CFS, Reading, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Coming Home to My Body

curiously-smiling-attentively-coming-home-to-my-body-dianaklein-comMy mother and I are walking together this morning. It’s already apparent that it’s a tough one for both of us, but we still do our daily check-ins.  “My legs are hurting a lot,” she tells me.  She knows that the pain in my legs have been a merciless for several days now, so she adds, “Maybe your legs said something to mine, and it spread.”

She’s making a joke. I know this.  But this morning, I am not in the mood.

Despite the pre-dawn darkness she senses my chagrin. “Not you,” she assures me, “your legs!”

“My legs are me,” I explain.

This is a fairly new admission for me. I have spent many, many years dissociating from my body, talking about it in the third person, distaining its weakness.

There’s an interview with Toni Morrison from about a year and a half ago during which, because of chronic pain, she talks about her body in a similar way. “I did so much for you, body, why aren’t you helping me now, when I need you?  I was so nice to you.”  When asked if making peace with her body was hard, she confirms “I do feel like I’m under attack.”

It’s easy to feel this way: My body is failing me. My body hates me.  I hate my body.  I felt this way for a long time.  Oh, I paid lip service in yoga classes to “listening to my body”, but my subconscious was really thinking: Listen to my body? Are you kidding me?  That bitch doesn’t know shit!

Then, in my mid-twenties, a hypnotherapist told me to “Be in your body. You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.”  I was a little confused.  What does she mean, be in my body? I am in my body, aren’t I?  But then I started thinking about The Robber Bride, a novel by Margaret Attwood I’d read some years earlier.  In it, one of the female characters describes being repeatedly molested as a child, and that her response to this was to leave her body, so that she wouldn’t feel everything that was happening to her so intensely.  This is one of the things I love about novels—they teach so much.  They teach you things you don’t know you need to know.  I had thought, at the time, that Attwood was speaking metaphorically or at the very least, metaphysically.  People don’t really leave their bodies, and if they do, it happens very infrequently.  It took a few years for me to realize that Attwood and the hypnotherapist had it right.  We do leave our bodies.  We hover around them because we have so much about which to think—or so much from which to escape.

My departure from my body was mostly because of the pain. I couldn’t understand why meditation teachers kept wanting me to scan my body.  I knew what my body felt like.  It hurt.  A lot.  I didn’t need to know anything more about it.  I didn’t want to know anything more about it.  I wanted to feel something different, something better.  So I took off, without realizing it, without meaning to, I just left.  It seemed better that way.

But it wasn’t. My retreat from pain was also a retreat from my life.  I became less connected to myself and to everything else.  How can you truly taste an orange if you’re not really there?  How can you taste any of the fruits of life, if you are constantly running away?  Though perhaps, I wasn’t experiencing as much pain, I also wasn’t there for myself.  I had less agency in my life, less ability to accomplish things because I was taking refuge in fantasy and a future that might never come.  Leaving can be okay for a while.  Sometimes we all need a break from reality, but I came to realize that for me, giving up the pain meant giving up everything.

And even then, the pain chases me. Without my attention, my body becomes tenser, harder, unforgiving.

I have taken to doing body scans again—nothing formal, usually it’s when I lie down to take a nap, and I often fall asleep before I finish. But I try to feel the full weight of my body falling into the bed.  I start at my feet, feeling them, expressing some appreciation for them.  I work up my body in this way.  Relaxing into the pain.  Filling the entire volume contained by my skin with my presence, flooding the space between my cells with my being.  Some months ago, without really thinking about it, I started telling myself: This is my body.  It seems kind of silly to remind myself of that and as anyone who has spent much time going to a Catholic church knows, those words can’t help but remind me of the mass.  It seems appropriate somehow, though—that here be an inherent holiness to those words.  That fully inhabiting one’s body could be a sacred act.

When I do this, the pain does not go away, but I feel more relaxed. I feel like my body and I are in this thing together.  We are not at odds.  We are not separate.  I believe, I know, that I am more than a body, but I am also this body.  This body is home.

The artwork for this post was inspired by the work Austin Kleon and Cindy Shepard. If you like it, you might want to check out their stuff, too.  Also, if you enjoyed this post as a whole, please consider sharing it.  🙂

Reading, Writing & Reading

At The Crossroads of Should and Must

At The Crossroads of Should and Must |

I recently finished a lovely book called The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find And Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna. In the introduction she writes: “. . . I’ve found that things appear at the ideal time. Not before. And not after. Consider the possibility that this book made its way into your hands because you wanted it to. Because a part of you has seen a crossroads in your life, and you’re ready for the journey ahead . . .”

