La Luna Made Me Do It

Let me just begin with the requisite: It's been a long time since I first got down. 

Because, I mean, it has. According to my archives, it's been a little over four years since my last blog, but let's just say that I have some pretty solid excuses, two in particular. 

But I'm back at it and it's pretty major. I'm happy to be here and I've missed you. 

From what I can gather, Mercury Rx (if you're into that sort of thing and if you're not, maybe it's time to consider your cosmos) is not the super scary monster we've all made it out to be. But in fact, a great time to review - and in my case, rewrite.

So, in the spirit of spring, rebirth, renewal and return, I've got a little story on a big edit.

Luna was born into the legend of Rafi's birth. She rewrote all I had known before her and brought understanding into a place wrought with confusion and frustration, loss and a deep sense of failure.

Before Rafi, mostly what I knew about my body was that if I tried hard enough, I could basically do anything I wanted to. I've always been unafraid to push myself, so naturally, when I got pregnant the first time the only imaginable outcome I was working with was a healthy, joyful and magical vaginal birth. I took a 12-week course on natural childbirth into which I submerged myself, and because of what I knew about my mother, who had always described both of her births as magic, I just assumed that there was no reason that mine would be so very different. 

But it was. 

Before it finally ended in an emergency c-section with a side of blood transfusion, we went through nearly 48-hours of ups and downs and twists and turns. And after our wonderful Rafi was born and everyone and I mean EVERYONE, said to me in an effort to console me, "what's most important is that you and the baby are healthy," I was not consoled. Let's just say, even with the best intentions, their words rang hollow and thud onto the floor. I was hormonal and exhausted. I felt broken and alone. I was a mess, and it took a very long time to put myself back together.

And trust me, putting yourself together at all even under the best of circumstances after having a baby, is a lofty goal in it of itself.

Because writing is my medicine, nearly a year after Rafi was born I was in the bath thinking about my scar. Traversing that wild first year of her life and her wild passage into the world; I wondered how I would ever tell her about her birth. My Rafi, for whom I am grateful for every moment of the day. Her heart that holds us all so close, her empathy that understands humanity far beyond what we would ever expect, her humor that is so unintentionally hilarious, and her curiosity that inspires her to wonder about everything inside and outside of her world. 

How could I not celebrate the moment she came into our lives?

But then, slowly, before my eyes, the lens began to change and in my mind, I started to craft the exquisite story of her birth, free from shame, and full of glory. What began to emerge was the version that would hold us both, the story that was full of love and determination, fearlessness and ultimate selflessness. And from there I dreamt up my beloved birth-story writing service called Bear Tales, from the belief that there are other women like me who want to tell the incredible story of their baby being born, but desire to reframe even the most difficult parts and hold them to create a version that illuminates the beauty and triumph, even during the most difficult times.

And when I finally sat down to write my own, it was as cathartic as it was healing, and our story was epic.

So when we found out just a little under two years later that I was pregnant again, I knew immediately that in order to prepare my mind and body to try and do things differently this time, some deeper healing was still in order.

And for the remaining months, I went all in. 

Luna arrived on June 13th, 2016 and with her came a healing so great, she wrangled a certain chaos into calm that I had been carrying with me since Rafi was born on October 25th, 2013. Her little body, like a candle burning, brought a glow, and when I hold her, I feel at peace - even during my stormiest days, and even when she is doing her finest impersonation of a feral animal.

I wrote Luna's Bear Tale as a birthday present to us both just before she turned one. At the time we were approaching, with trepidation, the halfway mark of a terrifying first year of this atrocious administration. My heart was weighted down for the future of this country, and for all of us living here. 

But Luna, my little light in a dark sky, with her warmth, depth and fierce little spirit, has this way of brightening up the dark path ahead, just enough so that I am always hopeful that we might find our way through the shadows, despite how lost we might be.

Her Bear Tale, like everything I write, was long and detailed as I did my best to capture the magic of her birth. The pictures placed throughout the story captured my pregnancy, the three of us before Luna, and the four of us, complete with her. I gave it to her on her first birthday and it sits sleek and strong on a bookshelf in our house, holding the tale of one the two moments in my life that have defined me most as a woman, guiding me into my most cherished role: being a mother.

So, a few weeks ago, when a very female-experience focused online and in-print magazine that I follow, posted a final call to submissions at 3 pm on a Friday I rushed to my computer and dug out Luna's Bear Tale and another piece I had recently written on a completely different subject: #metoo (more on that another time). 

When I brought her Bear Tale up on my screen it took me right back into every fiber of that experience and it was glorious. I swept the doc for tiny edits to make sure it was in tip-top shape before I hit send and did the same for the second piece. And because life is never particularly spacious these days, I moved onto to something else almost immediately. 

