A Selfish Lent, An Easter of Joy

It’s been a selfish Lent, and I liked it that way.

While the rest of the Catholic world pined and prayed away their 40 days on sacrifice, obligation, “giving it up to the Lord,” and fasting on their human favorite goodies like alcohol, chocolate, and bad words, I’ve done something I’ve never done before: I made a whole new life for myself.

That’s right.  I put into action the plan I’ve had for years and finally did my 40 days of genuine ministry in the topic that draws me ever closer in enraged fascination: sexual violence.  It’s time, it being Holy Saturday, and the Easter Vigil tonight, to share what I’ve done, how I did it, and why I’m giving up giving things up for Lent in lieu of putting into action a new course of living.

One of the first memories I had of Lent as a child was being given a cardboard box to donate all my coins and extra change during the forty days leading up to Easter.  Because of my late February birthday, I always received money in the mail and carried around a guilty conscience that I should give my money into the donation box.  I did.  Every year.  Whatever birthday money I received, I folded it up and pushed it through the skinny slot so children in some other part of the world could eat for the next few months.  The unknown person got a bowl of rice, I got my birthday cake and mom’s homemade lasagna.  Seemed like I should be happy with that deal.

But I wasn’t.  And I wasn’t a spoiled child.  I rarely received money and I didn’t spend it.  There were no allowances to save, so anytime money came across my way, I would save it for something special that I wanted.  But I dreaded Lent because of it’s inevitable alignment with my birthday.  It was the one day of the year that I wanted to do what I wanted, a day that I could do and be all the things I wanted with no apology or reason.  But Lent curbed that for me as a child.  This was my introduction to Lent and to the concept of charity: it forced me to give up the one day I waited for all year.

Lent is often focused on the solemnity.  The suffering.  The human darkness that temporarily triumphs the supposedly inherent light in us.  The words ring like bells repent, make way, offering, repent, sacrifice, repent, repent, repent.

A lifetime of growing up Catholic with Catholic rituals, prayers, and worship service formed my conscience to be acutely and painfully aware of suffering.  It wasn’t until natural adult maturation that I begun to understand Lent in the context of my own strengths and limitations: charity never made sense to me.  Giving the extra never made the impact that I always wanted to see.

For me, the depth of poverty and corrupt infrastructure of leaders and politicians evaporated whatever hope I experienced from volunteerism and random acts of kindness.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the necessity and power of charity and sharing resources with the marginalized.  But 35 Lenten seasons later, I no longer found it moving to simply stop drinking soda and going to mass an extra day of the week to feel a deeper connection to something Larger than myself.

When I began the Dear Sister anthology, I shied away from revealing that much of it came from my desire to do something with my faith.  The focus on the anthology is on survivors and their stories, admitting or narrating my story felt and feels distracting.  Beside the point.  Needlessly detailed.  But in processing it these past few months, it’s essential to stop hiding faith and begin living it in the most authentic way we can imagine.  Lent, for me, needed to go beyond sacrifice.  It had to be about creating something.

I formatted the book tour to reveal my innermost longings about life and faith: activating community members to care.  The dialogues were facilitated in a way that I hoped to radicalize the notion that non-surviving community members and allies were, essentially, the heart of transformation.  Their ability to listen, believe, and love is the only way forward in eradicating sexual violence.  What other way could there be?  And  yet, over and over, the communities did not understand this.  Still, the onus and responsibilities of transforming the world to a more peaceful and just existence fell on the ability of survivors to tell their story and be labeled “strong.”  Their choice to report, not ability to heal, is the focal point of justice.  Their health and safety is secondary to their willingness to cooperate with state’s notions of jurisprudence.

For this Lent, I decided to create the conversations that I thought would uplift the survivors and help heal communities so they are stronger and able to more readily address the issue of power and sexuality in their communities.

Perhaps it was my unwillingness to give up meat on Fridays, or maybe it was the my shrinking belief in the veracity of the gospel, but I decided to create a new Lenten practice for myself and speak what I wanted to speak, step out of the cave of fear and assumption that someone else would do the work and just do it myself.  I had to.  Not only was the orthodox Lenten practice boring me, it was killing my spirit.  I decided to take this Lent to live the way I wanted my life to be lived: truly for others.