This seems to be the case for me. I found it while poking around a book store at Newark airport and thinking about how I was going to step forward into pursuing my passions. I had all this energy from my trip to The Somerset Folk Harp Festival—and that felt great, but I was worried. Would I simply go home and fall back into old routines, ignoring what mattered most to me because I was too scared to do otherwise?

There’s a lot of the how to find your passion in this book—which, at this point was not of much interest to me. After years of trying to deny my dreams, I was finally at a place where I could acknowledge completely what I wanted. What is special to me about this book is not the how, but the why. Some weeks ago, I commented to a friend on Facebook, who is in the process of making the huge life change of moving herself and two dogs from New York City to Malta: “So psyched for you and your bravery. I think that when any one of us lives her best/dream life, we all win.” And I believed this—about her—but not about myself. Following my dreams was okay, as long as it didn’t interfere with being the as perfect as possible daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend, cat caretaker . . . you get the idea. Because, people are more important than dreams, aren’t they? And really, it’s not like I could ever achieve those dreams, not really. What I failed to realize was that this way of thinking was starving my spirit and, as a result, depleting my resources for being a loving relation. Which is especially sad, since connecting with my friends and family is one of my passions, too.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself, what a man can be, he must be.” Scribed in watercolor in The Crossroads of Should and Must, this quote from noted American psychologist Abraham Maslow brought me nearly to tears the first time I read it—and the second. I could feel that after spending a weekend immersed in music—one of my main passions—I was somehow more alive than I had been in months. And here was the reason why: by moving toward what I might be able to be, I was finding not only peace, but vitality. And from reading this book, I began to find the notion of following a dream becoming less about being selfish and delusional, and more about living the best life a human can live.

The other thing I got from this book was the confirmation that following ones dreams is not all brownies and kittens. It can be tedious, backbreaking, and frustrating. It’s also effing terrifying! The questions of worthiness, the vulnerability, the doubts that one inevitably faces in ANY heartfelt endeavor can seem insurmountable. And it was nice to hear someone say, hey, if you’re in pain or panic while you’re doing this, that’s totally normal. It doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means what you’re doing means a lot to you and because of that, the stakes are high. And, in a way, that’s a really good thing.

Have you read The Crossroads of Should and Must? What did it mean to you?

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Reading, Writing, Writing & Reading

Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

Several years ago, on an episode of Gilmore Girls, an unscripted Norman Mailer said this to a reporter played by his son Stephen: “I can’t tell you what I’m working on.  I never tell anyone what I’m working on.  A novel is like a secret affair and you don’t bring other people in on it.”  I’ve often played with the idea of being that closed-lipped about my own current writing endeavors.  There are so many ways in which talking about one’s novel-in-progress could be problematic.  For example: a) I might not actually know exactly what I’m writing about.  b) I might be feeling a tad embarrassed about it.  c) The whole thing may change completely before it ever sees the light of day.  And, d) very often I can’t describe it in a way that adequately gets my meaning across.

This is what I told someone who recently asked me what I was working on:  “My new novel has magical elements to it—dealing at least, to some degree with Wicca, and my protagonist is chronically in a bad mood—very fun to write!!  But other than that, it’s still shaping itself in my mind.”

Her response was matter of fact and very sweet.  “That’s having to do with witches and witchery, right? I’m not so much into that topic, but if you write it, I will read it.”

And this is the main reason I am hesitant to talk about my latest project: it has something to do with Wicca—because it’s something that’s often misunderstood at best, and considered evil at worst. And because I don’t want to somehow disrespect practitioners of the earth religions.

I am fortunate enough to have befriended people on many different spiritual paths—including various versions of faiths that many people lump together as Witchcraft.  My fear is that they will say I’ve gotten it all wrong, but I have come to realize how individual our personal beliefs about spirituality often are—even when we are purporting to practice the same faith.  I have long been intrigued by both spirituality and religion, so it’s no surprise to me that both my novels are, in part, explorations of faith.  My first novel delved into Catholicism—an easy place to start since that was the religion into which I was born.  Or was it?  As I researched and wrote, I began to appreciate all the different kinds of Catholics that are out there.  There is so much love and a great deal of fear.  There is liberalism and conservatism.  There are nuns who focus on social justice at the possible expense of church doctrine and priests who tell women that they caused their husband’s death because they had used birth control.  I am close to people for whom Catholicism has been a great solace and those who call themselves “recovering Catholics”.  One of my readers for Communing with Saints was so firmly in the latter category that she confessed to me that when beginning the book, she was nervous she wouldn’t enjoy it because it landed her back in a Catholic church—a place she really didn’t want to be.  (P.S. She liked the book anyway.)

