Pure Brilliant You

I remember my senior year in college going to a party with a bunch of International Students. And after a few beers, the Internationals took turns doing their impressions of the typical American. One put on a barely discernable southern accent and said something about rodeos. Another talked about wawlking the dawg; and then one tall blonde Dutch guy reached out his hand to me and with his best attempt at a high-pitched Valley Girl accent said, Hi my name is Sharon and I have abandonment issues.

Everyone burst into laughter.

I hid my face; I didn’t want anyone to know I was in therapy for abandonment issues.

I was ashamed then.

And, if I’m really honest, I still am. And if I’m really honest, all the therapy has been an attempt not only to heal the trauma but to erase the wounds of my childhood; to make me like other normal people.

It didn’t work. I still return to those early years. Sometimes with no warning.

When my youngest was little, she would often ask me, mama if you could have any superpower, what would you want? And I’d think, sweetie, I already got my superpower—I can shape-shift and time travel NOW! But I of course wouldn’t tell my ten-year-old this; I would usually answer something like, the ability to read minds.

What is hard about this time travel isn’t just the re-feeling of the trauma, but it’s the fact that, as adults, we judge ourselves for feeling it. We think we should be past this already—what they call the second arrow in Buddhism. So, we try to get rid of it. We tell ourselves, I’m not my thoughts, I’m not my feelings, blah blah blah…but that doesn’t make us feel better. We withdraw from society with a gallon of ice cream and Netflix; that doesn’t help…just gives us a belly-ache. Or we tell ourselves to grow up and put on a happy face for our friends and family…I blame social media for some of this!

So, what does help?

A recognition of our humanity. Our childhood. Our past. Our trauma. A leaning in. A curious mind. Safe spaces where you can be a mess and not be told ANYTHING about how to be or what to be grateful for or that you are not your thoughts or your feelings. You can just be held. For me, writing also helps. As does taking a long walk. Moving my body. Yoga and breathing. But, it’s important to note that these aren’t escape mechanisms…like, maybe if I do enough downward dogs I will feel confident again. No, it’s more like…hey sweetie, it’s safe to feel everything you feel; there is room here in your body for all the pain and the thoughts and the feelings. I’ve got you—here in the muscles, here in the breath, here in the movements, here in the resting.

It’s saying, as Tara Brach teaches in many of her meditations, that our true home is within. And that home will take us as we are. No pretense. No makeup. No mantras. No resumes. Just the pure brilliant soul that you are. That I am—abandonment issues and all. That we all are.

Pathetic Literature

is the name of a new book I am reading by Eileen Myles. The book, part craft, part anthology, explores and presents examples of the pathetic. Which, according to Myles, has undergone many changes in definition and reception. For them, the pathetic is the act of taking a little less or a little more. It is, it would seem to me, what we would refer to as introspection, self-reflection, but could simultaneously be interpreted as self-indulgent narcissism.

It’s a fine line, isn’t it? When does normal healthy self-awareness cross that line into narcissism? When is writer/artist/speaker taking up too much airtime? Making it all about them? Appropriating another’s experience?

I am sure we’ve all got a grab bag filled with stories of that annoying aunt or old college friend who made everything about them. Who talked about themselves and turned even your stories into their feelings about your stories. And yet…our feelings are important, whether they are about us or how sad we feel about the homeless man we pass every day on our way to work.

And I, being me, usually swing between extremes. I can feel empowered by writing and speaking confessionally (though I do not love how it has come to be interpreted by many as being overly emotional and particularly feminine) and I can be really hard on myself, assuming a judgmental and shaming voice that basically says some version of, look who thinks she’s something…

In these moments, I cling to the words of poet Anne Sexton, who writes, And opening my eyes, I am afraid of course to look—this inward look that society scorns—Still I search these woods and find nothing worse than myself, caught between the grapes and the thorns. Or poet Tina Chang, who wrestles with not only how—as an Asian-American woman—to raise a black boy in America, but—as a poet—how to write about it:  By raising a boy, do I understand what it means to live as a black boy? How do I speak of his existence without appropriating his experience? And writer writer Anna Hogeland’s experience of how she found her voice; she asks, What is the source of true, original, meaningful art, the kind of art all artists dream of creating, if not an allegiance to one’s own intuition above all else?

