sometimes you go through hard things. sometimes you go through stressful things. sometimes you go through hard things and stressful things at the same time and you feel pressed thin and broken apart all at once. here’s how to keep moving, maybe.

wake up. have your wake-up cry. tell yourself I can’t bear it as many times as you need to. this is a way of bearing it.

brush your teeth. don’t forget.

turn the kettle on. you’ll know what to do when it starts to whistle. it’ll be the first time you feel like you’ve known what to do in days. go with it.

ignore the thumping of your heart in your chest. heart thumps are how you know you’re alive, literally.

take one breath. take another one. keep this up and you’ll really have something going.

leave your phone in the other room. turn off the wifi switch on your laptop. refrain from checking either every 30 seconds, or even every 30 minutes. can you manage it?

set a timer. do some work. if you have to tell yourself I can’t do it a few times first, go ahead. then start doing it.

talk to a person. remember people? they’re nice.

have your afternoon cry, if you need one.

do some more work. set a timer. take a break when the timer goes off, and then go again. leave the house if you must. sometimes walls can stare.

listen to an audiobook that you love. stop listening when you stop listening.

have you eaten anything today? I know, who cares, but really. you should think about this.

cook something. eat some of it.

clean something. (this is never a bad idea.)

sit on the stoop in the sun and peel a grapefruit with your fingers.

write things in your journal. they can be crazy, no one cares. (no, no I didn’t mean it like that.)

move your body, outside maybe. put one foot on the ground, and then the next one. do you feel a breeze on your face? is it nice? pay attention. let the sound of your heartbeat and your own breath in your ears be louder than the things in your head.

make something for someone else. lose yourself in the push and pull of soft wool and pointy needles.

watch something that makes you laugh.

look at the stars. (it’s not too late for one more cry.)

get into bed and stare at the ceiling with burning eyes. eventually, your body will fall asleep against your mind’s will. probably.

remember that you always have the option of taking to the sea.

just keep on, is all.

* * *

this post is loosely inspired by something my friend Emma posted on facebook yesterday that I unfortunately can’t link you to. sometimes we all need a little inspiration, no?

Ever since childhood, I’ve sought out the night sky when my heart felt too full, when it swelled with sorrow or thrashed with fear or bubbled with hope or a longing too great and fierce to stay inside walls. In junior high, I sat on the diving board of the pool and sang love songs out across the water, marveling at the silvery moon and its shadows, letting my heart float. When I was in high school, sometimes I walked miles out into the night, trying to burn out the ache that couldn’t bear stillness and then, when I thought I could walk no more, sitting alone with the stars. Now, mostly, I sit on my stoop, paved with broad, smooth stones, and I cling tight to my own patch of sky, love desperately the cacti with their dark fingers thrust upward and the shadow-lines of the trellis on the sandy ground. This little bit of sky over my little bit of earth, it lets me dream and sigh and sob out my quaking heart, sometimes all at the same time.

My father taught me the big dipper, forever the first thing I see. One night a boy taught me constellations (sweet, romantic boy) in a white convertible. I’ve since picked up others stars, here and there. They are my old friends, greeting me each year as the seasons change. And when I leave the city, millions more stars than there can possibly be seem to come in with a giant whoosh. They overwhelm me in the best way, bowing me down low and making my heart thump, and they remind me: I am not the only thing that sings in the night.

Under the midnight sky I have confided my deepest secrets, in speech, in letters, to others or to myself. The daytime sky somehow does not seem limitless to me–that unending blue makes it seem like it’s all there is, to my eyes–but the way the night lights prick through blackness speaks to me of the far reaches of universes. Sometimes I feel the night sky is the only thing big enough to know how terribly great and small I can feel at the same time. Sometimes it seems like nothing but the moon and stars will do. 

It feels like cracking ice off my skin to be here after so long, or like I’m covered in mud and still waist-deep. Not that this is a swamp, but maybe I’ve become a Swamp Thing, standing in the middle of a living room that isn’t mine. I’m not sure what I’m doing here.

I love the people I’ve met through my blog with my whole heart (even people I haven’t actually met yet, which is part of the breathtakingly great way the internet works), and I love having my own space to write for people to read. I have nothing in me so decisive as a desire to shut this whole thing down, and yet. There is a part of me that is so done with the Idea of Blogging that I even mislike the way the word sits on my tongue, like a smooth stone. It didn’t used to feel that way, suffocatingly heavy, but I don’t feel like it’s only me that’s changed.

Whatever the common conception of blogging is now, it ill fits me. I do not have a cause or a mission, and I definitely do not have a sponsor, and while I have many opinions on many things, I have never been an internet-opinion-shouter. I prefer to do my opinion-shouting in person, after I’ve charmed you with my baked goods and winning smile, when we’re close enough friends for me to tell you about all the fibers my rug has deposited on your clothes.