The next day I woke up to an email from an editor from the magazine telling me they loved both pieces and asked if I could edit Luna's, which was over 3,400 words, to 1,200, their maximum word count. 

If you didn't know this about me already, I'm in a deep relationship with editing - it's pretty serious and, well, we're soul-mates. I work with businesses and individuals all the time on taking their first drafts into final drafts, perfecting their messaging and writing so it's at its best out there. I love this stage in my Book Doula work and love it when I get to deep dive back into my own writing. And what I've learned is that often there is little else in this complex, frustrating and gorgeous world we live in than editing, that takes to do-overs with as much grace.

And in the spirit of one of the most symbolic edits of my life, I dove in and sculpted, shaved and scrubbed one of the most significant stories I've lived into a smaller, but still robust, version of itself. 

So, a little shout-out to editing for getting a bad rap often for being the tattle-tale and sometimes black sheep of the writing family, when really, it's the hero. 

You can read my piece, By the Light of the Moon here, published in Harness Magazine. 

And tell me, if you're an editing enthusiast like me, what do you love or find most frustrating about the process? I'd love to hear all about it...

 

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the rain a couple of weeks ago reminded me of panama. i counted the seconds between the lightning and thunder and i wasn't certain that it wasn't crashing down much further than the edge of my backyard. my emergency kit leaves a little to be desired, but cocooned in my bed, looking out the window, i felt safe.

i have a habit of second guessing myself. it's so boring. i mentioned the ferocious meltdown  i had a few weeks ago, the one that flung me upright into a new attitude. up until then i had been disjointed, unfocused, and clumsy with my time and energy. yes, wedding planning is a shockingly saturating experience, but clarifying as well. through the planning process i have learned things i had no idea i would. some harsh realizations have occurred, but some really comforting ones as well. and because everything i needed to know, i did not learn in kindergarten, i get schooled, constantly...

it's probably happening now.

several years ago i was fortunate enough to live in a friends house in panama for a few months. the house was built by him into saigon bay, a body of water surrounded by mangroves on a tiny island shaped like an 8. the house lay on the bayside, in the center of the isthmus, where the caribbean was a short walk from his pier up a path and across the street. i packed a bag full of books and bathing suits and flew 4000 miles to a small archipelago about 4ooo miles from san francisco, where i had been living until then.

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i was in the middle of a storm. my life had just changed in significant ways and i was lost. it was the first time in years i felt i had no reason not to leave for awhile, so when an opportunity to go somewhere presented itself, i took it, and fast.

i had been to panama before, in fact i had been to panama many times before. when i was 18 i lived in costa rica not far from the panamanian border of which i crossed every three months to get my passport stamped.  often times, if oscar was working the immigration kiosk, i would pay him $20 to forfeit the mandatory three day stay over the border and just cross right back that day instead.

another story, for another time...

going back to panama was the first time i had ever lived alone. i would have to remind myself that i could act, say, or do anything i wanted to and there would be no one to offend, annoy, or to which to cater. it was amazing, both because that was a conscious thought i had and that it was true. at the time i remember being pretty certain that there may not be another opportunity like this in my life again, so i did my best to make the most of the experience.

there was a night shortly after i arrived when i could have sworn the lightning was crashing into the water beneath the house. everything was moving. the rain owned the sky and i was alone on a dock in a place where i knew no one and nobody knew me. i had no technology to rely on for help, no link to the outside world other than my thoughts about it. i laid in bed watching the rain, measuring the distance between my own fears. at some point during the storm, i thought about the transparency between loneliness and being surrounded. any control i thought i had was an illusion so i stopped being afraid and i decided to enjoy the show.

my life changed in many ways down there. my life was changing down there. and the experience itself is one i cherish beyond measure.

so, after that nostalgic storm the other day before the sun returned and traffic was restored to its usual pace, i had a moment. i was in a dance class and i was thinking about the truth about things. i was mid-routine, where clarity of thought is sharp and pure but fleeting. i was probably going the opposite direction as everyone else, when it occurred to me that i've made an incredibly faithful choice about my future.

there is a lovely hugeness to any type of investment when it come to matters of the heart.

