Afterfoam

Last week, I started a story for my Afterfoam collection, a sequel to Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”. It started as a character concept for the larp Cottington Woods, a little background story I originally called The Little Runaway , which I now think of as The Sea Witch’s Apprentice. Since then, it has blossomed into other stories like The Bride, The Knife, and now The Breeze, this one told from the Little Mermaid’s perspective as an air spirit:

There is a lot I did not know as a mermaid, child of the sea, and even less that I knew as a human, earthbound. But up here, the view is clearer, probably because there is little to do but think, once the meddling proves pointless or deadly.  I am my mind, my memories, and I cling to them. I have no image, no reflection. If I don’t remember, I’ll be lost.

Existence is different without a body taking up all my attention and focus (because what could kill me now but an Oblivion of my own making?) but I wouldn’t call it life. To live, you take up space, alter the world, leave a mark. I have free will but no direct impact; I am more voiceless than ever. I whisper mind to mind and I am told the siren song still purrs beneath my influence, sweetening my call, but I have no sound of my own, not even the thrum of the heartbeat that had always been with me, so familiar I didn’t hear it anymore. Only in its absence could I realize that it was the most beautiful sound in the world.

According to canon, she does not have a soul, she can only earn one. She no longer has a body. She believes she is heart and mind, only.

I’m pretty sure this is me writing to me.

Until recently, I hadn’t been paying much attention to my soul.  I need to work on nourishing and appreciating my body. I want to heal and grow in heart and mind, and yet I also need to remember that I am more than just those two aspects. 

The way I am using my Heart Mind Body Soul framework recently is to write down each category and place goals underneath. When I got to writing, I was stumped. Is it mind, because of creativity and intelligence and memory and imagination and processing? Is it heart, because I love it, because it reveals myself to me and inspires forgiveness and empathy? Is it soul, because I feel connected to something bigger and more cosmic, something like a muse or a genus or the universe? 

And then I realized it was each of them, at once, always, and that thought becomes writing only when I let my body get involved.

Essentially, writing is  at the center of my being.

It has been, all this time.

No wonder HMBS feels like purpose.

I found myself writing “write now” directly in the center of my little chart.

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Sometimes personal growth comes in the form of an incomplete chart.

I stared at it and experienced epiphany, that beautiful reshaping- 

-and then I collapsed into a puddle of grief, as surely as the Little Mermaid did when she tossed her knife into the sea.

I said, “I’m so sorry, Daddy. I get it now. Thank you.”

Because one message that has been in my life since childhood is that my father supported my writing. He did this when I was in 6th grade and he submitted a poem I had written about the impending gulf-war, a scared 11-year old trying to comprehend what exactly that meant. He didn’t even tell me. I didn’t know until a receptionist at my school told me she’d seen it. 

Come to think of it, that was the first time I had been published.

My father’s constant refrain to me had been “Write now” (and by the way guys I just figured out my next tattoo)- it appeared like a motto any time he found or manufactured an excuse to say “right now.” I’d know what he meant but he’d repeat it anyway, the verb switch practically written in the air by the mischief in his eyes.

And yet I resisted.

I resisted nearly every day, full-on Rebellion Mode, scattered with little bits of writing and sharing that fed my soul a snack and made me think I wasn’t rebelling at all. But I was, because writing makes me feel, and it makes me sob sometimes, and I didn’t want to go through it.

But today, I sat with this grief because that is what the goddamn Facebook memes told me to do, and because I wrote this note to myself JUST LAST NIGHT-

Dear Self- You feel things instantly so even contemplating feeling a scary feeling means you feel it. So just feel it and move on.

Love, The Self that is tired of feeling shit 10000% more than necessary.

And then when I reread what I had written and 10000% didn’t seem to encompass the uselessness of feeling something unnecessarily at all, and I added an infinity sign above.

So there I was on the kitchen floor dealing instantaneously with crushing waves of sorrow and regret that I refused to hide from, when all of my tools came together for me and offered me strength. I remembered what I read about grief  being love with no place to go and I just started talking to my father, like Brad had recently suggested, and I told him I love you and I miss you and thank you and I hear you. I reminded myself that grief allows me this gift- this chance to remember him and there is no reason to resist because it is an honor to have been able to love him so much that I miss him endlessly. And that, with this understanding, with this new belief that I can honor my father best by following his advice, given by his clear view of the words in my heart, I give myself permission to recognize, again, how much I need write, and why.