* * *

I got to spend time with my dear friend Jo this weekend. I met her through blogging, and I regard it as the 21st century’s best kind of magic that she has a permanent place in my heart, even though this weekend is only the second time I’ve seen her in real life. We talked about every thing in the whole world, and we laughed, and we ran a race, and we ate fried things and drank cocktails, and at the end we both named it glorious, this being together.

We talked about this writing online thing, where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and after it all I came home with stronger, clearer ideas about a few things. The good words of a friend can do wonders to dispel a haze.  I also came home with a great big patient peace somehow, knowing I’ll find my way. Knowing that the things that matter will last, and not being fussed about trying to put them all on a list and get them sorted thisveryminute. I’m learning this patience, not just online but in running and eating and sleeping and just about everything else. I’m so very full of deep breaths lately.

* * *

I am sometimes disgustingly earnest (ask me about my history of righteously indignant letters some time), but I don’t have a lot of grasping in me, and when I sense that kind of desperation, in myself or in others, my tendency is retreat. I guess that’s the feeling about the blogging world lately that I can’t shake, and that’s why I want to back off some. I’m not here for indicting, but sometimes I see more things I hope I’m never like than things I’d like to emulate, and that’s my struggle.

Maybe I am always finding my place. It’s a theme I’ve returned to in a dozen ways over the years. I feel my own self evolving, and my own wants. I will always want to tell my stories, this I know. I will always want to read your stories, too, although my reading time lately is constrained. But more and more I want to talk about other things, the kinds of things that have never been part of this space. And lately my best conversations and learning are mostly happening in non-blog spaces. They’re on twitter and voxer, email and text and occasionally facebook, and they’re in-blessed-person–and I don’t mind. In fact, I quite like it that way.

So I’m not shutting the blog down, but I’m not making any firm commitments to it at this point. For the first time in a long time, my year didn’t start with the goal of blogging more, and it wasn’t even on the list for consideration except in a half-hearted, obligated way that made me almost automatically reject it. I probably won’t make big decisions in any direction until the book is done in June. I don’t underestimate how much the weight of that project pulls on all of me, and I need to see how I’ll spring back once the weight is gone. For now, I’m giving myself permission to obey my inclinations, without putting any more rules and restrictions on it than that. I might be here, but I also might not. That’s just where I am.

I don’t feel panicky about this. It feels normal and natural just to drift in this space for a bit, to feel my way through, to move like spirit on air.  I hope you understand, and I hope that if you want to you’ll find me in one of those other places, if you haven’t already.

Oh, I've found you.

Oh, I’ve found you.

See you around?

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Two weeks ago, I signed a book contract.

I’m coauthoring a critical introduction to American women writers that will be published by Routledge in December 2014. ::begin screaming that ends some time after the complete manuscript is due June 1::

I have felt (do feel) weird talking about it online. I know a lot of bloggers writing books. I think that’s awesome, and I think their books are awesome, and I’m happy for everyone. But I started to feel like if I said anything about it here, people would look at me and how not-one-of-the-big-girls I am and be like, Her? I hesitated to post what seems like the obligatory author line signature photo on twitter and instagram because that kind of picture seems to be owned by the Big Successful Bloggers writing memoir/spiritual/Jesus-y books based on their blogs, not academic books, and I felt like by posting one of those pictures I’d look like I was claiming to be one of them. Presuming. Pretending. Getting something I didn’t deserve.

And also? A little bit of me was ashamed because my book and I don’t fit the mold. I had all these flashbacks to this January day in kindergarten where two little girls were pretending to cry on the playground because they missed the Santa Bears they’d gotten for Christmas, and when I tried to join in they told me I couldn’t because I had a Jingle Bear.

Santa Bear (left) and Jingle Bear (right)

Then and now, I did the opposite of what I was supposed to do. I got it twisted. In my head, somehow I imagined that all you lovely people would give me the Santa Bear treatment. That you’d be as mean to me as I’ve been to myself. That’s what I’ve been doing, telling myself I shouldn’t tell anyone because I don’t really deserve this.

But you know what? *earmuffs, delicate readers* Fuck that. I’m writing a book, and I’m really excited about it. I’m also terrified, because I’m writing a book. But I’ve worked really hard to get here, and I’ll work harder still before it’s over, and I hope when I’m done I’ll have a book that helps people understand the incredible, diverse, strange, beautiful ways women have contributed to American literary culture in the last 450 years.

