A Blessing for the Coming Fruit

I’m going back through old blog posts, and as I reread one from the day before I started midwifery school, I was struck by a dream that I had:

“I had another dream, as I was waking from a brief but deep nap, that I was sitting in the middle of a circle, surrounded by all of the dozens and hundreds of people who have supported me and loved me and helped me to get to this place of beginning this journey. Everyone was wishing me well and sending me their love and prayers and blessings for a safe and wonderful traveling experience. It shifted from being in the center of a circle to being alone, in a garden. I held a single seed in the palm of my cupped hands and placed it into a hole in the rich soil. As I planted the seed, I suddenly turned into the seed myself, and was planting myself in the ground. I felt the anticipation of being inside my seed covering but also longing to sprout, to push down roots and send up stalks and leaves, to soak in the rain and sun and energy of life, and to grow into what I was intended to become.”

My eyes flooded with tears remembering who I was as I set out to become even more myself, and how I could still today say that the combination of feeling myself held and loved in community, plus the importance of being alone and doing the work of planting myself in a place I can put down roots, of tending to my own needs, is what sustains me as a person and allows me to continue the intense work of being a midwife. So much love to each of you who has stood in my circle, and richest blessings to the seed, and the soil, and the sun, and the rain, and the coming fruit.

Here’s to all that will begin anew and all that will come to an end this year. Here’s to moving beyond beginnings and endings and to finding what lies underneath. Here’s to belonging to the whole, and to remembering the vitality I find in being alone with myself. Here’s to the wild courage of planting ourselves in the fertile soil of the present moment.

Tend

It is the last day of what has been a very long year. 2017 has ushered more changes into my life than most years have, and it feels like a paradox to me that I have written less this year than in any other year of my adult life. Or rather, I have put fewer words to paper. Most of the writing has been done on my flesh. Sometimes it is hard to be gentle with myself when words don’t come. As someone who has been writing their whole life, to have a year filled with such profound transitions and not to be writing about it feels unusual.

But just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention. Last year, I wrote out this quote and taped it to the ceiling above my bed, so it was the first thing I read every morning and the last thing I saw before closing my eyes at the end of another day:

“remember,
you were a writer
before
you ever
put
pen to paper.
just because you were not writing
externally.
does not mean you were not writing
internally.”
― Nayyirah Waheed

I’ve spent this year writing myself home. Sometimes I am speechless at the ordinariness of the beauty that is right before me, when I am truly here to witness it. I think again of Mary Oliver’s exhortation to “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” and I feel like I’ve been living in the first two of these, and am slowly finding my way back into the third.

My word for this year has been “belonging,” and I have spent the past 12 months unpacking what it means to belong deeply to myself, to come alive in my own skin, to be a part of an interconnected web of people–my community, my chosen family, the people I deeply love and who love me in return–and to belong to the world.

I have chosen a new word to explore in 2018, or rather, it chose me somewhere back in October: tend. This one I anticipate will take me in many different directions, as I examine the different words that this root can become. It is a verb all on its own, and that itself can go in different directions: tending to do something, for example, as well as caring for and giving attention to. From the Latin tendere, meaning “to stretch,” come words like attend, tension, and intent. It also makes me think of tenderness. I’m so curious to see where this word (in all its many forms) will lead me.

I just looked back at what I believe is my very first word-of-the-year post, and I was delighted that I both picked the same poem to reflect on, and that as in years past, my word for this year was already present in what was alive for me and what I was writing about then. I also just reread my post from one year ago, and saw how deeply I lived my way into all of the questions I held as I approached 2017. I appreciated anew the freedom I gave myself to just exist:

You have permission never to leave behind a written account of your existence. If your life full of fabulous stories ends up as nothing more than a multicolor mandala crafted from millions of grains of sand, sprinkled onto this beloved earth for just one lifetime’s worth of moments before being gathered up in a brilliantly wasteful display of impermanence, all is still well. You do not exist to produce evidence of your presence here. Just be present here.

 I am in tears, just a few hours before the year ends, re-reading the words I wrote to myself on January 1st. In the end of that letter to myself, I wrote (and notice how my word for this coming year is embedded in the first line):

Dearest Rob from 2016: thank you for the intention you put into becoming the storyteller, the author of all that you are writing into being in the world. Thank you for becoming more and more yourself, for becoming me.

And, to the person I am becoming over the next year who will write to me on the cusp of 2018 with a new word to explore: I am excited to see how this year turns me into you, how I belong to you and you belong to me and we both belong in the grand scheme of this extravagant life that each moment is contributing towards.

I stand up from kneeling, my hand full of sand gifted to me by the ocean. I will take these tiny grains of time and use them to draw a temporary masterpiece on the canvas of my body. I will not grieve as the waves wash them away, because I know that I am a part of all of it, and it is a part of all of me. That is what belonging means to me now. I will see what it means to me in 365 days.

Last weekend, I went back to the coast, and I walked along the beach, and I let tears cascade in rivulets down my cheeks as I watched a small river pour its heart into the ocean, and watched the waves claim the flowing water as its own. I stood in rapt attention, meditating, seeing if I could discern at what point the drops of water that comprise the river became waves, became ocean, and when they were still river. I felt the water in me pulling me to the ocean as well–which is how I ended up nearly freezing my ass off camping on the beach in December!–and as my salty tears ran towards the sea, I realized that this is precisely what belonging means to me. The ocean, remembering itself in each drop. The river, running steadily on its way, knowing it was never not ocean, even when it was snow at the peak of the mountains in whose shadows I stood. The water in me, remembering itself in the waves, and knowing that the waves I danced with remembered me, too, and missed me when I was away.

I knelt again, Rumi’s words in mind, and kissed the icy ground, bits of sand and salt clinging to my lips. And as I stood, I saw a wave tugging at a heart-shaped stone, a gift from the ocean to my own heart, a reminder of the magic that asks for my attention and my intention, over and over and over again.

Sometimes I feel isolated, and forget that I am made of vast ocean, and ancient stardust, and fiery sunshine, and gentle breezes. The atoms that compose what I know as myself were born in the hearts of dying stars, and they have been other things, and they will again be other things as soon as they are done being me. Sometimes I forget that I belong here because I am made of all of this, and I am here to be all of this, simply to be it, with nothing needed to prove my worthiness. With all of the chaos going on in the world, it is easy to lose sight of this belonging, and when I do I have found that if I take myself to a place with stones, they will offer me their hearts and remind me of my magic. All I have to offer is my attention, my presence, which I suppose is the magic itself: just being here now.

As I stand here on the cusp of a new year, I want to write to the person I was at the beginning, to the person who was writing to me and imagining me here, and I want to imagine myself here again next year, writing back to me about all of the things this coming year will have held for me.

Dear Rob (from a year ago),

Thank you for diving into the adventures that belonging has taken you on. You can’t possibly have known it from where you are, but in saying yes to this word you are opening your heart to the possibility of letting yourself come alive in your body and in your relationships and in your community and in your world.

52 weeks ago, you wrote me a letter, stating that you were excited to see how this year turns you into me. 41 weeks ago, you crossed another threshold in transition, and made a conscious choice to craft your body into a place you can be alive in. Weekly since then, you have turned hormone injections into rituals, and have found yourself sitting on old-growth nurse logs, or in caves formed by tree roots, or at the tops of mountains, or in your call room, or in a pile of gorgeous fall leaves; each poke of the needle an offering to the healing of the wound, of the wounds, of the greater Wound. You’ve been witnessed by a roomful of your dearest queerest friends, by a line of marching ants, by a curious chipmunk, by a swarm of bees, by a flight of noisy cormorants. The world is present and compelled by your intention to be your most alive, tender, queer self.

You will fall in love this year. I could tell you more about that, but I want you to do the discovering yourself. But know this: in just a few weeks, you will meet a person who will change your world. Pay attention. They’re amazing. Let yourself love them as fiercely as your heart desires. They will become family to you. You will be lighthouse keepers for each other, mirrors for each other’s souls. You will learn each other’s names and call each other home. I am excited to see what else you will call home.

You will have a longtime friendship return, and deepen, and open your heart in ways that it needs to be opened. Don’t run away this time. Stay here, in it, and breathe, and heal, and do time-traveling magic together to send love and care and healing back to the people you were when you ran away because you didn’t know how to stay. This time you will stay, and your love and compassion and tenderness with each other will soften and expand you. Let that happen. Nurture that. They are also your people.