 

HMBS in Brief

 

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Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

My favorite discussion lately starts with this question: Where are you strongest, Heart, Mind, Body or Soul?

The HMBS framework is developing organically- it is the tool I am using to heal. But more than that, it is becoming an access point into the very core of the people I care about, common language that we can all identify with, a place to start.

This conversation is especially rewarding with your friends because they will give you insights into the way they think, their personal philosophies, their secret prides. If you give people the space to explore outloud, you’ll end up closer in the end. And in turn, the more you share, the more you can learn about yourself, the way you view the world, and gain new perspectives of your strengths. It’s a lot of win.

I’d like to get this conversation started now, with you. But first, I thought it would be helpful to give the briefest of outlines of what I mean when I invoke HMBS. Not everything will resonate with you- you may have different definitions. That’s okay. That’s better than okay. HMBS is personal, by definition. I want to know what it means to you.

Heart in Brief: Heart is love, all iterations,  bonds. Empathy, passion, dreams. Wants and needs. Connection.

Mind in Brief: Reasoning, logic, introspection, imagination, “a rich inner life”, creativity, thought-patterns, open-mindedness.

Body in Brief: Ironically, mindfulness. Presence. Body awareness, confidence, acceptance. Body chemistry and hormones. Nutrition, athleticism, dance, movement, rest. The five senses, tactile sensations. Sex.

Soul in Brief: Sense of self as distinct and unique, personal philosophy, spirituality, sense of scope in the Universe and our place in it, sense of scope of our bodies and the universe of cells that hold us together; awe of the chaos of the Universe that created sentient creatures with the capacity to try to understand; awe in a creator or source that may or may not have intended for everything to be the way it is at this very moment. Maybe just a healthy sense of awe in general.

So tell me, where are you strongest? Why?

 

The Magic of Beginnings

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There is a magic in beginnings.

That is what I hear when I think about starting this project for real.

“For real,” I say- like I haven’t been carrying the message of Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul with me for over twenty years, like I haven’t been living by it’s framework for the past two as I try to understand, control, and live with my depression and anxiety. But even though I feel compelled to explore this concept and what it means to my healing and overall sense of well-being, I have been hesitant to share what I find, to write it down. Because that’s scary.

Even though it’s the only thing I really want to do.

So I tell myself there is magic in beginnings, and then decide to find out where that phrase even comes from. Did I hear it from Gretchen Rubin or Elizabeth Gilbert or Oprah? It’s likely. When I say I am a fan of these women, this is no shallow praise. I dig the message they are all selling. It all comes together like a recipe for me: combine heaping cups of eudaimonia with dashes of self-acceptance and forgiveness, season with the Secret to taste (optional), and add creativity, boundless like garlic; there is always room for more. I can hear “There is magic in beginnings” in any of their voices, voices now familiar because I hear them on podcasts and Ted Talks.

Maybe they all said it.

But none of them said it first.

Turns out, the words echoing in my head are a paraphrase of Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century  mystic, philosopher, and theologian whose origin sounds so badass I feel the need to include it here: dude’s from “near Gotha, Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire,”  now known as Central Germany.

Also turns out, the real quote is better than the one I was using:

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”

And so, it’s time.

I begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eudaimoni-what?

What You Need to Know About Eudaimonia

The pursuit of happiness is a human obsession. It is written into our Declaration of Independence as an “unalienable right.” Even the Dalai Lama posted on his Facebook page that the “very purpose of our life is happiness”:

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Yet we tend to go about obtaining happiness in the wrong way. We look for it outside ourselves, in vacations and junk food, in parties and Netflix binges. Too often, we mistake material and fleeting happiness as the only way to get the positive boost we’re seeking. These quick fixes work well as distractions but may actually detract from our overall level of joy. Why?

