saturday scenes: 2/2/2019

Happy Saturday, my loves! Back for another day of the Big Queer Funeral Novel, and another moment of my dumb boys being dumb.

What’s that, you say? A rom-com situation, courtesy of ladders and Christmas lights? Sure!

“I think we’re done,” Sam said. “Hand me the extension cord?”

Jamie hunted around on the floor of the porch until he caught sight of the black cord coiled up by the wall. He gave the ladder a suspicious look, then glanced up at Sam. “Do not fall off,” he said sternly.

Sam laughed and held up one hand, making a point to hold onto the roof with the other. “Pinky promise.”

Narrowing his eyes, Jamie let go of the ladder cautiously, stepping away to pick up the cord and reaching up to pass it to Sam. Sam plugged the string in, and they lit up, a glittering rainbow of light stringing their way across the roof hanging over the porch. The sun had gone down just enough for them to get the full effect, and Jamie whistled through his teeth.

“Wow,” he said. “That’s…”

Sam grinned down at him. “Good, right?”

Jamie chuckled, shaking his head. It was just gay enough to make a point, but not so queer as to be in your face. “It’s a fine balance,” he said diplomatically. “Are you done?”

“You really want me off this ladder, don’t you?”

“So badly,” Jamie said honestly.

Sam snorted. “I do this every year, you know,” he said, coiling the extra lights into a loop and tucking them into the plastic bag with the lights he’d kept dangling around his wrist.

“And this morning you tripped over Sappho while you were reading a book, and you broke a coffee mug and almost broke your face,” Jamie countered, hoping he sounded more patient than he felt. “Please get down.”

“You are ridiculous,” Sam huffed, rolling his eyes, but he handed the bag down to Jamie and started down the ladder.

Absolutely true to form, he missed a step and fell backwards with a yelp, grabbing for the ladder rung too late. Jamie moved faster, catching him with an arm around his waist before he could fall too far, his own heart pounding in his chest. Sam’s hands flew up to catch his shoulders, automatic and instinctive, stabilizing, and for one dizzying moment they just stared at each other, frozen.

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order of operations

So one thing that I’m learning, as I dip my toes into this whole “maybe what if we possibly potentially gave writing publicly outside of fandom a try” thing, is that I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing.

Not on the writing part! That part, honestly, I feel pretty good about. I have quite a bit to say–on more topics than I thought I did–but everything that comes with it. Growing up, I had this very set image in my head of The Way Authors Came To Be, and it followed a very specific order:

  1. Write Book
  2. Get Agent
  3. Agent Sells Book to Publisher
  4. ??????????
  5. Congratulations, you are now an Author!

Ah, naivete, you’re a hell of a drug. Given that this is 2019 and not, say, 1950, things obviously don’t look like this anymore, and don’t worry, my eyes have been opened. Gone are the days of the recluse writer who lives off the grid and sends an amazing best-selling book out into the world once every few years, so I’ve spent the last month doing a deep-dive into Twitter, which I’ve used off and on with various professional accounts but always tried to shy away from personally (it’s just Very Big and I am Very Small and #yikes), making lists of other sites where I think I could submit, reaching out and making some contacts, finding writing groups to join and hashtags to participate in.

A lot of this has to do, honestly, with that fuzzy space that hovers around step 1.5, between Write Book and Get Agent (if we even assumed those steps still followed that approximate order, which, ?????). There’s a lot of emphasis in query forms on having some kind of established brand–not necessarily a massive following (though I’m sure it doesn’t hurt) but an expectation that you have some kind of presence or digital footprint that gives potential agents a sense of who you are, not just as a writer but as a person. What do you care about? What does your voice sound like? Who is your audience? What perspectives are you bringing to your work?

Unfortunately, this is where I found myself ramming into a wall. I have about eight years of writing, publishing, and digital storytelling experience, in various forms, but most of it, unfortunately, was done through masquerading as someone else–writing as my organization, using my nonprofit’s voice, and generally not creating work that I retained intellectual rights to (fun!). Establishing a history of me as me means, essentially, starting from square one.

