leonard claimed to have “just left the boring parts out,” I struggle to identify which passages need elimination.

If only the weed-words in my manuscript called attention to themselves the way these weeds stand out against the stones. I need only look for green and pull — the editing equivalent of deleting adverbs. (Or, as Mark Twain advised, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”)

I have avoided the more challenging weeds in my backyard, the ones that bloom alongside the roots of lavender and lilies, and braid with their stems. It takes patience, and digging beneath the soil, twisting them around my dirty fingers, to pull them out by their roots. I never get them all, and I pull out parts of the plant, too.

As I pinch and extract small shoots with roots as fine as baby hair, I find myself hoping that by some magic these hours will transform into an ability to do the same with words: to recognize what does not serve the story and will suffocate its beauty if left there, and to have the confidence to yank it out, no mercy.

As the pace of our lives Before Pandemic begins to bloom again, before extraneous pastimes take root, we can ask, does it bring meaning and serve beauty?, and landing on an answer, confidently weed away.

Integrity

It’s in my arm! My second shot! You will forgive me if I write nothing today, and I will forgive you for thinking that maybe I should have written nothing today.

I wonder if I’m feeling vaccine-hazy, or just plain lazy. I wonder if my body aches because it is building immunity or because I’ve been lying in bed without moving for so long. I wonder if that slight wooziness that made me bend my head to my knees to keep from fainting earlier this morning were the antibodies at work or because we were talking about needles.

Needles! My childhood nemesis. After years of the pediatrician having to chase me around the exam room to vaccinate me, my mom made an appointment with a hypnotherapist to help me get over my fear. When I described to him that it was the idea of a sharp, metal, foreign object penetrating beneath my skin that gave me the willies, he gave that feeling a name: “Body integrity.” He said that I had an underlying sense that everything was where it was supposed to be and should not be messed with. My skin had a job to do — keep the inside stuff on the inside, and the outside stuff on the outside. Luckily, he succeeded in making me more comfortable with those intrusive jabs that would preserve the integrity of the rest of me.

Just getting some reassurance that it will be over quickly!

What of the other kinds of integrity? Maria Shriver, in her “Sunday Paper” newsletter yesterday, speaks of living from a place of integrity.

“Integrity is a deeply powerful concept….[B]eing intact: to be one thing whole and undivided. Who doesn’t want to live from that whole place? If you make choices and decisions from that place, you might find yourself on a path you never imagined. You might find yourself in a place you never dreamed of. If you keep making small choices from that place, it will lead you to dreams you never envisioned and places you never anticipated.”

Living with that kind of intention can bring us to push outside of the labels we choose to define ourselves. She writes, “I’ve come to learn that labels limit us. They keep our lives narrow and contained. It’s hard to be a multitude of things when the world seems to be demanding that you describe yourself as only one thing and then do just that one thing. I urge you to not allow that box to contain you, because if you lose that job, that role, or that label, you will find yourself not just wondering who you are, but what you are capable of being.”

I recognize myself in those words, and maybe you do, too? As hard as the journey to redefine yourself can be, the first job is realizing that you have endless possibilities.

As for me, my authentic choice right now is to fluff my pillows and watch something binge-worthy.

To your health, happiness, and wholeness.

The post-birthday, post-vaccination kit gift — Tylenol, extra band-aid, plain crackers, lozenges, and the extra mask and hand sanitizer, because you can’t be too careful!

More Pandemic Life, and Light, One Year Later

Last Passover I thought the Jews might break the internet. I did not yet know that this “Zoom” thing could handle our bandwidth. Miraculously, it could and did. Some fifty relatives waved at each other from our own homes, believing surely we would be together this year.

That was not to pass. Rather than resume our pre-pandemic mass gathering, our familial organism divided into smaller cells spread across counties and states. Even so, I felt a real liberation from the narrow places of last year: for the first time in a year I was sitting with my parents inside their house, eating at their dining room table, maskless, and vaccinated. We chose to open a laptop to Zoom as our rabbi led a Seder from her home and we joined a congregational family of hundreds. She closed the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and we affirmed, “next year in Tarzana.” Even this felt like a step forward.

More signs of light? For my 2020 birthday, one month into the shutdown, my friend left a very special gift on my porch, rang the doorbell, then hightailed it to the safety of her car.