In the end, I don’t think there is a neat and tidy answer. Through trial and error, we find what level of authenticity feels true and safe; we find mutual relationships, a balance between listening and expressing. And if we are creatives, we create what is asked to be created, not what the crowd asks of us. As the late David Bowie said…remember that the reason that you initially started working is that there was something inside yourself that you felt that you could manifest in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations—they generally produce their worst work when they do that.

So personally, I’m happy to embrace Eileen Myles’ definition of pathetic; I’ll take a little less and a little more and I will find people who do the same.

Language

Being on the outside of language is instructive. Being a recent immigrant to a country where I do not speak the language means that I am often outside of discourse. An infantile attempter. A curious observer of language.

And when I say language I refer not only to words spoken. I refer to words not spoken. Meanings meant by words yelled. Even hand gestures.

And some days, I’m grateful I don’t speak the local lingo. Some days it benefits me to be on the outside.

A few days ago, I had one of those days…

The story actually begins the week before, when I had gone to a shop around the corner where they sell ground beef. And, where I had heard them speaking Russian. So, I thought, lucky me—I can use my Russian to make sure I get exactly what I need! I walked up to the counter and to be polite began with, do you speak Russian? And he, well, I don’t quite know how to convey in words the piercing hating glaring mean mean look I received. The response was da, but wow, horrible! He made my purchase about as unpleasant as getting a tooth pulled and I rushed out of there as quickly as I could.

Of course it’s not the only store where they sell ground beef, but it’s close, cheaper than other places and I was not about to let angry butcher man dictate where I buy my beef. So, a few days ago, again in search of ground beef, I marched right into the above mentioned store. Thankfully, a different man was working behind the meat counter. And I thought, let’s try English this time. I asked if he spoke English. Yes, of course, he said. Smiling. Then, the mean angry Russian-speaking butcher comes up, looks at me, then at the nice butcher and says in Hebrew, She is Russian. The nice man responds, no she is American. I said nothing; got my beef and went to the cashier.

Where he was yelling at the woman in front of me for who knows what in Hebrew. I did hear the word maniac, which must mean something different in Hebrew than Russian, where maniac means serial killer or rapist. I didn’t think the cashier would call this elderly woman who I think walked out with a bouquet of flowers without paying—a rapist. But when it was my turn to pay, he was still yelling, then started yelling at me; I don’t know why. Maybe I wasn’t putting the food on the counter right. Or maybe I was moving too slowly. Or maybe he was yelling about the maniac and just looking at me.

I had no idea. And I thought, I am tuning you out.

I smiled, handed over my shekels, and walked out. Grateful to be on the outside of this discourse.

And I realized how outside of language I often feel. Not just Hebrew or Russian, or how to buy beef or whether to say sorry when you bump into someone or whether you should say thank you before leaving a store, as one does in France but not in America, but also the language of my children or husband or friends.

I realized that I put a lot of effort into trying to understand and I often don’t. Let’s be honest–I don’t understand why the cashier was angry. I don’t understand why the angry butcher-man doesn’t like me. I often don’t understand what my children want or need. Or what friends or family or my husband feels or is trying to communicate.

But, maybe it’s not for me to understand everything and everyone. Maybe I can chill the worrying mind, the striving to understand mind. Maybe I can remember that we each have our own language. And often perfunctory reasons for why we do what we do. Or say what we say. Maybe we’re all simultaneously insiders and outsiders–trying to find our own language and understand the language of others. And if there is anything to do maybe it’s give some breathing room, some space and patience, with a big dose of kindness (and self-compassion when we inevitably get it wrong) on the side.

Home

Home…something I am thinking a lot about right now.

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way, to all you who celebrate Thanksgiving.

Last week I was at my local health food store digging for non-crushed dates at the bottom of the barrel; it was literally the bottom of the barrel. Guess there had been a run on dates early that morning?

As I eyed each date, I heard a familiar voice, not familiar like, oh that’s my best friend Joe, but more like, I know that accent. Let’s just say, I am a big Henry Higgins-ish when it comes to accents…so before I raised my head, I said to myself… Southern California, Camp Pendleton, Marine.

