A Year in Review

2017: A Reflection on the three events that changed me the most last year.
The election, falling in love, and teaching Shakespeare.


The First: The 2016 election
I was raised in an unusually diverse atmosphere. My mother was a hippie and her other hippie friends/paramours were black, white, Indian, Chinese, Hispanic, etc. We were a part of a cult that lived communally so we spent a great deal of time around one another. There was a lot of mutual love and acceptance and as a result of this upbringing, I’ve always seen people as people. Not that I thought all people were the same, but I did believe that all people were equally deserving of not being judged by their covers.

In addition to this mindset, I’ve also been painfully naive for most of my life. This was a good thing in that no matter how many heartbreaks I suffered I never fell prey to pessimism and chose, on a regular basis, to assume the best of people. The negative side lay in my regular failure to see danger until it was sitting in my lap.

These two combined traits collided with the events of the past 10-15 years and necessitated a shift in my rose colored perspective of the world, and the mother of all wake up calls arrived on November 9th, 2016.

For many of us, the outcome of the election was a nightmare, and though as the numbers rolled in I could see the inevitable hairy end, the blow was still devastating. What compounded the election’s devastating impact for me was that people I knew, respected, and remembered with fondness revealed themselves to be unapologetic in their support of our 45th president and his policies. These weren’t nameless, faceless bigots in an notoriously bigoted town, these were people of faith in New York. People I served the vulnerable alongside. People I looked up to. People I went to for examples of how to love.

A friend once told me that if I become disillusioned, then that means that I had illusions, so…silver lining, I suppose. I saw them for who they really were. The election didn’t change them, it put their views under a spotlight. They have always been people who would support a candidate who is a known and admitted manipulator of facts and ideals and who proudly conducts business without compassion or integrity. They’ve always been people who would support a candidate who frequently expresses ungodly disdain for anyone who isn’t white, wealthy, male, straight, or able-bodied as long as he was against abortion, LGBTQ rights, and acceptance of Muslim immigrants.

This disillusionment hurt…it still does. I tried to approach the whole thing with grace and humility — I failed. I still fail. However, in the midst of that failing, I matured a bit. I learned that heroes will disappoint in ways that feel like betrayal. I learned to stop focusing on them and to let that disappointment fuel me into doing the most I can do to help. I learned to stop looking for heroes. It’s hard though. Having a hero feels good.

The Second: I fell in love. 
Unexpected love…unrequited love. I tried my best to raze what my heart built and to move past him. One day, as I was hard at work at this a little voice said:

Voice: Hey. So…you’re trying to push your feelings away again?
Shaun: Yeah. I don’t want to get hurt.
Voice: Is it working?
Shaun: (Pause). No.
Voice: Well, why don’t we try something different this time? Why don’t you just embrace it?
Shaun: Embrace it….what do you mean? That sounds like torture.
Voice: Well, they’re your feelings, not his. It’s your love. You get to own it. What you feel makes you who you are. You’re a person who loves. You get to own that. You don’t have to push it away because he doesn’t want it…you get to keep it.  Ok, it hurts, but it’s going to hurt either way. You may as well revel in it. It’s good to be one who loves. It’s good to love. You’re ok.

Now, this sounded crazy to me and years of solitude and fierce independence left me with no idea how to do this. However, I conceded that my usual way wasn’t working and I was willing to try a new thing.

As I was pondering this newness, I was reminded of a scene in Adaptation, one of my favorite films, in which Charlie reminds his twin brother Donald about a girl Donald loved unrequitedly when they both were younger. Charlie was confused as to why Donald was so happy after she rejected him, and Donald replied that, “I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want…(how she felt about me) was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you…”

When I first saw the film long ago, I thought that exchange was there to highlight Donald’s simplicity and naiveté. I see it differently now. Charlie was a survivor, but Donald had found a way to LIVE in the midst of survival. It made him pliable, joyful, and resilient. So, at the urging of that still small voice I threw caution to the wind and decided to be a Donald.