My birthday month has come around again, and last night we walked to this friend’s house, rang her doorbell and did not back up but stayed on her welcome mat. Five of us went up to the roof in time to see the sunset, and toast how far we have come; the world isn’t talking about where to source toilet paper, but vaccines! Earlier in the day, I had told my son that I sensed a light coming — though I hedged, acknowledging that my feelings could change in a day or an hour. Last night on that roof, with darkness settling over us, Christopher summarized the sentiment of the moment, saying, “I don’t know what comes next.”

We have never known what comes next. The last year has taught us that. I hold at bay the knowledge that anything could happen still, a fourth wave might crash over us and wipe out plans for summer or even fall. And it might not. I focus on the light streaming through my window right this moment, as real as anything.

Pandemic Life – One Year Later

A year and a week ago, when I wrote the post below, I thought the quarantine would last four weeks — six tops. All we needed was for everyone to stay home and the virus would extinguish itself. Easy peasy.

Maybe that naivete explains my irritating cheeriness — Kids home! Creativity! Bright spots! Where in this post is my terror at going to the market? Where is me spreading newspaper on the table before putting the grocery bags down, wiping down the milk cartons, soaping up my apples, and yelling at my family for not being as stressed out as me? I pinballed between every emotion — maybe these conscious efforts at gratitude were simply to quell the fear.

A year has passed. The world has suffered. We have collectively lost so much. Also, we have adapted. We have gained perspective, and down time, and (need I say it) some weight. But even as vaccines are being administered, my fear has grown like a callus; it will be a challenge to exfoliate. I may never completely excise it.

Now, for nostagia’s sake, I give you a slice of life from the beginning of the pandemic, with my annotations and apologies.


Hello friends,

I am one week into my hardcore understanding that “social distance” means do not breathe on anyone with whom I do not live. Maybe you’ve just arrived at that understanding right this second, or maybe you’ve been there longer. For me, it’s about a week, the same week since our freshman came home from college, and our 9th grader’s school closed its doors. My kids do miss their friends. But they love their grandparents, so they get the point and (mostly) do not complain about these extreme measures. To paraphrase my friend Monica, it’s only extreme if you’re willing to cull the elderly and the immune-compromised population.

Let’s move on to the bright spots.

1. Exercise with my kids. I credit my kids’ boredom for two milestone events: (1) Aaron said yes to a sunset walk with me yesterday, and (2) Emmett joined me for a 20 minute yoga video this morning. (We did Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, it’s free. Adrienne is calming, not “precious,” and can start very slowly for beginners. Or try your local yoga studio and pay them so they can pay their teachers.)

  • 3/29/21 Annotation: That was before everyone else also did Yoga with Adrienne. It was also the last time Emmett joined me for yoga.

2. Create. Writing to you now. Working on my work in progress. Planning a virtual book club for our community for Palisades Reads 2020. And made a dance video for pre-schoolers.

  • 3/29/21 Annotation: I’m still working on my work in progress. And I’m still wondering if it will ever see the light of day. I repeat Mary Oliver’s poetry for comfort: “Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.

3. Connect. Zoomed coffee with friends. Zoomed with a gaggle of cousins.

Am hoping for a Zoom dance party, game night and, of course, a Zoom Seder. Will teach my mom to Zoom today. And I old-school called my cousin I haven’t seen in too long.

  • 3/29/21 Annotations: I tried Zoom dance and it made me cry, how it paled compared to the real thing.
  • I would have throttled you with my bare hands if you’d told me last year that we’d be celebrating a second Zoom Passover.
  • At least, as my cousin Greg pointed out, this year’s Zoom Seder didn’t require thirty minutes to get everyone logged in.

4. My Zen moment of the week: Watching my friend feed his baby on Facebook Live.

  • 3/29/21 Annotation: This video holds up without any commentary.

May you continue to be well, to love the ones you’re with, and to love the whole wide world. If there is anything we have been reminded of this year is that we are all connected, and that our choices have ripple effects around the world.

Balance

The earth proceeded through the vernal equinox this weekend — the moment when day and night, light and dark, are balanced. Even in southern California, it is definitively spring. The air is cool, the light is new. There is an undeniable feeling of rebirth. We are coming out of a year-long winter, a drawn-out season of anxiety. We are collectively rediscovering our balance.

I learned this weekend that yogis mark the vernal equinox by practicing 108 sun salutations. 108!

Why 108? Well, according to The Wellness Universe blog, the number 108 is auspicious in many religions and wisdom traditions: there are 108 names of Buddha, beads on a Catholic rosary, and 108 is a multiple of “chai” – the Hebrew word meaning both 18 and “life.”