Let’s take a quick look into ancient philosophy. Socrates and his students, like Plato and Arristippus, debated the ethics of happiness. Arristippus put forward “hedonism,” a method that concentrates on pleasure and self-indulgence. It’s an extremely tempting option, but it often excuses selfish behavior. Hedonism is like living a life by consuming only empty calories and hoping to stay healthy.

Aristotle, on the other hand, encouraged a more moderate method. “Eudaimonia” is like eating a well-balanced meal that also tastes great. Translating into something close to “well-being” or “human flourishing,” eudaimonia encourages finding joy in contentment and accomplishment. While happiness is subjective and will vary from person to person, the act of pursuing your happiness in your everyday activities will put you on the right path.

Here are a few ways to incorporate eudaimonia into your life:

  1. Get stuff done. Flourishing has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with effort. You don’t need to cross an entire project off your to-do list to feel accomplished. Break your goals into subgoals and tackle away. Each time you’ve completed a milestone, allow yourself to feel success. Use that glow to propel yourself forward to the next step, or the next goal. You’ve got this.
  2. Believe in yourself. It’s okay to tackle the hard things, even if you don’t believe you have the skills required. You can learn, or you can ask for help along the way. The point is, in the end, you are capable of putting in your best effort. In eudaimonia, the journey is more important than the goal. You don’t need to wait for the result to feel good. Despite Yoda’s sage advice, there is “try,” and “trying” is a great start.
  3. Explore your purpose. Remember how happiness varies? That’s because we are all individuals with different interests, gifts, and aversions. Fortunately, there is a place for your unique talents in this world.  By following your heart and accepting who you are, you will be that much closer to creating a life that suits you. Here’s another secret: accepting yourself is crucial to happiness. Take an honest assessment of who you are- your values, your talents, your challenges, and resolve to be your best self. Recognize when you aren’t.
  4. Give yourself a break.  You can’t be perfect all the time. In fact, you probably can’t be perfect at all and that’s okay. Flourishing doesn’t mean working yourself into a state of exhaustion. It means taking care of yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally. It means meeting your deadlines and relaxing with your friends. It means setting yourself up for success and keeping your options open.

The world is a very different place now than it was when Socrates engaged in long debate with his students. Not everything about their ideas will transfer neatly into modern society. However, the idea that happiness is not only attainable, but within your grasp, within your control, is timeless.

Reach out.

On Mindfulness and Changing the World

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Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

I wrote a post I like, On Mindfulness and Changing the World, on one of my three Tumblr pages.  Here’s an excerpt:

My daughter is 22 months old and changing everyday. Everybody says that the time moves so quickly, blink and she’ll be eighteen and out. My husband even said that just last night, something along the lines of, “We have 16 years with her and then she’s just, poof, gone,” and I reminded him that 16 years is actually a very long time. And when I’m mindful, time stretches. It’s easy to be happy. I’m catching everything, and when I am present, my daughter shines with the attention. Until yesterday, I would beat myself up for all those times I miss, when I am in my own head and far away, when I am inattentive.

Tan changed that for me. Mindfulness is like a muscle, he says, and the more you flex it, the stronger it gets. Each time you recognize you have drifted into daydreams, ruminations, or worries and have left your body behind on autopilot, you can just come back and start over, no big deal. In fact, good job for noticing. It will only get easier from here.

So far, Tan has used this compassionate approach in his description of awareness in meditation, but I’m extrapolating from the tone of the book and what I’ve seen from the table of contents, and slapping on my own ideas of radical-self-forgiveness. I’m only on page 65. But I think that’s the point: I am only on page 65 and I can already tell my worldview has shifted for the better. I have read a third of the book and I am changed.

The book I’m referring to is Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. Here’s a sample, and I will leave you with the same disclaimer I made in the original post:

I’m not getting paid to endorse it, or to provide opinions, or profit in any way. It’s simply that good so farBut fair warning: don’t let all humble-bragging get in the way of its message.

 

Blog Post: Date Night for a Cause (DateNight.ly)

Elsewhere on the Internet:

I wrote a blog post for DateNight.ly, a website dedicated to helping married couples find the inspiration to take time for themselves. I wrote about attending a charity event:

(I have to say, in advance, though no one else in the world cares but me: The ellipses aren’t mine. They were added by the editors. To each, their own.)