Now, I’m in no way implying that in every case of unrequited love and rejection that this is the way to go. This is a new recipe….I’m only just trying it out, folks. The empirical research will end when I’m dead. I’m also not implying that this decision gave me the right to ignore the dude’s wishes or feelings once he made his feelings known. I’ve been in situations before where I politely refused a guy’s advances only to have my words ignored and the pursuit continued. I hated that, and…you know…do unto others and all that.

What my decision did do was give me the freedom to find a way to love him that felt safe, real, and sweet, and to enjoy the things about him that made me love him in the first place without needing to possess those things or being held prisoner by them. It allowed me to let him go.

Sometimes I fucked up. Sometimes I needed distance, and sometimes it was ok to be close. In the end, my heart grew and I learned how to be ok with being a hopeless romantic, with being vulnerable, with hearing “no” and not interpreting it as a judgement or an attack. In embracing my love for this man I learned how to properly love us both. Good times. (If you popped out of the womb somehow already knowing all of this, you’re an extraordinary human. For real. Love is hard, yo.)

The Third: I discovered I love teaching Shakespeare.
An opportunity arose to teach Shakespeare to elementary school kids and I jumped on it. I’ve been wanting to work more with children for a while so when a theatre company I love was seeking two teaching artists to take over their Shakespeare class at a primary school in Brooklyn I felt it was meant to be. My co-teacher and I had five incredible girls in our charge. They were between the ages of eight and ten and two of the five girls were painfully shy. I was fascinated by them. They were imaginative, inventive, and earnest and they put their all into whatever we asked them to do. We’d give them speeches to learn, the following week they had them memorized.

My favorite part of all, was seeing the shyer students come out of their shell. One of our students, I’ll call her “Sophia,” was so shy at the beginning I could barely hear her speak. By the end, she was expressive and full of joy and energy. During our final performance, I was backstage with Sophia and “Jessie” and they were shaking with nerves. I was actually a little concerned for them they were so anxious. I took them gently by the arms and said, “You know, I get nervous, too. All the time. Sometimes, the realization that I have no idea what’s going to happen when I step on the stage terrifies me. I’m afraid I won’t be good, and that the audience will see how scared I am and hate me. Trust me, I get scared, too.” Their eyes widened.

“You do?!” they asked, incredulously.
“Yep. I do, and then I step out onto the stage and try to have fun and the fear kind of disappears…I don’t know where it goes. Also, the audience is on your side and I’ll be right here the whole time.”
“Ok,” Jessie said. The girls were still buzzing, but their resolve had hardened.

All five of those warrior princesses went out on that stage and nailed it. They didn’t hold back. They didn’t shortchange themselves or the audience. They gave it their all and I was so proud of them I could have burst into a puddle on the floor.

I feel quite spoiled, actually. I hope to do it again, and I know that my future students won’t necessarily be this enthusiastic or easy. Those kids made me want to cry from their sweetness on the regular, and no matter how exhausted I was, and I was often exhausted, I was always excited to see them.

I wonder if a person that young can comprehend how much gratitude they can inspire. I will always be grateful for those girls. I will always wonder how they’re doing. I will always think they’re amazing.

What this class did for me aside from tugging at my heart was two things, it renewed my love for acting and revealed to me how much I love Shakespeare. I spent much of my early career being intimidated by his works and I’m glad. A lot of other people are intimidated by them too, and if I’m blessed to continue to teaching, understanding that fear will help me be more compassionate and more articulate to my students who share that fear.

So, this year has shown me where I’ve grown and some of the places where more growth is needed. I ended 2017 full of gratitude, awareness, and love. Who could ask for anything more?

Be well beauties. Be generous. Be patient with yourself. 2018 is yours.