I heard about this equinox practice during a “Zoom Shabbat.” Our wonderful Rabbi Amy Bernstein, who had been put through this practice earlier in the day by our mutual yoga teacher Nicole Sherman, noted an essential lesson she learned from her ordeal of 108 sun salutes: Life gives you hard things; you do them. You don’t have to tell yourself a whole big story about them. You get through them, moment by moment.

Listening to meaning she drew from the experience, I wondered, Could I do 108 sun salutations? What would it feel like? What might I learn? I resolved to try it.

During the 90 minutes it took me to get through them (twice as long, I might add, as our yoga teacher reportedly took), I jotted down the lessons that popped up for me. I wrote them down because I sensed that they would apply as much to life, and writing, as to yoga:

  1. No matter how well you think you can multitask, you cannot. (Don’t think you can keep count in your head.)
  2. Simple tools can help manage your task. (In this case, tally marks saved me).
  3. Take breaks if you need them.
  4. A change of venue can recharge you.
  5. Slow down; pay attention.
  6. Take lots of deep breaths.
  7. Everything is better when you can be present in the moment.
  8. You have the power to re-value something bad into something good (e.g. “I am so freaking tired I can’t keep going” can become “I am getting stronger.” Or, “this draft sucks” can become “I am one draft closer to getting it right.”)
  9. Don’t panic if you get lightheaded.
  10. Notice where things gets bumpy, and try something different next time it happens (and there will be a next time).
  11. Celebrate milestones on your way to a larger goal.
  12. Find new things in the familiar. (When days feel the same, small tweaks can make them unique.)
  13. Get lost in flow.
  14. Find strength in community — other people are on this path with you.
  15. As you near the end, each moment feels more precious.
  16. Drink plenty of water.
  17. Reward yourself for your accomplishments.
  18. Nothing, I mean nothing, beats a hot bath after a hard day.

Wishing you a week of balance and strength for whatever tasks you face.


Book Recommendation!

To bring this piece full circle, I must recommend Claire Dederer’s bestselling memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, which I recently discovered while taking Claire’s online memoir class offered by Hedgebrook. (Hedgebrook offers many excellent online course, which you should check out here.)

Praise for Poser:

“Poser is a powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir about one woman’s open-hearted reckoning with her demons.”–Dani Shapiro, The New York Times Book Review

“Why did Claire Dederer take up yoga? Short answer: for the same reasons that Elizabeth Gilbert changed her life in Eat, Pray, Love and to much the same funny, charming, self-deprecating, stealthily inspirational and (quite possibly) best-selling effect.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Funny, well-observed, and ultimately inspiring.”–People (four stars)

“Let me be honest about something: I love yoga, I live for yoga and yoga has changed my life forever — but it is very difficult to find books about yoga that aren’t incredibly annoying. I’m sorry to say it, but yoga sometimes makes people talk like jerks. Thank goodness, then for Claire Dederer, who has written the book we all need: the long-awaited funny, smart, clear-headed, thoughtful, truthful and inspiring yoga memoir. To simplify my praise: I absolutely loved this book.”–Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Vaccine-a-Palooza

The parking lot at the Southside Church of Christ transformed last Friday into a “pop-up vaccine clinic,” stood up in minutes like a MASH unit by dozens of volunteers recruited through an innovative non-profit. What could epitomize the American moment more than this — can-do entrepreneurialism and compassion, in service of patching the cracks of a fractured, leaking healthcare system. This clinic was the creation of the Shared Harvest Fund’s MyCovidMD initiative, founded by Dr. NanaEfua Afoh-Manin to “help under-resourced communities get free testing and access to telehealth services during the Coronavirus Public Health crisis.” And now to get them vaccinated.

I met Dr. Nana, as she was introduced at the event, when she arrived and began unloading boxes of PPE and Girl Scout Cookies at the hospitality station. After every essential station for the event had been set up, she gathered the volunteers and set our intention for the day. She explained that as an ER doctor witnessing countless families needlessly destroyed by this disease, she decided she had to do more to help prevent people from getting it in the first place.

She stated her three goals for the day: Save lives (obviously). Be safe (volunteers received N-95 masks, face shields and gloves). And have fun.

Which explains the DJ station.