In order to inform myself more about Wicca, I am in the process of reading Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft—the cover of which has been gracing the left hand side of my site for several months (it’s taking me a while) along with the covers of other books I am reading.  I don’t know how much of what I’m learning from Raymond Buckland’s book will end up in my own, but I have found reading it fascinating.  Did you know that people of the Wiccan religion do not believe in an all encompassing evil entity like the devil?  Or that a heathen is literally just someone who lives on a heath?  That spell craft may or may not be a part of one’s religious life?  That among Wicca’s central precepts are those of personal accountability, equality, and ecology?

My reasons for writing about Wicca are many fold.  I like reading novels that tell me about different cultures and times and ideologies and as a writer, I try to write what I would like to read.  I also write as a way of understanding something more deeply.  It’s a great way to impel myself to become more informed on a topic, to explore how I feel, and to investigate how others might experience the world.  There are a lot of literary witches out—they take many forms, good and bad and in between, but I would like to portray witches more similarly to the ones that I have known—earthy and funny, kind and real.

I don’t know how much magic will play into the story—but I find spelling scary, so I will most likely tackle that in some way.  And there will be knitting! (probably)  And a quest (I think).  And some link to Celtic Mythology?

You see why I’d like to join the Norman Mailer order of secrecy?

Here’s what I can say for sure: Mostly, my books—like most books—are not about the topic in which they dress up.  They are about people wrestling with life, finding their own way through—and hopefully, along the way, stumbling across a little grace.

By the way, if you have a book that explores and explains your faith in a way that’s deeply meaningful to you, I’d love to know about it!  Please leave me titles in the comments!

Finally, a bit of housekeeping: On Sunday, those of you who have been subscribing to my blog from the beginning through FeedBurner got spammed with a post from a few years ago.  This was not my doing and I apologize for the confusion and annoyance.  In the coming weeks, I am planning to disconnect my blog from FeedBurner, so if you would like to continue getting email updates of my posts (and I hope you do), please enter your email address in the box under my picture on my site.  This will subscribe you to the WordPress feed and you will get an email just as soon as I publish any and all posts!

Reading, Writing, Writing & Reading

Writing Wrongs

    I had no idea I was born to be a rabble-rouser.  I didn’t rebel during my adolescence; I had no desire to make war where a tasteless facsimile of peace had reigned for so long.  I wanted to be quiet and good.  I idolized people who loved the world unconditionally, who willingly swallowed sorrow, pain, and anger, and whose knowing and enigmatic smile was their only condemnation of the senseless acts of those around them. 

    But as I began reading Burn This Book, a collection of essays written in support of PEN—the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization—by the likes of Updike, Morrison, and Rushdie, I felt my spirit pick up its head like a bird who, after sleeping for a great age, senses something in the air that makes it want to fly. 

    Like most people who have enjoyed any lifelong privilege, I hadn’t given too much consideration to the idea that reading and writing are human rights—ones that are still too frequently curtailed.  But as I contemplate it now, I can’t imagine not being allowed to read.  I can never remember a time when I was banned from reading anything.  My childhood home was crammed with books and, to the best of my knowledge, I had access to them all.  I never had any notion that books could be dangerous or in any way evil.  They might be poorly written, possess errant storylines, foul language, discouraging errata, explicit sex—but they were just words on paper; they couldn’t hurt you.  I don’t know at what age I found out about the banning of books, or when I first saw movie footage of poor, little, innocent books being burned.  But I do remember that the former occurrence baffled me and the latter made me physically ill. 