About the Bird

EmilyTwo things happened before the bird.  First, my boss arrived at work early and surprised us all with a box of coffee and pastries from Gregory’s Coffee. I love it when he does that, so I felt the day was off to a promising start. He’d brought it all in a reusable Gregory’s Coffee shopping bag, which I claimed immediately. That was the first thing. The second thing: I left work and walked to Union Square to go grocery shopping. I’m going to a pot luck with friends on Saturday and I needed stuff. I bought it and headed to the train. This is everything before the bird.

So, now I have my groceries and I’m walking south on Lafayette towards the train station on Houston and I see this pigeon sitting on the sidewalk. I’m getting nearer, expecting it to move or walk away at my approach, and it remains still. I stop about two feet away and I can see its breathing…fast and steady…the way I breathe when I’m trying to stay calm…the way my dog breathes right before I leave him behind — full of fearful anticipation. I get closer. It still doesn’t move and I notice that its left leg is jutting out awkwardly in front of it. I look up, a nest. It must have fallen. I set my bags down and stand in front of the bird, trying to figure out what to do. Two women stop and lament the bird’s fate with me. A man with cane, near toothless, ragged, and seeming to be in his fifties came over to inspect. He raised his cane and waved it over the bird’s head and as he did so the women and I shouted, “No! What are you doing?! Don’t!” He grew irritated and mumbled that he knew what he was doing and waved his cane again in defiance to our protestations.

I firmly said, “Stop it! You’re scaring it.” And his irritation grew to anger.

“You think I’m heartless? I’m not heartless. I was just checking to see…”

He hobbled back over to the coffee cart where he’d been standing, mumbling that he wasn’t heartless the whole way and the women, arm in arm, strolled off. Another woman saw the bird, stopped, took out her phone, snapped its picture, then walked away. I recoiled at a move that felt so casually callous and tried not to judge her. I failed at first.  The man with the cane spoke up again.

“You see how it didn’t move when I waved my cane? It’s sick…or its leg is broken. Either way, it’s gonna die there.”

I looked at this man and knew that he was right. I saw that he was concerned and his earlier words echoed in my heart. “You think I’m heartless? You thought I was gonna hit it?” A voice inside me asked, “Shaun, do you care more about the life of this bird than you do about another human’s heart?” He was clearly homeless or very poor. How many people take a look at him and decide who he is based on what he doesn’t appear to have? I dialed 311 and as the crazily long message played I turned to him and said, “I’m sorry I shouted at you earlier. I was afraid for the bird because I don’t know you. I don’t think you’re heartless. I didn’t mean to offend you.” His face melted like butter and he smiled the smile of a little boy who was seen in his proudest moment. He looked like a cherub. I realized I’d narrowly missed that moment. I often exhibit battlefield nurse syndrome and can miss the forest of someone’s feelings while tending to the trees. I was grateful he spoke up and showed me where I misstepped.

The operator finally came to the phone and I told her what was happening. She transferred me to wild animal rescue who told me that if I brought the bird to the Wild Bird Fund uptown they would take care of it.

“So, wait…I have to pick this bird up and bring it to them? They can’t come get it?”

The man with the cane overheard me and grumbled, “They’re probably gonna euthanize it. There’s too many pigeons. We got too many pigeons. They don’t care.”

“What are they going to do to the bird?” I asked.

“They’ll take care of it, try to mend anything that’s broken. See if it’s sick…They’re a rescue, but you have to bring the bird to them.”

My heart began to race as I realized what I was being asked to do.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid of birds. I’m not kidding.”

She stifled laughter and told me to take a towel and wrap the bird in it so I wouldn’t have to touch it. There were no towels laying around on Lafayette Street as per usual so I thought quickly. I was wearing three shirts (my office has the AC cranked up to 1,000) and I could take one off and just wash it later…AFTER I PICKED UP THE BIRD.

I got the address of the Wild Bird Fund from her and hung up. By this time the man with the cane had left and I stood there and looked at the pigeon. The man with the cane was right…this poor little bird was going to die here. There was no way in hell I was picking it up.