Upbeat music could be heard throughout the day at every station. It carried to the registration table, where volunteers navigated iPads and laptops to confirm appointments and make sure all information was integrated with the state’s record-keeping. The medical pros at each of four vaccination stations could sing along as they asked “right arm or left?” The newly vaccinated could watch the whole party unfold as they waited fifteen minutes in an observation area, watched and timed by volunteers in case of any post-vaccine reactions. Once the timer beeped, they could walk, drive, or dance their way out past the last station, named Seventh Heaven (aka the hospitality booth). There they would receive a goody bag that included one of those boxes of Girl Scout cookies Dr. Nana had provided, as well as hand sanitizer, leaflets about the vaccines, and a long-stemmed red rose. Seventh Heaven is MyCovidMD’s “signature element” and may seem like just a sweet touch, but it serves a crucial clinical role: folks leaving with a smile may just tell their friends and family, “Go get that vaccine. It was a blast.”

And, oddly, it was a blast. We cheered for each person as we brought them their gift bag, joyful that they were safer from the disease, visibly relieved of some anxiety. Indeed, I felt my own anxiety ratchet down knowing that with every vaccination we were all that much safer. We were gong to beat this. We were on our way, collectively. The DJ chose great songs, and we were in the mood to dance and sing. “This is by far my best day of the pandemic,” Christopher said. My niece agreed, summing it up, “This is the closest to Coachella I’m going to get this year.”

Vaccine-a-palooza – MyCovidMD’s volunteers get in the spirit

And yet, as uplifting as the day was, at times what struck me was a certain absurdity. This is what we have come to — a global pandemic met by a volunteer-led drive-through medical clinic with a DJ and balloons. I could not help but flash to a television news report from the UK, with its seemingly orderly appointment system, every citizen trusting that they would be cared for in due course. This pop-up clinic’s existence may be a triumph, but the need for it is an indictment.

We ran out of Girl Scout Cookies after 200 vaccinations, and had to make due with lesser goody bags. Thankfully, a local restaurant had donated 250 packaged salads, so my friend Monica grabbed a salad, dressing, and plastic wrapped fork, and bopped over to a waiting car. Projecting to be heard over the music and through her N-95 mask and face shield, she presented her gifts with sincere enthusiasm and joy: “Nothing says celebration like a salad!”

Her mouth was hidden from their view, but you could damn well hear her smile.


More about Shared Harvest Fund from its website:

“In helping to found Shared Harvest Fund, Dr. Nana has created a committed organization that works to combat socioeconomic disparities in healthcare through initiatives that advance holistic health outcomes for under-resourced communities globally.

“When COVID-19 struck, disparities in equal access to healthcare across the United States became even more apparent. Dr. Nana worked tirelessly to found the Shared Harvest myCovidMD™ initiative, in an endeavor to provide equal access to coronavirus testing and much-needed social services for the communities that would face the highest rates of mortality due to COVID-19. “myCovidMD is our tactical response to a systemically unequal public health and education system,” Dr. Nana has stated. Since its inception, the initiative has provided free pop-up community-based testing by building trust, administering tests, and tethering community members to a network of Community Health Partners (CHPs). What’s more, it has also self-funded a Student Loan Relief Fund for frontline volunteers and essential workers. The myCovidMD™ initiative has received accolades for its effectiveness in drawing the largest percentage of underrepresented minorities and refugees to testing sites seen across the country.”

Lasts

I am running a few minutes late. Never mind that I live two blocks from the dance studio, or that others come from all over the city and are already parked and warming up. We (mostly) know one another only from this space, where we gather every Sunday to move and sweat and leave our weekday identities. Here we are not moms or hair stylists or writers or social workers. Here, for two hours, we are dancers.

Ken ties the laces on his immaculate high-top kicks, turns up the volume, and takes his place in the front of class, facing the mirror. He gives a wicked smile, and we know what we have signed up for: good-natured abuse. Legs wide, we follow as his arms sweep from hips to sky. He models the quality of energy he wants us to give and we count on him to pull it out of us. Our ecstatic priest of boogie.

We reach the last movement. “Genuflect,” he says, just like he said the week before, and the weeks and years before that. “Thank your classmates for a good class. For showing up.” En masse, we step to our right, sweep our left leg behind us, stand tall with our arms extended, one toward the lobby and the other to the scuffed ceiling. We melt our bodies forward, crowns of heads bowing to wood floor, imagining ourselves princess swans. We lift our bodies, face our reflections in the mirror, and complete the movement on our left side. We stretch out the final moment; we make it last.

Walking home under the mellowing influence of my own body’s dopamine, not late for anything, I have no idea that this will be the last class. It is March 8, 2020. The e-mail comes the following week. Class cancelled.

