Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Celebrate :: Finishing Day

From here on out, November 18 will officially be known as finishing day.  Yesterday morning I completed my last "assignment" on How To Write Your Own Ceremony.  A solid draft is complete.  It took a long time for me to get to this point. And I am happy.  The young writer in me is wide eyed at my ability to see the thing through.  The mom in me says, "Ha, you ain't seen nothin' yet, young writer.  There's more in much more!"

But November 15 isn't finishing day just because I finished.  My friend Laurel finished her book today too.  Three years ago Laurel and I set out to run a Half Marathon--on a lark, to see if we could do it.  I wrote about it here.  We met our goal of finishing in three hours by the skin of our teeth, but more than meeting our goal, we found a way--a way through the long haul, through the weeks of training and ultimately through the race itself.  In the end, we both understood that we accomplished something together that we probably would not have been able to see through alone.  

We did not know it, but in this sideways way, we were becoming writers.  The Half Marathon set us on a course of rich mutual support.  I have a lot of thoughts about this, about how people are more connected than we appear to be, about how our identities rise up in the spaces between us, about the fact that if Laurel can see me finishing a project in her mind's eye, then I am much more likely to finish it.  This is a kind of magic--a kind of invisible human connection that I have been swimming in for a few years now--both with Laurel and with a few other friends.  We hold each other in a way that make more possible.  Being held like that changes things, it changes us, and I think it changes the world we live in.

So November 18th, Finishing Day, is more about that for me than anything.  I'm glad to be at a completion point with a project, but I'm even happier to be in a friendship that holds two women as writers.  To be nested in a friendship like that fills me with hope and faith that we will look back some day on these projects as our first projects, the first of many.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Leap

Fourteen years ago Graham and I got married in a small chapel in Carmel, California.  I wore an ivory wedding dress with a huge skirt and a cheerful striped pattern.  We were married by Graham's dad in a very personal ceremony that included Rumi, a Declaration of Intent we wrote ourselves, and traditional vows that connected us to generations of happy marriages that came before ours.  

I loved that ceremony and that gathering of family and friends in a way that I had never loved anything before.  On that day I loved Graham in a huge way and that was obviously a big part of the day.  And there was something else too.  

I showed up for my wedding more complete than I had ever showed up for anything before, more myself than I had ever been before.  For years leading up to that event, my spirit had been cloaked under cover, my irrepressible instinct to pray was a shameful secret, all those bible verses that I had memorized and loved as a child, an embarrassment.  But at my wedding, all of that was allowed, all those pieces of me had a place and a role to play for the first time in so, so long.  

And my life changed.  I knew that my life's work was going to have to have something to do with that part of me that is like a moth to the flame of the heart, that loves language and the way humans use it to courage up hope or strength or understanding, that seeks traditions of all kinds carry us along, sending wisdom through time to each new generation.  And yet, I was not a religious person.  A traditional experience of Christianity had not held up under the rigor of an intellectual education--and this muddied the waters quite a bit.  I was a spiritual person who was not religious.  I had no idea how to turn my beliefs into a useful contribution or whether anyone would be along for the ride if I did.  Committing to this part of myself felt like agreeing to walk alone in the woods for a long, long time.  There was so much unknown then.

The one thing I knew was that the wedding had made sense to me.  Weddings seemed like a place where my perspective might be useful.  So I started to write a book about weddings.  I was 28, pretty clueless, and not ready to write yet.  When I look back at those pages, I can feel how hard I was trying, how much I was wanting to be helpful to others, when I needed so much shoring up myself.  I was never able to complete the project, but not because I didn't care or think the work was worth it, I just didn't have enough experience or strength to see it through at that time.  

But now I do.  

Over the last two weeks I have been hard at work revising a new version of that original project.  I'm calling it, "How to Write Your Own Ceremony:  The Super Short Guide."  I'm two writing sessions away from having a complete version.  I've commissioned a cover, and hope to have it up on Amazon by sometime in December.  For this to be an official leap, I need feedback from couples who are planning to get married.  If you or anyone you know is is planning a wedding, I would love the opportunity to share this project.

But even if that never happens.  Even if this project never sells one copy, completing it will have been worth it to me.  It is something I have had to do for myself, for the young writer who lives inside me, who was not able to finish back then, who ended up curled up crying under a desk, lonely and frustrated.  Honey, we're almost there, I tell her. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Waterfall into My Heart

I knew for awhile that this weekend was going to be full, that Friday was Halloween, that Sunday was the first event for Impact Guild, and then the very sad news that Saturday would be the memorial service for Riley, my friend Suzanne's son.  It was chaos and sadness and beauty and celebration all mashed into a scant forty eight hours.  I've hardly had the time to digest all that this weekend was to me, but want to hold on to a couple of moments...Forgive me the long post.  

