Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Like Prego...

I'm feeling antsy about writing. I was in a groove for about a month or so, and now I feel... empty. I lack words. I sit down with my notebook and I scratch out symbols that become words, but they don't go anywhere, they don't mean anything. I feel empty, and it's frustrating.

My life, however, feels very full. Since I've begun this blog, I've baked a pie from scratch, tried a kickboxing class (actually two!), jogged in my neighborhood, started training for a 5K. I think I'm going to try knitting next. And I forsee a river kayak trip in my future! The world has opened up for me - and why not? I'm healthy, thank God. I have a supportive spouse and supportive friends. The glass is definitely half full.

But. With me, there's always a but. I am a creature of moods. Last night I complained to the hubby that I wasn't writing anything and was starting to feel panicked. He said to me, "You've got to know that's it's still in there." I am trying to remember and feel his words. The spark is still in me. Sometimes it might hide. I have to just keep on writing. Just do it, don't think, just write. Writing has opened up my life! I can't quit now.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Words don't come unless you
invite them in,
make a soft, inviting place
for them to rest.
Open the shades all the way and
let in the light. Let it
warm all the dark, secret places
that have grown cold with neglect.
All this hiding, scurrying like a squirrel
has made you small, pale, peevish.
Words float back in through
cracks in windows, under the door.
You can't keep renewal out forever.
Spring shoots its way up through
cold ground and blossoms at your feet.
Know enough to hold on, to notice
the sky above you and the birds
swirling over your head.
Hear them. Don't think.
Be present.
The light and noise and warmth of rebirth
will wrap around you and make you new again,
make you write again.
Even in the dead of winter you can
smell the words
unfurling beneath your feet.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I apparently have a new theme song. It's called "Run" by one of my favorite musicians, Kathleen Edwards. I can't stop listening to it. It makes me want to throw on my sneakers, throw open the door, and just go. It's about a woman who's running in the night, after she's put her kids to bed.

I would run down the lane And into the night/Run so fast I swear my feet would fly/Run from my babies asleep in their beds/Run from my lover and my best friend/And back again

I understand this song in my bones, even though I am currently childless. This woman is carving out a space for herself to just be who she is, time to not be a mother or wife in that moment. And because she loves her children and her partner, she comes back. When I run (or get on that elliptical trainer, or walk, or lift weights) I am just me. I'm not Ms. Laila, the storytime lady, and I'm not Laila, the wife, or Laila the daughter. I love being all of these things, but at some level I also want to be me - the woman who is in the midst of what feels like a profound life changing time. I am running not away from my family or friends, but towards the woman I want to become.

I can see her in my mind. She's strong, sexy, confident, powerful. She is alive, a fighter. She knows all the crazy horrible things in this world that can break her heart wide open, and she says, So be it. I can still love life, create art, have fun, love myself and love my loved ones in the face of all that's broken with this world.

But the smell of the world came into my lungs/The sound of the gravel when my legs went numb/And my heart nearly burst right out of my chest/And it felt so good to know I wasn't dead/

When I run, I don't fly like a slight, skinny bird. I tend to plod, and sweat, and gasp. I am a woman of some substance, you might say. But there are moments when my heart's pounding that I come close to feeling a sort of flight, a certain sweet distance from everyday experience. The more I run the more I realize that my body does what it wants to; some days I can run, and some days I just walk, and that's okay. Either way I feel more alive, like every moment is a chance to be made new.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


"Fearfulness is a mind habit." - Sylvia Boorstein

I took turkey bacon slices out of the cast-iron skillet, set them on the paper towel to drain, and said, "I want to have a kid." Husband asked, "What brought that on?" I replied, "I just think we'd be good parents. I think it would be fun."

And by fun I don't mean a party all the time. I mean challenging, rewarding, scary, hard, exhilarating. I mean pushing myself to see what I'm made of and really getting to know myself and my partner and all that messy life stuff.