    It’s not just the great enjoyments I’ve gotten from books or the large, mind-altering things I’ve learned from them that inspires me so much.  It’s the little ones too—the fact that even the tiniest morsel of the written word can have a lasting impact.  It thrills me to realize that subtle aspects of books I read as a child still remain poignant to me—and not just the classics, all of them.  I remember the lovely variances of the many cultures on display in Around the World Fairy Tales retold by Vratislav Sťovíček.  The opening sentences of “Springtime à la Carte” from The Complete Works of O. Henry, still make me smile and encourage my fearlessness and irreverence.  I have no idea why, but, even now, I think of the four girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women acting out Pilgrim’s Progress, making up bundles, beginning their trek in the cellar, and journeying to the attic.  The primer in cellular biology I received from Madeleine L’Engle in A Wind in the Door has never left my side.  The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White provided me with a lasting education of what it means to run for office and opened my imagination to the notion of a female president (still waiting . . .).  The Sweet Valley High books created by Francine Pascal informed me about the Sing it Yourself Messiah and eyebrow-plucking.  The Iceberg Hermit by Arthur Roth taught me that alcohol makes you warm.  The Night of the Whale by Jerry Spinelli showed me the terrible sorrow of beached whales.  Barthe DeClements’ and Christopher Greimes’ book Double Trouble gave me my first look at astral bodies and auras.  The King of the Dollhouse by Patricia Clapp taught me how to dust properly.  Biographies of Lafayette and Robert Perry informed of me of what mottoes were in general and what these men’s were in particular (“Why not?” and “I shall find a way or make one”, respectively).  And all this before I had entered middle school.

    Now, when I hear about the high rate of illiteracy among women in Afghanistan and other places—when I think of all that I have been given access to and all that they have been denied, I get choked up.  And a few months ago, when Iranians were again told to shut up and accept their newly “elected” president, when their safeties were threatened for writing anything to oppose him or the legitimacy of his election—either on posters or the internet. . . I felt a sorrow and helplessness I can’t adequately describe.

    I can’t imagine not being able to write.  Actually, I take that back—I too have been the victim of censorship—my own.  There used to be things I thought I couldn’t write about.  And there were things that I would write about, but refused to share with others.  No good, I thought, could come from my voicing certain beliefs, relating certain tales.  They could only hurt.  I was wholly interested in being responsible—not seeing that responsibility may take a different form in the hands of an artist.  According to Salman Rushdie “A poet’s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, to start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”  But it could be argued (and it often has been by me) that writers use this type of rationale to write whatever they want, for whatever selfish reason they want, and get away with it.  I have been loathe to fall into this category and, as a result, have bent over backward to be fair, to question my motives, to consider the feelings of others—even though my mother frequently tells me “that’s not your job”.

    “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”  When a statement like this comes out of Toni Morrison’s mouth, it sounds completely reasonable and wholly accurate.  I don’t care whether you loved or hated Beloved; we needed her to write that book.  But when I take Ms. Morrison’s quote to heart and apply it to myself, I run into a little trouble.  Are these words I write truly necessary?  How about these?  Again, such quotes may lead us into self-indulgence and over permissiveness: “The world needs to hear my opinion about everything from emotional abuse to M&Ms to flatulence, so I will write it all down and consequences be damned!”  And yet, when I think of people not being allowed to write and not being allowed to read, I start to feel that even the most inane jabbering on Facebook becomes a glorious thing.  Is it right to announce someone’s wrongdoings to the world?  I don’t know.  But sometimes, it is definitely necessary.

    So as it turns out, I am not a “sit quietly and take the world as it is” kind of gal.  (Really, my red hair should have been a clue right off the bat.)  I am nice and loving and kind.  But I am also opinionated and intelligent, and I refuse to yield to any fear that tells me not to use my brain, my voice, or my pen, because doing so would be to disgrace those who have given their very selves for my right to read and write; it would be to unforgivably dishonor those people who, even now, are fighting with their mighty pens to be heard.


For more information about PEN go here:

For a closer look at Burn This Book go here:

Reading, Writing & Reading

Harboring Dream Ships


    I’ve just finished reading Kristin Chenoweth’s new memoir A Little Bit Wicked.  I like reading personal accounts because I always hope that somehow they will grant me a puzzle piece to the jigsaw of my life.  They’ll lend me some guidance or reassure me that I haven’t done it all completely wrong. But reading the ones about performers, singers in particular, is sometimes a mixed bag. 

