What I Can Tell You in 7 Minutes

Having people or publications you respect express their admiration of your work is a great gift. Seeing a project begin to take shape in your hands can give you the last burst of excitement you need to make it to the finish. There is no substitute for good friends. And friends that send good mail should never be let go. Seeing others give the gift of their stories and presence on a stage before strangers is the ultimate inspiration. Sometimes people think you are helping them, but the opportunity to contribute gives you something they can't imagine.

This Bud's for Me

I've been studying these marigold blooms in the evenings on my fire escape, when my children are in bed, the dishes are done, and the light is still hanging on a little longer.  When I saw this bud, I thought, that's me.  It's easy to compare myself to friends unfolding in their splendor all around me; it's effortless for me to make it mean that I'll never catch up or I'll never get there.  I'm growing too slowly, or I'm not the blooming kind.  These thoughts do not have to be sought out or invited into my company--they loiter always in the corner and butt-in at will. What does take effort is to look at how far I've come.  Out of the seed, up through the soil.  It's an act of attention to notice the stem and its strength, the leaves I've grown to sustain me.  It takes faith to see the tiny tips of orange peeking out and to trust that my own kind of beauty is coming, and that I will unfold in my own time.

A Category for "I Love Your Guts"

Photo: potato heads and pieces, Diana F+ It was years ago when I was sitting in a room with a group of people who were engaged in an inquiry about authenticity, that one man got up and began to tell the story of how he had done something so heinous to another person that we would usually shrink back or lock one up behind bars for such a confession.  He was ashamed, and frightened to be so exposed in front of so many, but this thing was not going to let him go until he cleaned it up and left it behind.  He wasn't making any justifications or excuses, he was seeing and understanding the harm he had done and he was completely broken over it. 

I wasn't shrinking back, I was leaning forward.  I wasn't locating evil over there with him, I was seeing my own humanity in his eyes and I was filled with compassion.  He went on to tell about how he had called the woman he had hurt, so long ago, and how she forgave him.  I watched the forgiveness undo and then mend his soul, right before my eyes. 

I had been frightened, too, when he began to speak--I always was when anyone pulled back the curtain on their true selves, because I thought that some cruel abandonment was surely looming.  But I learned that day that I, too, could be brave.  That I might tell it the way it really is and magically find the room filled with love and not judgment.

I forgot that story, until yesterday when Phyllis told me another one like it.  She told me about a mentor who would point out this phenomenon in one of her groups.  When authenticity broke through like a ray of light through the clouds, he would say to them, "Look at this face. Have you ever seen such beauty?"  He would do this with men and women alike, and he challenged them all:  dare to be beautiful.  When we pull back the curtain, when authenticity breaks through, we are stunned by the beauty of the human soul.  It's sacred.  It's holy.

Phyllis and I talked about this kind of love for a long time.  It's distinctive from friendship because it doesn't really require a past or all the other kinds of knowing that friendship entails.  It's a kind of love that stirs you, wakes you up inside.  A kind that makes you want to reach out and take someone's hand or fold them into your arms or just look into their eyes in a way that says, I see you.  I know. Or, amen.

Classic movies like When Harry Met Sally have long occupied themselves with that old tennis match: friends or lovers?  Friends or lovers?  But I was so relieved when Phyllis told me these things.  "Thank you," I said.  "I just needed a category to put that in."  And I knew I wasn't the only one. 

This is an occupational hazard of doing authenticity work, whether you're a storyteller or an artist or even the rare scholar.  You can't help being wakened by the beauty of others' souls, or falling in love over and over again.

"It's really sad, isn't it," Phyllis replied, "that we don't have a category for I Love Your Guts."  Yes, I said. It's time for that to change.

A Good Way to Shut People Down

When we moved to Brooklyn, I didn't expect it to be easy, but still I was surprised at how brutal our introduction was. My girls were three years old, and four months old. I was coming off a C-section, and I'd been sick with some virus or another since Lucy was born. When we boarded the plane, both girls and I were fighting stomach viruses and colds. Simultaneously. I was nursing. We arrived in the dark on a cold Sunday night in March. Justin picked out our apartment alone while I was putting our house in Colorado on the market, so I hadn't seen our new home yet. Seeing it that first night was tricky because the electric company was working in the street and our building was completely without power when we arrived to inspect it. I walked into the entryway with the girls, and every possession that hadn't gone in the moving truck, and the hallway suddenly filled up with flashlights and voices. Our neighbors had come out to introduce themselves. There's nothing more reassuring than disembodied voices in the dark, right? Someone loaned us a flashlight. I accepted reluctantly, worried that it was an imposition. I helped the girls up the precarious staircase that felt downright treacherous in the darkness. After "seeing" the apartment, mostly by street light, we rushed to the store to buy the air mattresses that would be our only furnishings for the week, until our moving truck arrived the following weekend. My husband went to work the next morning (the rest of us were still horribly ill and stumbled out in search of toilet paper), and he was kept an hour and a half late in meetings. I saw the neighbors again, in the light where I met their faces. A family below us had a young son and seemed excited to have more children in the building. Emma offered to watch the girls for us when the movers arrived. I thought she was being polite. Then she offered again a couple days later and I considered the possibility that she really meant it. The baby was pretty stationary, but my three-year-old would have trouble staying out of the way as movers carried heavy loads blindly through two entrances. So I accepted. I think I went back to get her three hours later, but Emma says it felt more like twenty minutes. (It was at least two hours.) I was worried about imposing,leaving her so long that they'd regret offering and never do it again. When I knocked on the door, Emma asked, "Are you sure?" Movers were still filing in and out. But I was at the limit of what I was able to receive. "Yes," I said. I thought I was not overstaying our welcome, but when Emma and I tell the story now I realize that "whisking" my daughter away made Emma feel like we didn't trust them. It took me a year to confess to her how difficult it was for me to receive that gift, how I couldn't even believe they really meant it--100 percent and all day long, if necessary. It took two years for me to learn how my "manners" really made her feel. I'm really thankful that our friendship survived that hard day, and I'm sad that my struggle to receive shuts down the people offering me real and true gifts. When someone offers me anything that is hard for me to accept, I remember Emma on moving day. I say, "Thank you." And then I say, "Yes."

Taking Time to Integrate

Today I'm swimming in to-do lists.  Some things, like purchasing food, seem more urgent than others.  Some of the work needs to wait until next week while I reconnect with my friends.  I spent three of the last four weeks traveling or hosting company, I've performed stories live the last two nights in a row, and I'm so far out of my routine that it's hard to know where to start. So I think I'll begin with a cup of coffee, and if I'm feeling ambitious, a shower.  I think I'll define a successful day today as one in which I mail my packages and put away the rest of the laundry.  I'll give my mind another day off.  I've taken in so much new information that I'll do well to write some notes about the stories I don't want to forget and then just try to move my body (run, walk, sweep, scrub) until it catches up and I've integrated the stories into every cell. Times like this used to stress me out.  I would feel anxious until everything was "just so" and "on schedule" again.  But now it feels good to just breathe and to just be.  I'm thinking that maybe the schedule is overrated.  For me, this is a very good sign.