Natalie Goldberg says that when something scary comes up in your writing, go for it. "Otherwise you'll spend all your time writing around whatever makes you nervous." So when I get down to what really matters, the stuff that freaks me out, pretty high on the list is mothering. Me becoming a mother. I've been wrestling with when to try and have a kid for at least a year now, and I keep putting it off. There are surface excuses - I want to lose weight, I want to gain self-confidence, I want to have more money - but it really all boils down to fear. What am I afraid of? Let's see:

Sleeplessness. Selflessness. A changed relationship with Husband. What if we have no money? What if I lose my job? What if I'm no good at mothering? What if she cries all the time and I resent her? What if I get fat? What if I have no time for me? So many questions, so many ways my mind can spin in loops.

But. I inch forward. I want, in my heart, to have a child. Someone who is part me and part my husband and something totally new all at once. Some sweet spark of God/divinity in her. I want to sing to her, read to her, teach her how to bake cookies and plant tulips and recognize the birds and the trees. Push her to try new things. Advise her that it's okay if you're not always comfortable or happy. At 32 I am finally figuring out that we won't die if we're afraid or uncomfortable! It's how we grow and get to know ourselves.

I think it's okay to acknowledge ambivalence about mothering. It's okay to be scared. These days I'm trying to operate under the premise that if it's something that would be good for me, for someone I know, or for the world in general, and I feel mostly capable, then just be scared and do it anyway. I'm totally freaked out about taking the leap. But excited too. So we inch closer, towards the biggest mystery/challenge/excitement we may ever be privileged enough to experience.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feel My Muscles

"Ms. Laila, feel my muscle," four-year-old Ashley* said after story time today. She flexed her left arm and I poked at her bicep. "Oh my goodness, that is a big muscle! You're very strong!" I enthused. With twinkling eyes she smiled and said, "That's because I have a watch in there." I asked, "A watch?" "Yes, a Belle watch." (Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, which her mother told me she's never seen because it's in the Disney vault!)

Ashley reminded me of myself at her age, flexing with pride over my big muscles. There are numerous pictures of me at ages 3 and 4 with one or both arms poised to show off my "guns." Most of the time I'm scowling as if to say, "Don't mess with me, pal." This was my Lynda Carter Wonder Woman phase. Oh, how I loved her, wanted to be her, fight crime with thigh-high boots and gold bracelets!

Truth be told, I'm still apt to flex in front of the mirror after I get home from the gym. I make my husband periodically feel my muscles, and he gamely plays along. I love feeling fit and strong and I want to get fitter and stronger. Tomorrow, in another instance of Stuff I'm Actually Doing, I'm taking my first kickboxing class. I'm nervous. The ever-present fear of making a fool of myself rears its ugly head. But I've got to at least try. It's something I've always wanted to do! I'm going to try and channel my fearless inner four year old.

(*names changed for privacy)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

secret genius

I love it when my husband plays his guitar. He picks it up at random and just starts playing these gorgeous original songs. If poems poured from my pen like songs flow from his fingertips, I'd be freakin' Poet Laureate by now. I am so proud of him. I don't think he really knows just how much.

When he puts his guitar down after a session, I always make sure to tell him, "I love to hear you play." He doesn't usually acknowledge what I say with more than a nod, and I don't care. I just want him to know. I'll be standing at the sink washing pots and pans, or sitting in bed reading, and he starts playing, and it's the best damn thing since strong, hot coffee on a cold morning. He's mine! Domestic bliss!

How many of us are married to amazing, creative, artistic people - and no one knows it but us? All the secret genius out there must be legion.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


For pretty much all of my life, I've held ideas about myself - about what I could and couldn't do, about who I was and who I wasn't. All they've done is hold me back. As I was running at the gym yesterday, I thought, 'It's only taken me thirty-two and a half years to start finding out who I really am! How lucky for me!'