I made this Lent about me.   Me serving others, not me giving up pleasures.  In some ways it was selfish.  And it never felt so good.  A new Lent made a new Easter.  The renewal I experienced was not shiny or even pretty.  Folks forget that rising from the dead isn’t all glory for the rest of us.  Death’s stench lingers until we fully escape the tomb, and only than does the open wind cleanse us.

I am emerging from this tomb and leaving behind tattered garments of a woman who worked for the church, who prioritized the feelings of others over the well-being of the marginalized.  My Easter is not of sunshine and sweetness, but of an earthy grit that comes from digging out of that grave, a smell of soil and sweat, and even a little bit of brokenness, still.  It is an Easter of joy, of smeared dirt marks on my face, and exhaustion beyond bodily fatigue.

This is me crawling out of my cave.


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Day 13 of Book Tour: Anger Comes with Safety

One thing I didn’t expect was the anger.  First came love.  Flooding everything afterward, the anger came.

I made it to southern California, a surprising haven for me.  Most of the people I know in the midwest and east coast tend to generalize SoCal with broad, unfair strokes tainting it with the superficiality of Hollywood.  For me, though, SoCal has always been a place for family, healing fun, and roomfuls of laughter.

When I got to LA, my family here immediately greeted me in typical Filipino fashion: a big party with lots of food and plenty of loving attention.  After so many days in hotel rooms, other people’s apartments, and every kind of mode of transportation – to be surrounded by love gave me a sense of relief.  A relaxing that I didn’t know I needed.

What I didn’t expect to find today was the anger.  An uncomfortable realization of how angry I am at the world for not caring about the people and things I care about.  In almost a childlike way, obstinate with no reason, I feel stubbornly inflexible about wanting others to care about sexual violence, communities, and healing.  After meeting so many contributors, and reflecting upon how many survivors of rape and sexual violence are already in my life, I felt nauseatingly angry.  It came in waves.  They were powerful and unrelenting.

I’m tired. And that’s when I’m easily overcome by unmanageable anger.  It happens late at night, like now, when I find no solace in the stars or the mystery of life.  The anger comes when I am in the company of survivors who have worked nearly their entire lives learning how to love themselves and others again, and in their company, realize how few people truly do that kind of work – survivor or not – and how necessary that process is to undertake.  I grew angry in the reality that the world has ignored the voices of so many, turned its back on the vulnerable, and forgotten about the ones who didn’t survive at all.  The simple unfairness got to me tonight.

I think I’m reacting out of love.  I genuinely love the contributors that I have met and spent time with face to face.  I’ve poured over their work for years and now, meeting them in person, has generated a warm connection to each person that I meet.  In getting to know them, I realize that most of them have been raped and/or abused, and the realization comes in waves again – very different than editing their work on the page – that pierces my heart with an acute sense of injustice and confusion.

How can this kind of trauma exist?  How did they live through it?  Even after all this time, I still can’t fathom the strength to move beyond the unimaginable pain and betrayal some of the contributors have experienced.  I knew all these things before through their literary writing, but not with my heart.  To hear them read their work puts the anthology in a new level of meaning and existence.  It is a living, breathing entity; a collection of hearts and souls and thoughts and tears.  It is a living book of stories.

Realizing that I am loved and safe with my family here frees me to feel what comes.  What came today was the anger.  The anger that rape exists. It is in existence.  Right now, as I type this, someone is being raped.  And that’s another person who would need to read the anthology, and that enrages me.  I must be the only writer in the world who wishes no one wanted or needed to read her book.  I must be the only writer in the world who actively works to make her own work irrelevant because that would mean the end of sexual violence.  I must be the only writer in the world who wishes her book wasn’t needed in the way that it is.

The anger comes.

How do you know you love someone?  For me, today, I know I love someone when I feel anger at the injustice of their suffering and pain.  I do not take on other’s trauma or process, but I love the people I am meeting on this book tour.  I love them.  And that love leads me to a place of deep reflection and sadness.  Although the book is about hope, I had to rake out the trauma.  Sometimes I think it is trapped inside me.

The anger comes.


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Day 12 of the Book Tour: Everything, Especially Life, is DIY

I’ve got one week left.  In one week, I’ll be on plane flying home to Cleveland.  The west coast sweep of the book tour will be over.  Years of thinking, months of planning have gone into each event and then, poof, it will all be a memory.