    It has been no great secret in my family (or at least I think it wasn’t, if it was . . . too late) that I have long flirted with the desire to sing professionally, but, for most of my life, I have felt that I really didn’t have the chops for it.  As I told one person in college: I’m a good singer, not a great one.  This may still be true, but I’ve learned a lot since then.  I’ve learned that believing in yourself and enjoying yourself are nine-tenths of the battles.  Unfortunately, I lost both of those virtues early on in my performing “career”.  I think it was sometime during middle school. (Does anyone come through that experience unscathed?)  Maybe it was when one of my classmates irritably told me to shut up while I was softly singing  in the hall before class.  Or maybe it was when my voice broke in front of the entire school when I was soloing in my first musical. 

    Or maybe it’s just the fact that I have had to learn the hard way how to act on stage—no, not act, as in deliver lines in a convincing way—but comport myself in a manner befitting a reasonably intelligent individual.  Somehow, I really did believe that no one would notice me mouthing along to a principle’s solo in the seventh grade.  (Maybe that was a case of my enjoying myself a little too much.)  One may, of course, absolve my actions due to my (somewhat) tender age.  But what was my excuse more than a decade later when I adjusted a stray hair on the female lead’s face so that it no longer resided in her mouth?!  Again, and I can’t quite figure out how, but I honestly thought no one would notice.  I just wanted to help the young woman, and somehow, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do.  It was not.  I know that now.  You do not let silly little things like errant hairs lure you back into your own actual self.  Stay in character.  If you need to do anything on the fly because of some unforeseen occurrence on stage, you do it in character!!!  Kristin Chenoweth knew this when she was playing a bunny at the age of seven and she had to maintain her bunny-ness while retrieving dangerous debris left on stage.  The female lead in the play I was in knew this as she, very professionally, ignored my skirt off.  I shudder when I think of all the mistakes I made during that production.  And the one after that.  And the one after that.  And, you guessed it, the one after that. 

    No doubt, there will be people who read this and say, “Yes, but all performers make mistakes—even the really good ones.”  I obstinately choose not to believe that.  Not even remotely.  I obstinately choose to believe that there are quite a considerable number of people who remember there lines all the time (even though Kristin Chenoweth did mention in the book that she once forgot the lines to the song “Popular”, despite having sung the thing eight shows a week for nine months on Broadway).

    That last revelation aside, reading the memoirs of performers can be somewhat disheartening for me because so many of them have been tap dancing since they were two or started writing music when they were six.  I, on the other hand, have not done anything remotely as remarkable as that, so when I started reading A Little Bit Wicked, and got to the bit about the bunny, I thought yet again, I guess that ship has definitely sailed.  And of course this isn’t necessarily true.  There is no set formula that must be followed.  And you can never say never (although I can say with a reasonable amount of assurance that I am never going to be a child prodigy . . . unless, of course, I embark on a second childhood, hmmm . . .).  You have to stay open to what the Universe has in store for you—and yet, that could be just as good a reason for me to start letting go of some of those singing dreams, which is what I started doing this past weekend.  I mentioned this to my super wise mother, saying, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  She replied that she thought it was good thing—that this way, I would make myself available to other wonderful possibilities. 

    It’s not that I’m closing all the doors and windows and sealing them up tight, it’s just that I’m not wasting anymore laments on what-could-have-beens and if-onlys.  I’ve been reading another really nifty book called A Book of Ages by Eric Hanson.  In it, he recounts interesting tidbits about what happened to various famous people at any given age.  For example, according to Hanson, what Elvis Presley really wanted for his eleventh birthday was a bicycle, but it was too expensive, so he got a guitar instead.  It may just be my imagination, but it seems to me that history is filled with stories like this: “Well, I wanted to go right, but Something Else forced me left, and look where I am now.”  So, I’m starting to believe that those other stories we tell ourselves—about how had such and such a thing not happened or if we had done more or better, we “could have been a contender”—are completely bogus.  Maybe it’s not so much the dreams themselves I need to let go of—a little dreaming never hurt anyone—but my tightfisted attachment to them, my belief that I’ve miscarried my life if I don’t somehow end up where I hoped I could or thought I should.

    I could also stand to let go of my deeply held horror at my past blunders.  We spend too much time (or at least I do) bewailing our mistakes.  Like I did this weekend when I told my mother, “I can handle not reaching my goals and dreams, but I can’t handle it being my fault.”  But maybe I’ve missed that ship’s sailing on Purpose.  Maybe my ship is an entirely different one—one with sails made of starlight and hidden opportunity.

    What past mistakes are you bewailing?  And if you stopped, what exciting, new ship might you call to your shore?