I ran and walked in intervals for 3.1 miles - a treadmill 5K. I was slow. I didn't care. I felt absolutely alive - sweaty, gasping, shuffling along. Ever since middle school gym, when the mile run portion of the Presidential Fitness Test scarred me for life, I've resisted running. It's so intense, this experience of a racing heart, burning lungs, and jostled joints. I am confronted by my fears and by the way I limit myself, compare myself to everyone else. The list of reasons why I'm not a "real runner" is long. I can't be a real runner because:

I'm too slow. I'm too fat. Too old. I wear glasses. I don't have the right shoes, clothes, mp3 player. I don't know the right way to breathe. I don't like being cold. Or wet. Or hot. I don't like wearing shorts. I don't wear a watch, or a heart rate monitor. I don't drink sport drinks. I don't shop at Runner's Market.

I could go on.

Running scares me partly because I'm afraid of getting hurt, and writing scares me pretty much for the same reason. But the more I write, the more I want to do other things that frighten me. I am somehow pushing up against myself, meeting my mind's resistance and punching holes in it, slowly.

In the spirit of "Why Not?", I am running a 5K race in six weeks. I have creaky knees, tight hamstrings, a twitchy back, a big butt. I still don't think of myself as a runner. I wonder if that will change when I cross the finish line. Sometimes I tell myself, just put one foot in front of the other. Just get down one word, one sentence, one paragraph. Moving forward, as slowly as I need to go, I figure I'll meet myself on down the road.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I've been reading a memoir by Dani Shapiro called Devotion. (Here I am again, reading, always reading...) It's a tricky book to describe, but in it she chronicles her feeling of spiritual disconnect and search for meaning. Despite a lovely family and comfortable lifestyle, she is anxious, doubt-ridden, scared. A skilled and eloquent writer, she delves into the depths of a troubled relationship with her mother, baring insecurities fearlessly. I recognize the feelings she describes - the free-floating anxiety, the need to place her faith in something. Where's the time and space for ritual and a spiritual connection in today's rush-rush, technology-driven world? It's exciting to find another soul asking the same questions, praying, sometimes out loud, to a God she's not certain is listening.

I didn't grow up in an Orthodox Jewish household, as Shapiro did. In fact, I grew up nothing at all - no religion. My father emigrated from Iran in 1969, abandoning his Muslim upbringing and embracing the American freedom to practice no faith at all. My mom was baptized in the Baptist church as a child but her family didn't attend church regularly, and from what I can gather, didn't discuss God much at all. Mom and Dad later told me they didn't want to raise me in a certain religious tradition in order to let me choose my own way.

I appreciate that freedom in some ways, but I could have used more conversation about God. I could have used some instruction about the teachings of different religious traditions. I don't remember talking about God much at all as a child, occasionally going to a Methodist church with my mother in brief spurts. I felt like all the other kids in Sunday School knew what the heck was going on, and I was totally clueless. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy it very much.

To create a space for the acknowledgement of the sacred is one of my main goals in life and certainly something I want to introduce to my own future children. Living life without a connection to something bigger than your to-do list is no way to live. It's an endless loop of work, eat, watch TV, sleep, and do it all over again. Room for ritual, for miracles, for gratitude, for love - this is what makes life rich.

I think quiet time is a huge part of connection to God. I know I crave silence. I didn't used to be that way. Silence can be hard - you're faced with the tape in your mind, all your insecurities, fears, worries. But as Shapiro describes in Devotion, sitting in quiet meditation stirred up "something pure and deep." When you acknowledge the small voice inside that longs for God, yearns to know God intimately, you make yourself vulnerable, open. In an almost childlike way, you're asking for help. Blocking out the need for God-space with all of the modern distractions in the world just isn't working for me anymore.

This book came along at just the right time for me. It's hard to talk to other people about God. Some people want to convert you to their brand of God. Some people think you're nuts to believe in God at all. I get weirdly touchy about God-talk - anyone who is too certain of their opinion turns me off. And yet I can't stop wondering, seeking, searching. I don't necessarily expect answers. I just want to be comfortable living with the questions.

Maybe I don't need to be talking to anyone else about God right now. Maybe I just need to sit quietly and let God talk to me.