Simultaneously, though, there’s the biggest project I’m working on right now: writing the damn book.

This novel (which doesn’t have a proper working title, though I’ve been calling it the “Big Queer Funeral Home Novel” in my head) started out as a NaNoWriMo project, and has been evolving since then. It’s been the first original project I’ve felt was worth actually digging into in years, and it’s helped to have gotten a lot of encouragement towards publishing from friends who have gone in that direction, including a few who have been traditionally published. I love the story, and I love the characters, but over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself starting to slow down as the plot hasn’t quite resolved and I haven’t been able to wrap up the story in the way that makes sense.

Which is a pain, because, as I said, Step 1: Write the Book.

Well–yes and no. It is, in the sense that in general, you do need to have written the thing to sell it. But in the sense of do you need to have finished, edited, and polished your novel to query it?

Apparently not, according to Ryan La Sala, “YA Fantasy Author and Notable Gay,” (which is the greatest newsletter signature I’ve ever heard, and I am livid that he claimed it before I could, honestly, how dare you). While I cried a lot about how Writing and Revising is Scary and Why Does Anyone Do This, Anyway, Ryan explained that it’s a good idea to write up a sample query before you finish the book. “Get really into it,” he told me, until you remember what made you fall in love with the story in the first place. “Then ask: is my story as compelling as my super awesome query makes it sound? If not, revise until you feel they match.”

Y’all? The novel I have been writing was not the novel I was thinking of in my head.

Oh, it was close, in a lot of ways! The vibe was really similar, and had a similar basic plotline. The characters were the same. The love story sure as heck was the same, with my two doofy boys who couldn’t get their heads together if their lives depended on it. But the energy, weight, and emotional character arcs that I was looking to write? I’ve got 78,000 words here, and “the good stuff” doesn’t show up in nearly enough of them.

So. Step 1: Write the Book is really Step 1: Write the Book but also Pitch the Book to Yourself and then Make Sure it’s the Right Book and then Re-Write the Book and then Re-Pitch the Book and then Maybe Write it Again and then See What Happens.

And then maybe write it again.

But like I said, we’ll see. After all:

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

character moodboard: jamie gallagher

Welcome back to the Big Queer Funeral Home Novel (which should totally get a real working title at some point, but really, who has time for that)!

Today’s character moodboard introduces our main character, Jamie Gallagher! Jamie is 26, a Brown University grad, a former athlete, in serious student loan debt, gay as heck, and definitely Not Living Up to His Potential.

He’s not exactly expecting to fall for his boss when he starts a job at the local quirky funeral home, but then again, he hasn’t exactly “found himself” anywhere else – why wouldn’t he find love and family in the last place he’d ever think to look?

(image sources: shutterstock, pixabay, google images)

saturday scenes: 1/26/2019

(quick welcome shout-out to anyone who’s here from the #promoLGBTQ or #writeLGBTQ tags over on twitter! if you’re not following me yet over there, hit me up – I post more about my progress, the characters, and more!)

in the meantime, enjoy this snippet from the #BigQueerFuneralHomeNovel

Jamie made his way up the stairs to the third floor on shaking legs, forcing his hands to steadiness so that he didn’t slosh coffee over the sides of the mugs. His mouth was dry, and he regretted not taking an Aspirin or drinking more water before doing this.

Sam’s door was closed, and Jamie realized with a mental smack to his own face that he was out of hands. He carefully shifted the handles of both coffee mugs to one hand, and knocked.

There was no answer. He knocked again, a little firmer.

“I swear to God, Becca,” Sam’s voice said, hoarser and crankier than Jamie had ever heard it, “someone had better be dead.”

“I mean, yeah, [CUT FOR SPOILERS]” Jamie said, before he could think, his mouth working faster than his still-groggy brain. “That’s kind of why we’re in this mess. I didn’t think we were joking about it yet, though.”