After a moment, the pigeon began to hop towards me. I moved my bags out of its way and stepped back and it hopped towards me again, so closely that it was now resting its head on my shopping bag…the same heavy breathing…it was so small…it seemed to be exhausted. I thought, “This bird knows I’m its only hope. It’s begging for help. If I walk away, I will never forget this and it will haunt me. Fuck. I’m gonna pick up this fucking bird.”

I took the Gregory’s shopping bag out of the other bag, which was a perfect fit for her. I took another old bag out to grab her with and tried to steel my nerves. My heart was racing and tears welled up behind my eyes. I felt like vomiting. I reached out to friends on Facebook for guidance and decided that I was just going to stand there until I got the nerve to pick her up and put her in the bag no matter how long it took. A moment later, a boy who looked to be about 18 or 19 walked past us. He had longish, dirty blonde hair that was falling in strands from underneath a worn, dirty cap and his face and hands were swollen and covered in street grime. His clothes were torn. He was carrying a few clothes and a plastic shopping bag in one hand, in the other hand was a large, flattened out cardboard box. Everyone else had walked past. He stopped. He saw me looking at the bird and asked with a friendly manner, “Is that your friend?”

Inside me flashed a glimmer of hope. He had an air of kindness and openness so I told him what was going on. After a moment’s hesitation, he made several attempts to get the bird into the Gregory’s bag with his bare hands like a superhero and finally succeeded. I looked at this small, helpless, feathered creature I was one step closer to rescuing and decided to call her Emily for Emily Dickinson’s A bird came down the walk… Hello, little Emily.

I thanked him profusely and introduced myself. His name was Justin. I told him he was kind. I told him he was an angel. I told him he saved me. He searched my eyes with a half-smile. He had something to say, but reluctance reduced it to, “Ummm.” He tried again, screwed his face into a grimace and finally asked, “Do you think you could help me get something to eat? Like, a dollar or something?” Hell yes, Justin…HELL. YES. I gave him what I could and he seemed relieved that it was so easy to ask and receive. His kindness was worth so much more. Justin is a rock star. He walked on towards Bowery Mission with my grandmother’s purple coin purse in his hand.

IMG_6004Emily and I rode the B train up to the Fund on 87th and Columbus. She was so light in the bag as if she weighed next to nothing. She was so calm. Maybe she was in pain. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she was dying…I felt so much love for her. I was also so grateful that I didn’t have to touch her that I could have cried. Inside the Wild Bird Fund, I handed her over and in exchange was handed a form to fill out. They confirmed that her leg was broken. She was probably going to make it. Another bird, a European Starling I learned, saw me and perched on the chair next to me. I jumped when it landed and at the woman’s quizzical expression I told her I was afraid of birds. I think the Starling must have understood that because it promptly jumped on the hoodie I was wearing and continued to jump on various places on my body every time the woman removed him. The woman I was dealing with remarked how strange it was that he was doing that. He was usually rather shy around people and she’d never seen him jump on anyone before, let alone multiple times. I did not feel special. It wasn’t until I was riding the train home that I saw that there was bird poop on my hoodie and backpack. I was shat on by a Starling. My day is complete. I am going to take a shower. My heart is still racing. This is everything after the bird(s).

Shout out to Christine Verleny who called and offered to come and help me wherever I was (I didn’t get the message until I was on my way home). Shout out to Justin and his radiant beauty. Shout out to the man with the cane and his boyish heart. I hope I see those two again soon.

This is a European Starling. The dots on its belly look like hearts. They can be aggressive if you’re afraid of birds and they will punk you if you show them you’re afraid. I think they get off on it.


The Golden Spot

About six or seven years ago, my friend Edith gave me a gorgeous succulent plant for Christmas. I love having plants around the house because they remind me of my great-grandmother and I looked forward to adding it to my mini home garden. Another friend who witnessed the gift giving told me that if I clip the ends back then it would bloom every year, and she advised me with such authority that I took her word for it without double-checking. Since I clipped the ends it hasn’t bloomed, not once. I thought I’d destroyed its ability to flower and have always regretted that ill advised pruning.