You will be in your body more in this year than possibly ever before. A couple of years ago, you wrote a poem that included the lines, “to live in this skin / and come alive here.” You will do that this year. You will also balance it out by doing the opposite, by taking the space you need to have downtime where you don’t feel present. Sometimes you won’t feel alive in your skin, won’t want to. Sometimes your body HURTS, and feeling that is hard, and you’ll need to do something else, and that’s exactly what you will do. You will take care of your gorgeous self enough to turn yourself into me here at the end of the year, and I am so grateful for that, for all of those intentional choices to eat, to sleep, to take a shower, to take a walk, to text a friend and tell them you’re in pain, to text a friend and tell them you’re in love, to text a friend and tell them you’re delighted by the magic in your life. You will splash in the ocean and hike by yourself and camp alone and get lost on dark beaches and wonder if you will find your way home. You will see sunsets so stunning that you immediately burst into hot tears because you are so glad to still be alive to see this one, right here.

You will catch babies, and more babies. You will deal with some emergencies that you’ve never handled before, and you will handle them, and babies will come out screaming, and parents will be alive to hug their babies. You will help people who don’t want to be pregnant stay not pregnant. You will hold devoted space for all of the stories that your patients bring through your door and into your heart.

It won’t all be beautiful. You will hold lost babies in your hands and feel your heart crack a little as you send blessings for them on their journey to wherever they are headed, and you will grieve that they couldn’t stay. You will hold their little bodies gently, with reverence, and you will let yourself be fully human and grieve their loss even as you handle the clinical side of what is occurring. And even that will be gorgeous in its awfulness. Death is a part of this work, too; it is one we fight to hold at bay, and sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. Pregnancy is as complex and perfect and flawed as the rest of our body’s processes, and sometimes it breaks in ways we cannot fix. And then you will hold death with the same kindness that you hold life.

You will also have moments of as great of fear as you have ever known in midwifery practice, and you will stay as calm and grounded as possible, as umbilical cords come out before babies, or as blood that should be inside a body cascades out in waterfalls onto the floor, or as shoulders are stuck, or fetal heart tracings are terrifying. You will care for the people who entrust their lives and the lives of their babies into your capable hands. And then you will go home and take care of yourself so you can do it again tomorrow.

You will write a little, here and there, in your journal or on your blog. You will write more on the dynamic canvas of your body. You are a work of art and a skilled artist, love. Keep at it. As Nayyirah Waheed said, “keep speaking the years from their hiding places. keep coughing up smoke from all the deaths you have died. keep the rage tender. because the soft season will come.”

Thank you for all of the work you put into becoming me. You lived your way into answers to questions you asked a decade ago, and you asked new questions you might not ever find answers to. Thank you for your dedication to discovering what it means to belong.

And to you, Rob, who waits a year from now on the precipice of 2019 for me to do the work of becoming yourself, I’m so curious about where “tend” in all its forms will take you, will take me as I become you. I’m curious about the ways your heart will break open this year, and how you will fall ever more deeply in love with your one wild and precious life (to borrow another line from Mary Oliver). I’m curious about the people who have yet to become pregnant whose babies you will have the privilege of welcoming into the world. I’m curious about what face will stare back at me from a blog post in this space a year from now, and what those eyes will have seen and those hands touched. I’m curious how you will tend the fertile soil of your heart and that of your garden, how you will offer your attention to the everyday miracles of your life, how with intention you will create change and healing in your world, how you will sit in the tension of existing in the liminal spaces, how you will “keep the rage tender,” how you will notice tendencies towards living anything less than your truest life and work to shift them.

It’s nearly midnight; time to bring these reflections to a close and take myself to a party where I can ring in the new year with people I love and care about. At midnight, I will blow a kiss across the expanse of the coming year to land on the cheek of the person I will be when I read it as 2019 approaches. And I will keep showing up for the life I am creating and writing my stories on the raw canvas of my skin.

Here’s to a year of tender, attentive tending. Bring it. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Live Everything

The crisp fall air bit my face as I made my way to my car this morning at the end of a very full call shift. As I drove down the hill from the hospital towards home, the morning sunlight danced with red and gold leaves and I burst into grateful tears. I got to meet five tiny (or not so tiny!) new humans in the past 24 hours. I had the honor of standing with people at the edge of a series of moments that would change their lives forever, and of safely guarding their baby’s passage into the world. The way the light mingled with the leaves took my breath away, and with the full harvest moon sitting on the horizon as a round, silent witness, I felt myself fall in love with my life again.

This year has been one of major transitions for me, and words have been hard to come by. I keep reflecting on what this blog means to me now, nearly six and a half years after I started writing it. I am no longer the eager young prospective midwife who moved alone to a big city on a grand adventure.

I live here now, both in the city I call home, as well as in the career I have chosen and the calling that has chosen me. I am an experienced midwife. I’ve caught hundreds of babies, spent untold thousands of hours in clinic and at the bedside in labor, screened countless cervixes for cancer, helped thousands of families with breastfeeding, and supported lot (LOTS!) of people in whatever their sexual and reproductive health needs might be. I teach students now, take baby midwives by the hand and guide them as they catch their first babies and insert their first IUDs.

For most of my twenties, I had this burning goal at the forefront of my mind: become a midwife. All of my effort moved me in that direction. It worked. I did it. Then I got my first job, and then my second. I’ve settled into my role. I feel comfortable and confident in my work more often than not, which takes much of the first few years of being in practice to cultivate. (Hang in there, new grads. You will not always look over your shoulder wondering where your preceptor is!)

Now I’m finding myself in a liminal place where I don’t exactly know what’s next. My work is internal: cultivate a life (and a home, and a body, and a community) I am in love with, a world I can stay alive in. It means finding my voice in new ways, and claiming my wholeness when much exists that tries to deny me that. It means taking my word for the year, belonging, and following it wherever it has taken me.

I will admit, it is disorienting not having a major life goal to move towards. Being in-between is a rich, fertile space, not unlike how it feels to sit in my garden at night and feel the plants growing by the light of the moon. Sometimes I find myself longing for certainty and an ease in being defined and definable. But who I am called to be in the world is bigger than any boxes could readily contain. Often I distract myself to avoid the discomfort of not having answers. But then sometimes, like this morning, slivers of magic will break through the noise and offer me a split second of utter certainty that I belong precisely here, doing precisely this, precisely now.

I feel this way when I’m out in nature. I camped and hiked a lot this summer, and something about standing at the top of something so much bigger than me made me feel exceptionally small and insignificant and also deeply needed as part of the bigger whole. The summer sun shining on my face welcomes me to inhabit each day as fully as I can.

But the seasons are turning now; the chill in the air and the darkness coming earlier is inviting me inward. There are inner landscapes to explore, and dreams to dream, and new projects to undertake and goals to set, eventually. As we move towards the darkest part of the year, the shadows in me are asking once again for my attention. I don’t know where these explorations will lead me, but I’ve learned to trust that when my inner voice is calling, something vital will offer itself to me when I show up and do the work of being alive in the world as my whole self.

I don’t know what that means for this blog. For now, it will continue to be a space I return to, a touchpoint. It allows me to look back over the miles I’ve already covered. My work, now as always, is to show up and, in the words of Mary Oliver, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

I wanted to write a letter to myself, but I am finding that in this moment, suspended between two call shifts at the end of a very busy week, and running on insufficient sleep, I don’t have the bandwidth to drop that deeply into connection with myself. So I will borrow from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

The contrast of the two photos of myself I posted bring up a lot of feelings. There is a lot I would say to the eager student kneeling beside their nursing school’s sign.

I would tell them to go for it, knowing how hard it would be.

I would tell them the sleepless nights are tough and worth it.

I would tell them they would make it. And they would make it. And they would make it again.

I would tell them that their heart breaking wouldn’t break them.

I would tell them that a brand-new baby screaming will always be one of the best sounds in the world.

I would tell them that the weight of stillborn babies in their hands would be far more than they could imagine. Then again, maybe I would hold that detail back. Maybe the heaviness of death mixed into this work is something they have to discover on their own.

I would tell them that bad news doesn’t get easier to tell, but they’ll get better at delivering it.

I would tell them that so much love is waiting for them. So, so much.

I would tell them that they will be lost and found and unlost and unfound over and over again.

I would tell them that they are better at surviving than they realize. Which is saying something, because they already realize that quite a bit.

I would tell them that home and family and belonging and wholeness are things they will get to experience in this lifetime.