We have all had so many “lasts” this year — last days of school and last ball games. Last words and last breaths.

For me on Sunday mornings now, I open my laptop to stream a dance class. “Shit, what’s wrong with the WiFi?” “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” Then I snap at my would-be helper, “I’m fine! Sorry. Thank you. It’s working.” Unfamiliar music plays in the background, and three dancers warm up on a black stage lit by white lights. They are barefoot, playful, and younger than me by half. In the top left corner of the screen, a number ticks up…750…800…1100…others streaming this right now. I push the square coffee table against the couch to make room. I push down my longing for the wood floor and mirror and camaraderie of real life dancers. I look at the screen, and at the tangerine trees outside my window. I reach left, then right, then close my eyes so I don’t see where I am, but only feel my movement. I imagine other people dancing alone in their living rooms, sobbing for what is missing.

What lasts?

Not the physical. My breath gives out sooner than it used to. Muscles that did not used to cramp do not forgive me for at least a week.  

What lasts? The memories, until they don’t. The photos, until they fade.

What lasts is the love for what — and who — we are missing. What lasts is the hope that they will return, even in some other form. What lasts is our miraculous human ability to adapt to what is, and keep going.

Cousins

In my mind’s eye I see the photograph that used to hang in my grandmother’s kitchen. The seven children of my generation (the California delegation), the cousins I grew up with, sit on the ivy-covered hillside of my aunt and uncle’s backyard, posed in a group before resuming our climbing. The sun has all but set, leaving enough light to see us by.

The four girls cluster together. On this occasion for some reason (maybe my aunt forewarned us there would be photographs?) my sister Marni and I wear matching dresses, a quilted design that reaches our ankles, and navy blue turtlenecks beneath. My cousin Liz sits next to me, legs crossed and hands clasped, in a red dress that reveals her knees. Sheryl, the youngest of us girls, wears her pigtails curled and tied with ribbons to match her dress. The two older boys, Marc and Michael, always a pair in those days, sit by each other’s side in corduroys, the uniform of the mid-1970’s. At the front, the youngest of our gang, four-year-old Greg peeks through straight blond hair, his mischievous smile revealing space where his front baby teeth should be, knocked out when he jumped out of a treehouse to prove his mettle.

I am seven or eight years old, and I am aware that it is the collective that matters. That I belong to something bigger. This photo with cousins — and the ritual of being asked to pose for it — imprints a message in my soul: these are your people.

These playmates are your story-bearers, your history-sharers. You will play and make up songs together, go to summer camp and sleepovers, attend each other’s birthdays and weddings. You will lose love and jobs and your hearts will break. The years will separate you by geography or politics or temperament. And yet through it all these will be your people.

The hillside on which we climb will bear witness to our family’s evolution. Our children’s footsteps will overlay the invisible imprints where ours once landed. And like our grandparents asked of our parents before us, we will ask our own kids to stop and pose, freeze just for a second. We will take their photo and tell them without words, you belong to each other.

What no one says enough is that you have to work for it. You have to claim it. That time will wear away the connections if you let it.

I pick up the phone, call your number. Your voice is there, carrying our history.

I’m still looking for the hillside cousins photo, but this one celebrating our grandparents’ 40th anniversary is another favorite from that year.
In 2015, the next generation of cousins at their great-grandmother’s 100th birthday party.


Reading Recommendation:

With the week’s focus on “cousins”, I offer you The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. One of the most fascinating, unexplored (by me) elements of this novel relates to the cousins of the story, the next generation, and the ramifications of their mothers’ choices not only on their individual lives, but on what is missed when deprived of each other. Their relationship is not the headline of this provocative novel, but is richly present throughout. My book club had a lot to say about this novel!

Sweetbitter

My word of the week is sweetbitter*– not really a word, but it should be (like these non-words and these). More apt than bittersweet, “sweetbitter” places the joyful before the sorrow.

We are in Pennsylvania for a yartzheit, a year since my father-in-law died. How can it be a year already since the world stopped, a harbinger of the whole world stopping as if in sympathy? Come Wednesday, we will go to the cemetery and face head-on the abject missing of someone so loved, so central. Come Wednesday, there will be the output of tears, reckoning with what was lost.

But before that there is snow (a thrilling gift to California boys who have been watching the weather reports and praying for this for weeks). There are borrowed sleds and a hill. There are snowballs and dogs romping. There is the ridiculous cake Aunt Jessica created — sweet with some bitter chocolate — to celebrate two January birthdays weeks gone by, because life is for celebrating even belatedly.

