Too Much AND Not Enough AND Just Right

I attended the retreat that I won as a result of writing THIS essay called A Heavy Heart. You might need to scroll down to the middle of the page past a video if you want to read the essay.

I  returned late on Sunday, and I am been thinking about it so much. What was it? It was too much and it was not enough. It seemed like everything and not one thing I could accurately describe. Was it just what I needed? I don't know what I needed, yet I do know that other people's stories save me over and over and over again. In reading and hearing them, I am reminded that mine, too, is worth telling. 

It was in the shower this morning that I realized that for so long, I thought what I wanted was to tell my story to you, but really, what I am attempting is to tell my story to MYSELF. I want to hold it in my hands and say, "Here, I did this. I did this part of my life and I tried to makes sense of it and see myself  more clearly."  There is a difference, I think. 

I write and share in the hopes that someone, anyone, might think, "Me too!" or, " I've never thought of it that way", but really when it comes down to it, I am simply trying to tell myself what happened and how I felt in the most honest and clear way. I get in my way all the freaking time with fancy adjectives and ulterior motives of blowing up the wrong thing when it was that quiet little thing that really got me and steered me onto the next right path. Life and writing are fraught with tiny landmines to avoid. I think, if anything, I am learning what I have been avoiding. 

The Retreat

The women on this retreat have a private Facebook page. Before the retreat, we tiptoed gently into meeting each other a bit. Now we are chatting away, postulating, groaning, reaching out, encouraging, scratching our heads collectively- what was that? 

I don't know. I don't know. 

Jen Pastiloff is not a fearless leader. She is fierce and loving and daring to ask questions she asks herself. Her story is full of pain and fighting and she is teaching what she needs to be reminded of every day. She lets fear along for the ride and strives to do her heart's desire anyway. She loves to dork it out with dancing and atypical music choices for yoga. Yoga, for her, is the lesson. Be in your body. Be present. Feel where you are in this space in this time. BP. Be present. I will write it on my wrist for days to come. She likes to get in your face because she can't hear and eyes don't lie. It's hard to hide or lie about feelings when someone is looking at you with love and an expectation that you will say your truth. Tears filled my eyes and the snot flew as I headed into downward facing dog while Hold On  (please listen! no shame in eighties cheese!) blasted away on the speaker. 

"What's stopping you?" she challenged. "How much longer will you let IT run YOU?"

The combination of yoga and disparate music and swearing (I loved the swearing!) and questions and writing prompts opens up a body and a heart if you let it and I tried. It felt terrifying. Sometimes I was a mess. I don't always do this emotion in the real world. I make coffee and pack lunches and write and fold laundry and cart kids and buy groceries and pray for sleep and scratch my head in confusion when someone hurts me and then I get up and do it all over again.

Emily Rapp was our writing instructor. Her own story is full of pain and so familiar with it, she knows what a writer has to do to get to the good stuff. And that hard part? The part you can't seem to do? That is where the magic is. She asked me to capture images of my feelings through memories. Using sensory details, describe a memory that illustrates happiness, sadness, anger, sexuality. It was hard. I felt overwhelmed. Anger was the most difficult for me. I guess I haven't done anger. I have felt it, but I haven't named it and I certainly haven't embodied it. 

This became even more clear when Jen asked me to hi-ya it out- release some anger. Get loud! Get angry! Use my body, my voice, and release! I tried, but it was just sort of all sitting there. My movements were limp, my voice soft. I was profoundly uncomfortable. The alcoholic brother who took my mom from me, the lost babies, the postpartum depression robbing me from my kid's lives, the family betrayals, the death of loved ones, the unemployment, the sick sickness of anorexia. That's a lot of shit. That is a life. Anyone who lives has pain. 


I do buts a lot. But I am not lying on the dirt in a Syrian refugee camp. But I am not burying my parents. But I am not staring at a spouse who betrayed me. But I am not fighting a losing battle with cancer. But it could be worse. 

But, but, but, but.

Stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff. 

So now what?

That was the final question posed to me. If I do not like how I feel or where I am or what I am doing, now what?

I am a stuffer? Unstuff!

I am scared? Do it anyway.

I am a writer? Write.

I don't know all the answers of how I can do these things or when or why, exactly, they need to be done. 

I guess if there a take away it is this:  I don't know AND it will be ok.

Life, I think, is far more AND than but.

This retreat was everything AND not enough AND just what it needed to be. 

As a scholarship winner, I am filled with gratitude for the space and time and gift that this experience was. Had I not won, I do not think I would have had the courage to attend. To be willing to open up in front of strangers and to yourself is not for the faint of heart. It will be a long while, before I figure it all out. I look forward to the discoveries. 

When No Means Yes

Do you ever say NO to something in order to say YES to something bigger? Do you ever feel like, in saying NO, that you let people down though it is exactly the thing you need to do for you?

I am in this right now. Saying no a lot. Saying no to things that are not mine, saying no more consistently to distractions from my real work, saying no to activities and people who don't make me feel good about where I am in my life.  