A few days ago I looked at it and saw two blossoms with more on the way. It only took seven years. Something beautiful that I thought I’d destroyed lives again and is more beautiful than I imagined it would ever be. This past year, the past few months especially, have been all about faith, process, and renewing hope in dreams I long took for dead. The process of renewing hope in something you want badly is a painful one. It’s difficult and there’s so much risk involved, but it must be done and I’m finding myself hungry for new challenges and new breakthroughs.

Speaking of challenges, my friend John recently reminded me of how beneficial The Artist’s Way is and I’ve decided to go through it again. I remember the freedom and inspiration I felt last time I did it and I can feel my excitement growing. My main obstacle with pushing through new things is and has always been negative thoughts and fear, so one thing I’m using to help with this latest attempt at the book is running…which I hate.

A few years ago I found myself dipping my toe into the Cross-Fit craze. There’s a Cross-Fit box near my home and I was making good money at the time so I took the plunge. In one of my first classes I was doing a rep of something horrendous involving crunches, a medicine ball, and burpees when I felt my body begin to revolt. My thoughts began to race and in them I heard, “I can’t do this. This is too hard. I can’t do this.” I started to make up my mind to stop and another voice crept in and said, “You can do this. You’re being asked to work much harder than you’ve worked in a long while and you’re not used to it, but you can do this. Don’t give up.” Mind over matter.

I listened to the voice and kept going, and over time I felt my body and endurance getting stronger. I applied this mind over matter/self-encouragement principle to other areas of my life—college, writing endeavors, self-discipline—and I saw fairly significant results. Several weeks ago my lovely friend Kathy was recently encouraging me to challenging myself with running, which I hate doing, and she said, “The worst parts are getting started and coming to the finish, but once you get going you’re in the golden spot.” Words to live by. Words to create by.

Again, mind over matter. Having a physical activity that mirrors the mental act of overcoming challenges and pushing yourself to do your best is key for me. So far this month I’ve run twice a week and plan to increase it to three times next week. Let’s see what blooms next.

The Permanent Delegate

It was reported today that yet another act of vandalism towards the Jewish community has occurred, which was the second incident in a week. Our current administration is littered with open racists, misogynists, and homophobes. Rights of America’s disenfranchised and vulnerable are being attacked, and around the world men, women, and children continue to be slaughtered and tortured in the names of gods and men. This poem I encountered in high school springs to mind and my heart breaks at its relevancy.

The Permanent Delegate
by Yuri Suhl

My name is Jew
I come from the land of skeleton
They beat me in Berlin, tortured me in Warsaw
Shot me in Lublin, and I am still here
The ash of my bones a glowing monument,
A fiery headstone

I am the scorched hair of a virgin’s bright curls
Smoothed and patted by anxious hands.
I am a maddened mother’s futile tears
Soothing in vain a hundred anguished hurts.
I am the boiling of blood the shriveling of flesh
Smoldering ash of six million.
Ashes of body, of brain, of vision, of work
Ashes of genius and dreams
Ashes of God’s master stroke, man

Count the limbs gentlemen
Match them if you can in pairs,
It can’t be done.
For I am one ghost out of six million.
Out of all the ashes I have become one
And the dream lies broken
And spit on.

I am here to tell you gentlemen
It’s a lie
The world is not yet Hitler-Free.
Millions see it, condemn it
Cry out my pain and warn you.
But you are moved
Like a granite statue by the prick of a pin.
Therefore I have come
Uninvited, unwelcome
Bringing a message from the land of skeleton.

I am grafting my ash to your souls
I am hanging my dreams around your necks
I am blotting out the sun from your day with my shadow
And I am tearing the quiet of your night with the shrieks of my torture.
I will pick at your brains with my maggots
And I will beat at your conscience with the hands
Of a million dead children.