I’ve never been on a book tour and I had to figure out how to do it.  It was all DIY.  Makes sense.  The book itself was a DIY from the start.  I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud: I finished it.  It may have taken 13 years, it may have consumed the last 4 years of my life, but I finished it.  I’m in an exhausted state right now, unsure what my next steps are going to be, half praying that somehow those steps will reveal themselves to me.

But  I know better than to do that half prayer.  I know that things most important in our lives are never revealed to us, they must be explored with tireless curiosity.  And then built.

I built Dear Sister not just for you, but for myself.  It’s a space where I wanted to learn about the intersection of complexity and love.  It has not disappointed.


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Day 11 of Dear Sister Book Tour: Thoughts from the Road

I’ve been on the road.  Two pieces of luggage full of old clothes and fresh books right off the press.  The books are all the same title.  It’s my book.  It’s a collection of letters, poetry, and prose I put together about four years ago.  It’s taken this long to get it out in the world, and it’s taken this long to get myself out into public spaces to talk about it.

I often struggle with how to talk about rape.  There are so many ways I can talk about it – prevention, healing, justice, trauma, community, global epidemic, silence, culture – that I find myself, sometimes, at a loss for words.  I fill the spaces I’m in with words, yes, but the real words, the ones I have been searching for for a long a time, still, have not yet arrived.  It saddens and worries me.  I hope those words come.  I crave the process that will give me the insights, but I can’t have them now.  I’m still IN it. Therefore I can’t have an insight in what is still occurring.  The process can only be an afterward.  This simple statement frustrates me, too.  I want to have my own words, not the ones on repeat that come automatically during the Q&A.  They are genuine, but those words don’t reveal the complexity I am experiencing. There is so much complexity.

There is a time for hope and a time for brokenness.  Oddly, during this book tour, I’ve found that I can be both; my body can handle being both.  It’s usually the people that populate the world that can’t handle the duality.  It truly is extraordinary, our need to know if we are one thing or another.  ”Both” — is countercultural.  Being more than one thing is too much, too difficult to grasp.

But not for me.

There is a joy and brokenness I feel on this book tour. A solemn understanding of the gravity of what I am bringing into the spaces I am presenting or facilitating.  It’s like a permanent twilight in my soul.  A dimming of the day that never happened.  That is what violence and trauma have done to us.  And, still, the joy of meeting the contributors whose work has occupied my life for years now is a wonder to experience.  They bring their pieces to life, to an emotional level of existence that could not be enlivened by the page or screen.  There is something projected by the actuality of a person; their voice, skin, they way their eyes scan their page, and then look up, open their mouths, and tell a story that is true.  A story of violence.  A story of survival.  A story that birthed itself out of their minds and onto the page for the world to consume.

It’s a joy and sorrow I cannot explain.

I keep saying to myself that I’ll find the words.  Maybe the words will come tomorrow.  Maybe the words will come at the next event.  Maybe.


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2014 8th Annual State of the Self Address

I delivered this talk in an unprecedented way this year.  My annual birthday reflection was given at the very end of a reading and talk I was giving in Seattle about the anthology, to a packed house at Black Coffee Coop where they laughed, clapped, and wildly cheered and say Happy Birthday.  The lyrical parts of the essay – I actually SANG them  into the mic.  Me!  My terrible singing voice.  Fear, be gone.  I did it!  I gave the address to a crowd.  Bucket list shortened.

The other day I caught a lyrical moment while I was cleaning.  That iconic song was playing, “to everything, turn turn turn. There is season turn turn turn.”  Nearly everyone knows it.  It’s based a popular Ecclesiastes passage in scripture that poeticizes that for everything in life, there is a season.

As I was folding laundry, I found myself singing along, “A time of love, a time of hate, a time of war, a time of peace.”  My attention drifted in and out of the song, and at one particular moment when I drifted in, the lyrics are “a time to rend, a time to sow.”  But when I heard is a “time to wren, a time to sow.”

The actual lyrics say a time to:

To rend R-E-N-D is to shred something violently into pieces.

Sow. Would put all of that back together.

But what I heard is a time to

Wren. W-R-E-N. Meaning the small, brown-feathered songbird with a perky head.  Although a noun, I thought turning wren into a verb was a clever way to communicate a time to fly.  Since the music group who sang this classic song was called The Byrds, I figured this is what they meant.  At time to fly.  It made sense.