I would tell them, again, that it’s worth it. Darkness and light, pain and joy, grief and celebration, laughter and tears, and all of the supposed binaries mixed up together.

I would tell them to live everything. Answers may come. But for now, love the questions.

Born of Dust and Silence

Several months of silence have elapsed since I last showed up to pour my thoughts into this space. Much has been unfolding that is more personal than I am able to explore in this format at this time, and I trust that as stories arise that want to be shared, words will accompany them. For now, know that much is shifting beneath the surface, and perhaps the surface itself is shifting, the landscape of my life changing shape a little, taking on new elements of beauty and fascination and curiosity to marvel at.

I have wondered on and off if it is time to retire from blogging for now. It seems I have less to say here than when I was a student, and it is at least as much personal as it is about midwifery. And then, at the ACNM Annual Convention last week, I spoke with no less than a dozen people (many current midwifery students, or new midwives) who told me that my blog was instrumental to them choosing this profession, or helped them through the rough waters of school, or reminded them that they were not alone. And I realized that I could still do that, even though I am in a very different place now than six years ago when I first sat down to write about my excitement about becoming a midwife and explore my journey towards this career, this calling of mine. Six-years-ago me could not have imagined that I would be sitting down during a lull on a call shift (I didn’t say the “q-word…” I learned never to say the “q-word!”) after a busy day in clinic to blog about being a midwife and becoming myself. Or, perhaps, could have imagined it, but not what it would be like from here.

But six-years-ago me isn’t the part of myself I’ve recently been most strongly connecting with. Ten years ago this summer, I was ill to the point of bordering on death. I look back at the photos of my emaciated body, hollow eyes staring at me through a decade of time, and I have so much I want to tell the person I was then. Last week, I went back to my childhood home (one of them) to visit my parents and my sister, and I spent some time connecting with myself. It felt like a deep healing sort of magic, to be able to send love back through time to myself when I desperately needed it.

Brene Brown put it this way:

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.

A number of those things happened to me a decade ago. I was newly out as queer, and newly in love with the person who would become my wife. I was living in a place where I did not get to express my queerness with a sense of safety or acceptance of who I was, and I managed to internalize the unspoken message that I needed to be small and take up less space. Combined with some undiagnosed physical health issues that spiraled together with anxiety and systemic oppression and not feeling a sense of belonging or knowing where home was, I made myself small. I lost 70 pounds in a year, dropping from an average weight to one that I still cannot believe I could survive at. I broke. I fell apart. I got sick.

I didn’t know if I would get better, or if I could, or even if I wanted to. I could not conceive of a life where I got to be my whole self and was loved exactly as I was and where delight was a theme woven through my days alongside the complexities of sadness and beauty and loss and heartbreaking joy.

I remember a singular moment that felt like a tipping point, where I sat alone in my room, my stomach raging in pain and nausea, gnawingly empty. I watched the pulsations of my aorta through my gaunt belly as I sat staring at a banana and trying to decide if I could eat it. I sat with that banana for hours, feeling like choosing to eat it despite how ill I knew I would feel was an affirmation of my intent to stay alive in the world, and uncertain if I had it in me to say yes. I journaled about this inner chaos. On July 1, 2007, I wrote of how “frighteningly low” my weight was (below 100 pounds), and described all the medical interventions that were on the horizon if I couldn’t force myself to eat, and what my choices were there. And then three small words at the very bottom of the page: “I choose life.”

I ate the banana. I somehow pushed through walls of pain and mountains of fear and kept eating. I left home and built a little family and fell in love with my life again. I didn’t die. I dreamed big dreams and from the depths of myself found the courage to follow them. I moved again, by myself, went to school, got divorced, became a nurse, became a midwife. And here I am on my couch at 11 p.m., pager clipped to the waistband of my shorts, hundreds of babies later, blogging about it.

In my grand tradition of writing letters to my past selves, here’s one specifically to me in that moment when I was sitting there with that banana:

Dear Rob (yep, that’s your name now; hang on),

I see you. Where you are at right now SUCKS. You feel sick constantly. Your body is wracked with pain and your mind with terror. You can’t imagine ever feeling alive again. You are eating your own flesh to stave off death for a bit longer, uncertain how much more you have to give. You are possibly the loneliest you’ve ever been, there in the solitude of your descent into illness.

I know, trust me I know, how much you don’t want to do this. You know how sick you will feel if you eat. You know what it will cost you. But just for a minute, I want to plant the seed of the idea that you not eating will cost me everything I now have. I need you to survive. I need you to do whatever it takes to keep your body alive. I can go back and repair anything else, can return with new perspectives and skills and coping strategies and will happily clean up any messes left behind. I just need you to feed yourself.

If I could, I would give you a glimpse into what lies in store for you on the other side of not dying. In the way that time is not as linear as we think it is and magic is weird and knowing that I went back last week with the intention of reconnecting with you, I’ll give it a shot. If you eat that banana, and keep eating, and keep doing whatever you need to do to stay in the land of the living, I promise you on everything you know to be holy and good that you will come alive again. This is not where your story ends. Far from it. You will keep writing.

In a couple of months, you will move to California, and you will meet people who won’t bat an eye at your queerness. A year from now, you will be married. You will put on a dress (sorry, next time it can be pants) on International Women’s Day and say “for today, and for the days to come” to a woman you love, and you will mean every word of it. You will explore together to the end of your exploring, and your paths will diverge, and you will be sad, and you will feel broken, and you will crochet and write and cry and study your way to feeling whole again.

During this time you will have moved again, to Seattle, on to one of the biggest challenges you’ve ever given yourself. You will dream a seemingly impossible dream, and you will have no idea until you’ve actually done it whether you can. From where your emaciated body sits, banana in hand, you can’t fathom being able to take on the role of caring for anyone but yourself, but you will do it. You will kick ass at one of the most accelerated intensive nurse-midwifery programs in the country. You will rise to the challenge of the dream your grandmother offered you. You will sit in a session at a midwifery conference ten years from now and hear her whisper, from somewhere, that you are her wildest dream, and you’ll realize that she gave you yours as well.

You will get a job that will stretch you and teach you a lot about how to be and how not to be a midwife. You will stay there until you need to leave it, and then you will go to a new place. You will bring your whole self to your work. You will receive babies into your hands and stories into your heart. Your presence with your patients is being cultivated by the quality of the ways in which you are showing up for yourself right now. So keep showing up. Keep doing the hard work of staying alive in the world.

Know that you are not alone. I promise that I will come back for you. Ten years from now, I will return. I will sit in the bedroom you spent your adolescence in, and I will bring all of my accumulated love and wisdom and magic with me. I will sit in the living room eating an apple (because I can’t stand bananas anymore), and I will feel the weight of your frail body sitting there with me, and I will reach out a hand to you from across the decade and lend you all of the strength I have built in the 80 extra pounds of muscle and fat and blood and bone and life I hold in this body you now occupy, and through our collective tears I will call you home again. I must leave home to stay alive, and I promise I will come back for you and through some time-warp magic I will reach back through the past and whisper courage to your palpitating heart, the courage you need to stay alive so you can grow into me and I can go back for you.

Your (my? our?) pager will go off while you write this, and you will go catch a baby and not come back to finish blogging for another week. What will remind you is a sunset that is so astonishing in its simple brilliance that it will move you to tears. You will stand in a spot a block away from where you now live, the fading light of day dropping down over the Olympics before you, and the way the sky makes a perfect silhouette of a sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace will flood your cheeks with saltwater because you are alive to see it.

You will be listening to “Turning Wake” by Ayla Nereo right then, and you will stand still with the cool evening breeze caressing your face as she croons,

I’ll be dancing’ with the ones who remind me
we are born of dust and silence
we are made of ancient songs
and there are ones who’ll keep us sleeping
and there are ones who bring the dawn
put your back to the birch and your mind to the matter of a
listening kind of way
we are born of dust and silence
we are made of ancient songs…

I will stare into the lens of my camera in that moment as if I could look through ten years of history and catch your eye.

I will gaze unblinkingly at the memory of your dying body as tears pour down my cheeks, and I will smile because (spoiler alert!) I know you made it out alive. You can’t know that now, and that is terrifying. Your body will indeed die one day, love, and you will return to the dust and silence you were born of. But not yet. This is not where your story ends.