There was a strangled sound, and then the distinctive rustling crash of someone attempting to get out of bed and failing spectacularly. A moment later, Sam pulled the door open. He looked the least-put together that Jamie had ever seen, in sweatpants and an NYU hoodie, barefoot and with his hair in messy disarray.

He was also, Jamie noticed, staring. “Jamie,” he said, his eyes wide and horrified. “Seriously?”

“I know, I’m going to hell,” Jamie said, trying belatedly not to get distracted by the way Sam’s curls were smushed in on one side, like he’d slept on them. “I’m too hungover to have a filter, which is part of why I’m doing this now so that I don’t chicken out.” He held out one of the mugs. “Coffee?”

Sam gaped at him. Jamie rocked the mug as much as he dared, coaxingly. It worked, but probably more because Jamie had spent the last several weeks giving Sam coffee, and it was possible that some kind of conditioned reflexes were kicking in. Whatever, Jamie thought, he wasn’t going to kick a gift conditioned reflex in the mouth. Sam took the mug in both hands, but didn’t drink it, and Jamie sighed.

“Look,” he said. “I just—I’m not going to do anything, okay? I just—I know we need to talk, and I figure it’s better if we just. Rip the band-aid off, or whatever. And if I do this now, I’ll at least be honest.”

“Jamie, are you sure you want to—” Sam’s look was dangerously close to pitying, and that wasn’t okay. Jamie gave him his most pleading face, and Sam sighed. “All right, fine.” He paused, and then seemed to come to a decision. “You might as well come in.”

a box full of darkness: how mary oliver taught me to find my body (and my voice again)

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I fell in love with Mary Oliver’s poetry the year my body became a stranger.

When I was five and ten and fifteen, I was an outdoor kid. I wasn’t slim or athletic, but my body was strong and solid, and it carried me on wide hips and sturdy feet through forests and up mountains, over desert dunes and into oceans. I could trust my hands to grasp at a tree branch or rockface if I wavered on an uneven trail; could trust my head not to swim as I walked along a narrow path; could trust my muscles not to tremble or spasm on a steep descent.

Let the world
have its way with you,
luminous as it is

with mystery
and pain –
graced as it is
with the ordinary.

(Summer Morning)

There had been moments of mistrust before. A back injury that never quite healed right; knocks to the head in tae kwon do that led to years of chronic migraines; a tendency toward insomnia. But this was something new, a never-ending pain that flowed to overwhelming flares and ebbed back to dull, constant aching. It was dizziness and headaches, shakiness in my hands and fuzzy auras at the edge of my vision, and my strong, solid, dependable body was, quite suddenly, no longer mine to trust.

While I waited for a diagnosis that wouldn’t come for more than a year, and gave medication after medication a chance to take the heaviness from my bones and the lethargy from my muscles. I watched the seasons change from my dorm room window, and instead of feeling snow crunch under my boots and savoring the first clean breaths of spring at sunrise, I felt trapped and still, a thickness that had nothing to do with the weight of my bones. There was a lump that settled in the back of my spirit. The places that used to be my refuge, and all the words and stories I found there, were suddenly inaccessible to me.

I had spent my life writing: stories I was proud of and badly-composed poems I wasn’t and personal essays I tucked in the backs of journals to read when I found myself needing meaning. And as my body betrayed me, my pen followed. For the first time in my life, I felt lost for words.

So I read them. instead.

Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.
(Bone)

Mary Oliver was called a nature poet and a woman’s poet and she was both, in the sense that she wrote about nature in the way that people who are not men (who are often lumped together in the category of women) write about nature. She wrote the ordinary and natural without embellishment and in doing so exposed the billions of pieces that made it imperfectly beautiful, and it’s little wonder that her exact words on the subject make it into so many roundups of her greatest quotes: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

I read that poem during the days when I was at my least amenable to adopting a daily practice of paying attention, let alone being astonished. And telling about it–no. I was, that year, living a life wrapped in shame and silence. Trauma is a thing that will do that to you, and so will pain, and when you braid them together creativity can bloom, but it can also waste away. Mine had dried up like a plant left on a windowsill, without water or sunlight. I looked at it daily, the pot where it had once been thriving and blooming, a body both literal and not, and I resented its shriveled leaves, its limp branches.