It’s a really exciting project, but more than that, it feels necessary and important. You might think that women writers have made huge strides breaking into what used to be boys-only clubs of literature and letters, and you’d be right. But there are still people like David Gilmour, who loudly proclaimed that he doesn’t teach women writers because they haven’t written anything that he cares about, and then protested that what he really meant was [exactly what he’d said before, but more elaborately]. And there are writers like Nicholas Sparks, who vehemently opposes being called a writer of the much-derogated chick lit or romance genres, insisting instead that he writes “love tragedies,” a category in which all writers “happen to be men.” (Um, to both counts.) And as long as people like this are around, who pretend that this world is a meritocracy where (unlike white, straight dudes) women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ communities just haven’t really earned their places yet, there will need to be voices like mine and my coauthor’s, reminding people that we do in fact have rich heritages to explore and celebrate.

Dang if that doesn’t get me all fired up. It almost makes me want to instagram this.

This Publishing Agreement is mad.

127

I spent three weeks in Austin last October. I went by myself, to do research for my dissertation. I rented a little one-bedroom house with a black and white checkered floor and I packed up some clothes and my running shoes and flew away. And when I landed in Austin and stepped outside into the mugginess, my hair grew tentacles and said what.

I didn’t know what to expect, driving into town from the airport. I surely didn’t expect it to feel the way it did, like a place I could be. I didn’t know more than a couple of people in town, and I spent most of that three weeks by myself. But I did not feel alone.

Sometimes my head is full of the things I do not know. Mostly they are whys and hows. How is it that I could float through a city by myself and it could feel a little bit like my own? I felt daring. I felt at peace, and full of purpose. This feeling, me in Austin and Austin in me, I carry it with me like a treasure wrapped in a soft cloth, and sometimes I pull it out to watch it gleam in the light.

– – –

Last weekend I was back in Austin for a wedding, and to see friends. Old friends, new friends. Internet-heart-friends where the first hug’s been a long time coming. All the feelings were the same, and on my Friday morning run I found my way through neighborhoods that had stayed in my head over the whole year, and I learned new parts of the city, and I ate at some old places and some new places. I tried Austin on again, and it still fit.

There were moments of bliss. The best comic book store ever, with one of my best girls. The surprising, wonderful interview with an artist whose work I haven’t been able to get out of my head since last year this time. The joy of being together again with old friends, and the pleasure of making new ones.

There were also not-perfect things about the trip. There was pouring rain and flooded streets. There was an almost comically misadventured day of not-lunches; after a series of mishaps, what had been planned as lunch with some dear people I was finally meeting in person became me, sitting away down the table among a group of very kind strangers, gobbling Indian buffet before sprinting to catch a bus to interview the artist, who had finally pried open a window in his crazy schedule. But even in these things, there was grace. I think good hearts reach out and say things to each other without words, even tentative things, so that you can still understand and feel understood. The want-to is there and it’s enough for the time being, so you can clasp hands in good faith and say next time, and your heart can still be full of love without sorrow.

– – –

My last day in Austin, I spent time in some favorite places. I read for a while in my favorite coffee shop, and I watched people walk in and out, stand in line, help each other, do their things, together and separate. I always feel seriously undertattooed in Austin, and it starts an itch to scratching in me sometimes. But the urge almost always subsides. It did Monday. Instead I let my mind wander. I imagined myself standing next to my boy and kissing him on the side of the face while we waited to pay. That’s the feeling that lingered, the wanting to stand next to someone and be me and happy. Even with my gray hair. Especially with my gray hair. Austin or anywhere.

I watched a little girl walk by in black hightop sneakers that flashed pink lights, and I wondered if I had pink lights on my sneakers if I would always be watching them, or if it would be enough just to know that they were sparkling. To let the sparkle hang out there. That’s the thing I want, too. Austin or anywhere.

– – –

This story doesn’t have a perfect ending. It’s not a clear arc. It’s true, there was talk of a job. It came up all suddenly over wedding cake and escalated in 36 little hours and now, it seems, is quietly deflating. It was all (is all?) oh so exciting, but the timing’s not right. And you know what? When the emails were flying back and forth across five states, I was exhilarated and beneath it all terrified, like the floor of my stomach had been replaced with a hunk of slate. It’s ok. I’ve always known the next step would be throwing-up scary+exciting. That’s one of the ways I’ll know it’s the right thing, because I’m running out of time for safe. So maybe this isn’t the right thing, but the right thing’s out there, and it’s really possible. And that’s a piece of grace, too, like putting my foot on a stepping stone where I expected an icy stream.

Friends, here’s to stepping stones.

I love sunshine in a fierce way. I’ve never lived for more than a year in a place with distinct seasons, so the thing where I need sunshine and warmth is deep in me, in blood and bones and sinews. In the summer months here, in southern California, it gets to be intense, and I go back and forth between needing to be out under the big brightness of it all and feeling a little weary of it, starting at the skin.