 

I will stare back across a decade and hold you with limitless compassion, borne out of all of the precious life I’ve lived in the 3644 days between these two photographs. I will grieve with the embodied memory of what happens when I try to take up as little space as possible. You have no idea what you are capable of, how you will proceed to gleefully and unapologetically refuse to fit into anyone’s boxes, how in claiming your authentic wholeness and all the space that is yours to occupy you will create for yourself a life that you can thrive in.

I imagine myself with you in my lap. I would kiss the top of your head and stroke your bony cheek and tell you stories of the life you will live if you eat that banana. I would whisper in your ear the names of every single baby your hands will catch. I would sing you songs you have yet to learn and recite to you some of the poems you will write. You have to stay alive, love, because the world’s best cat has yet to be born, and yours are going to be his favorite shoulders to sit on.

Oh, my love, the tales I have to tell you of who you are becoming! You have so much life left to live. I wish I could tuck you in at night with stories of how brave you are, how resilient, how you will create a home and a life and a chosen family for yourself. It will be a long, tough rode; I won’t lie and tell you otherwise. Dozens of healthcare providers, well over a hundred appointments, several surgeries, and countless medications and treatments of a variety of kinds will be required to keep your body alive. You will do so much inner work, filling journal after journal with your thoughts and reflections. You will come face to face with your own shadow and welcome it. The journey of a lifetime is to integrate all that you have seen and done and experienced and been in the world, and I promise you that you have within you a seemingly endless well of courage that you will draw from again and again to show up and do the work.

Your beautiful queer self belongs in this world, Rob. Despite what you grew up hearing and what you still hear: there is a place for you at this table. You will discover, as you do the work of staying alive, just how much the world is in love with you. Oh, I wish you could take just a tiny glimpse into my bank of memories from the past decade! You have no idea what a ridiculous life I’ve built for you to come home to. I need you not to give up on living just yet, because there are full moons to admire and queer humans to kiss and mountains to hike up and songs to dance to and heart-shaped rocks to discover in all of the places you go. There are books to read and baths to take and poems to take your breath away. There is love to give and receive and make and fall into and fall out of and do it all over again. There is so much delicious food to eat (I promise that nourishing yourself won’t always be as hard and painful and scary as it is now). There is this incredible body that you get to inhabit, and as you put in one of your poems, “to live in this skin and come alive here.”

And so you will, dear one. You were born of dust and silence, and one day you will return to the same. But not yet. I came back for you. I came to bring you home with me, to carry you to a life you’ve made for yourself to thrive in. I left a heart-shaped stone behind so that you can find your way back to me. I’ll take care of you; I’ve learned how.

Come home with me.

All my love and magic,

Rob (roughly 5,247,360 minutes later)

Between Earth and Sky

It’s been over a month since I last sat down to pour my thoughts into this container, and what a deeply moving month it has been. Each day has set before me an ever-changing landscape, and I have made it my intention to be present and deeply listen to what my life is asking of me. So far, what has been coming up is a request from myself to show up as my whole self wherever I am, and to take up all of the space that is mine.

It is the nature of my work to hold a lot of things. I accumulate so many stories during my clinic days and the nights I spend wiping sweaty brows and supporting perineums and welcoming new little lives onto the planet. I hold with my clients the intensity of pregnancy loss, the discomfort of aching backs and swollen ankles, the sweet relief of that first newborn cry. My hands guide babies safely into the world and their parents through the process of birth, mostly without excessive effort (aside from careful watching) on my part, though occasionally swift intervention to save a stuck baby from birth injury or a hemorrhaging person from complications is needed. I show up and occupy that space between life and death, and I feel it deeply when I do. I am learning that my education in science and the skill and training I received can coexist with my intuition and more subtle ways of knowing, and I am working at trusting them both.

I find myself in an endless process of becoming. I am in transition, now and always. I will never not be changing. Nothing feels solid to me right now, because I exist in the dynamic tension between beginnings and endings. There is a certain sweetness in just being in the discomfort of transition without having to know how the story ends, without having any idea if the paths I am walking will take me where I want to go, or even if where I think I’m headed is where I actually want to be.

I stand here in this singular moment in time, occupying this particular space between earth and sky, gravity holding me fast, feeling deeply into the strong force that unites the particles of matter that have come together to form this thing I call myself. I hold gently to my heart the groundlessness inherent in being human. I sit in the questions without having or needing the answers just now. I can breathe into the restlessness in my heart that wants to know what is going to happen, or if I made the right choice, or if it is all okay in the end.

Several times before in my life, I have felt a sense of being invited to do something by something larger than me, and of that being something I just couldn’t not do. I didn’t have answers, or even certainty that I would be able to do it. I felt this when I decided to come out of the closet 13 years ago. I felt it when I was deciding if I should go on the Equality Ride in 2006. I felt it as I was trying to figure out if I would be able to survive midwifery school. And I feel it now.

Mia Hollow put it this way:

every now and again,
you will feel a dull ache in your soul.
a gentle humming around your heart.
a longing for something without a name.
if i ever told you to obey anything,
this would be it.

listen to the call of your authentic self.
that part of you that lives just outside of your own skin.
let it have its way with you.

i have died a hundred times trying to ignore it.

I have learned to deeply trust this voice, because every time I have followed it, the subsequent journey it has invited me on has become a vital part of my becoming myself. It is a call to my deepest courage and most audacious visioning. It is, as Mia Hollow said, “the call of [my] authentic self.” And I have made a commitment to myself that I get to show up whole and take up space, which means claiming all of the parts of myself as mine and not making myself small to make other people comfortable.

Standing at the edge of this unknown, I feel a pull from what feels like a future iteration of myself whispering, “Yes, take this next step. You don’t have to see the whole path now. But take this step.” I also feel an immense surge of gratitude to my past selves for all of the times that I’ve shown up for these invitations with an open, curious heart, and how each of the steps I’ve taken so far have led me right here. There is a sense of continuity here throughout my evolution thus far, and as I sit with my own liminality, it is becoming clear to me that while the destination is uncertain, I know that I am coming home to myself.

This word that I’ve chosen for 2017, belonging, is already challenging me to show up for my life in brave ways. This afternoon, during a meditation on grounding, I felt a fierce sense of belonging as I sensed myself occupying the space where earth and sky came together. There was a wholeness, a continuum between the farthest reaches of space and the solid core at the center of the earth, and I existed in that expanse, taking up a miniscule fraction of it, but nevertheless belonging here.

So much is happening under the surface, and I keep coming back to a question posed by poet William Stafford: “Ask me whether what I have done is my life.”

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

I’m sitting here at the edge of the river, trusting the current, asking myself whether what I have done is my life, taking up space between earth and sky.

The Antidote to Despair

I don’t know about you, but the last week and a half (the entirety of this current presidency thus far), and even the past couple of months since the election, have brought me closer and closer to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion that previously I had been better able to keep at bay. Seeing my newsfeed filling up with story after story of injustice and trauma and an all-out assault on my values and the communities I care about seems to drain all of the fight out of me and push me right into my trauma response of choice, which is to freeze and find a way to numb the overwhelm of it all.

Self-care is and has long been vital to my survival, and recently it has become ever more so. I find that doing multiple things every day to care for my whole self (physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually) is so important, and takes so much time and energy, and it is a privilege that I have those things (not always, but usually) to put towards the activities I need to do to keep myself as well as I can be under the circumstances.

When things are out of balance, I feel it everywhere. When my sleep is interrupted by nightmares of hiding in closets from Nazis out to get me (the second part of that dream was not untrue, but I no longer hide in the closet), when food is not interesting to me, when I spend days without reaching out to people I love and deeply connecting, when I hide inside instead of moving my body to metabolize the accumulating trauma… I hurt. I hurt in mind and body and psyche and soul. Sometimes I can’t seem to shift out of the hurting place, especially when I have to care for others. It is hard to be in deep trauma and still show up authentically and hold space for someone in labor or in my clinic room or in the operating room. It is hard and I do it, because it is part of my work and my magic in the world to show up as my whole self in spaces and give myself room to feel everything, not necessarily in that moment, but to create daily space to feel.

One of my self-care practices is to get out in nature. Because of the weather, I hadn’t gone for a hike since Christmas, but a few days ago, despite a drizzling rain, I took myself out to one of my favorite Seattle parks and wandered around, not entirely aimlessly but definitely without my usual drive to explore and move my body. I felt like I was right at the edge of despair and could tell that it would take very little to push me right into the thick of it. I searched in my awareness for some answer, some of my unique magic, that could provide a shift to bring some greater ease into this situation, and as my mind went into a state of inquiry, the question asked itself of me, “What is the antidote to despair?”