Boom…nearly perfect record! To my right stood a Semper Fi-tattoo bearing muscular man, with that sort of half-shaved haircut only Marines have. Ya, I’ve been here six months, he said to the man behind him in line, and don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it’s time to go home. I miss country music.

It’s funny the things that we miss. The things that make us feel at home.

I also missed country music.

Which is why it was so bizarre (you can’t make this stuff up!) when just the day before I had come home to our new apartment just as the Russian-Israeli painter was finishing up and what did I hear blasting from the kitchen? Country music. The Chicks’ song March March. And I had teared up, remembering Grandma Lil playing her banjo in the big kitchen in Ramona and Aunt Dana and Uncle Mickey harmonizing to Hank Williams.

Something about it had initially felt disconnected, and yet—not. I speak Russian, live in Israel, grew up surrounded by country music. Country music is in my blood. But so is Dostoevsky. And yoga. And Rachmaninov. And being alone and being with family. And believing and not believing. And prayer and questioning. And Israel.

I’m kind of all those things. Aren’t we all—a collection?

For so long, I thought home meant buying into a mindset or ethos, taking on the costume (internal and external) of the group. But, that never worked for me. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider—by choice—a contrarian. There was always something I couldn’t accept. I have always wanted to belong, but the group scared me.

Maybe home is less an external ethos or geographical location, and rather an internal space we carve out for ourselves. A place where we welcome in all parts of ourselves—our Hank William and Tolstoy our little girl princess our big girl scientist our confusion and grief and our boundless joy.

Perhaps home is about belonging to ourselves. Perhaps, as the Chicks sing in March March, we all walk to the beat of our own drummer:

March, march to my own drum
March, march to my own drum
Hey, hey, I’m an army of one
Oh, I’m an army of one.

Beautiful Monsters

Recently, I was speaking with a friend about some recurring challenges, that bothered me; and what bothered me wasn’t the challenges themselves, but the fact that I was still feeling them.

Like, shouldn’t I be past the whole empty nest thing? And ya, immigrating is hard, but it’s also exciting. And learning a new language? So what if you feel like you’re three years old most of the time; humility is good for the soul!

Right?

Yes. But…

Which is why, when I listened to an interview with Daniel Goleman and Tsoknyi Rinpoche about their upcoming book “Why We Meditate”, I suddenly, and I mean suddenly felt a whole hell of a lot better. Reconciled.

I’ll explain…

In the interview, Tsoknyi Rinpoche introduced a concept he calls beautiful monsters; these are the hurt parts of us, the childhood trauma, the less wise responses to life, the overreactions and underreactions, the deep feelings we don’t always understand. And usually hide and hate.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche says of these beautiful monsters that they are real but not true. The feelings of abandonment and sadness and loss and fear are very real—even if what we are reacting to happened decades earlier or is happening on a tv screen or photo album or hasn’t even happened yet. But, whatever conclusions our mind is coming to—about these feelings—like, oh now that my children don’t need me I am useless or because I split from my partner I will never find love again, or there is a war somewhere in the world and therefore every corner of the planet is unsafe. Or, right now I feel untethered and that means I’ll never feel at home.

But…big but here…just because the conclusions aren’t true, it doesn’t make the current feelings any less real or painful. And we don’t help ourselves by shaming ourselves for having painful feelings.

Which is why Rinpoche calls these aspects of ourselves beautiful monsters. They are beautiful because the welcome us into the collective universal human experience. Who out there does not know pain? Or loss? Or fear? Who doesn’t carry wounds from childhood or relationships gone awry?

No one.

And who doesn’t sometimes go back to those hurt places and overreact? By withdrawing? Or screaming? Or by turning to addictive behavior? Or at least want to turn to addictive behavior?

We all have stuff. Life stuff. Personality stuff.

Yet, we all want to pretend that we don’t. That we’ve got our shit together.

Truth is—sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. Truth is—we take turns.

We all have beautiful monsters. And when they come knocking on the door, they need to be welcomed in. Loved. Invited in for herbal tea and maybe some dates and walnuts (the Mediterranean version…cookies and milk elsewhere?), and soothing music and hugs and breath. Lots of breath.

