It’s worth fighting through the inertia.

True as that may be, my self-pity disagrees. In its defense of digging a deeper rabbit hole, it would rather filibuster than concede. Its zealotry twists the mere suggestion of celebration into an offense against reason.

Birthday? Bah. What would you be celebrating anyway? Your troubled finances? The end of your relationship? The last dozen fights with Bug, an anemic field of job prospects, your dearest friends in crisis?

The silk-throated devil reminds me that I’m stretched too thin as it is. “Tired” is no longer an adequate descriptor for the perpetual state in which I exist. Wouldn’t you rather just rest, read, heal? Wouldn’t your time be better spent re-tooling your resume?


Once you’ve had 40-something of them, birthdays just become days. Throwing yourself a party at this stage is both tacky and desperate.

No parties. No people. No no no.

But also yes. Because every reason to skip out on pleasure is a dolled-up version of submission. In fact, the more convincing the justification for staying low, the more I should suspect — and upend — its dominance. A toxic mood relishes its alpha dog position, growing in power unless I subvert it.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a simple and ingenious approach to this. Just choose the opposite.

To break this feedback loop, we need to engage in a behavior inconsistent to the emotion we’re trying to manage. This is a technique called opposite-to-emotion behavior. To do this, identify the emotion (sadness), identify the mood-dependent behavior (inaction/isolation), then do the opposite of that.

Opposite to Emotion Behavior from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A snap, right? Take the stairs. Don the cape. Put a friggin foot on the gas and go. Even when it seems like the most useless act in the world. Especially then.

So, snarling and irate and certain the endeavor will fail, I hurl a few names at Evite.

Fixing a time and place leads to tidying, menus, asking for help. I cobble together activities. I send personal invitations to a new neighbor and to old family friends going through a tough time. My mother gets on board — bless that lady — and then I am dashing around, slapping on lipstick and jamming in earrings as the first guests knock on the door.


As with so many actions, motion generates momentum. It’s almost irrelevant the direction of travel. Any push will do.

The friends arrive. More follow. They hug and meet and hoot and gossip. They bring wine, sweets, kids, dogs. A few play along with my contrived icebreaker activity, milling around five zones of the house where markers and paper on the wall invite joyful thinking about our community and our time together here.

As with so many choices, intention determines outcome. It’s almost irrelevant the details of the text. Any welcome will do.

Earlier in the day, Tee whisked Bug off to a college basketball game. Halfway through the party, he’s dropping the kiddo off. When half-ass planning this whole shindig, I’d been wearing armor of thorns and stink. My invite list failed to catch half the people I love. I’d also been too tight-hearted to ask Tee if he’d like to come. If I have to throw this stupid party, I don’t want my ex husband here. My birthday. My party.

Mine mine mine.

Then my son walks through the door and the room erupts in a cheer. Bug’s face lights up and he skips into the Studio 54 buzz and music and sparkle. Tee is already backing out, saying good night. “Come in,” I say. “Eat. Have a beer.”

“I’ve got a lot of school work still to do. . .”

I gesture wide. “There’s hot cider, Moroccan veggie stew.”

“Okay, just for a minute.” He steps inside and stays for an hour.

Tee is still there when my loved ones gather in a circle around the room. Everyone speaks out loud their wishes for the year ahead as well as their thanks for the right-here-and-now. My mom. The junior-high pals. The Zumba instructors who’ve become sisters. The new neighbor, the writing group fellow, all these the people who just happen to be my people. Even Tee shares how happy he is that we are parenting together as friends and that our son is thriving. Words upon words brushed with almost-tears and lots of chuckles weave their light web around the room.

Bug and the neighbor’s son, chasing down dogs who are chasing down crumbs, dart through the throng decked out in sunglasses and bandit masks, mercifully demolishing our grownup drift towards solemnity.


It’s an extraordinary and dizzying experience to stand inside the metaphor of a circle of love manifesting in real life.

That incessant need to be on, to get things right and be just so, has slunk off into some forgotten corner. In my home with these dear ones, I feel at ease. It is as if I really am — for the moment — okay as me. Clumsy, gushing, nerdy, cutting, tempestuous, so-very-lucky me. . . just a gal entering her 43rd year in the happy company of her tribe.