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in an instant i can go from the depths of confusion about so many things to a profound wholeness that encompasses my entirety: i have everything i need in order to survive and actually be happy. i can laugh and cry throughout the day about the same things. i love and am loved. while my life was much wilder at some point, i am still on my toes most of the time. and when i think i've got it under control that's usually when i catch a gentle sucker punch.

but truthfully, there isn't much, if anything, i would change. i am a writer because i started this post last week and ten million things have happened since then, but the song remains the same...

hOWL

Great Gray Owl

i had a tectonic meltdown last thursday and it wasn't pretty. later that same day i got on a red-eye to florida to visit my radiant grandmother who is turning 91 any minute. out of san francisco we were slightly delayed, but just enough so that a good portion of those of us on the flight were subsequently stranded in los angeles for the night after missing our connection to orlando by five minutes. it wan't pretty.

we boarded at 7am the following morning after spending a few hours at a place called the "hacienda" near the airport, the word meaning, "estate," in spanish, but more like, "dump," when translated into what sort of accommodations that united airlines offers when they try to destroy your quick bi-coastal travel plans.

nevertheless, the miracle of flying is not lost on me.

that cold morning i could barely wait to get poured into my window seat for the next five plus hours. i shimmied into my spot and watched bags being loaded into the bottom of the plane. pretty soon my row neighbors arrived. they were two rather large men, one for the aisle, one for the middle. i felt a little guilty about my window seat but apparently not enough to say yes when the middle guy offered me cash to switch spots with him.

i can't believe i said no. i was clearly sleep deprived.

six hours later we touched down on another coast and into my grandmother's arms i went.

the weekend went in a series of moments i felt so fortunate to have. whatever had been raging inside me before then passed with the brief tropical storms that drifted above us.

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i have been home for a few days now. the weekend spent with my family already carefully folded away for safekeeping, three thousand miles from this minute.

while i would say that, yes, i am made up of mostly water like the rest of us, i think i am part elastic too. water, bones, muscles, elastic, big hair, and disparate thoughts. that being said, i have a few things i do besides eat, drink, and work in order to survive, and one of those things is hike.

i get hooked on trails. there is one i go on as much as four or five times a week for the last fifteen years. i'd say we are in a bit of a relationship now, it's pretty serious. we've been through a lot together...into its dirt i've laughed, cried, fallen, gotten back up, dodged rattlesnakes, seen sunsets and sunrises, deer, and sweated a lot out. while i have proclaimed my undying love for it time and time again, yesterday we might have reached soul mate status.

as i climbed the hill, the light descended into its final hours above the horizon. i marched upward following the path snaking through the eucalyptus and noticed a couple of other hikers stopped on the trail. as i got closer a nice man with a baby on his back pointed with his chin to a crook in a branch of a tall tree just across from us. my eyes searched and focused; there was an owl.

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a tidal wave of excitement passed through me. if i could either say with a straight face, "spirit animal," or have one, i'd like for it to be an owl.

i couldn't tear my eyes away. i can't be sure, but what i want to believe is that we were in a tandem gaze and somehow something inside me completely lifted, shifted and was so moved by that strong face looking back at mine.

it was hard to turn away from something so beautiful and continue my climb to the top of the hill. with only a chance that the owl would still be there on my way back down, i pivoted out and knew how lucky i'd been, how lucky i am, and sometimes that's all i really need.

i am a writer because owls make my heart beat fast.

hematoma galactica

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i didn't realize until i was heading into the shower the next morning that the middling pain i felt was coming from a huge heliotropic bruise in the center of my belly. i stood in the mirror and in the same instant i remembered how my shoulders had been earnestly painted in light blue by a woman in a black afro wig who gave me psychic reassurance about my future. i let my eyes follow the blue toward the white vine-like and sparkling design that spread to my collar bone. my hair was slightly pressed against the side of my head that i had slept on and my lips were still stained pink.  i'll be 35 in a few months and it's been awhile since i had to go around my bedroom collecting clues from the night before, the morning after; nothing important had gone missing. there were other centers of pain. i had a bruise on my knee, one on my shin, and on my left hip, the other hip, on the bone, an unfortunate location; one that reaches outward more than you would think. i could have drawn lines connecting these points, a constellation mapping one of those nights that line up ahead of you, instead of you, before the main event. a perfect little resource, like an alarm clock or a fossil.

a couple of months ago when getting married mostly felt like planning a wedding, someone asked me what i was looking forward to most in the process. without a breath i said that it was spending time with the women in my life that i love most. i had been getting lost in the details, all the facts, and what i couldn't change or dress up around or over. it was getting messy, if only beneath my own hair.

