Anger gets a bad rap. Especially for women.

We are raised to be demure, deferential, self-sacrificing, patient. Basically—need-less, emotion-less, opinion-less. And anger, well, anger just isn’t pretty. When we express our anger, we are either told to calm down or we get called that last resort of insults, the very uncreative and overused bitch.

But anger is important. It is what Karla McLaren calls the honorable sentry. Anger is our protector, our creator of boundaries, our defender of what is most precious to us, our advocate, our biggest fan.  

Anger appears when something has been violated—our voice, our person, our boundaries. Anger says, stop. Anger says you matter. As do your beliefs, dreams, goals, likes and dislikes. Anger says, you do you!

Which is why I’ve always been drawn to the story of Medusa. As the story is usually told, Medusa was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. As a punishment for desecrating her sacred space, Athena cursed Medusa with a head full of snakes and a gaze that would turn men to stone. And Medusa is finally killed when Perseus manages to cut off her head by using his shield as a mirror. It is no accident that it is the removal of her head—the seat of knowledge and power—that is her undoing.

But feminists have begun to reclaim the story. Interpreting Athena as actually protecting Medusa by giving a head of snakes, since it was Medusa’s beauty that enticed the rapist Poseidon. And let’s not forget the obvious symbolism of the snake. Medusa’s message is don’t mess with me; I can hurt you. And this is why many women now embrace the symbolism of Medusa and her struggle for freedom and safety. I’m not a Greek Gorgon, but there’s a lot here I can relate to.

We need our anger. We need to stand up for ourselves. So the next time you feel angry, ask yourself, what is being violated, what needs protection?

And listen to that voice, that loving strong voice in you, and unleash a little Medusa. 

House of Knowledge

Why is it, a friend and I were discussing recently, that as we get older, we seem to revisit certain stories? What we eventually came to, my friend and I, was that we are seeking some sort of resolution. Or understanding. Or healing.

This reminds me of lines from the poem “Becoming Seventy” by current US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, All the losses come tumbling down, down, down at three in the morning as do all the shouldn’t -haves or should-haves. It doesn’t matter, girl—I’ll be here to pick you up, says Memory.

These unresolved memories, these wounded part from our past, these shadow selves are asking to come out of the dark. How do we coax them out of the dark?

With kindness. And compassion. With a recognition that what is unresolved in us is asking for love and healing, not judgment and ridicule. So what if you are angry or feeling jealous or scared or really really petty? So what? Feel it. What feels uncomfortable is not asking not to be felt; it’s asking to be felt and loved and held.

Another Joy Harjo quote, this one from her memoir Poet Warrior speaks to the importance of letting go of our painful stories: At some point we have to understand that we do not need to carry a story that is unbearable. We can observe the story, which is mental; feel the story, which is physical; let the story go, which is emotional; then forgive the story, which is spiritual, after which we use the materials of it to build a house of knowledge.

So maybe that is what this life journey is all about—building a house of knowledge, so that we can love and care for ourselves and others. Tell me, what would your house look like?

The Delight Muscle

Every now and then I feel like a computer that must push the restart button. Maybe I’ve been rushing about or I am worrying about the state of the world or state of my family or maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before. Maybe Mercury is in retrograde…I don’t even know what that means, but it’s often given as a reason or why things are going haywire.

And we think—what??? Again? I just read that book on mindfulness and I was feeling so mindful yesterday, but life isn’t like that. Stuff happens. Big stuff, small stuff. Hormones happen. World events happen. Loved ones die and kids grow up.

So how do we stay sane? Or, at peace? Or, maybe even a bit joyful?

We practice.

Maybe that means starting the day by reading your favorite poet and taking pleasure in words, in feeling a connection with that twelfth century poet. Maybe that means talking to a good friend, sharing your heart, feeling heard. Maybe it is a quiet solitary nature walk.

It is all there, waiting for us to take delight in.

I’ve started reading Ross Gay’s Book of Delights, which is a collection of short essays all exploring the value of delighting in ordinary things. I read it as part of my morning meditation practice. He reminds me to open my eyes, notice what is right in front of me. Gay writes, It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.

Today I took a walk in Forest Park. By a pond. There was an Amish family having a picnic. And fishermen fishing. And a young mother holding her new baby. Cyclists and joggers. And so many friendly people who said hello and smiled.

And I smiled too.

Emptiness and Fullness

This past week was filled with joyous late-night conversations with my daughters, discovering cafes and kitchen shops and bookstores, and resting in the shade of the ancient trees surrounding the Capitol Building. It was bittersweet, as I helped my eldest daughter unpack and move into her new DC home. And there was an emptiness in the pit of my stomach when I had to say goodbye to my younger daughter, as she left to have a summer vacation before her Sophomore Year begins and to her older sister, who will soon begin her first job.