At the time I was asking myself this, I was unfamiliar with Joan Baez’s quote that would answer that question with a single word: action. She believed that moving forward and doing something would provide the shift I was looking for. And she may well be right, except that I was so overwhelmed with inertia and pain that finding actions to do felt almost impossible.

Sitting in the question, and holding it gently to my chest, I ended up on a rocky beach and found myself looking for heart-shaped stones. To my dismay, I wasn’t finding a single one. I searched and searched, and these stones that always find me easily were staying invisible on the beach. Tears began dripping down my cheeks along with the drizzle of the rain, and I squatted down by the water and let myself feel everything. “What is the antidote to despair?” I asked myself. And I instantly found my answer in the word I chose for this year: belonging.

Belonging is my antidote to despair. I brought to mind the humans that I love, by name, one by one, and as each name appeared in my mind, I noticed that my magic was returning to my body. I thought or whispered a name and a heart-shaped stone appeared on the beach. I called to mind folks I consider my chosen queer family: Dylan. Carey. Emily. Maggie. Nico. Simon. Meg. Susan. Katie. Brooke. Tasha. Maddie. So many others. I thought of my family of origin and my complex love for them. I pictured my community of midwives and nurses and physicians. I thought of all of the folks I’ve shared dances with over the past year since I started dancing. And yes, I thought of my cats.

And I whispered my own name to the stones. I meditated on what belonging deeply to myself might mean to me. I thought of how complex it is to belong in my skin, to feel at home in my body. I thought of all of the love and labor that I have put into belonging to myself, and I sent gratitude back in time to all of the iterations of me who have worked for my survival and to help me have the chance to thrive. I also sent thanks to all future selves I will become, and to the love I know they are sending back through time to me, as I do now, as part of my work in the world. I thought of all the bodies I’ve lived in already in this lifetime (young, fat, gaunt, sick, athletic, scarred, tattooed, frozen, dancing, and oh-so-queer), and how many more I might get to experience. I fell in love with my life again.

I thought of what it means to me to explore the concept of belonging while living on stolen Duwamish land, a land rightfully belonging to people who are not my ancestors. I thought of the lands my ancestors belonged to, scattered throughout northern Europe. I thought of all the heart stones I might find on the beaches and in the fields they called home, before they left to become settler colonists (some of them coming over on the Mayflower). I reflected on the violence of their actions towards Native peoples, towards people of color, especially Black people who were brought over to serve as slaves whose labor was foundational to capitalism’s beginnings. I felt into what it means to belong as a queer and gender non-confirming white person to a community of activists working to create a world where there is room for everyone to belong.

I wove for myself the fabric, the web of belonging that holds me fast in the world. By the time I left that beach (forty-four heart stones later!), my pockets were heavier than my heart was when I arrived.

As I made my way back to my car, damp and grateful, I thought how important it was that belonging is my word for 2017. This is a year that already promises a lot of intensity, with no sign of letting up. Reminding myself over and over that I belong here, in this world, at this time, is going to be vital to my well-being and indeed, to my survival.

There are other things that act as antidotes to despair for me, and I will name them in case any of them speak to you. Just the sheer act of existing as my whole self in this world that attempts to deny me that is an example of fierce defiance and resilience. My existence is resistance. Here are some of the things that help me keep existing:

Sleep: easier said than done when my nights are plagued with nightmares, but I find that if I do not sleep well, I do not function well. When I am able to allot sufficient time for resting my body and mind (quality of sleep aside), I have much more reserves to cope.

Community: Staying in contact with the people who give meaning and purpose to my life fills me with love and oxytocin. Checking in with my loved ones whom I know are also struggling with various heavy burdens is important to me. Making some effort, daily, to reach out and love someone, whether in person or over the phone or via social media, helps keep me going.

Food: this is an edgy one for me, as my body has a complicated relationship with food (due to both allergies and chronic stomach problems from a birth defect). Choosing to eat foods that nourish me and give me energy, as well as intentionally making food and feeding others, gives me stamina. Choosing not to use food to mindlessly help numb my feelings can be hard, but it feels important to make an effort to tease those two things apart and let my feelings have space to be expressed and not conflate them with food. Letting myself be fed–in all the ways that can be interpreted–is one of my goals for this year.

Organizing: as much as I have reserves to do it, showing up in activist spaces and working with existing movements for social change and resistance helps me remember that there is work that needs me and that my voice and my efforts can create good in the world. There is a balance between exhausting myself in all the doing and letting the action feed me, but here is where I do agree with Joan Baez, that action is indeed one of the antidotes to despair. Especially getting behind efforts led by people of color, and queer and trans folks, who have been doing this work for longer than I’ve been in it, is vital.

Movement, and especially dancing: when I move my body, either on my own or in connection with another body, I get out of my head and the swirl of trauma I’ve accumulated and emotions I haven’t gotten to process and I land fully in my own skin. I feel into my strength and flexibility and resilience, qualities that fuel my ability to keep doing the work of this moment. Physical activity helps me to metabolize all of the build-up and keep it from drowning me, giving space for big feelings to come up and move their way out of my body. I deeply appreciate collapsing in a sweaty heap after a good night of dancing with folks I love.

Poetry and stories: words are my lifeline home to myself. My walls are plastered with poems that remind me where home is, what healing looks like, that I am whole, that loving is worth it, that living is worth it. “We need to share our wars,” Nayyirah Waheed said, in one of the quotes I taped above my bed. Writing and reading others’ writings keeps me going. Stories link me to the experiences of others and simultaneously help me come home again. Language is a bridge across solitudes.

Therapy: I need to have a place I can go to download and process things so I don’t only rely on my friends and loved ones to do this emotional labor for me. If I let them build up, they sink me. Having someone in my life whose job is to hold me, and who does not require any holding in return, is so necessary to my well-being. Mental illness is so highly stigmatized in the dominant US American discourse, and speaking openly about it is part of my activism.

Pleasure: living is full of pain. We know that far too well. Taking joy in the delights that also make their way into my life reminds me that living is not ALL pain. A lot of experiencing pleasure is about mindfulness; pain and pleasure often coexist, and noticing both when they arrive and when they go is one of my practices. The heat of my evening shower on my skin as I step into the water and rinse off my day is pleasure. A bite of kumquat dipped in honey and topped with a Szechuan peppercorn is pleasure. Watching the colors of the sky as the sun dips below the horizon is pleasure. Feeling a lover’s lips on my own and being aware of nothing else in the world is pleasure. Hearing a newborn’s first fierce cry, announcing their arrival onto this planet, is pleasure. Snuggling into my bed at last after a long night of being awake welcoming new people onto the planet is pleasure. Pain is mingled in each of these in different ways (the bite of the peppercorn feels different than the ache of up-all-night-babycatching exhaustion), but all of them also hold delight.

Nature: I have to go outside to stay well. I need to bury my toes in cool grass and jump into chilly lakes and feel the smoothness of stones in my palms. I need to kiss trees and tuck bits of lichen in my hair and smell the sea and let myself get lost in the wildness outside me as well as within. I need to inhale fresh oxygen and remember that I am a part of this, that I belong to the world. I need to let the crashing waves remind me where home is. I need the animals to teach me how to be. I need to wear out my body climbing trails in the middle of nowhere so I can find myself again.

Unplugging: this one is hard for me, because I feel so drawn to staying connected with what is happening in the world around me. But I have found when I am outside of cell reception range or wifi access for a day or five, I return feeling recharged. When I mindlessly scroll through a newsfeed of despair, I lean closer to that edge myself. This one is most definitely a work in progress, and I don’t often do it well, but I am committing to finding a balance between informing myself and overwhelming myself with information.

Breathing: staying in my breath helps me stay in my body. Whether through singing at the top of my lungs in the shower, or consciously slowing down my rate of breathing to quell anxiety, or moving my body hard to get my lungs going and my heart beating faster, mindfully being present in my breath brings me back to what is happening right now and diverts my attention from catastrophic thinking. Meditation also fits into this category.

There are so many other self-care strategies, so many other antidotes to despair that are possible. I am so grateful to be finding mine, and I want to be authentic in this writing and make it clear that I don’t have this all figured out, not by any means. These are things that help me survive and sometimes even thrive in the world, and they are not easy to do. Some days I want to hide in my room and eat chips and ignore my work and not talk to anyone, and that is okay. Some days, survival is my work, and I do that as best I can. Every time I choose to do something to preserve my aliveness in the world, I am part of the resistance. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Belonging is political warfare. Belonging is raw power. Belonging is my antidote to despair.