And, stealing from another beloved Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, maybe when they come knocking, maybe we can try something different, she instructs. Because, let’s be honest, that old stuff we did…did it ever work?

Try something new—to welcome in the beautiful monsters. To accept all the feelings as real. As necessary roads we must go down. To let them run their course, for as long as it takes. And to remind ourselves—and when we can’t remind ourselves, to call upon loved ones to remind us—that the fears aren’t true in this moment.

And I don’t know about you…but the more often I welcome in and even love my beautiful monsters, the more I readily welcome in and even love the beautiful monsters of others.

Can You Bully A Wave?

About twelve or thirteen years ago I met Angie, one of the wisest, kindest, strongest-in-the-tiniest-of-bodies people I ever met.

We were living in San Francisco, and a few of my kids were having some sleeping issues and a friend suggested I try reflexology. It’s like acupuncture, my friend explained, but on the foot. Every spot on the body corresponds to a place on the foot.

Angie made big promises. I cure people from cancer. Get women fertile so they can have babies. Stop high blood pressure and ulcers. And calm body from so many nerves.

Angie was from Shanghai. She had survived (barely, I eventually learned) the Cultural Revolution, an arranged and painful marriage, and a C-section by acupuncture. Let’s just say that she was tough. No nonsense. And whatever story you had, she could top you.

Eventually I started seeing her. And she’d begin each session by asking how I was. I would instinctively give the bland American answer, fine. Then she would cock her eyebrows, as if to say, I don’t believe you, and say, No problem, the feet will tell me how you are.

And she was never wrong. Forget tea leaves! Sore kidneys meant I was afraid; sore lungs mean I was sad; a sore liver meant I was angry. After she’d find the spot that hurt, she’d tease out of me how I was really doing, and then she’d offer advice.  Which was always some variation of be more yin.

Be like water. She would explain, Imagine a river. What happens if a rock is in the river? It flows around the rock. If you throw fire in a river, the flame goes out. If you try to beat river with a stick, the stick goes through. Water cannot be destroyed because it knows how to flow. No one can destroy you if you know how to flow.

I remembered this conversation yesterday, as I walked down King George Street in Tel Aviv, listening the audiobook of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, to the scene when the great-grandmother Buddhist nun character asks her bullied at school great-granddaughter, have you ever bullied a wave?

The great-grandmother Buddhist nun explains that you cannot bully a wave; or rather a wave cannot be bullied.

I heard these words and stopped in my tracks. Literally, I stopped right there on the sidewalk. Because, I had spent the past few days dealing with some difficult relationship dynamics; I had allowed some recent uncomfortable conversations with family members to well, kinda flatten me. I had become disconnected, untethered. And pretty fragile.

Hearing Ozeki’s words reminded me to be more like water. She reminded me that I can decide how to respond to life. I don’t have to get offended. Take on other people’s shit. Pick up the pieces from others’ bad decisions. Allow another’s bad day to become my bad day. Take on their fear or anger.

So, right there, standing in front of the little stall where the sleepy man sells cinnamon sticks and dried ginger and perfectly salted pistachios, I made a vow.

I will be like water. I will be responsible for how I greet each moment.

Lost and Found

My son asked me the other day when I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Or, when I understood my purpose. Or, when I stopped feeling lost.

I answered, I still feel lost, somewhat. Or, sort of on and off. Or now and then.

I guess what has changed, I explained to him, is that I accept that lostness as part of the journey. What I mean is that I no longer look for a final destination, a once-and-for-all-time answer to any question.

My son wasn’t satisfied with my Rilke-like response that one should be patient toward all that is unanswered in one’s heart and love the questions themselves (insert rolled eyes image here…); he wanted something concrete. Like, how does one get un-lost? How does one find the right answer? What IS the right answer?

I tried to explain that we figure it out as we go along. That life has stages. That rare is the Mozart (who died very young, incidentally) who is a genius and knows at an early age what their purpose is. Most of us have many chapters with different answers and purposes and goals.

So maybe we are never lost.