Yea, though you split the atom to infinity
You shall see my face before your eyes
I sit at all the round tables
At every conference, I am a delegate
My credentials signed by six million from the land of skeleton
And you will never get rid of me
Until the world is Hitler-free.

Ambien Dreams

Have had insomnia for a few months so my doctor prescribed Ambien. Here are some of the things I dreamt about while under Ambien’s influence.

#1 – I’m with my mother and her boyfriend in a supermarket, the same supermarket in all of my dreams, and I’m trying desperately to find an iced honeybun. All I can find are cinnamon rolls and none of them have the caloric content listed. The more I search, the more I’m filled with shame. Now I’m in line with a shopping cart full of milk, bread, etc…no honeybun. My mother and her boyfriend are at the cashier. Her boyfriend is Jay-Z (my mother is not Beyonce). The cashier notices them and I’m mortified that she’s going to say something or make a scene. My mother is way too old for Jay-Z. Jay-Z also happens to be married. He pays for the groceries.

#2 – I’m in a rabbi’s office. He’s also a divorce lawyer. A man I used to love (in real life) and I have gotten married and are now getting a divorce, rather, the man is leaving me for another woman. We’re waiting for my soon to be ex to arrive and the rabbi/lawyer tells me that my husband is an idiot and is making the wrong choice. The rabbi/lawyer is Louis CK except that he’s dark haired and dressed like an orthodox Jew. His paternal sweetness makes me want to cry. Husband shows up and is greeted with silent rabbi/lawyer scorn. “She loves you, you know. You’re a schlemiel.” The ex leaves, stunned, and the rabbi/lawyer sits me down and makes me pour out my heart. It’s the first time I can admit how much I love the man who’s leaving me without embarrassment or shame. Suddenly, I notice that the Louis CK rabbi/lawyer has an earring in his right ear. I think, “This dude is very cool.”

#3 – I was a spy and the villain (I didn’t know she was a villain yet) gave me a purse shaped like a black cat that opened at the neck like a Pez dispenser. I put something in it, but I don’t remember what…something she gave me. They showed the tuxedoed man I was with (my spy colleague, I think) and me into a dimly lit room that you might find in a wealthy older man’s house. Dark red and black leather everywhere. Fancy pen in a pen holder on the desk, beverage tray with decanted spirits, huge globe on a stand… It was cold. The moment we were in there I knew they were going to kill us. I pulled a transporter device from my pocket that looked like a stopwatch and I put my arm around my colleague so that I could save him too. For some reason, my skin had to be on his skin for transport so I lifted up the back of his dress shirt and and put my bare arm against his skin. He had no idea what was going on so when I did this he misunderstood. He turned to me with this soft look in his eyes, said, “Oh, Shaun,” and moved in for what I presume was a kiss. I pushed the button on the transporter and the next second we were in the parking lot. We looked up and the floor we were on exploded. I noticed he had forgotten the cat purse that I really liked and he said, “Yeah, sorry.” I then realized that the thing she had given me which I put in the cat purse was probably an explosive of some kind so it was good he’d dropped it. Although I didn’t mention it then, his tender misunderstanding had deeply moved me.

20 Years

video-undefined-22A0241D00000578-86_636x358I’d seen an advertisement for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy during my junior year of high school and there were two things that grabbed my attention: “acting” and “New York.” I’d fallen in love with the danger and mystery of New York ages ago and longed to live there, and acting…I lived and breathed it. I decided then and there that I would go to that school. The audition was in St. Louis, MO, about a four drive away from me, and I bought a bus ticket, booked myself a hotel room where they were holding the auditions, and three months later received word that I would soon be living in New York. So, fresh out of high school and full of a distorted sense of invincibility I made my way into the arms of destiny, history, and adventure. I remember feeling that my life was about to begin, and I remember my excitement being tempered only by the heartbreak and worry on the faces of my grandmother and great-grandmother. I remember thinking that their worry may very well be justified, but live or die, I had to go.