It is weird and hard and also freeing. I sort of feel like a fighter- swinging away at this or that obstacle to make way for a bigger fight- for a sort of personal and creative freedom that I have not allowed myself. Did you catch that? Allowed? Because I do believe that is what it is. I have always believed that we teach others how to treat us by what we allow to happen. But I haven't always turned that belief inward. What do I allow in my life through the way in which I treat myself?

I know, I introspective! So wonky and deep! Jeez! Get out of your head, right? Lighten up! But the voice in my head is where I am most of the time and so it stands to reason, at least most recently, that I make it a pleasant place to be . And where I am starting is by saying no to that which no longer works for me. 

It hasn't been an easy journey. In fact, many times I feel terribly uncomfortable. But then, after a bit of practice, I feel stronger. I feel good. I feel like I am doing just what I should do. I think I have had a failure to IMAGINE what my life would look like if I didn't always say yes. I could not IMAGINE letting people down, I could not IMAGINE NOT just sucking it up and taking the path of least resistance. People do not like it when you change course. Oh no! But I have clearly had a limited imagination, because they adjust, as I have and so, as Elizabeth Gilbert likes to say, ONWARD! 

On...toward things that are mine.

I know.

People who dress well sometimes intimidate me. I note how their zippers are UP, the buttons on their coats are present and fastened, shoes (tied) coordinate with coats and purses. I never see dog or cat hair on these people.

I look at my untied tennis shoe, the string dangling and flopping with every step I take. It is then that I will I wonder (too late because I am already en route) if I chose the right pair of jeans, the ones without the oil stain on my left thigh. I don't even see animal hair anymore because it is there and it will always be there until the pets die and I leave my home and get rid of my car.

How have I failed my ilk? is what I often ask myself in the presence of a smartly dressed woman.

I certainly believe in setting a tone, creating a message of who you are and to some degree, how you want others to see you. I have a communication studies degree and used it for a while. I coached speech and am well-schooled on the art of appearance. I have roles that require me to be "on" for the general public so I get that clothes do matter. Primarily, though, I am a writer and a mother so my clothes and their messages feel like tiny smoke signals that no one can read. Or wants to.


I did a silly thing . I was in a writing workshop and our instructor offered to sign any of her books that we'd brought with us. I had devoured three of her titles so I stood in line to meet her. She was polished. She had that "effortlessly beautiful look" conveyed with casually elegant clothes (in my world, matching is enough to convey elegance) and flowing blond hair. When it was my turn, I walked up to her and I blurted out, "I love you!"

Go ahead and cringe. I do each time I think about it. 

And here is the kicker. It gets worse. I get worse. I took her hand!  I wanted to hold it because that hand had written words that touched me. 

Miraculously, this serene creature did not pull back. She did not call me a weirdo.

Her eyes softened and she stayed there with me and then she said, "It's ok. I know."

What did she know? That my socks didn't match? That I felt like taking leave of my skin? That I cling to her words and so many other writer's words who seem to be speaking only to me? That I am her personal reader nodding my head along as sentence after sentence has me shouting, "Yes! Yes! Me too!" That I have found my religion and she is one of many who has saved me?

I held my tongue because it was time to step off the freak train.

But she continued to hold my hand. Hers was cool and solid as we sat there in silence until someone called the next reader over.

I had been saved.


I was in a bank a few weeks ago. Bank employees make me uncomfortable because I am most often in fleece while the tellers look smart in their carefully pressed outfits. Many of these women wear wear make-up with a capital M. I wear concealer and maybe powder if I remember that I want my concealer to conceal for more than an hour. "Fancy" for me means tinted lip gloss if it can be found. Most often what is floating around in my purse is Chapstick with a missing lid and lint stuck to the top. 

On that day, I was meeting with a loan officer. She had on what could only be described as a power suit and Make-up. She launched into her speech about interest rates and pros and cons of this or that and then she stopped.

"I'll tell you something. You can be prepared. You can do everything and more to dot your i's and cross your t's.  You can have a contingency plan for your contingency plan and life will still blindside you, you know?"

I nodded and waited. 

She went on to describe a terrible event in her life relating to the loss of a home. I listened. She teared up a bit and then she said, "These charts and graphs? This is just information. I believe you can do what you want with some careful planning. But, you know, there is risk in anything."

Yes, I know is what I was thinking, but I stayed silent.

Her shoulder pads seemed to soften as did her posture. I looked closer at her eye make-up. The lines were not drawn to perfect points. It looked as if her hand may have wobbled a bit.

I offered her a smile. She accepted it with her own. 


"I know,' the author said.

I do too. No matter what I wear, how I look, what role I play, I am just doing the best I can. 

I long to lean in, to look closer at my own wobbly lines, and the courage to ask myself, "What am I revealing? and more importantly, what am I leaving out?"

I long for the quiet space and a gentle hand to hold inside of it as I wait for the answers to come.