Maybe we think we are lost because we are not there, that mythic land where all journeys end (I call this death). And maybe the answers for each moment are in each moment. Presence. Breath. Body. Senses.  Maybe the only sense of lost-ness is being disconnected from this moment.

And for the questions, the big angst-filled questions of what do I do with my life and is this person right for me and should I immigrate to Israel we go inside try to find what is most true for right now and remind ourselves that it’s a journey. We don’t have to figure it all out. Just put one step in front of another…

I recently came across the poem Lost, by David Wagoner. I’m including his poem in its entirety, because the whole of it is a salve, an elixir, an  oracle. A gentle nurturing embrace.

Lost, by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same Raven.

No two branches are the same Wren.

If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

If we are feeling lost, maybe we need to tell ourselves we are where we need to be right now, and maybe we need to let the greater knowingness or forest or divine find us.

Wanting to be Noticed

I went to my first life drawing class when I was hugely pregnant with my youngest. I can’t recall now how I learned about the classes at Académie de la Grande Chaumière in the 6th Arrondissement, but I do remember the bleacher-like seats in the small amphitheater room, and the anticipation of waiting to see who that day’s model would be. I marveled that I (lay-person-non-artist) was allowed to attend classes in the school where Chagal and Modigliani and Picasso had drawn, where working artists were honing their craft, where every week art students volunteered to stand for three hours so the rest of us could examine their bodies and draw.

What I loved most about life drawing was being brought into the moment. Creating art out of what was there, not what I wanted. There was no pontificating, no philosophizing; there was only this person in this moment, standing in a particular way, with particular folds of skin and body shadows and expressions and movement in stillness.

My first real exposure to this process of art bringing you into the present happened about four years earlier, when I was also hugely pregnant with my eldest. I was living in St. Petersburg, Russia at the time and my artist friend Nina and I decided to take a tour of the old Union of Artists Building. Back in the Soviet years, there were unions for everything—Union of Writers, Union of Artists, Union of Musicians. To be an official artist of any kind, required membership in a union,  and membership in the Union of Artists came with a government sponsored studio in an enormous building on the Neva River—the Union of Artists Building.

As Nina and I wandered through the nearly-abandoned building, past the Church of John Lennon and boarded up studios, we found an open door and we knocked.

Enter, a man said. It was early spring and snow was still on the ground. There was no heat in the building, save a little space heater inches away from the artist. A filterless cigarette dangled from his fingers, and he did not turn around when we entered the room. He sat—heater on the right, large square canvas to the left. A palette, mixed paints and a painting that didn’t look like it knew what it wanted to be.

I’m lost, he said. Still not turning around.

Why? we asked.

When I had an enemy, it was easy. When I wasn’t allowed to speak my voice, it was easy. Now I have freedom. Too much freedom. Now I have to paint to make money, and I don’t know what to paint. I am lost.

And out of nowhere, for whatever random reason, I remembered these stories the other day, as I took my morning walk, past the bakery on Allenby, past the material shops on Nahalat Binyamin, and past the same intriguing scene—an elderly Russian woman (I’m guessing Russian because she had on a Russian scarf and had a Russian book in her left hand) staring into the window of an antique store, curiously named Bardo. This was day three of seeing her. In the same spot, wearing the same scarf, carrying the same book.

What was she looking for? The porcelain doll she played with as a child? The pearls she lost in the war? The chair she sat on as a young mother? Her look held longing, sadness, desire. Her look said she wanted to go back to another time. Anywhere, any time, but here.

I felt her, this Russian lady staring at the porcelain doll. I wanted to run and throw my arms around her and say, sister, I see you. Say, I want to go back too. Say, sometimes the present can be really just too much. Confusing. Lonely. Uncertain.

I didn’t obviously, just lamely stared at her, as she stared at the window, and I wondered, how do we hold on to the specialness of our memories and grasp the beauty and possibility of this moment? How do we remind ourselves that we get to remake ourselves every day? Every moment?

