I am drawn to write you on this, the fourth day of 2018.
I haven’t been connecting with you not because I have nothing to say, but because I have so much.
Today my little baby is over half a year old — 7 months! — and as I look back at 2017, it was a year in which SO MUCH happened. In the world at large and in the snowglobe of my world. Things I would never have predicted, including a ranting raving shakespearean supervillain for president, a rising tide of rage and solidarity amongst women, and decades of entrenched sexual harassment shaken up.
Drama and horror and potential cataclysm. World shaking and paradigm shifting and potential coalition.
On a personal level, realizing I’m a different mother than I was four years ago, that things that once were impossible are now easy. And yet, this month finding myself back in the emotional space I remember being in when my oldest was six months old: a wall of exhaustion and frustration, a longing to bust free of my human limitations, to do more than I can do, to resist the inevitable truth which is that I need to slow down and do less.
When I hit the wall four years ago, in my exhaustion I sought out anything to keep me sane and they shook the rocks loose: hypnosis, therapy, life coaching, zumba. I realized that the key wasn’t DOING more or less, but expecting less. If I set out expecting to fail in the world, with the aim to enjoy that failure — I ended up doing more than I thought I could.
So now I find myself in a similar blockade. This has been a good opportunity to look at the ways I cycle through the same phases in my life, and the ways I judge myself for doing that. I’ve been trying to love the phase I’m in while I’m in it, like I love my failure, like I love the phases of the moon.
Instead of being mad at my waning energy, I can notice it and wait for it to wax strong and full. Instead of being impatient for one cycle to end, I can slow down and experience the one I’m in. And instead of judging myself for not having “solved” issues that are coming up again, I can welcome the chance to dive deeper. Or not! I can welcome the chance to avoid it too. It will come around again.
When I made my solo show two years ago, I Hate Positive Thinking, the guiding question was, what if I put myself out there exactly as I am, in my tired frazzled unkempt state? What if I believed my un-enhanced, un-amplified voice was enough? What if I embraced failure as a human and put it front and center in my work?
This winter it’s been helpful to embrace failure again— to brag about the mess — but a question has been emerging in counterpoint.
What if I allowed myself to be excellent?
The word “excellent “ is one I recoil from because I associate it with the toxic spell of perfectionism. Something hard edged and unforgiving, a desire that doesn’t acknowledge the human nature of messing up, falling flat, going sideways. (And I am a Cancer so I love to go sideways).
But this idea of excellence has been worming it’s way into my consciousness, asking me to look deeper.
Asking, can excellence coexist with human frailty and mess and failure?
Asking, can staying in the mess be a way of hiding, jumping down into the mud to avoid the exhilarating fear of leaping up into the air? Can jumping from one new endeavor to the next be a way of avoiding the tougher work of continuing on through failure and modest success to excellence?
I think about the two journalists, Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey, whose excellent investigative reporting for the New York Times uprooted Harvey Weinstein’s toxic hold over Hollywood. They felt their way into the darkness, sure, and I’m sure there were times when they felt like they were failing — but they also committed to the project and organized for the long haul. They did it for real.
And when they talk about their accomplishments, I want them to crow about their hard work. I want them to own their excellence.
Which makes me wonder: why is it so easy for me to brag about what I’m struggling with, and so hard to brag about what I’m great at? Why is it so hard to even NOTICE what I’m great at? Like I’m scared that if I say it out loud it will disperse and I’ll be left with nothing.
What if I took my time and had the courage to go as deep as I wanted to go, and to speak with pride about what I’ve learned? What if I bragged about the mess… AND about what I have done well?
I don’t know what it means yet, this question. But I’m going to keep following it.
On the first night of this new year, the full moon was in Cancer. A good time to open up to my emotions, and whatever strange and contradictory clues they have for me. It’s taken me a long time to see that my ability to feel suddenly and deeply, and to imagine what others are feeling, is a strength and not an embarrassing useless quirk.
I wrote a poem about it — because I’ve been writing poems for over twenty years, and they are often the purest way for me to express my feelings, and I am excellent at it.
What excellent parts of yourself are you hiding from? Or are you sending your excellence out into the world like a gorgeous sunflare? If so, thank you.
Full Moon in Cancer
I used to be ashamed to cry
The way my face would flush and betray me
The time I passed out at the sight of fake ketchup red on a movie screen
Expressing my feelings was ceding my power
Letting it run through my fingers like ocean water
Onstage I could feel the power of my receptivity
Onstage bursting into tears was a magnet
Attention snapped to me
It gave me a confidence I did not have chatting in the lobby after the show
Because bursting into tears at a party clears the room
I didn’t find a way to feel the power offstage until I gave birth
And my body aligned in solidarity with my feelings against the shit show of labor
At one with my body against my body
I felt the power in that paradox
I felt humility
And ever since I trust it
Trust my body in it’s haywire variations
Trust my feelings in their shifting shiftless shapeless moony passive aggressive power
Moonlight on the ocean
The way my hands look underwater
It’s not the same kind of power as a volcano
You have to feel your way into it