I would love to hear about your equivalent to heart stones. What speaks to you of belonging? What keeps you going when despair looms in close? What fuels your resistance? What reminds you that you have a home in this world?

 

A Thousand Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground

It is the end of one year and the beginning of another, and with the turning of the year arises in me a sense of reflection about who I was and what I did in 2016, along with curiosity and intention about the coming year. Last year, I explored the idea of home. This year was all about storytelling. I had such big ideas a year ago of how I would chase this word down, how I would let it inspire me to take control of my stories and craft them and attach words to them so they do not just exist in my body. Instead, I found myself opening to the ways that my stories wanted to tell me. I learned that there are nuances to the idea of storytelling, that the narratives in my head that I repeat to myself that can be harmful to me or to my relationships are stories I want to work on un-telling.

Just as home didn’t take me where I thought it might, neither did storytelling. But both brought me more deeply back to myself. And that, ultimately, is why I choose a word: it is an intention, a spell, a way of channeling my focus throughout the year and deepening my exploration of a facet of my being that I want to connect with.

In my grand tradition of writing letters to myself, here’s one from me at the cusp of this year to myself where I stood a year ago.

Hello fierce storyteller,

The way you showed up for your life this year was nothing short of extraordinary. I want you to hear that, to fully receive it, to let it settle deep into your bones. I wish that you, from the beginning of 2016, could see a glimpse of all that you would create and become this year.

You chose storytelling as your word for the year, envisioning that you would spend a lot of time and energy devoted to writing down your long history of amazing stories into a format that could be transmitted to others. You thought you would be writing your book, and instead the level of writer’s block you’ve felt this year has been challenging and unexpected. You have journaled and blogged much less than in previous years, and it has taken significant work for you to be gentle with yourself about that.

But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been storytelling. In January, you started dancing, and that changed your life and your body and the very way you move through the world. If I could give you any single piece of advice about this year, it would be to show up for that first ecstatic dance. Let that container give you permission to move in your skin, to process and release emotions and traumas and stories lodged in your muscles and your fascia and your bones. Let the way you learn to dance be one of the most liberating stories of the year. Don’t ever stop dancing.

Rumi said,

Let the beauty of what you love
Be what you do.
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
There are a thousand ways to go home again.

These words will come to your mind towards the end of this year, as you find yourself on the Oregon coast at the winter solstice looking for heart-shaped stones. You will be walking along the beach, reflecting on all the work that needs doing and feeling inadequacy about your limitations and not being able to do all of it. You will wonder how your gifts can possibly be enough to do your part of being the healing of the wound when the wound feels so vast and your gifts so comparably small. Then you will see a heart-shaped stone in the sand, and in kneeling to pick it up will notice that the sand itself is made of tiny stones, and as you lean in even closer with a meditative state of focus, you will notice that some of those tiny stones are also heart-shaped. In inexplicable ways, part of your unique magic is expressed through seeing and collecting heart stones; you’ll find and bring home hundreds of them this year. And in that moment on the beach, after pressing your lips to the icy-cold sand, you will understand at the core of your being that whatever ways you are called to show up and offer yourself to the telling of the greater Story are enough. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, and this is one of yours. You are always going home again.

You have permission never to leave behind a written account of your existence. If your life full of fabulous stories ends up as nothing more than a multicolor mandala crafted from millions of grains of sand, sprinkled onto this beloved earth for just one lifetime’s worth of moments before being gathered up in a brilliantly wasteful display of impermanence, all is still well. You do not exist to produce evidence of your presence here. Just be present here.

Show up so deeply and fiercely for your life that when your flame is ultimately extinguished, you know that you burned as brightly as you could. Put down capitalistic ideals of all that you need to do with your precious time here and let your fragile self be gathered up in the interconnected webs of belonging that hold you fast. Let your heart be open to all that needs healing in this world, yes, but remember that the need is not the call. What the world needs is not the same as what the world needs from you. Be careful not to take on more of the world’s pain than you can metabolize; otherwise you will drown in it and not be able to do your work in this moment.

Dearest love, I know this year of exploring storytelling as your theme has not quite gone as you imagined it might. When you sat down at the end of last year to conjure up your word for 2016, you did not know where it would take you, but you knew you wanted to go there. And in your first blog post about it, prescient human that you are, you even named the word that would claim you for the following year as well:

In the last fifteen minutes of this year, I am committing to my word for 2016. I had a hard time deciding on this one (there were several strong contenders!). I know what this word will ask of me, and I am not quite sure if I have the courage to show up for it. But I want to go to the places it will take me and stuff my pockets with anything worth bringing back.

Storytelling.

That’s my word. That’s my goal. Now that I’ve journeyed back home to my body, I need to explore all of the stories I carry. I need to remember where I came from and who I am and what my life wants from me.

I need to rest my palms on my sturdy trunk and feel that I, too, have roots. I belong in this world, and this world belongs in me.

Looking back even a little further, to your post on home, you predicted the words you would choose for the next two years: “Home is being my whole self and living an authentic life true to who I know myself to be, even if it means that some people will not accept me. Home is writing down my stories so I can share them with the world… Home is finally, finally, feeling like there is a place for me in the world, like I belong here, like I am a part of all that is.”

Storytelling taught you that Nayyirah Waheed was right in her poem when she said:

remember.
you were a writer
before
you ever
put
word to paper.
just because you were not
writing
externally.
does not mean you were
not writing
internally.
–stories

This year also taught you about all of the stories you carry in your body that need un-telling. Again, Nayyirah Waheed said it first: every poem here / is an unwrite / of all that has been / written in me / without permission. You have been diligently unraveling strands of meaning and weaving them into a new whole self, a story you can clothe your body in, a soft bed where you can lay yourself down and rest.

You stood up on a stage in March and told a vulnerable story in front of a sizable crowd. You sat in countless circles and shared your name and your pronouns, which themselves speak volumes about the stories you’ve written with your life. One on one, with new friends and chosen family, you have spoken into being stories of your deep authenticity, weaving in magic that is uniquely your own. Every night, you write a few short lines in a small book designed to hold daily memories for five years’ worth of adventures.

You may not have written the extravagant book of your life that you aspired to compose in January, and that is just fine. You wrote new stories with your life, with your body, with the ways in which you showed up in the world to do your work and be the healing of the wound, of the wounds you carry and the wounds you’ve inflicted and the wounds you see in others and the deepest wounds of the world. Part of your realization this year is that storytelling does not require words.

The way you sit with people in labor and call tiny new humans into the world is a story.

The way you place your hand over someone’s heart and hold their gaze with pure love is a story.

The ridiculous love you have for your cats when they sit on your shoulder and head-butt you is a story.

The intuitive magic you bake into delicious food is a story.

The ways you stitch and weave and design crafty objects (crocheted uteruses, felt vulva ornaments, rainbow queer embroidery) is a story.

Your photographs are each stories.

The way you engage in intentional relationship-building, forming attachments with other people in co-created containers that have space for healing past traumas and fostering wholeness in connection: that is a beautiful story you keep writing every single day.

The way you move your once-frozen body on the dance floor, alone and with others, is a new story every time.

The ways in which you are making your body a place you can come alive are all stories.

The very fact that you still walk in the land of the living is such a precious story.

Your work still matters, even if it isn’t the work you thought it might be. What you are creating is your life. You will continue to write poetry, and blog occasionally, and fill in lines in your journal with who you are becoming. If you never write a book, that is perfectly okay (though I really think you will). Your very life is an epic poem, and it is up to you to keep on writing it into existence.

And now, now it is time to shift your focus to your new word. You saw this coming last year, when you expressed a “need to rest my palms on my sturdy trunk / and feel that I, too, have roots / I belong in this world, / and this world belongs in me.” You couldn’t have known then how much you would need to ground yourself in the world and in your sense of belonging here.

I don’t know what I will tell myself a year from now that I learned about belonging. It feels like an exquisite magic to speak to you in the past and to look forward to the things future me will tell me about what I have not done yet. I am curious if I have mentioned in this writing the word I will choose for 2018, as I’ve done in the past.