How interesting is life, that we can experience so many things at once.  Emptiness and fullness. Joy and sorrow. This is the way life is. And these moments of fullness and emptiness are not necessarily better than another; they both offer opportunities for growth, renewal, and leaving behind what must be left.

In the final chapter of John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara, he shares a poem by Norman MacCaig that beautifully illustrates this pendulation between emptiness and fullness:


I give you an emptiness,

“I give you a plenitude,

unwrap them carefully.

—one’s as fragile as the other—

and when you thank me

I’ll pretend not to notice the doubt in your voice

when you say they’re just what you wanted.

Put them on the table by your bed.

When you wake in the morning

they’ll have gone through the door of sleep

into your head. Wherever you go

they’ll go with you and

wherever you are you’ll wonder,

“smiling about the fullness

you can’t add to and the emptiness

that you can fill.

Emptiness is not a lack of something, but rather an opportunity to make space for something new. And fullness is a moment we can savor, but never hold on to. This too shall pass, is true for fullness and emptiness.

I say goodbye to my daughters, for now, but soon will say hello to my new country and new home and new memories to be made and time spent with my children in new and interesting places.

One truth…many truths?

Can we truly know another person? Can we truly know ourselves? Should we even try?

This was my primary question as I read poet Saeed Jones’ memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives. Jones explains how anticlimactic was the experience of coming out to his mother. He writes, I came out to my mother as gay, but I didn’t come out to her as myself.  

And my reaction to this statement was, what does it mean to come out as oneself? And, should we feel compelled to come out as our full selves to everyone?

I think I agree with Iris Murdoch who wrote, We are such inward secret creatures…most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value. 

If we are an enigma to ourselves, it would follow that we are to others. Which is why we can perceive ourselves one way and others can perceive and experience us differently. Maybe the best we can do is let go of the need to grasp one truth about ourselves. And others. And accept that multiple truths can exist.

And in this space of multiple truths I can be curious. I can question. I can ride the waves and enjoy the adventure.

Inner Critic…

Yes, revisiting that old topic of the inner critic, that nagging voice inside that tells you all the bad things about you, all the irreparable damage you’ve caused in the lives of everyone you know, and don’t know, I mean, the whole entire world probably, and how stupid your career choices were and oh ya, your hair looks funny…

The inner critic stands as judge, jury, executioner. The inner critic speaks with authority. And we just listen.

Now previously, when I’ve confronted my inner critic, I usually treat it as if I’m going into battle. And honestly, if you look at much of the literature out there on the inner critic, you see phrases like like taming your inner critic or silencing your inner critic, but that never seemed to work for me.

It seemed so…harsh. And I didn’t like the idea of going to battle with myself. Because I don’t think any part of me is bad…misguided maybe, in pain maybe, immature, but not bad.

So, what if the inner critic is just an uneducated part of us that is actually trying to protect us? What if our inner critic remembers how we suffered when we were little, and simply wants to protect us from shame and abandonment and hurt?

So, maybe it worked when we were 5 or 15. Maybe it was good to play small so that we weren’t abused or didn’t stress out anxious parents.

But now—hopefully you are safe and don’t need the protection of the inner critic. Hopefully, now you can reply on positive, rather than negative reinforcement. Hopefully, now you can flood yourself with positive affirmations and self-love and lots of self-care.

But we can’t forget the inner critic…she needs love too. She needs to be thanked for all the work she did to keep you safe. Because look—you’re here. You’re a miracle!

So, if the inner critic comes back for a little visit, throw your arms around her, hug her, thank her, invite her in for tea and cookies, and tell her she can go on vacation; you’ve got it now…

Enjoying the Ride

A few years ago, we thought we heard the scurrying of a rodent. up in the rafters. Then we saw droppings under our sink. So the local pest control sent over someone to check it out. And after spending the better part of an hour in our attic, he told us that yes, we had been visited probably by a rodent.

But how? I asked myself silently in my befuddled head. I am as clean as they come. I clean every day, I’m even a stress cleaner. And I’m organized. How did this happen???!!!

He could see I looked perplexed. And quickly explained that the few droppings he saw were probably the result of our neighbor doing roof repairs. He set some traps and told me not to worry. Then he said in a hushed tone, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you can’t completely get rid of rodents. They’re just part of living in a city.

He explained that basically, no matter how much bleach I drowned my house in, I could not rid myself of rodents.  So maybe it was time to chill on the cleaning. Which I did…

And I remembered that story the other day, when I was frustrated at how I had handled a conversation with one of my children. I was going around and around in my head, wondering how I could have handled things differently, what I could have said differently, and the only answer I got, from somewhere up on high was, Remember the rodents.