Halloween evening all three children went in separate directions.  Gwendolyn, our oldest, went on her own with friends for the first time.  Eloise and I joined up with two other families.  Graham and Chloe waited til seven and went with Chloe's friend Henry.  

Our neighborhood was like a pop up carnival.  There was a house with 200 free hotdogs and full sized candy bars, a dead end converted into Cirque du Soleil, and the usual line around the block at Steve Jobs house.  The streets, still wet from the afternoon rain, were jammed with masked strangers.  It got dark early and Old Palo Alto could have been a scene out of a zombie movie.  Walking around in it, it felt like the gears in my brain got completely jammed, like I had rocks between my ears.  A good friend asked me a question, and I couldn't understand the words he said.  He must have asked me the same thing in three different ways, and it just did not compute.  It wasn't until the next morning when I woke up that I was able to parse the question.  And then I was embarrassed, but relieved to have my normal brain back.

Green was Riley's favorite color, and we were asked to wear green to his Memorial Service. So we did.  The service was held in the Multi purpose room of his elementary school, and the superintendent of schools presided.  One of the first things he said, was "Don't tell the fire marshals how many of us are in here today."  

One boy stood at the open mike.  "The last time I saw Riley was at the sleepover party before his operation.  At the party I lost my favorite sock, the $14 breast cancer awareness sock.  Everyone had gotten up, but a few of us were sitting around still. Riley was one of them.  It turned out he was sitting on my sock."  This is what it is like for a sixth grade boy's mind to make sense of things that don't make sense at all, it is sweet, and relieving and obvious that it could be captured in a story about a lost sock.

Riley's aunt and grammy read an essay of Riley's, and all I could think of then was shit, we lost a great writer.  He started his piece like this, "Have you ever been bored playing right field?"  and then there was, "The most interesting thing in right field that day was the smell of dew on the grass..."  and then, "in my brain I thought I should run, and then I realized I was already running."  Sweet, brilliant, baseball loving Riley wrote a piece that would break Robert McKee's heart, adhering in a completely natural and intuitive way to the art and science of story.  I am so mad/sad that I won't get the chance to read more from Riley.  

And then there was Suzanne, his excellent mother, doing the worst work a mother could ever have to do.  She arrived for him, for us, full of life and wonder.  In a gorgeous green lace dress that hugged every curve and could not have been a better celebration of the word green.  Her blonde hair tumbled long around her face and her face was worn and tired and she was so beautiful I can't even tell you.  I blew her a kiss between crowds of people.  

We all walked a lap around the track together as part of a child-friendly way to honor a lost friend.  Suzanne walked surrounded by a protective klatch of women.  She was in front and the women fanned around and behind her.  The sun shown, and they walked together.

During the service we sang the song Brave, a kind of pop, upbeat song.  It felt good to sing and have the music move through us.  I turned to watch the community bobbing together, and there, in the front row of the people standing was Suzanne.  She had her eyes closed and her palms open to heaven, and she wasn't just bobbing, but she was dancing, really dancing, and then I closed my eyes and swayed with Eloise on my lap and let the tears slide down my face.

Riley's grandad told a story of teaching Riley to keep his eye on the ball in baseball.  And that phrase has stuck with me.  Keep your eye on the ball--it means remember what's important.


I woke up early and practiced my speaking parts twice.  That was what I had written on my to do list the night before and that's what I went ahead and did. It was good too, because when I was up there onstage in front of everyone I lost my cue cards and had to go from memory.  

I felt nervous for most of the day until I had been in the event space setting up for an hour and then I wasn't nervous any more.  It felt like I was a part of the room and everything was normal, like it was just another day.  

My favorite memory is of hearing everyone chat with one another, the gentle roar of a room full of women talking, the rumble of something coming so alive.  I could have stood there all day listening to that.  It was like a waterfall of goodness into my heart.  There were moments when I stayed still so that the sound could fill me completely.  

And when it was all over I especially enjoyed watching Tara take in the banner that we all created together.  And I tried to imagine what it must be like for her these days, unlocking so many people's inner doors and watching what happens when she does.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the event.  It was wonderful to be together.