To sow, I thought it meant a time to cultivate the soil, to till the earth.

As I look back on the past year, on what 34 revealed to me, I think it was year to rend. R-E-N-D.  The ever growing matrix of raising a 4 year old in this world that would love nothing more than to squeeze out every gentle, creative, non-linear tendency rends my zealous ambition to preserve and develop it.  The razorblades of rejection letters from online publications, magazines, and journals rend my delicate tongue as a writer.  Simply existing sometimes rends my dreams of love, justice, healing, and simply allowing myself to be imperfect in a dangerously hypocritical world that is itself flawed but seeks to emotionally persecute and criminalize the imperfect.

To rend R-E-N-D is where 34 began, but it didn’t end there.

Tonight.  Tonight I stand before you in my time of wren – W-R-E-N – flying, soaring. being a person who has finally come into her own song, as someone who decided that I’m finished tilling the soil.  It’s time to wren.  It’s time to fly.

Tonight my flight comes full circle, as I stand here in Seattle, the very place where, 13 years ago I ruminated about a thought I had for a book that may help survivors of rape and sexual violence know that they are not alone.  Tonight I stand before you as its anthologist, a person who emerged out of the ideas of “maybe someday I will do that” and into the light of “I did that.”  I am 35 years full of beauty and brokenness.

I believe that, as woman of color activist by quilt trade, Carolyn Mazloomi, once said of her decision to pursue quilting as her life craft, “I left my job to quilt because I believed I deserve a life of joy.  I deserve to go after my dreams.”

I believe I deserve a life of joy.  And as a women of color declaring that I deserve the opportunity, the unequivocal moment to express who I am without backing down in fear of racism, sexism, kyriarchy, catcalling, harassment, mockery, heckling, or anything else to silence the voice that I have come to know and love as my own for the past 35 years, yes, I believe I deserve a moment to say I deserve a life of joy.

I believe you do deserve that, too.

This is my song.  This is me.  This is 35, a time, indeed, to WREN. W-R-E-N.


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A Book Tour about Communities, Listening, Sexual Violence, and Rape

The past month has been a blur of dreams.  Hard dreams coming true.  Pain blossoming into sweet petals of healing.

Conceptualizing the idea of this anthology began 13 years ago.  Call for submission, editing, book proposal, negotiating, waiting, galley reviews, begging for blurbs, outreaching on the branches of favors from good hearted writers and journalists and feminist-hearted media makers — all that took four years.

I’m going on a journey and I hope you come with me.  I’m going to promote the anthology all over the country.  I’m going to have discussions and workshops about why sexual violence is the global epidemic that it is.  I’m going to ask communities if they understand how to listen and heal themselves so they can help survivors heal as well.

I’m going on a journey to listen to and learn and offer the anthology as a tool to understand rape and sexual abuse from the eyes of the contributors.

Come with me.  Let’s do this together.


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The Great Irony of 2014

New Year’s Eve is the microcosm of life.

I love New Year’s Eve.  It’s this holiday that I think perfectly sums up how life is perceived by most people: expectations are high, expectations rest on others to make it exceptional, and when things turn out mediocre, the conclusion is that New Year’s Eve is anti-climatic.  Folks miss the part that New Year’s Eve is all about what YOU put into it, how you make the night what you want it to be, putting in the energy and time to make it exceptional, and then deciding to BE what you want as the change happens.

I’ve been thinking about NYE for weeks.  Every year for the past decade I’ve always chosen a theme, a word to think about throughout the year.  Last year it was “Relationships” which reminded me to constantly put it in first in my life.  To show up.  Make others know how important they are to me.  What I learned about that theme in 2013 is this: you can’t decide to make a relationship better or deeper if you don’t tell the other person that that is your objective.  Relationships are two way streets.  One person deciding something doesn’t necessarily make it different.  I learned that after the disappointment set in after I did go out of my way to be an extraordinary friend, daughter, sister, mother, partner, employee to someone else and then walked away with a feeling that something was lopsided.

For the first time, I don’t really have a word that’s resonating.  I just have the feeling and even the handful of words that come to mind land around, not on, what I’m thinking about.

The best that I can do is this: 2014′s theme is COMMITTED.

Not to be confused with COMMIT.