Reading Mary Oliver’s poems, though, something began to come back. It wasn’t that reading her work gave me the sense that I was outside again–though there was something about what she invoked, not a visceral imagery but a more spiritual physicality. She didn’t write me the image of the sun breaking over the horizon at dawn, its color and brightness, but she gave me the feeling, the warmth of my sunrise hikes, of the first moment’s light brushing its fingertips over my cheeks. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness; in those days, it was the closest I came to prayer.

Oh, mother earth
           your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.
It has saved my life to know this.

(Loneliness)

It took a long time for me to find my body again. Truthfully, I am still finding it. I am walking in the woods again, but I am not running in them. I am not climbing. I see the sunrise because my pain has kept me from sleeping through the night, not because I have planned a morning to find the perfect place to see it.

But I have found new words, too, new ways of being, new ways of connecting, and through that I have found my way back to love. To live in a body that is fat and queer and disabled is to be at an intersection of unlovability. Yet I found in Oliver’s poetry some comfort there, as well, and it took me until just recently to put words as to why. In the wake of Oliver’s passing last week, Jeanna Kadlec wrote on the queer eroticism woven through Mary Oliver’s poetry, from the sensuality of her imagery and to the lifetime she spent with her partner Molly Cook that mainstream articles so often overlook. Her poetry spoke of love and desire but also of consent, the fragility of our bodies and the uncertainty of this journey. “This is the queer erotic,” Kadlec writes, “the validation of our bodies as worthy of attention, of desire, of sex.”

I ask
over and over
for your whereabouts,
trekking wherever you take me
(The Gardens)

The permission to be loved and to find myself loveable has slowly, gently, begun to sink into my body. This body where I live, where I struggle and yearn and reach and create, does not have to be perfect. It does not have to pass as straight, it does not have to fit within the gender binary. It does not have to always have the perfect words, its pain does not need to be elegant and beautifully handled.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
(Wild Geese)

I put my pen to paper, open a new document, it’s with the knowledge, now, that there is something to be seen in the moments in between the pain, something written in the spaces where I feel the most stifled. Over the years it has taken me to learn a new way of living in my body, of connecting to my voice, Oliver’s poetry was the open window that brought me back to the mountains.

It still will be.

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness. 

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
(Thirst)

almost there and nowhere near it

Recently, I got in a fight with my therapist about the concept of self-acceptance.

Being in therapy as a former therapist is challenging. I’ve never been quiet about my opinion that everyone should go to therapy at least once in their lives (or if “should” language bothers you, then my opinion that everyone can certainly benefit from going to therapy at least once in their lives), but having the educational background and training in psychology, psychotherapy, neuroscience, etc, at least for me, creates a significant intellectual wall that I constantly find myself struggling to climb over when I’m sitting in the client role. There’s a constant, mounting frustration; a simmering need to bite back the urge to throw up my hands and yell “I KNOW THIS ALREADY!” while my therapist discusses the ways in which negative thinking and negative emotions form feedback loops and spirals, the benefits of checking in with the ways emotions manifest in our bodies, the need to differentiate between lack of control and learned helplessness.

(Does it help that she and I have some fundamental disagreements about certain treatment approaches? Probably not. You’re never going to get me into mindfulness meditation, girl. I’m sorry, but I’ve been burned. BURNED.)

But the wall is there, and its bricks are primarily made of my beliefs that I should (eyyyyy) be able to apply the various pieces of knowledge I all that time scraping into a degree into actual practice. After all, once you know the theory behind CBT, DBT, etc, how hard should it be to just use those damn techniques on yourself and fix your brain, right?