We’ve been in a late-summer heatwave, which probably happens every summer, but which I always forget in time for it to happen the next year. I look at the weather app on my phone and that row of plain, unvarnished suns over the next ten days starts to feel oppressive, like ten yellow-eyed cyclopses glaring. We were promised rain on Tuesday. I took it like a promise anyway, so when the thundercloud disappeared, replaced by a yellow eyeball, I felt betrayed.

Monday was a good day. Busy, but the kind where I felt reasonably accomplished and checked things off lists and thought maybe I have this life and adulthood thing managed for once. I sat on my bed, hunkering from the heat in a sports bra and shorts, telling myself I would go for a run in just a minute, but I stopped short when I heard it start, the concatenated patting sounds on roof and paving stone and gravel. Rain always seems to pat first before it pelts.

I think I did run–outside, anyway, to squat on the stoop with my book and feel the water on my skin. I sat and watched the sky and the clouds moving in the dusk. As the night pressed in a little, lightning flashes came. I counted the seconds in one-one-thousands between the lightning and the thunder to see how far away the storm was, hoping the number would shrink and I’d find myself in a real honest-to-goodness downpour. I thought of my life in storms: sitting on the roof of the houseboat on Lake Powell watching lightning flashing off the cliff walls and the water rolling in great sheets down the sandstone, stomach clenched in a delicious fear; the wind that rose all of a sudden and whipped the cab door back in my face, and the rain that drenched me on the 30-foot walk to my office door under a green Washington, D.C., sky; the great wall of rain on the Kansas plains that woke up my cousin and made everything around my little car blindingly gray; the wide open sky-cracking thunder we felt from the safety of the porch of a little hotel on Maryland’s eastern shore. I’ve never gotten out of the habit of counting the seconds.

The Monday night storm was more like a not-really storm. It never pelted the way I wanted it to. But there was a piece of magic on that stoop, in my little yard that feels like it opens onto my own patch of sky. Contentment hung in the air like a mist, and I called it good.

* * *

I just wrote this, but it came in dribs and drabs instead of an outpouring, kind of like my not-storm. I’m a little rusty, it seems, or maybe I’ve been spending a lot of words and brainpower too many other places. Linking up with Heather and the gang, Tuesday or otherwise, because these are my people and I like to be among them.

Thursday is a day that lurks. Friday is a carful of teenagers lurching around with all the windows down, but Thursday is an SUV sliding into a mostly empty grocery store parking lot. That’s how it feels this week. That’s how it’s felt all summer, really. Like Thursday.

Summer’s rolling on down the line in these parts, and life-after-grad-school too. That’s how it goes in my head, all hyphenated. I still don’t know what life-after-grad-school means or what it will look like, and I’m strangely ok with it. I have loose plans, but I’ve been living in a take it as it comes kind of way. It’s not my natural mode, but then sometimes it feels like the most natural thing in the world, to decide right before each footfall where I’m walking next.

I don’t mind these contradictions, which is its own kind of strange. But I feel like there’s deep processing about school-end and next steps going on that I don’t understand yet. My ear catches the occasional drum-thump that I know means an army rising from the deep. You might think that comparing my coming to understanding to the emergence of the balrog that takes Gandalf is less than positive, but if you do you’re forgetting that in the long arc of the tale, Gandalf is reborn. I hope that by the time I reach the end of it all I still think I’m Gandalf in this metaphor and not, say, an orc with an arrow through its eye socket.

It’s been the kind of hot where I’m grateful for the breeze from a passing garbage truck. There’s a slowgoingness to this heat that suits me just fine, in its way, even when I’m sweltering on my velvet couch. It’s been a summer for slow-reading East of Eden with some friends.Taking a writing class–this blessed one–that’s just for me, a present I gave myself to unwrap over 10 weeks with a group of women who are becoming friends-family. Listening for that ping in my spirit that says this writing project is right, this application is right. Almost like a word behind me saying this is the way, walk in it. Sometimes it means I sink in, following glutinous paths of least resistance. Sometimes those paths of least resistance involve Parks and Recreation marathons and ice-cream-cone-shaped marshmallows. I don’t mean to make a virtue out of a vice, but I’m willing to see that not-overthinking is a nice change from my usual.

I just realized California doesn’t do cars full of teenagers any more. It’s safer, I’m sure, but it makes me nostalgic for the summers of my teenage years, for the hearts-bursting-with-adventure feeling of being young and on the move–anywhere. Maybe it’s because under all this stillness, I have an eagerness to get going. Maybe it’s because for all my Summer of Thursdays, I can feel Friday coming, and I want to roll the windows down.

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