(And, as I remind several perplexed friends and my son: Yes, a 42nd birthday is the beginning of a 43rd year, because math, people).

As the music starts up again, the circle dissolves and takes on new shapes. Small pockets of conversation dot the room. People who just met giggle like old friends, a baby is passed to a new set of arms, men talk coaching and gals talk travel. Folks who haven’t seen each other in years cover lost ground. The first roots take hold under nascent relationships.

Orientation determines truth. I tilt my head and the whole thing resolves into sharp-edged clarity. Throwing oneself a party is also giving a party. A birthday is just another day, yes. It is also a gift, a perfect excuse to open a door and invite a fledgling community to weave itself into being. This circle is so much more than mine. It holds my son, parents, neighbors, and all the friends who show up with attention, voice, and story.

My girlfriend says that each year is “a free vacation around the sun.” Even so, it can also feel like an extended solo trip. It can take a few revolutions (or a few dozen) before it becomes clear that we have always been in this together.

This time I can see how many are at the helm, how strong the crew, how wide open the skies.



Luna Moth

Numb is a verb
posing as a state.
It shelters a pupa
from the abrading throat
of daybreak. It allows a wing
to knit
into itself.
This is how to stop
while time
ticks on
until sensation returns
as it seems
it always

Photo credit: 6legs2many

For This

Kulturgeschichte / Essen / Belle Epoque

For more than one of the eleven around the table, the year left bruises. For more than one, tears choke the blessing. Words that begin as thanks are threaded with veins of dense and nameless matter.

Loss is a removal that adds weight.

Chuckles accompany each small confession. We are older now. Pleasure hits the tongue in the bitter spots too. Years distill gratitude to its sharpest potency.

We round the corner and my turn is seventh. I say that I most often describe myself as a single mother. I say this is inaccurate because a tribe holds my son and me. We are not doing this on our own, we never have been alone. I say that family is like a story. It ends up looking entirely different than what we expect and somehow ends up looking exactly as it should.

Image credit: Otto Günther, Am Tagelöhnertisch (1875)


Still Move Through

Put it on ice
at first
to keep the swelling down.
Pain masked
is the absence of pain. The mind
is both
and patsy.
It’s game.

It will throb.
Talk like an auctioneer
over it. Back up and run
like a diesel
over it
Keep turning
it until
it’s tilled under
and at last
pulse reclaims its place
as the beat
that drives
this rig.


Growing Pain

door jamb

He cries almost every night. The homework is too much or I bark too loud the fifth time I ask him to wash his hands for dinner. Something tips him over the cliff and he flings himself face-down onto the easy chair in the living room. His sobs surge through his whole body. If I try to comfort him, he storms into his room and slams the door. I’ll find him there later, sprawled across the bed lost in a graphic novel. He refuses to turn, only growling, “I didn’t tell you it was okay to come in.”

For several weeks we’ve been tripping over his mysteriously exposed hair-trigger. A freshly minted nine-year-old, he’s exhibiting all the signs of a boy on the brink of thirteen. I dig through the cabinets of my memory for details, vaguely recalling Josh & Chuck’s tour through the wonderland of male puberty. Back in May, the information was intriguing yet premature. I won’t need this for years. 

But now my mind lays its hands on one discarded detail: A boy exhibits the external signs of puberty — hair, voice, skin — several miles into journey. The early biological changes begin right around. . .

Yep. Now.

Are hormones to blame for what’s going on here? It seems too sudden. In just a few weeks, this boy has gone from engaged in homework and flowing through dinner and bedtime Hobbit to dissolving into weepy confusion at the smallest obstacle. Then he pops back up, rocketing skyward and racing around the house on his skateboard, dragging the dog onto his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and hurtling himself across the beds. It’s mania and despair whizzing at full tilt, cornering so hard they leap the track.

You could make the argument that Bug is picking up on his mama’s inner turmoil. When it comes that critical survival skill of wearing masks, I am still an amateur. With my frayed filter and inside-out emotions, it’s altogether possible that my boy is caught in the wake of my recent breakup. Truth is, the end of this relationship is much much tougher than I imagined it would be.

Five years ago, divorce was hell. But it didn’t prepare me for this. Because divorce is also lawyers and parenting agreements and custody and schedules. The agony is of a prolonged sort. It is also shared and a little bit public. This is especially true when children are involved. A larger circle holds the pain and burden because it’s a whole family coming undone, a whole community reconfiguring itself.