There’s no one way, thankfully! But that is why I write poetry. I write about today, what I see, what crazy things catch my eye. And I read poets who remind me to stay fresh, stay present, open my eyes. One of my all-time favorite poets, and particular favorite of late is Sandra Cisneros, who explores the necessity of not only living in the present, but enjoying the present, in her poem, “Having Recently Escaped from the Maws of a Deathly Life, I am Ready to Begin the Year Anew”.

She begins the poem with, For the New Year I will buy myself a chocolate éclair filled with custard. Eat it slowly, with an infinity of joy, without concern of woe and tight underwear.

Later, I will snooze with my dogs till I radiate love, for they are life’s true gurus. I will wake gently so as not to disturb the dreams that have alighted overnight on the branches of sleep, and before they flutter away on soundless wings, I will examine and admire each.

She closes with, There is much I know and much I do not know as a woman at fifty-six, but I am certain I know this. Life is not worth living without salami.

Okay, I don’t relate to the salami part—as a vegan. But I do relate to the sense of  carpe diem; I do relate to radiating love and eating with an infinity of joy and dreams, and seeing the beauty that is right in front of you. Maybe that is what the old Russian lady was doing, seeing the beauty right in front of her. Perhaps something as simple as the beauty of the store. Maybe the beauty of her reflection in the window

So whether it is life drawing that brings you into the present, or reading or writing, or puppies or eclairs, or meditation or yoga…remember there is so much beauty waiting, just wanting to be noticed.

Note: Above life drawing by Eva Zafft

Behold Beautiful You

Last week I went in search of bee pollen at a local health food store. As soon as I stepped in, I was reminded of the health food stores I went to as a child in San Diego, with my tofu-eating mother. Before Whole Foods. Before your corner bodega sold kombucha or gluten-free or dairy-free anything. And they had an herby-planty smell I came to associate with carob muffins, and honeycomb and whole wheat bread so dense it could break your toe if you dropped it. And it meant special happy times with my mom.

And that’s what I inhaled when I stepped into this not-to-be-named shop last week. I stepped in. Stopped. Inhaled. And, because the shop is miniscule (which I love!), I inevitably got in someone’s way, that someone being a salesperson, and I said, as one does, sorry. She rolled her eyes. Which didn’t fit with her easy-going yoga leggings vibe. Whatever…

Do you speak English? She stared at me. Wordless, as if to say, what a stupid question. Do you have bee pollen? I asked.

What is that?

It’s from bees, really healthy…

-Everything we have is healthy…

-Yes, of course, and it’s usually refrigerated…

And she walked off. Came back with the manager and the manager said, pollen? The lycra-legging saleswoman nodded and followed her and I followed behind and tripped over one of the many unpacked boxes on the ground, filled with green tea and something that looked like herbs but I couldn’t be sure, as it was written in Hebrew. And I fell right into my new friend, who already hated me. Sorry, I said. Again—rolled eyes. She grabbed my jar of bee pollen from the manager and walked to the cash register. And by this point, I am wondering…WTF?

I put my backpack on the counter/scale to get my wallet, which impeded the ringing-up process and she said, move your bag.

-Oh, sorry.

And that was it, she’d had it. She unleashed all the rage she’d ever had at any sorry she’d ever been forced to hear, and I stood there. Silent. Dumbfounded, as she yelled at me for saying sorry.

She, yoga lady, all half of my age had me nearly in tears. And I grabbed my bee pollen, and ran out of the store, muttering to myself, well, that’s the last time I ever go there, mean mean mean lady. (And, truth be told, I included a few expletives in my assessment of this person.) And then, not five steps later, I thought, maybe she was right, maybe I say sorry too much, maybe that is not “Israeli”, maybe it makes me look weak. Am I weak? Did I say sorry because I am weak?

Let’s just say…it became a bit of a downward rabbit-hole spiral that lasted, oh, a day or so…

Until I took a walk on Nahalat Binyamin, where they have loads of vintage shops, and there was one shop in particular that caught my eye. It reminded me of a vintage shop my daughters and visited in NY City, just near Union Square, where we had to wait in freezing-cold February weather for nearly 20 minutes before entering. And what I remembered most about that visit, was not the great price we got on the leather jacket or gold hoop earrings as big as my face, but the 10 minutes that my youngest and I spent putting on crazy hats and sunglasses and posing in front of the mirror and taking ridiculous selfies. And I didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. I was having fun. I was happy. I was free.