(But Shelly, you say, that’s not how depression and anxiety work! Correct. But depression and anxiety are also not rational creatures, so here we are.)

And so we come to self-acceptance, which my therapist, bless her heart, probably thought she was approaching in a perfectly reasonable way, not knowing she was opening up a can of worms the size of a mediocre white man’s undeserved ego.

“You’re so quick to try and be compassionate to everyone else, but it’s like you’re incapable of putting that same compassion towards yourself,” she said. “And I think that’s because you’re not accepting yourself. And until you can do that, you’re not going to be able to show yourself the kindness and love you deserve.”

You could have heard a pin drop in that room before I responded, “I’m sorry,” I said. “What the actual hell am I supposed to do with that?”

And so began three straight weeks of absolute chaos.

Y’all, I am a fairly reasonable person when it comes to doing the work in therapy. I will whine and complain to my various groupchats before I go to a session about how I don’t want to go, but I like to think that once I’m there, I’m a pretty compliant client. I show up, I talk about my feelings, I answer the tough questions, I do my homework. Because at the end of the day, I know that as much as I bitch and moan about it, I really do need to be there. Even when I don’t want to be.

But oh, my god, I fought on this one. This was a battle. This was the intellectual wall turning into an intellectual Jaeger, full-on Pacific Rim-style.

After months of fairly good therapeutic rapport, it was like we absolutely stopped speaking the same language. My therapist gave example after example of what “self-acceptance” looked like to her, but every one of them seemed to be an instance of what one might do having reached a point of being “self-accepting” or “having accepted yourself the way you are.” No matter how many times I tried to put it into different words, I couldn’t seem to make her understand that that was not something that made sense to me from where I was sitting: firstly, because as someone treading water in a lake of depression and disappointment the idea of “accepting myself the way I am” felt like someone saying “well just stand up and you won’t have to tread water anymore” when MY FEET DIDN’T TOUCH THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE, and secondly, because I could not get her to just define the concepts she was using in a way that let me even try to connect to them. Was self-acceptance an end point, where you would “know” when you’d reached it? Was it a constant practice? Was it a process?

Without at least some kind of guidance, I couldn’t begin to even figure out how to understand how the examples she talked about would become a reality, because for me, they were point Z, and I wasn’t even at point A, I was at point 1–not even on the same measurement scale. I had no framework for conceptualizing how she wanted me to get to the place of “self-acceptance” that she was talking about, and the fact that she didn’t seem to see that I couldn’t even conceive of what that “place” was (or even if it was a place) was frustrating enough to get me to tears multiple times.

We went in circles around self-acceptance for three weeks until we finally had a breakthrough, which came in the form of me finally saying something along the lines of “CAN YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT THE ACTUAL THERAPEUTIC TREATMENT PLAN TO GET TO THAT WOULD LOOK LIKE, BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA AND YOU ARE TALKING NONSENSE AND MAKING NO SENSE.” That finally, finally seemed to make something click, and we had a conversation about using homework practices like affirmations, positive practices, journaling, etc, all focused on retraining the brain to think more positively and more easily recognize positive thoughts, sensations, and emotions rather than automatically latching onto negative ones.

(And then we had a super validating talk about how next time she should just start from the neuropsychology framework, because that’ll go over way better than just about anything else because holy fucking lord.)

The most ironic part of all of this, though, is that those three weeks of fighting about self-acceptance actually brought up more feelings of disappointment, unhappiness, and anxiety about where I am and what I’m doing than I’ve let myself have in a long, long time.

2018 was a hard year. It had its significant high points–my sister moved home after being abroad for two years, I had some exciting romantic developments, my husband and I bought a house–but overall, it was a really, really hard year. My physical health issues escalated to the point where my quality of life was severely impacted, and disability became part of my identity in a way that it never had been before. My job search is coming up on almost a year, and I’m realizing that I’m caught between not knowing what I want to be doing and not knowing if I can do what I want to do because of my physical and mental health. I had to step back from working full-time in New York this year because I couldn’t manage a full-time commute, and realizing that so much of the work I would ideally want to be doing requires boots-on-the-ground time is just not feasible from me has been paralyzing at times.