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i use being a poet as an excuse, a lot. i use it to explain how i feel when i'd rather be writing. i say that i am just being, "poety," as an act of diffusion when i can see the reflection of my own emotions getting the better of me on someone else's face. if i really could act, i don't think i would ever have to write.

i sat at the head of a long table this past saturday lined with certain key faces of women that i share my life with. i knew that this would be one of the more fortunate moments i've ever had. i was overcome. every time i tried to address the group i stumbled across my own words. i tried to tell a story about mixing up names and i mixed the names up so that they weren't mixed at all, the point getting lost in my own confusion. i think i feel that way a lot. earlier that day i had been shuttling my thoughts through the maze and was lovingly told by a dear friend to talk less and write more.

so when i tripped over something later that evening and sailed downward in my four inch heels i found myself remembering that moment slowly while so many others were let go. as i hit everything on the way down, i wished that instead of feeling the corner of the chair, the edge of the table and the floor--i could have stayed slowly in those moments that, for whatever science, seem harder to hold onto. how my slipping is bigger than my constant falling and why all those other moments that compete for center stage, can drain each space, flatten the light, and turn rooms into ruins, have ever had even temporary residency at all.

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and now that the planning has evolved past stressing, i am planted firmly in excitement for this next phase. i can't wait to take these next steps with the man i love. still, there is no shortage of material these days, and it still remains a tricky balance between writing and talking. knowing that i am less apt at the latter and not particularly gifted at holding it in, we'll see what makes it onto the page.

i am a writer because there are volumes and i don't believe in hoarding...

it's complicated

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because valentines day has a way of excluding those who aren't being wined and dined by someone that gives them butterflies, i've always preferred to see it as a day to spread the love. if it's about anything at all, it should be about disbanding the lonely hearts club and making it about everyone important to you, not just your date.

programming note: i think i have become a temporary wedding blogger...it seems to come into focus each time i sit down to write and i just can't help myself...

and so here goes my broken record spinning: planning a wedding has brought each relationship in my life into a bright white light that hides nothing. i still love all the same people, but in some cases our relationship status is whatever, "it's complicated," is, on 10.

and if my wedding record wasn't completely on repeat already, here it goes winding around and around: i've got daddy issues, and guess what, planning a wedding hasn't solved them. in fact they have officially become the elephant in my brain.

i was never the kind of girl that, "played wedding," when i was little or made drawings of some cream puff fantasy dress or knew what song i'd dance to with my prince charming. my parents split up when i was about 11 and nothing was ever the same again. family and marriage took on a completely different shape. they both became scary, uncertain covenants, and grown-ups seemed a little less all-knowing as a result. from there i became a little more guarded and  less convinced of  fairytale endings despite the fact that in many ways i am living one now.  i always felt a little like an alien next to girlie-girls whose hair was perfect and who knew how to do their makeup just like on 90210.

and in a way, spending a little time early on envisioning my wedding could have saved me some trouble now. up until pretty recently i have been at a complete loss with the whole wedding thing. i have been blindsided by planning and pleasing. i think i can see clearly now, and my fiance and i have managed to patch together a sincere reflection of what's important to us and how we choose to celebrate that...and with each day, we get closer and closer to closest.

about ten years ago i was catering an event in the neighborhood i grew up in. after my parents split there were all kinds of interesting living arrangements.  my father, who chose to stay in the house, didn't move until i was a senior in high school. he remained there, reinventing his life, for what felt like the entire world to see.

i didn't realize until i got to the client's house that the address i has scribbled down was that of a family's that we had known in our past life, quite well, before, during, and after the storm. i braced myself as i parked around the corner. feeling the cracks in the sidewalk was surreal, let alone the familiar stairs beneath my feet as i walked through their front door. the mother of the house had a tendency to gossip and upon seeing me her face lit up. "ali!" she said, "how arrre yooooooouu?!" she searched my appearance, had i survived, she probably wondered. her insincerity was piercing, loud, dangerous. i took a deep breath and said smiling through my teeth, "great, i'm great, thanks for asking."

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i was sweating, terrified. every person i had remembered pumping me for gossip as a girl about my family were all there, lurking in every room. i was completely exposed, vulnerable, and serving them hors d'ouevres. needless to say i was mortified. i was working with a new company and with people who are now my close friends, but at the time i barely knew.

at one point the hostess approached me while standing in a group of familiar ghosts and asked me three of the most inappropriate and insensitive questions about the other three members of my immediate family i've ever been asked. i was in a cold sweat, i had been hit. my tongue was paralyzed, i could barely breathe. my colleague, and now dear friend, terry, was within earshot, completely horrified at the behavior of this woman. i backed my way out of the lion's den and terry convinced me to take a minute to re-collect in the concealed area in their backyard.