I want to know where belonging will take me. I want to know what it means to belong fully to myself, to feel like I belong in my body and in my communities and in my family and in the world. I want to feel like there is a place for me here. I want to explore how I interact with what I believe belongs to me, with my so-called belongings, and mindfully release what I hold onto that no longer serves me. I want to know what it is like to fit in a place or a context or an environment and to truly feel the level of acceptance that belonging suggests to me. I also want to continue to show up in the world and in my body in the ways I’ve been cultivating over the past year (and more).

There is a lot I am genuinely terrified of that might happen over the coming year, both political and personal. I want to hold the complexity of the myriad negative things that are happening in my life and in the world, but not be overshadowed by it. I want to make space for curiosity and wonder and joy and beauty and delight. I want to allow myself to continue to open to all that life is calling out of me and calling me into. I want to see how deeply I am a part of all that is, how the earth and the air and the fire and the water and the spirit are a part of me as much as I am a part of them. I want to explore connection to myself and to others and to feel myself woven into this web of belonging that will sustain me for as long as I exist in this form on this planet at this point in history.

Dearest Rob from 2016: thank you for the intention you put into becoming the storyteller, the author of all that you are writing into being in the world. Thank you for becoming more and more yourself, for becoming me.

And, to the person I am becoming over the next year who will write to me on the cusp of 2018 with a new word to explore: I am excited to see how this year turns me into you, how I belong to you and you belong to me and we both belong in the grand scheme of this extravagant life that each moment is contributing towards.

I stand up from kneeling, my hand full of sand gifted to me by the ocean. I will take these tiny grains of time and use them to draw a temporary masterpiece on the canvas of my body. I will not grieve as the waves wash them away, because I know that I am a part of all of it, and it is a part of all of me. That is what belonging means to me now. I will see what it means to me in 365 days.

So much love,

Me, right now

Tell About It

pay attention.
be astonished.
tell about it.
-mary oliver

Words have been hard to come by lately. This year has been a transformative one for me in so many ways, and I have found it challenging to find ways to describe my experience in language. I’ve spent this year doing countless things I’ve never done before, and I am doing my best to listen to Mary Oliver’s wise words. I have indeed been paying attention, and I am astonished over and over again. So here I am to tell about it.

This January is when I started dancing, which was the first time I ever really intentionally began moving my body. After a couple of decades of my muscles existing in a trauma-induced state of permafrost, I remember the exact moment (in the middle of dancing) when I felt them melt. At first, learning to dance was an endeavor of being in deep solitude in the middle of a crowd of people I didn’t know, but over the coming months, I developed a community of beautiful humans who have become family to me in ways I cannot begin to define in words. These people have gone on so many journeys with me, both in the container of an evening’s set list, as well as journeying with me into the wilderness of my humanity and vulnerability while exploring deep connection and belonging. I am unendingly grateful that this year brought dance to my world, and the people that have come with it.

February brought me to the end of one job–my first position as a midwife after graduation–and the beginning of another. That transition was an important one that afforded me much more time for self-care, as I am currently working much less than I was previously. My quality of life has drastically improved in this new role, and I view my decision to accept this new position as one of my most important life decisions thus far. I am grateful for the environment in which I work, the delightful midwives and nurses and other staff who make my workdays something I look forward to, and the precious individuals and families I have the privilege of serving. This month, I also met for the first time someone who became a member of my chosen family and one of the dearest humans in my world. The end of February was also when I learned that my mother had cancer, which would prove to be a thread woven throughout the remainder of the year.

March was full of cherry blossoms and poetry. This month ushered in my thirty-second year of life, and with it, the first labor I ever attended where the baby shared my birthday with me. That is a special moment I will not soon forget, and a hard birth that compelled me to dig deep into my reserves and hold exquisite space for what was unfolding. I went home to vegan cake with a small handful of special friends, and I felt loved. I also stood on a stage on the tenth anniversary of the start of the Equality Ride and told a deeply personal and hilarious story about my journey of self-discovery of my sexuality, which felt like an embrace of my choice of the word “storytelling” as my word of the year.

April involved a road trip that took me to a workshop that proved life-changing for me in several important ways. I met some people who made a big impression on me, and formed new connections that would push me to the edges of discovery and increased self-knowledge. I continued to become more comfortable in my new job, and kept building relationships as I met more people in the dance community I joined at the beginning of the year. April took me away from home to help me find home within myself in new ways.

May brought me love, and exploration, and curiosity, and growth. So many stories unfolded this month, stories I can’t begin to unpack just now. May was about mindful embodiment, witnessing my formerly trauma-frozen body continuing to melt and heal and open to movement and wonder and delight. I kept dancing, and catching babies, and writing poems, and falling in love with the world in new ways.

June took me out into the woods and brought me home again. The magic I created during my five days there left indelible imprints on my life. This month kept teaching me about relationship-building, and boundaries, and attachment, and family. June also contained some new trauma that shook me to my core for a while, and ultimately it showed me the importance of healing in community. I claimed very openly my whole self, and I lost some people I loved because of it. I saw how resilient I have become, and how even painful wounds can be tended to in ways that strengthen my wholeness.

July was about coming undone. The trauma from June seeped into my spirit, and I could not keep holding it all. I went into the woods again, and I fell apart. I set some clear boundaries in relationships that were not serving my wholeness. I grieved hard for what I lost. I felt everything deeply. July was messy and important.

August, again, took me out into the wilderness in search of something inside myself. I went to the coast alone for a week, and felt so very lost. I wrote my way back to myself there, and I came back home with thousands of pictures and hundreds of heart-shaped stones and dozens of ways I had reclaimed lost parts of myself. I went to dance camp this month, and explored movement in community. I allowed myself to be witnessed and held in extraordinary grief, and through this found the strength to go all the way through it to the end of my sorrow. Relationship creation and nurturing continued to be an important theme throughout the end of the summer, as did showing up in my solitude in the natural world and finding myself belonging to it.

September taught me more about healing and letting myself be held and loved by my chosen family. This month found me unearthing the courage to be vulnerable in my storytelling, to choose to unload shame that was not mine to carry, and to see myself through the eyes of the ones who love me the most. This month, I traveled to Oregon for the second of five times this year, and I saw my mother and her family and connected with them in the beauty of nature. I made memories of collecting heart-shaped stones from the beach together with my mother, which I will always cherish.

October taught me again about loss and grief. In the span of two weeks, I lost a dear mentor (a mother figure I have loved since college, when her presence in my life was instrumental in keeping me alive in the world) to cancer and two queer friends to suicide. I grieved their loss in my bones as I continued doing my work of baby-catching and community-building and working for justice. A bright spot in this month was getting the chemical structure of oxytocin, my favorite hormone, tattooed onto my forearm, reminding me to generate love and connection and relaxation wherever I go.

November was a hard month. Anxiety building up to the election, exponentially worse afterwards, gave way to an odd mix of paralyzing despair and dedicated action towards resistance. Two more weekend trips to Portland, and a third to Bainbridge Island, made this month full of travel. I stayed on friends’ couches and in guest bedrooms and in a gorgeous cabin in the woods, connecting with chosen family and my ancestors and finding belonging in the world I inhabit while continuing to work for justice in as many ways as my limited energy would allow.

And now it’s December. 2016 is close to over. This year of exploring storytelling has taken me into both my past stories, as well as giving me many new ones to write. Indeed, I think I am realizing that I write in ways that go much deeper than words. My presence in the world is writing epic poetry to the time I inhabit. My body is composing a love story to the land. My feet are dancing stories into sand, snow, dirt, grass, and on hardwood floors throughout the Pacific Northwest. The birth stories I witness unfolding and help to write with the families I serve may go untold, but they are writing themselves into my memory, not to be forgotten.

I may not have been writing as much this year, definitely not blogging as prolifically as I used to, which has required much gentleness and self-compassion on my part. But silence here does not equate to a lack of stories being lived or being told. I think I am just learning new ways of storytelling. I am seeing that the way I eat a ripe satsuma tangerine is a story. How I trace my fingers down the cheek of someone I care deeply for. The ways my body has learned to move to music and to rest in stillness. The quality of space I hold in my clinic and hospital rooms when important things are unfolding. The presence I give to the feeling of fall air on my face. The tenderness with which I welcome new people onto the planet. All of these are evidence of the ways I am becoming a more prolific storyteller and stepping into my greater wholeness as a member of the human family.

I have been paying attention. I am astonished. And I am doing my best to tell about it.