The latter assumes a certain level of indecision, as if I have not yet done so and sounds more like a memo to change a behavior.  ”Committed” is somewhat of a salute to 2013, the arguably most difficult year I’ve ever lived thus far.  2013 was the year that I was forced to really think about who I want to be, what I want to do, where I want to go, and then wait until the time was right for it to happen.  2013 was the year that trained my mind and spirit to go after what I want, but physically had to wait until 2014 to make it happen.  It was excruciating like that.  Like consciously being alive and exuberant but physically being in a coma.  That’s what 2013 was like

So I know what I’m about and I have 2013 to thank for that.  Which makes 2014 the year of The Doing, The Actualizing, The Making It Happen, The Going For It.

2014 Committed to the 2013 decisions:

1. I’m a writer. This means I have to write.

That might sound crazy but fellow writers understand.  There are infinite ways to not write and believe that you actually are writing.  And what an excuse I’ve had in 2013 not to write: my boook is coming out.  I have turned into a project manager and publicityhound preparing for the launch.  Writing moved to the back burner.  2013 was all like, “Go write. Go write. Go write.” while my body was like, “I can’t. I have to revise the introduction.”  ”I can’t.  I have a block.” Or the realities of raising a child, needing to exercise or sleep or eat won over the decision to write.  Screw it.  I’m turning 35 this year.  I once heard you need to spend 10,000 hours before you’re really good at something.  I need to focus on what I truly want and what I truly want is to be an extraordinary writer.

2.  There is enough time as long as you spend it wisely.

The CRAZE of appointments, parties, work, children, obligations is normalized like life is supposed to be nothing but a series of things you attend or do, instead of BE.  Why do folks live like there’s a social apocalypse right around the corner? I’m organizing better, committed to the things that I know sustain a healthy existence.

3. Clean eating.

I love food and I’m really tired of people obsessing about diets, restricting, and treating food like it’s this alluring siren with irresistible temptation.   We project our problems and frustrations on food.  We personify it as if has it’s own intention and personality to justify the often powerlessness people experience with eating.  But I don’t think we were created to be miserable about flavor and taste.  Food is so beautiful and celebratory.  Sacred even.  Cooking is an therapeutic art and what we consume either heals us or harms us.  I’m choosing healing.

4.  Uplift others.

The world is drowning in hate, scorn, sarcasm, cheap thoughts, and a quiet undercurrent of menace.  Who needs another person pretending they have all the answers, or another sarcastic tweeter, or another reckless and lazy writer, or another coward in the rat race?  The high road has always been there.  That’s my ride.

5.  Write about God.

About every other day in 2013 I felt the urge to write about God.  I’m a spiritual person, I know what it means if a reoccurring thought won’t leave you alone for a year.  It’s kind of obvious that’s what you should do.  But in 2013 I just let the thoughts come. I observed the frequency and what feeling accompanied the thought.  It was fear.  I hesitate to write about God because I don’t really like reading other people’s thoughts or theories about God.  Maybe that’s connected to my desire to write about God since I am so dissatisfied by what is being currently written.  I don’t have an agenda, just the commitment to write.

6.  Be where you are.  Right now.

2013 was spent in either the future, the past, or a place that was rarely reflected in that very moment.  Maybe it was a coping mechanism.  Maybe I was just that busy.  Maybe I was too afraid to face my everyday.  I’m not sure, but I do know that life is about deciding to forego what you don’t want and simply taking another path.  This is so hard for me to do because I struggle with perfectionism, expectations of life, and when things don’t happen the way they are “supposed to happen,” my conclusion is that it’s not good enough, or I’m not good enough, or the person in front of me isn’t good enough.  Judgement leads to callous behaviors.  That’s the last place I want to be.

7.  Choose what you really, REALLY want. Not what you want.

I want a billion things.  But what I really, REALLY want is probably about 18.  Prioritize.  No more excuses.  Shed what is unnecessary and holds you back: ghosts, mishaps, expectations, missed boats, grudges, need for “closure” (as if life is a neat and orderly chronicle of sensible stories).

8. Unceasingly, express the truth.

I spent too much time in 2013 opting for a watered down version of the truth or what made another person feel more comfortable.  I don’t think I need to hide what I genuinely believe, even if it’s unfavorable or difficult, as long as I can deliver it respectfully.  The rest is up to them.