i had been called into battle, i wanted to defend my troops despite how we seemed to be fighting on different sides. i ducked into their guesthouse where we had stashed our personal belongings when we arrived to the job. i was covered in light from the glass ceiling, i could see the edges of everything around me. i called my mom and told her where i was and what just happened. she was audibly upset.  she wanted me to leave right away, and she may have even suggested that i break something on my way out. i told her i'd come right over afterwards and hung up the line. i felt a little better so i called my brother. i had to convince him to not drive right over to answer her spiteful questions in person. he was harder to get off the phone, upset and feeling very protective of me, as we said goodbye he said he'd be standing by if i changed my mind. i was starting to see a pattern, so i called my dad. he vacillated from wanting to run into her in a dark alley and then hoping, for her sake, that would never happen. he was the angriest and wanted me to know that i didn't deserve to be treated that way, that i had done nothing wrong.

i felt the light pass through my body where i was sure it was stone. i straightened my apron and held the light in. i realized that since things had fallen apart, that was the first time i had really felt like a family. like a bunch of misfits, we still had each other's backs and beneath that fractured wasteland was still something whole.

my mom is walking me down the aisle. and while i've had many years to accept certain truths about my family, there is still a little girl inside that is a little bit shocked. i realize now that while maybe the other girls were wishing on stars for the perfect dress or groom, i was wishing that things could be a little less chaotic, a little more normal, and that there was a sense of solidarity between my brother, mother, father, and i. as it was, in many ways, it was each man for himself.

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there aren't any violins playing the background, this is no sob-story, it's just my story, one that i am in the process of rewriting. despite how gravity lets these feelings sink into us, there is always a choice. i am a writer because i believe in changing your story.

i try over and over again to convince my brain to tell my heart to feel something else, to hold onto less, and to behave more. but the heart is complicated. the best i can do is take these stories and spin them. where they are scary or sad, find the beauty and safety. own each moment for what it is and be grateful to experience the full range. finding the strength, light, or laughter despite the let downs is worth all the heavy lifting.  so i'll keep pushing those shadows until they bend and disperse, back into the sun.

it's your birthday

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every year on february 1st my brother turns five years older than me. we get one year closer in age at the end of may, when my birthday is, but as of now, this moment, today, he's got even more of an edge. we've known each other my entire life, i guess that goes without saying, but it's easily taken for granted. nobody else can make me laugh as hard (even if it is at him) and no one else can make me feel like i have the power to set things on fire with my eyes. he's a much nicer person than me and seems to know everything about everything...

i have spent the better part of my life thinking about and trying to understand certain types of relationships and why they are so important. as a child of divorce (a couple times over) natural questions about consistency, reliability, and conditionality emerge. many of those questions don't ever get answered and life inevitably carries on, a little fractured maybe, but still with a persevering cosmic direction.

they say the things you can rely on are death and taxes, and i can't argue either. i sometimes wonder how we are able to do anything at all with the weight of losing surrounding us, always. i'm no fan of the taxman, but i get a thrill when i can do them myself, but that's mostly because i don't have a lot to account for.

but i do. i have so much.

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the other day i found myself in a wedding planning rabbit hole. i was sitting in traffic, probably adding costs up in my head, feeling both ashamed for becoming what i swore i never would, and wondering  how wedding planning is, unanimously, a take no prisoners situation. and then all of a sudden, without even realizing it, i was dialing my brother's phone number.

since i've been engaged he's been incredibly supportive. he's happy for me and loves my fiancé. having always wanted to have a brother (and having only me, who aims to please, but doesn't quite cut it) he's embraced my fiancé and our planning for our future in a way i'm not sure i expected.

when he picked up the line, we exchanged a few pleasantries and then before i knew it i was knee-deep in a longwinded planning predicament. i was even boring myself but couldn't seem to back my way out once i got started. i was practically panting. his end of the line was quiet. i was sure he was checking his email or thinking about what he was going to eat for dinner. i kept going. about a year in, i checked to see if he was still there. he was. he was actually listening really intently. he may not have been interested, but he cared.

ET healing Elliot

while no revolutionary decisions were made or solutions met during our conversation, something much better was realized. we've been through a lot together, my brother and i, sometimes we didn't have each other around when we really needed it, and sometimes we were so close that we couldn't see past certain issues. he didn't take an opportunity to remind me of how, in the scheme of things, planning a wedding is not death or taxes, but instead he was patient, kind, loving, and funny where he needed to be. i got off the phone knowing that he's in my corner, that he'd probably try to learn how to bake my wedding cake if i needed him to.

so today especially, since each day is worth celebrating, i am doing it for my brother, jake. i am a writer because all i know is that i find, at times, the world a hard place to seamlessly articulate, so there are certain things i'm just going to have to leave to feeling.

happy birthday, jake. thanks, i love you, you're funny mostly because you're left-handed, and you are a really good person!