Date Night for A Cause

A typical date night doesn’t have to contain food, drinks, and stilted dialogue as you two try to remember how to be romantic and connected.

Imagine, instead, that you’re holding a specialty cocktail, something containing Elderflower liqueur or jalapeno-infused tequila… Your partner holds a frothing ice cold craft beer… The two of you chat with fascinating people who care about the issues that you do.

You’re relaxed, shining. You’re bantering, flirting with your partner. You catch each other’s eyes in silent communion, reconnecting effortlessly. Surrounded by your people, yet it’s still the two of you.

You are the team you’ve always wanted to be.

For a date night like this, you’re looking for a charity night to support a good cause.

continue at https://datenight.ly/cause/

Breadcrumbs: Or Eat, Pray, Love is the Sequel to Coyote Ugly

 

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“Hansel and Gretel” by Angela Rizza

Eat, Pray, Love is the sequel to Coyote Ugly.

Piper Periboo grows up to be Julia Roberts.

Who knew?

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, which I can’t recommend enough, and I vaguely remembered she had written whatever source Coyote Ugly was based upon. I probably had something else important to do, so seeking it out became First Priority. I found it easily, and as I read, the silver screen and written word jumbled around in my head. I realized: Violet Sanford is Elizabeth Gilbert.

I knew Eat, Pray, Love had been followed by a second memoir, Committed. Turns out both books are technically sequels to Gilbert’s 1997 article for GQ, “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.” Nobody seems to mention this. I did a quick web search, polled friends, heard only crickets. I carried the knowledge inexplicably; I have no idea how I knew. Maybe it’s because I tend to read the trivia of movies I like on IMDB.com? It’s mentioned there briefly, but Gilbert gets no writing credit.  When I started looking for it, I thought I was searching for a short story. It’s not.

If you’ve seen the movie Coyote Ugly, “The Muse” will feel awfully familiar. Imagine Violet without all the catchy-song writing stuff or the endearing family in Jersey, but keep all the singing and dancing on the bar. Remove the romantic subplot, almost entirely; manage to keep most of your favorite lines of dialogue. And then realize everything that remains actually happened. The same woman who spent months in an ashram in India scrubbing floors and failing to meditate poured tequila from the bottle straight into the throats of her acolytes. I love it.

By the end of “The Muse” she’s met and married her first husband. Fast forward in time a bit. Cue Eat, Pray, Love, which starts with a painful, difficult divorce. Her happy ending in one medium became the devastating catalyst of another.

You can follow the breadcrumbs further if you want. Committed picks up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off, at least in terms of the characters and gorgeous descriptions of travel. Committed is a thorough meditation on marriage, a union she is hesitant to enter again. I don’t blame her; in 2015, she wrote an article for the New York Times called “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” In it she writes:

You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.”

In 2016, she announced on Facebook her marriage had ended.

Don’t feel bad for connecting all the dots, finding the overarching narrative, noticing discrepancies, for deliberating which source is more likely to be the most true, the articles or the memoir (I say articles)– she’s putting all this out there for a reason. Writers like her, like me actually, put slices of our lives out there for the world to read, not even veiled as fiction. It’s an invitation. Permission. You’re allowed to try and get to know her by paying attention to what she tells you and to what she doesn’t. Somewhere in there is the real woman, and you can get as close as she’ll let you. Honestly, she wouldn’t have published it if she didn’t want you to read it.

Once, I envied her. Now I simply admire her. I admire the messages she seems to be peddling, like the one that insists we all have something creative to give and that it’s worth it to try. I find it comforting when she assures me that the Universe loves me as I am. To me, she’s a reminder that nobody is the sum total of a first impression, that it’s okay to be liked and disliked, and that a human being is a beautiful-if-flawed conglomeration of experiences.

I don’t have a job right now. I’m occasionally terrified by this. But then I find Big Magic, and it says I’ve fucking got this. Eat, Pray, Love tells me something literally awesome wants me to be who I am, and “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon” proves that we all start somewhere. These are solid forms of inspiration, scattered throughout her portfolio. Leading me somewhere I’m following.