9.  Have faith in people.

I lost my faith in people last year.  Shortcomings and flaws were more prominent than their inherent goodness and effort.  It was too easy to be jaded and although I tried “to be positive,” it only led me to feel like a phony because I didn’t FEEL positive on the inside.  Perceived forgetfulness, selfishness, and self-consumption ate away at me.  I know it will continue to do so in 2014, but my energy will be directed on putting out in the world whatever remedies the ills that I find so disheartening.

10. Pray anyway.

Something shifted last year.  I’ve always experienced spiritual connection in the same way until 2013.  I had moments of great connection but something happened in my spiritual life.  I’m not hearing or experiencing in the same way.  I’m searching for its replacement but have come up empty.  Rather than drawing the conclusion that God doesn’t exist or that I must have done something to piss God off, I’m going to assume that I’ve changed and my communication patterns need to updated as well.  It’s like God and I have dead cell phones and I keep screaming into mine, “ARE YOU THERE OR WHAT?”  Maybe it’s time for a face to face visit.  Or letter writing.  Or service.  Something different to pray my way back into a regular conversation with my inner Power.

11.  Enjoy life for its full sensuality.

The tiny burst of a grape.  The sound of four in Isaiah’s voice.  Waiting for the right moment before I snap the shutter on my camera.  Taking time to look up words that I don’t understand.  Being affectionate.  Sitting with a new poet.

And after all this, last night when Nick and I got home from my sister’s place, we plopped in front of the couch at 11:10pm, wondering, again for the umpteenth time, what are our true feelings for Ryan Seacrest when Nick got a headache closed his eyes and I, still wrapped in my long winter coat , decided to watch GirlCode on MTV.

Since I was about five, I’ve never missed the Times Square ball drop and have made a vow I will see it by 2020 in New York.  But this year, at 11:40pm, I switched to ABC and snuggled into my huge coat which now felt like a warm blanket.  The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to Ryan Seacrest saying, “Isn’t this the party of the year?”  The confetti was whirling and I wildly looked for evidence that I still had time.  (It didn’t occur to me to check a clock.)  Since there was no chaos, I figured I still had time.  But I then heard Frank Sinatra, “It’s up to YOU, New York, Newww Yooooorkk!” which only plays after the new year has rung in.  I grabbed my phone and saw 12:03am with texts reading HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I yelled at sleeping Nick, “WE MISSED IT!  WE MISSED THE BALL DROP!  I’VE NEVER MISSED THE BALL DROP SINCE I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD.  I MISSED THE BALL DROP!”

Nick, in some dreamy state hears my screaming and thinks the house is on fire, jumps up and out of the couch, “What’s the matter?  What’s going on?”

“WE F***** MISSED THE BALL DROP!  WE MISSED IT!  WE MISSED IT!”

He calmly laid back down and rearranged the Ohio State blanket on his long legs, “Oh shoot!”

Shoot?  That’s all he has to say?

He looks at me, “Happy New Year!”

A bit of 2013 edginess clung in my throat and I sarcastically replied, “HAAAAAAPPPY NEW YEAR!”

And then I remembered one of my committed decisions to let things go.  Stop lingering on what cannot be fixed.  Stop wishing for the boat that has long since set sail.  Those habits do nothing for me.

The fact that this challenge came precisely at 12:03am, three minutes into 2014 caused me to laugh out loud and shake my head.  The challenge to be committed to my decisions began with my sleeping through what I had been waiting for all holiday season.  I missed it and the minutes of 2014 were moving forward.  Life continues.  Every second of the new year was happening and I couldn’t believe I slept through the first three minutes.  The champagne bottle was still corked.  My winter coat still on and hiding my sparkly shirt underneath.  I wasn’t ready.  I was late.  I missed it.

I laughed again.  Nick probably thought I was hallucinating with anger.  I shook my head and stood up, the challenging thought raised to 2014′s ironic beginning, “So, this is how it’s going to be?”

And with this writing, I let it go.


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Stop Asking Me for my Favorite Things


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The Artistic Difference Between Selfies and Selftraits

I’m not up in arms over Jezebel’s latest debacle calling “selfies” nothing but a degrading digital act of vanity, making people focus on beauty and nothing else.