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In the Storm

The West Coast is bracing itself for a storm of potentially historic proportions this weekend, and here in my apartment I am watching the wind ripping leaves off trees in my yard and bracing for what might be in store. To top it off, I am on call all weekend and am half expecting that all of our remaining clients due in October will come in and have babies with me during the storm!

Earlier today, I donned a raincoat and boots and braved the heavy rains to prepare the yard for the storm. I moved potted plants to where they wouldn’t blow away in a sudden gust, noticing the cold raindrops stinging my eyes and feeling my fingertips going numb as I moved my plants to safety. Already quite damp, I decided that instead of going straight back inside to dry off, I wanted to walk down to where I had a good view of the city. I wanted to see what Seattle looks like in a storm.

I stomped and sploshed my way down the hill, kicking my rain boots at puddles, not caring when I felt them filling with water. I shivered a little, suddenly feeling the ambient temperature dropping. Standing at the top of the hill overlooking the Puget Sound, I planted my feet in the saturated ground and breathed deeply, truly feeling into what it is to be in the storm. I flipped off the rain hood from my jacket and let the sky water me. Each raindrop made a different path down my face, and I tried to follow them one by one. Tilting my head back, I stuck out my tongue, saying to myself, “This is what the storm tastes like.” All of my senses were recruited to tell me every last detail I could gather about what it meant to stand in the center of the storm.

I felt fully present and very much alive as the wind swirled around me and the rain got me soaking wet. When I finally decided it was time to walk back up the hill towards home, I reflected on how much the rest of my life mirrors those moments in the rain today.

I have been in some storms this past year, which picked up speed and intensity over the summer. I lost three friends to death over a ten-day span of time this past couple of weeks (two queer/trans friends to suicide, and a dear mentor to cancer), and I have been navigating some intense conflict and loss in my family of origin after coming out a few months ago. I haven’t blogged very often because some of what I’m processing is more vulnerable than I am ready to be in this public of a space.

That is not to say that I have not been writing. On the contrary, I have been doing more poetry-writing and journaling this year than in recent memory, and each entry feels to me like sticking my tongue out in the storm and tasting the raindrops. It is not lost on me that the wind and the rain have the potential for destruction. I also know that when life circumstances carve deep channels of grief and anger and sadness in me, my capacity for holding more delight, wonder, and joy is similarly expanded. I have been doing my best to show up and splash around in the puddles at my feet, aware that I am getting soaked.

“Let this open you,” my life has asked me on more than one potent occasion, and I feel those whispers again. With rain and tears mingling and coursing down my cheeks, I feel renewed courage and resolve to show up and pay attention, and to taste the storms as they rage around me. I see myself as a force of nature, and offer myself to the wind and the rain, reaching out my hand to invite them to dance with me.

I know that the sun will return, and that the nights won’t always seem as long and dark as they do. And I know that storms can bring rainbows, but I’m not counting on those. I feel into the groundlessness of not being ultimately in charge, and I hold my small self gently as I breathe through the contraction and expansion of it all.

As I wrote that last paragraph, the wind has continued to howl outside my window, but the rain stopped momentarily, and now the fierce afternoon sun has burst through the clouds, and my cat has claimed his spot in the warm windowsill. He is watching the bushes and trees blowing every which way outside, unperturbed by thoughts of what is to come.

I have solid confidence in my ability to weather these storms. That might be the biggest difference I feel between now and stressful periods I’ve endured previously in my life. Each challenge I have faced and opened to has changed me, and I’m not going to sugar-coat things and say that every obstacle I’ve encountered has made me stronger. Some of the things I’ve survived have damn near broken me, and I wouldn’t wish those “growth experiences” on anyone.

Nevertheless, I have grown. Having to learn to survive has taught me survival skills that continue to serve me well when I need them, and also, I am tired of living in a world that people just have to survive in. I will continue to be a part of the work of healing the wounds where I encounter them, including inside myself. As I open to healing, and as I see the enormous capacity I have cultivated, the ability to hold intense emotions without needing to run away from them all the time, I am more at ease in the storm. As Louisa May Alcott said, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

This body, this mind, this life I inhabit is my ship. And whether I am sailing on calm seas, enjoying witnessing the sun set over the horizon, or whether I am navigating over the choppiest of waters, I want to be fully here, living this one wild and precious life of mine (to borrow a line from Mary Oliver). I want to hear the roar of the wind whipping through the trees. I want to smell the petrichlor, to feel each icy drop coursing down my face. I want to taste the storm while I am in it. And when the rain lets up, I will revel in the glory of the sun breaking through the clouds.

 

Note:
This weekend’s storm is just beginning, and while I may be inconvenienced by it (through loss of power, or possibly minor damage to property, or flooding… hard to predict), I am not anticipating any long-lasting serious effects. It is fascinating to me how a different storm killed over a thousand people in Haiti recently (a country where I went last year to work as a midwife), and it has now all but disappeared from my news feed, replaced by projections of heavy wind and rain locally, but unlikely to cause anywhere near that level of destruction or loss of life. The social justice implications of what we choose to talk about are ominous, and I couldn’t close this post without mentioning that silence.

 

At the End of Every Road

Fall came around again last week, as it does every year. I am usually sad to see summer go, especially in Seattle where summers are glorious days full of sunshine and fall means a return of the darkness and drizzly rains that envelop us here for much of the year.

This year, though, I am ready for fall. So very ready. I had a summer that was full of powerful growth, deep healing, significant challenges, wrenching grief, hot rage, fierce self-care, and radical love from my community and my chosen family. This whole year has been transformational for me as I have explored my word for the year (“storytelling”) and all the ways that going ever more deeply into my own wholeness has allowed me to connect in authentic, vulneraable ways with others.

In coming out more publicly as gender non-conforming, and especially coming out to my family of origin, I have dealt with the deep pain of loss. Telling the truth about my life has fractured some important relationships in ways that I don’t yet know how to repair.

I have come to a place where an absolutely non-negotiable part of being in relationships, for me, is that I get to show up in my wholeness. I refuse to hide parts of me that make people uncomfortable. I will not make myself smaller for anyone. I have fought for the right to take up space in the world–for myself, and for others who have been denied that right–and I am unwilling to give that away because my bigness is intimidating. Sometimes that means I lose people whom I’ve been connected to for much or all of my life, or for a brief time but who meant a lot to me. Sometimes, self-care looks like setting clear boundaries, like not engaging in relationships that don’t allow me to be whole, like not picking up the phone. Sometimes, that means that relationships can’t continue, or can’t continue in their present form.

Sometimes existing in my radical wholeness is a lonely proposition. But, even in moments of feeling isolated, I feel so much better existing as myself than I ever did pretending to be someone I could never be.

I have been doing a lot of reclaiming of the idea of isolation versus solitude. I can be alone without being lonely. Being with myself, truly and deeply present with myself, has taken me to some of the richest places I could have imagined. And now, I’ve noticed that I’m not trying as hard to fill the empty spaces in my life with just anything. I think of Warsan Shire and her reflection, “My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.” After my solo retreat to the coast last month, I feel the same.

And then I shift back into being in community with amazing people who see me and celebrate my authenticity. I see them and celebrate them as well. This year, of any year of my life, has been full of growing some of the most amazing connections with people. I have engaged in the deep, loving, challenging work of being in relationships with clear communication, boundaries, consent, accountability, and fierce love. I am flooded with gratitude for these people with whom I am co-creating the world I want to live in.

This summer was a huge one for me, both personally and within my community. I don’t yet have the words to speak to all that happened, or possibly the desire to share what I’ve been doing in my inner world. I’ve gone to some hard places and searched for whatever good I could find there to bring back with me. I’ve grieved, and grieved hard. I’ve raged at the violence and the unkindness that exists in the world and that has been and continues to be perpetrated against me and against people I love and against my community and other communities. I lost a queer friend to suicide. I had another that was viciously assaulted. Institutional oppression–in the form of racism, homophobia, transphobia, rape culture, classism, and so many more–continue to harm so many folks, and working to change the status quo is exhausting. Yet I don’t see any alternatives but to help co-create the world.

The last few lines of this song have been running through my head for weeks:

Maybe it’s all right
Maybe we won’t fight any more
Maybe love is waiting at the end of every road
I don’t know
I don’t know
But maybe
Maybe it’s all right

–Patty Griffin, “Mother of God”

I don’t know about every road; I haven’t walked all of them. But I know this road that I’m on is going home. And I know that love will be there, if for no other reason than that I am bringing it with me.