I arrived here about 10 days early so that I could enjoy the city before school started and stayed in a hostel on 148th and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem. I had about $200 to my name and I was scared to death. My roommate in the dorm-style dwelling was a stripper named Jackie who resembled Aileen Wuornos. She had curly, blondish hair and a friendly, easy way about her. She seemed as fascinated by my Midwestern naiveté as I was by her profession and transient way of living and our mutual curiosity became a bond of sorts. She decided that she would be my protector and city guide, and on my second day she brought home a subway map and circled all the stations to avoid after 11pm, and showed me how to find my school, Lincoln Center, CBGB’s, Times Square… I remember sitting on the roof of that hostel at night with this wild and tenderhearted woman who had come to represent the strangeness and beauty of New York to me and feeling that I was home. That feeling has never left me.

That was 20 years ago this month. It’s been a long, winding road since that wonderful week on St. Nicholas Avenue and I’m grateful for every moment of it. I wonder where Jackie is today. I hope she’s alright, and I hope if she ever thinks of me that she has an inkling of how much her kindness meant to me. I hope, if I’m lucky, that I’m able to be a Jackie for other wide-eyed kids full of dreams and hope. I hope I can do this beautiful city proud.

Happy Anniversary, loves.

The Heart is a Muscle

Have you read How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps? It was written by comedy writer, Aaron Bleyaert, and it is one of the most stunningly gorgeous things I’ve read in a while. It was like someone drizzling warm, melted caramel all over your tongue while a brook babbled nearby in the summer sun…if you’re into that kind of thing. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and read it. I’ll wait…

Did you read it? Incredible, right? The first time I read it my heart hurt so much I nearly retched. I actually had to take a break and come back to it, and after making it all the way through I sat there stunned and hurting. I’ve been him, I’ve been the girl who obliterated him, and it was excruciating to relive it via Aaron’s words in such detail, especially as I’m trying to get ready for pilot season and I really thought it was just about weight loss. I learned so much from reading this and I’m humbled by his bravery and the bravery of people like him. He leans into the pain. He walks right up to it, memorizes its scent, and walks on, broken and unashamed.

My natural instinct in the face of heartbreak, or any emotional pain really, is to avoid it and pretend it doesn’t exist. That, to me, seems logical. If you touch a stove and it burns your hand, remove your hand — avoid the source of suffering. But, here’s the thing…the heart/soul doesn’t work that way. Any emotion we feel is like water — you push it away and it seeps in anyway, maybe not in the area you’re pushing it out of, but it gets in, baby. You can drown in it, or harness it’s power to feed yourself and others. That’s something most of us kind of know, but seeing that principle vulnerably eked out so beautifully and devoid of judgement in Aaron’s post drove the point home in the way memorizing a passage from a self-help book won’t do. His courage inspired me. I cried for him and the beauty of it all I decided that day that I’d be a bit more like him and lean into the pain a bit more. I decided not to push away the thought of lost loves who memorized my idiosyncrasies and held me so closely their heartbeat rang in my ears, friends who proved inconsistent after walking with me through storms, people I’ve wounded horribly by being fearful and careless…or on a less personal note, image after image of children fleeing Syria with more memories of terror than joy, or news headlines announcing the senseless loss of 10 college students in Oregon. I want to memorize the scent of these wounds and ask God to help me make perfume from the pain.

I’ve actually been trying to do this more actively for the past few years, but the stress of school and political turbulence has taken it’s toll. This week was a much needed reminder to get back to that place and the odd thing is, leaning into the pain hurts less than avoidance. It begins to feel sort of beautiful after awhile. You feel connected…and brave. Funny that. I’ll find the balance one day soon, but until then I’ll just let my heart break and see where it takes me. Lifelong goal: live bravely and make art that breaks my heart.

The heart is a muscle…muscles get stronger the more you use them.