This one? It’s all mine.

At a week shy of 42, the drama of ending a relationship slips pretty low on the list of pressing social concerns. Among colleagues and friends, other  struggles lead conversations. We have pregnancies and layoffs, budget cuts and school board elections, ailing relatives and children with troubling diagnoses and unexpected debts and international political crises. “Breakup” is one of those things that flits across the surface of a conversation, much like when a pet dies. A friend may offer a hug or a momentary ear, but no one really holds the loss alongside the one bearing it.

My mister and I were together for over 2-1/2 years, and knew each other for close to three. That’s nearly a third of my son’s life, and it’s the whole of the time — and more — that Bug and I have owned our home and built around ourselves this community. I’m struggling with the absence of a man I felt was my partner in all of this, as well as with the erasure of his unique journey from my days. Certainly the decision was the right one. Even so, grief is enervating. Transition takes far more creativity and determination than I have some days. Also, I just miss him.

Of course my son will be feeling some of this with me.

Bug has no journal, no blog, and only so many names for what he feels. So while I also want to fling myself onto a piece of furniture and cry, I must choose instead to stay steady and attentive to him while he rides the current. I try to be his solid place to touch down, which yields the unexpected bonus of a place to set my own feet.

Until the moment we are standing together in the bathroom as he brushes his teeth. I look at my shirtless boy with his golden mop of hair and hard eyes, and I think woah.

“What?” He mumbles through the toothpaste. “Why are you making that face?”

“Here, come here,” I say. He steps closer to me and we gaze together into the mirror. “You’re past my shoulder. Do you see that? You’re almost to my chin.” I touch his head. “When did that happen?”

He shrugs. “Let’s measure me.”

We go to his bedroom doorway and he presses his heels against the jamb. We make the mark and marvel at it together.

“You’ve grown an inch since your birthday,” I say.

“Almost an inch,” he corrects.

“Since your birthday,” I say, studying this sprouting giant. “Which was six weeks ago. Baby, that is really something!”

He shrugs again but I can see the hint of a grin. He goes to the bathroom to rinse, then comes back with the measuring tape. We measure up from the floor. The lowest line marks the first birthday we celebrated in this house two years ago. Since then he has grown six inches.

Six inches.

In two years.

And here I am, spinning a narrative in which his emotional surges are all about me.

It’s no wonder this boy is hurting. He’s growing like I’ve topped his pizza with pepperoni made by Monsanto.

And if I’ve learned anything in my almost 42 years, it’s that growing hurts.

Even when it’s exactly the right thing.


Whispering Wild

A boy is digging
his hands down under the surface
following one root
after another to a place
that gives. Finished here, he moves
further down the bed and I follow,
raking the mulch smooth. Except
every stroke combs free
what the boy missed, one green stem
after another gripping hard
to life. I squat and pull
a trowel from my muddy pocket
then cut through, feeling
for a soft joint, a pop. Shoots
thick as fingers, long as limbs.
Down there they go on, snake
through a warren of tunnels,
drawing towards each other
and together, to their source.

I stand again and spread soil
like paint. Another weed peeks through
and every single time
I have to choose.

Prudence counsels
us to seek and wrench loose
unwanted defects that spoil
the renewal we work so hard to
cultivate. But what says
the clay from which we are made?
It trades advice for example,
letting native rhizome tuck itself
for now under this thin skin of soil
and go on with its work
which will surely yield
a growth just as marvelous
if not
altogether smooth or even
to those who favor
the tame.

Photo credit: William Marshall Brown’s Hoeing in the Fields

A Gift of Need

We are embodied spirits who need raw material, both physical and spiritual, to create. But we forget that we are also social beasts who need not slash through the bramble of those needs alone.

Maria Popova in the postscript to The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

Fruit Gathering

A friend wrote to me with an offer of help. A generous spirit by nature, she also follows Momastery which further expands the reach of her care. She has a modest surplus in her family this year and felt called to support the extraordinary Together Rising Holiday Hands project. After a bit of soul-searching she made a brave overture: she sent a note offering me a small financial gift so Bug and I could get through the holidays.