And I thought, hmmmm….that’s why this bee pollen debacle has hit me so hard. Because I feel judged. And I care what the judgy judger thinks. And I instinctively think, how do I change myself so that I am not judged?

And I thought of a line from an Alice Notley poem I’d read that morning, Will I hide until I die?

Am I hiding? What am I hiding? As I stood in front of the vintage window display, channeling my inner disco diva, I thought, time to stop hiding. Time tolook myself in the mirror (or vintage shop window) and see me—age spots and all. Sorry’s and all. Love for poetry and K-drama and tofu and tendency to tear up when I see a limping dog or crying baby or when a mean saleswoman is having a bad day.

To embrace ourselves we need to look at ourselves, define ourselves, not in reference to others, but in beholding the beauty that we are. But, it’s not easy; as Lorraine O’Grady writes, So long unmirrored in our true selves we may have forgotten how we look. So look! Pull out the hand mirror or stand in front of the full-length mirror or the vintage shop window and look into your eyes and say, time to come out of the shadows and stop hiding and behold beautiful you!

The Poem We’re Writing…

The Israeli elections??? WTF…?

No, no, can’t…even begin…

So, here’s a more manageable question—what do Taylor Swift, Ross Gay and Marie Howe have in common?

About a week ago, my husband and I were sitting in our a-miracle-we-even-got-it appointment at The Ministry of Absorption, which—I know, sounds a bit Harry Potter-ish. This was an important meeting, where we would learn about all the benefits and support we would receive as new immigrants to Israel, things like—skip-the-line doctor appointments, discounts on taxes and customs duties, and rental assistance.

After going through a list of benefits, our advisor, whose English was flawless, who sported a goatee, and had a look that crossed Biblical prophet with the 1970s disco-scene with his unbuttoned shirt, hairy chest and gold chains. This man turned to Bob and asked, so what is your job? He nodded and took notes as Bob explained his background as a lawyer and academic. Then he turned to me, and you?

With one publication under my belt, I shakily answered, I am a poet. He looked up, stroked his beard. A poet? I don’t know many poets, but my favorite poet is Taylor Swift, he said. She is amazing. Have you heard her new album?

I told him that no, I hadn’t but I loved the previous album, and had dissected nearly every song with my daughters. I told him I appreciated her honesty and vulnerability. I think this is why so many people connect to her songs.

Yes, he nodded his head, and told me Anti-Hero was his favorite song on the new album and that I should listen to it as soon as I got home. And he teared up.

We finished up the meeting and I took his advice and played Anti-Hero as I walked home. She had me with the opening line, I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser…

I think I thought that it would get easier, at some point—life. Like maybe, as ridiculous as it sounds, I’d arrive at some sort of plateau, with Marcus Aurelius Meditations-like equanimity. A place—internal and external—devoid of storms.

Where I’d just wake up—wise. But—that isn’t life. And that place—doesn’t exist, except in dreams and really bad Hallmark Christmas movies.

And the gorgeous famous talented Taylor Swift reminded me—we’re figuring it out as we go along. She reminded me That some days are hard. She reminded me that we are not so different from one another. Or, as poet Marie Howe has written, We’re all writing the same poem.

So Marie, what is that poem we all are writing?

This is where we arrive at Ross Gay—poet, essayist extraordinaire. Whose voice is like velvet. And sunshine. And joy—which is what he explores in his recent book, Inciting Joy. He writes, What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks?

Joy, it would seem to me, is what emerges from the collective recognition of each other’s humanity, each other’s sorrows, each other’s unique and necessary for the balance-of-the planet personalities. Joy is what emerges when, ok stay with me here, we honor each other’s poem we are all writing.

Maybe we’re all a bit like Taylor Swift’s anti-hero—trying our best and tired of all the judgment, from ourselves and others. So maybe we can stop pretending to be ok, when we’re not. Maybe we can give ourselves a break for being human. Maybe we can find meaning in speaking truth, in sharing (in our own particular way) the poem we are all writing, and in finding kindred spirits, as we help each other carry our heartbreaks.