Compounding all of that has been a low-key, constant buzzing in the back of my head of just…yearning. A yearning to be feeling challenged at work, to feel recognized and fairly compensated. A yearning to have the same passion and excitement for what I’m doing as some of my friends. A yearning to travel. A yearning for my body to function the way it used to. A yearning to flourish creatively. A yearning to be able to feel something other than like I’m simply going through the motions of a daily routine, and often times struggling to do just that.

I know that a lot of that is a trade-off. I got married young, and that meant signing on to factor another person (and now two dogs) into all my major decisions. Most of my friends who are following their passions to the highest extent are the ones who have the flexibility to take a job where they want, to live where they want, to travel where they want, to spend money how they want, etc. If they want to use their annual vacation to take a trip to Italy or Thailand, or take a job in a new city, or enroll in a PhD program, they can do that.

I wouldn’t trade my family for that, even on my most Where’d You Go, Bernadette? of days (don’t look at me like that, we all have them). But on those days, when my job is miserable and unfulfilling, and I feel miles away from achieving so many of the professional and creative goals I set for myself when I was younger and it felt like I had my whole life ahead of me, it’s a struggle not to scratch at the metaphorical walls of my life when they feel like they’re closing up around me.

(Hey, mom and mother-in-law, if you’re still reading this blog: chill! I’m not about to pull a Runaway Wife.

Pinky promise.)

So. 2018: not great. Where does that leave us, going into 2019?

I don’t particularly hold with New Year’s resolutions – the last time I made them was back in 2016, and while they were all perfectly nice and reasonable goals, I didn’t keep most of them past March (those first two TED Talks I watched were fun, though!). Resolution-style thinking, I’ve learned, is just not how my brain works. At the same time, there’s a part of me that can’t quite grasp the idea of coming into a new year without some kind of feeling of newness, just like I can never get through the month of September without treating myself to a new notebook and some fancy pens.

One of my biggest struggles this year was with feelings of paralysis – feeling like because so much of the progress I wanted to make (with my job, my salary, my health) was beyond my control, I couldn’t move at all. And that’s a cognitive distortion at work, all-or-nothing thinking at its finest: the idea that if one thing can’t change, that nothing at all can’t change. Granted, the things I can’t change are major: I don’t have the ability to make someone give me a job, or to create more dollars in a nonprofit that doesn’t have the cash for raises, or cure chronic pain conditions.

And honestly, while I know the magical thinking/side-hustle economy is huge right now…I don’t have the energy–physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual–for that shit. I could spend two hours a day job-searching and another two on top of that trying to get a freelance writing gig off the ground and another one on top of that pushing myself to do whatever new “have you tried goat yoga” (which, dear god, fellow white people, please stop) trend is supposed to cure all my pain and mental health, but y’all, that is just not how I want to spend my life.

I’m not saying that those things don’t pay off, and honestly, I can hear my therapist’s voice in my head right now, telling me that if I really want to meet all my goals, I have to be willing to work for them – one might ask where all the talk of “accepting where you are” goes when things like this come up, but that would be petty af, so we keep those thoughts to ourselves – and I am. But I’m willing to let that work take its own form – not necessarily an organic form, because let’s be real, nothing will get done. But willing to let things happen slowly, at a pace I can manage without burning out. If that means one job application a week instead of six, fine. If that means pushing myself to write 2,500 words a week instead of killing myself over writing 10,000, great. It’s not nothing.

Part of what made 2018 so paralyzing was feeling directionless – it wasn’t just that I wasn’t moving, it was that I didn’t know where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do, even if I could. And to be honest, I still don’t. Part of the reason I’m not applying to five or ten or fifteen jobs a week is because I can’t think of five jobs I can (or want) to do right now at my current ability level and experience and health. But there are some things I know I do want. I have a job I want to leave, and that means I have to keep looking. I have a book I want to finish, and that means I have to keep writing. I have a story that I feel is worth telling, and that means I need to keep communicating – through social media, through making connections, through networking.