We are here, we are together, and we are missing. An exquisite yearning.

Death always takes us by surprise. We are never ready. We bury our heads in living. But would you want it any other way? To be asking each morning, will this be the day? We live and play and we mourn and grieve.

To be clear, it matters that a year has gone by. We have passed through every season, every birthday, every holiday without him. Each painful. “Just wait,” Jessica warned Christopher on her birthday, the first without their father. In the first days and weeks and months, the bitter won out often.

Now, out in the snow, Christopher wears his dad’s jacket and pelts the boys with fists of powder, and runs away from their response. His sister and mom see the familiar jacket and think his father is here.

In the living, in his grandsons, in the dogs galloping over to join them, he is.

Peter Heisen & Bumper, 2011

P.S. Full disclosure. I threw some snowballs, too.

* I am not the first to crave a word more sweet than bitter. “Sweetbitter” has been used by poets and podcasts and authors before me, to whom I offer thanks and credit.

Authenticity

Faces gathered in my computer screen from writing rooms across the world. An “accountability check-in” — poets, memoirists, academics, novelists, and essayists, all sharing their day’s writing goals (along with the local weather report during this latest polar vortex) before getting to work.

One writer, after describing her distant view of snow gathering on the Cascade Mountains, explained how her previous day’s work had pleased her; she had “found her way into the magic,” a road not so well marked, and her goal for that day was to find it again.

All heads bobbed up and down in our squares. I have known the absence of that magic. Last summer I felt stymied in my draft memoir. My paragraphs sounded like blah blah blah bullet points. I had forgotten how to sound like myself. Would I find my way again?

Enter our cross-country RV odyssey, a chance to get some distance from the writing project by focusing on getting my family virus-free across the Rockies in a 27-foot house. I did not look at my manuscript once. Instead, I took photos and wrote blog posts, unearthing the seemingly miss-able moments that together add up to life. The new settings after months of sameness, the lack of pressure, and my self-imposed daily deadlines, unexpectedly led me back to the voice I had been missing. Hello there, me! Long time, no see. It was such a relief to find that road again.

There’s a connection between finding that authentic voice in one’s writing and in one’s being. Both can get hidden under obligations and distractions, lost behind the wreckage of mistakes and missed turns.

“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity,” said Coco Chanel. Maybe that explains why the word “authenticity” sizzled in my ears during that writing group check-in. The past year has held some of the hardest times of my life. I have needed to know more than ever who I am, and where I stand. For people like me, accustomed to pleasing, compromising, and getting along, authenticity means finding the terra firma from which you do not waver. Owning your truth. Recognizing and resisting the swirling external forces that try to sway or dissuade you. Holding fast to your authenticity — i.e. reality, honesty, faithfulness, trustworthiness, truth — no matter how it threatens those who hold fast to a misguided mirage.

It takes practice, and thankfully practice comes in many forms. Meditation, which starts with putting your feet on the ground to feel a connection to the earth. Or yoga. My teacher, Nicole, watches us through zoom and cues us to take the position of Warrior I and gently reminds us, “your back foot will want to pull away. Press down, and feel the mat press against your whole foot, grounding so you can reach your arms strong and high.”

Authenticity breeds authenticity. Finding it in myself will not guarantee its appearance in my writing, but it helps me recognize when it appears, and when something lesser is trying to butt in. And I know where to look for help: in breaks from the ordinary, in nature, in reading the voices of my favorite writers who sound only like themselves — Anne Lamott, say, or Aimee Bender. Like these authors do for my writing, we can do for each other in living: “When you show up authentic, you create the space for others to do the same.” (Anonymous)

May you honor your authenticity, and surround yourself with others — at a safe distance, virtually, or on the page — who bring it out in you.

__

P.S. Book recommendation: The Authenticity Project, by Clare Pooley

I learn more about human nature from a good novel than almost any self-help tome, and in searching for a book on authenticity, I came across a New York Times bestselling novel I can’t wait to read: The Authenticity Project, by Clare Pooley. What happens when six strangers decide to tell their truths in anonymous journal entries written in a single green notebook? Something that looks like happiness. It is a “feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits” (Washington Post), and a “warm, charming tale about the rewards of revealing oneself, warts and all” (People). Warmth, charm, and lifted spirits sounds right to me.

(I link to Bookshop.org, which supports indie booksellers and gives readers a discount, but you can also find this title wherever books are sold. wink wink.)