As a writer and photographer, I woefully disagree.  The beauty about photography, and why it pairs so elegantly with writing, is it’s wordless power to share truth.  It generates engagement through image so words aren’t necessary.  For me, it’s not about waving your techie arms for attention, but a manifestation of one’s creative lens.  Why should we not document ourselves?  As a photographer, I rarely let anyone use my camera, which means I have few photos of myself.

Taking selftraits can be a meditative look into one’s soul.  It conjures emotion, memory, and documents who we were at one moment in our fleeting dust of our lives.  Categorizing “selfies” as nothing but cheap uploads may be the trend, but selftraits have been going on throughout history.  Writing one’s story, photographing one’s body or face?  These are tactics of survival, annotation, so we are remembered on our own terms.

There’s a difference between these photos.  Even without the explanation, I think it’s clear what’s what.


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The Writer’s Id, Ego, and Super Ego

Over the weekend I ran into someone I knew from college.  Someone who went on to become a physician and married a lawyer and wore really nice clothes with a cool, slick satin tie.  As we exchanged expected pleasantries, and that pause came, signaling questions were coming I braced myself:

So, Lisa, what do you do?

In a world that is bombarded by measurements of worth by production, degrees, and credentials, I knew his reaction before I even said the words: I’m a writer.

Eyelids disappear, brows temporarily move in with his receding hairline before slowly coming down with the forced, “ooookay!” Like I had just said I was at a drug pusher. Like how a physician would communicate, “Right on! Good for you, kind of.”

And as we talked about his house and private practice, his wonderful kids, and wonderfully stable life as a physician I wondered if he would ask what I love most about MY life and it’d be something like, “I love my partner and our son.  I’m chasing my dreams and the wild part is that they are on this crazy ride WITH me.  We’re happy and still searching for who we want to be.”

But I didn’t want to risk his eye sockets cracking under the disbelief so I just smiled and nodded as he spoke.  He wasn’t being disingenuous.  He was kind but it was clear that a life of creativity is equivalent to a life of chaos and disruption. No plan, no stability, no firm anything.

*Shrug.*  I know.  I kind of like it that way.

And yet, as I explained to Nick, it’s still hard for me to accept the creative road.  When so much of my life I WAS cultivating myself for a life of a physician (I was going to deliver babies all over the world in underdeveloped regions and no access to healthcare) or a lawyer (human rights, of course).  But instead, for today, I chose to be a writer.  I chose this pathless life of daily grassroots existence and wiping mud off my face from rejection and critical feedback.  What I most struggle with, though, is my ego.  Like most writers do. Like any writer does.  I struggle with the need to know that what I have inside me is worth sharing.

It’s ironic to be a writer.  It’s what you want to do more than anything and yet the uprooting of that truth is so painful and so consuming, you’ll do anything to NOT do the work.  And after the years it took to come forward and present myself to the world, I find that I need affirmation.  The desire to write is NOT enough.  It’s ego.  The desire to have your work distributed, known, respected, studied, analyzed, read, considered.

The professional life still beckons me.  To this day, I can’t read about human rights law programs without feeling a dagger in the heart.  When I was pregnant, I asked my OB/GYN if any older women attended medical school.  She nodded excitedly, “It’s hard, but it’s possible!”  It occurs to me on a daily basis that when one chooses to write, it’s one decision that cancels out every other viable life that would carry a great potential for a life on a sure trajectory.  It would be the exam you knew you could pass.  The purchase you wouldn’t need a receipt for because you know you’d never need to return it.

Writing is not any of those things.

Writing, unfortunately, manifests itself in a process that most of us, by nature, typically avoid.  The emotional ground work to create something true and resonating with our fellow humans means we have to live a bi-existence.  On one hand, you have to live in the world: buy groceries, endure DMV waiting lines, trip on sidewalk cracks, and fidget with broken belts just like everyone else.  And yet we have to maintain enough distance and quiet to be able to create an alternate universe to the world in hopes to write a book, poem, essay, or article that will help others realize an inner truth they didn’t know about themselves.

There are days I wish I had gone to med school or taken the LSAT to see if Could/Should have gone to law school.  But I know if I did switch places and magically be in that life, I know deep inside there’d be – not a roar (because that’d actually be delightfully promising) – but the whimpering sound of a dying darling girl who dreamed in words and couldn’t wait to rewrite the ending of stories she didn’t like.

I chose writing because it was my only true love.  I chose writing because it was my only real choice.  And for some reason that made the decision both easy and painfully difficult.


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