And even though I sometimes want to crawl out the nearest window and start running for the nearest hills, I have people who love and care about me, so I need to keep working on acceptance – whatever that means. Not to necessarily get to an end point – because I don’t think there is one. But to be, this year, something other than stagnant. To have a direction.

To keep moving forward.

may i be blessed, may i feel safe (thoughts for 2017)

I’ve written about positivity before.

I’ve written about positivity lot, actually. A quick search of this blog for the topic brings up about twenty entries in one form or another, from the happiness project I did last year (to moderate success?) to assorted musings on self-care, acting with kindness, self-care, making transitions–etc, etc, etc.

Being positive doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always been something that I’ve had to work at–left to its own devices, my brain trends towards assuming the worst possible outcome in any given situation, or to self-deprecation, or to all sorts of other unpleasant things that I’ll skip over here for the sake of space, time, and a lack of trigger warnings. The point being, positivity, to me, is work.

(Sometimes, because humor is my very favorite coping mechanism, I make a game out of it. Which mental illness is acting up today? Anxiety? Depression? Some super-fun combination of both? Whee!)

(My husband does not find this game as amusing as I do.)

But I like to work at it, because honestly, the alternative sucks. My dad likes to say I’m an idealist, which is a nice way to phrase it, but I think it’s more that if I don’t work at it, then there I am, just kind of sitting in this swirling pool of negativity that might start out as a reflection of reality but will, thanks to my brain chemistry, very quickly devolve into something much darker.

So we work on positivity instead.

You may have noticed that we started a new year recently–2017, woo! (And none for 2016, you absolute shitshow, oh my god.) Last year, I spent some time setting actual resolutions, which I never do, and for a pretty good reason: they stress me out, and then I get overwhelmed when I don’t keep them. Amazingly enough, I managed to not get super anxious about not keeping all of the resolutions I set last year–and I actually probably ended up keeping about half of them in one way or another. Which, for me, is pretty good.

But it’s a new year. And it’s going to be a rough one.

We’re coming into a new political administration in the US, one that’s heightening anxiety for just about everyone I know. It doesn’t feel like a safe time to be a queer person, a Jewish person, a woman, a disabled person. I have the benefit of being white and financially stable, but so many people don’t. My sense of safety is shaken.

It’s hard to think about positivity right now–and even harder to think honestly about self-care when it kind of seems like the world is collapsing around us.

At a recent retreat for work, I participated in a meditation based around Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing. In Jewish communities, this blessing is recited on a number of holy days, as well as on Shabbat, when parents recite it over their children. The prayer goes as follows:

May the Eternal bless you and keep you
May the Eternal’s light shine upon you, and may the Eternal be gracious to you
May the Eternal’s presence be with you, and give you peace.

As we sat together, we focused on the sensations of feeling blessed, and feeling kept. They were warm feelings, I thought: warm like climbing into bed after a long day, warm like an embrace, warm like a guiding hand. And they were cool, too: cool like the dip of your toes into the ocean on the first day of summer, cool like the breeze that comes after a rainstorm, cool like fresh, clean sheets. Focusing on those sensations, we repeated the phrases: May I feel blessed. May I feel safe. 

Tonight I lit Shabbat candles while my social media feeds exploded about Donald Trump’s inauguration. I kept my notifications off.

My blessing practice for this terrifying new world is to surround myself with a resistance that is working to keep justice and safety alive. I’m going to begin with a march for women, alongside some of my closest family members and most loving role models. People who make me feel held, and kept, and safe. I’m going to wrap myself in sensations of warmth. Of coolness. Of calm.

I don’t know if this will be a year of positivity. That might be too much to ask. But it can be a year of practicing blessing.

A year of repeating:

May I be blessed. May I feel safe.