Remember that it’s impossible to have a perfectly rodent-free home. Remember that it’s impossible to have a conflict-free relationship. Remember that it’s impossible to read another’s mind and anticipate what we should say in every conversation. And remember that it’s impossible to get it right every time.

Annie Lamott says that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. Maybe it’s time to stop oppressing ourselves and accept a bit of inner-chaos. It’s inevitable, so why not chill and enjoy the ride…

Here and Gone

There is a particular busy intersection in St. Louis—near a freeway onramp, in between the Target and Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, just behind a new housing development—which, every now and then, a family of geese crosses. More than once, I’ve just exited the freeway only to see a row of brake lights ahead of me, and I quickly slam on my brakes.

And for a few moments, all of us drivers rushing from here to there—stop. And we watch Mama Goose usher her babies across the busy street. Why now? Why here? I have no idea. But every time I witness this spectacle, I tear up a bit. And I whisper, thank you. To God, to all the drivers—for this gift of communally watching a mama protect her babies. The gift of stopping and taking a breath.

Today, as I turned the corner, signaling to get in the right lane, checking to make sure I wasn’t too close to the car ahead (always have to be careful of this at the Goose Intersection), I teared up—but this time for a different reason than usual.

As I came to a stop at the red light, I saw the smashed remains of a big goose, probably Mama Goose. And my heart broke. Oh poor Mama Goose.

And I sighed a heavy sigh.

In Dog Years, Mark Doty explores love and loss and life’s fragility by recounting his life with his furry companions—from his first dog growing up, to the stray who followed him on a vacation in Mexico and his two dear dogs who saw him through the loss of his partner to AIDS. At times, he reflects, grief felt too much to bear and he found himself asking what so many philosophers and poets have asked, why? Why such beauty and terror? Why such joy and pain?

And the answer he seems to come to is that there really is no answer. That this is just simply the way it is. The beauty and the terror. The joy and the pain. The constant changeability of life.

Doty writes,  Here and gone. That’s what it is to be human, I think—to be both someone and no one at once, to hold a particular identity in the world (our names, our place of origins, our family and affectional ties) and to feel that solid set of ties also capable of dissolution, slipping away, as we become moments of attention.

And I thought of these lines as the light turned green and I went through the intersection, on my way home, to my husband with news of my day.

The Trickiness of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is tricky. Too often, when referring to self-forgiveness, it is equated with a lack of self-reflection. As if the only way to forgive oneself is to deny the gravity of what occurred. It just feels too bad to remember that…stuff, especially when that stuff involved another person, and especially when that person is someone we care for. And, too often, when referring to forgiving another, we assume forgiveness of the past grants permission for toxic people to have any place in our future.

Jerry Jampolsky said it best in “Letting Go of Fear”, forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.

What happened, happened. Now what?

For self-forgiveness, especially for those of us who struggle with shame…a little Maya Angelou (actually a lot of Maya Angelou) is the best medicine. And this quote in particular: Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better do better. It really is that simple. Every day make the intention to do the best you can; and learn and study and grow and explore and vow to be the best you can be. That is all you can do. Be at peace with that.

And when it comes to forgiving another? We don’t forgive for the other person; we forgive for ourselves. We forgive so that we can let go of the past. But, forgiving another doesn’t mean we have no boundaries or standards. It doesn’t mean that we deny our feelings or needs or grant ourselves agency to protect ourselves from toxic relationships.

What happened, happened. And the now what depends on what feels healthy and appropriate and loving.

I’m big on intentions. And an intention we can make every day is to be kind and loving—to ourselves and others—and to remember that a huge aspect of kindness and love is protection—protecting ourselves from our own toxic thoughts and protecting ourselves from toxic relationships.

Making Beauty

One of my favorite places to go in New York is The Strand. I am biased, I know, but I really think it is the best independent bookstore. Two floors packed with new and used books, vintage and hard bound books, helpful staff who have encyclopedic knowledge of whatever section they work in and basically any book you could imagine. And cool swag too.

As I walked into The Strand yesterday, I saw propped up in the poetry section the newest collection by Ada Limon, who is…….pause for applause…..our next poet laureate. And I’m going to be honest…I teared up when I learned that news a few days ago, because I absolutely love her, really, her work, her voice (she’s got an amazing podcast called The Slowdown, where she shares a thought and then a relevant poem by another poet), of course her craft is exquisite but mostly I’ll say what I love, what I connect to is her vulnerability, her honesty. Her spiritual yearning and questions and her moments of revelation. Her work reminds me that I am not alone. That we’re all figuring it out as we go along. Her work reminds me of something I read by Melody Beattie, There is nothing fundamentally wrong with us.

And then, Ada takes all this and makes beauty.

So yesterday I took a moment, and looked at her book and said, thank you Ada, for all that you have done and hopefully will continue to do.

I’ll close with one of my favorites:

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.