I say “brave” because it takes guts to reach across all the garbage associated with need, class, and the myth of self-sufficiency. Someone might balk at a gift of money, might see it as presumptuous or even condescending. We live in a world in which monetary woes signal a deep vein of trouble. Financial solvency, naturally, is a proxy for moral rectitude. Hell, people use the term “charity case” as an insult.

On this side of the divide, I can hear all too clearly poverty’s cruel whispers. Stupid. Impetuous. Shortsighted. Fool. If I’m stuck in the land of scarcity and hardship, my own carelessness is to blame. I misplaced my citizenship papers. I missed simple instructions that others of my native land were bright enough to grasp. The doctors and professors and architects who once sat next to me in 7th grade Algebra picked up information that I failed to absorb, and here I am circling endlessly around a single zero-sum problem: Christmas tree or Christmas gifts? Because this year, it won’t be both.

This is why I square my shoulders, smooth on makeup, and change into the cheap-but-passable dress shoes stashed in a drawer at work. When I notice — as I did yesterday — that a run is making its way up my off-brand stocking, the floor tilts and nausea roils. Exposed. Through that thin fraying, the world can see my forever-crumbling veneer of okay-ness and find out I am, in fact, poor. Surely people will begin to harbor doubts. Surely they will wonder what is is really amiss with this woman who has failed so completely to deliver on her privilege, education, ability, and access.

For all these reasons and more, my dear friend’s act was indeed brave. When she offered the gift, she risked sending the message that she sees me as broken and incapable of taking care of my business.

Instead, the opposite happened.

Well, not quite the opposite. More like the inverse, perhaps?

I actually did feel seen.


Someone made the choice to cut through the wicked illusion of invulnerability and say, I see you. I see you are struggling, and I see you could use a hand. She offered not because the struggle is a sign of failure, but because the struggle just is.

And because she has a loving heart.

And because she can.

When the note came through my email, arms much stronger than my distress folded me into a hug. A voice brighter than those hateful whispers reminded me, we all belong to each other.

My old friend asked if I would accept, and I said, unequivocally and with a warm shiver moving right through the front of my chest, yes.

The karmic chuckle came just hours later when another woman — a neighbor — texted to ask if I could pick up her son after karate. She is a single mom too, and a teacher, and always digging deep for the time and money to make it all work.

Had her request come a few hours earlier, the answer would have likely been the same but it would have felt entirely different. I would have had to lift instead of being lifted, like great, another f***ing thing I have to do. But the dear one had stepped over and opened up a window. The breeze was already passing through. The earlier offer reminded me that generosity is a choice. We all have more to give than we realize, and that even the small gift is a treasure.

My neighbor asked for a hand, and I said, unequivocally and with an easy smile, yes.

It’s only because giving is so much associated with material things that receiving looks bad. It would be a terrible calamity for the world if we eliminated the beggar. The beggar is just as important in the scheme of things as the giver. If begging were ever eliminated God help us if there should no longer be a need to appeal to some other human being, to make him give of his riches. Of what good abundance then?

Henry Miller, in a love letter to Anais Nin

The neighbor followed up her request for the karate pick-up with at least 4 texts. The first explained, the second apologized, the third cracked a self-deprecating joke, and the fourth explained again. I could almost feel the tightening of the knots as she worked so hard not to seem “needy” while also needing. I wanted to reach out and put a hand on her shoulder and say, you’re welcome.

As in, really: You are welcome right now, in this moment of asking, to be exactly who and where you are.

I responded by texting back her that her son is a delight, and I’m happy to help, and finally that she is an inspiration.

Meanwhile, I play the same internal game of twister. A follow-up email from the old friend sits unanswered in my inbox. Now that I’ve said yes to the gift, I also have to say yes to the insinuation that this tough little life I’m trying to manage is worth the effort. I have to suspend my disbelief and hold as credible the idea that Bug and I are important and loved.

That is quite a contortion of my default posture.

So I choose to accept the audacious notion — at least for a few moments here before the husk grows thick and the eyes narrow yet again — that we grow the sum total of generosity in the world as much by accepting gifts as by giving them.

Yes, my friend. We do all belong to each other.

Photo credits:
Fruit Gathering by Gregory Orloff
Spring Harvest by Els Noordhoff