your tender heart

hi. i love you.

that’s how i begin the letters i write in my head to my ex.

when i quit writing paper or electronic letters to the ex (doesn’t matter which ex, it happens with all of them), i needed (needed or wanted? a common hyperbole, we over-report our wants as needs)…ahem, i wanted to stay heart-connected with the person i loved while honoring our time and space apart from one another to heal separately.

there are exes i write to in my head for years after they’ve gone.

hi. i love you.

those four words are often the entirety of the letter i write in my head to the ex because then i pick up a pen or put my hands on a keyboard and write “hi. i love you” to someone presently in my life, someone i can love in action (outside my head), someone i can reach out and connect with and ask questions and receive answers, someone who wants to receive what i want to give.

hi. i love you.

how is your tender heart today?

my heart has been stretching everyday for as many days as i can remember. i practice growing my heart large enough to hold all the world’s pain and all the world’s joy and let the joy and the pain flow in and out with my breath, let the joy and the pain stay as long as they stay and let them go whenever they go. my heart tires of practicing. i practice again each day anyway. i practice because i’ve given up the fantasy that i can escape pain. i practice because my middle name is joy. i practice because i want to love you better. most of all, i practice because i want to love you more, deeper, fuller, bigger, truer, realer.

hi. i love you more today.

please be kind and gentle with your tender heart today. i love your tender heart.

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stars reflected in the ocean

confession: i think ahead to the end of my life and imagine that i’ll want more time, whether that end arrives in one year or fifty-seven. i try to make more time in advance of that death. i bend time better while sleeping than awake, but i figure all practice counts toward mastery and it gives me another reason to take more naps.

confession: i want more free stuff. (specifically, i want a free nightstand in austin to pick up eight weeks from now.) when i moved from austin, i tried to give away my washer and dryer for free, first to people i knew and then on craigslist. nobody came to claim them. i gratefully receive free stuff in philadelphia every week. i live smack between a working class neighborhood and an old-moneyed neighborhood. rich people set out lots of perfectly good stuff the night before trash and recycling day. i shamelessly ninja-stealthy sift through the goodies at midnight.

confession: this morning i saw a smashed benz jeep on a tow truck with its engine guts hanging out–big metal roadkill being hauled away.

confession: when i wear green, i think of her. green is her color. i wore green my entire life before meeting her without thinking anything about it, but now when i wear green, i think of it as her color.

confession: sometimes i feel inexplicable embarrassment while trying to explain my choices to prejudging ignoramuses. for example, i go on a different cruise vacation about once every other year—different oceans, different continents, different countries. people who think they know me, people who have never been on a cruise, or people who have been on an obnoxious disney cruise or some horrible low-rent caribbean cruise and assume their isolated experience applies to all cruises without an inkling that the variety of cruise options are vaster than those on the sixty foot food trough at buffet palace–these people say to me, “you don’t seem like someone who would like a cruise.” dude…sitting on a deck chair beneath stars in the middle of the ocean every night, sleeping in a completely dark interior cabin while the ship gently sways, and waking up in a different exciting port city each day waiting for me to explore it–if you don’t understand why i love these things, how do i begin to explain myself to you?

confession: i depart on a cruise in a couple weeks and i hate telling people because they usually respond in the manner described above.

confession: i had a mini-breakdown last friday. i couldn’t work anymore. i couldn’t talk about it. i couldn’t cry about it. i couldn’t reach out and ask for help. i did the only thing i could do. i made art. i mailed two of those creations to two different friends yesterday. i can work again today. i wish a breakdown-free week to you and me.

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when you’re dying (or just feel like it)

confession: every time she calls, i wonder if it is the call, the call to tell me that our friend has died. she called last night. our friend is still alive. i texted our friend after that call. our friend conserves her limited energy for things other than texting back, but i trust that her lover reads the text messages to her.

confession: i have another friend who is dying. (it can take several sick years to die of certain cancers.) i think about what i’d do with several hundred chemo-sick days if that’s what i had left. my friend plays video games. cancer took surfing but gave him video games. if cancer took dancing from me, i might play video games, too, especially with a virtual reality headset.

confession: none of us knows how many days we have left, sick or healthy. that reality keeps me writing, dancing, hiking every day.

confession: dance break. choose your favorite groove. (i’ve been in a sexy dance loop for several weeks with this song on repeat–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS0G1KK8H6M)

confession: i have a friend who feels like she is dying from heartbreak. i know that feeling, the dying-grieving that threatens to collapse you from inside every time your breath catches on a suppressed crying jag. fuck, that hurts. also, fuck that hurt. if there’s a shortcut through that pain, i don’t know it…except to spend as many moments as possible each day doing the things that are worth being alive for.

things worth being alive for this week: watermelon, cherries, the letter that arrived from the newest friend, the letter i’m writing to the writer, shafts of brassy sunlight angling through the trees 28 minutes before sunset, the dusky light 18 minutes after sunset that turns my skin a magical glowing blue, fireflies, a handsome man’s strut in a suit under a bright red umbrella, when someone introduces me to a perfect old song that is new to me, stretching in bed and going back to sleep for twenty minutes.

other things worth being alive for in weeks and months and years beyond this one: rendezvous, reunions, surprise meetings, chance encounters, synchronicity, new beginnings, swimming pools and hot tubs, oceans, street food in thailand, foot massages, art that you’ll make, art that i’ll make, a long-anticipated vacation, journeys across time, explorations of landscapes—earthly, emotional, and psychological, lasting moments of peace (ten minutes in meditation counts), intermittent reprieves of calm (a single exhalation counts), naps, baby animals, laughing with the friend that reminds you how much fun it is to be you, to be your friend, to feel happy again.

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there was a ______

there was a girl who taught me to love the sky, except the lesson took a long time to catch, years after the girl was gone. i didn’t understand what she meant about loving the sky until i moved away and came back and looked at the same sky differently because i’d been living beneath another sky far away. i never miss that girl, but now i miss that sky every day.

there was a boy i was afraid to talk to. fear isn’t quite the right descriptor. (neither is boy.) but over a decade i talked to him only the few times i felt tequila brave or when he initiated the conversation. both coincided on monday night and our topics reached deep and wide, as if compressing years of conversations we never had.

there was a photo i found of me in the future, face washed out and brightened with light from within. i practice beaming love through my eyes and smile each day in order to become her.

there was a raccoon dumpster-diving when i took out my recyclables last night. when i stopped to watch her, she hopped toward me and started growling. i stamped my foot and told her “no!” because i don’t like being growled at by any person or animal. then two itty bitty baby raccoons (the smallest i’ve ever seen)  jumped from the dumpster and ran into the woods. i softened toward her growling the moment i understood she was protecting her children. i hope to soften toward the next person who growls at me while seeking to understand the reason for the growling.

there was a fox trotting across the yard last night. fox sightings add a full point to my rating for any day. i’ve taken to rating most things that happen during my days on a 10-point scale because i’m generous with point accrual and the rating helps me appreciate each aspect of my life more while highlighting the parts that most benefit from improvement.

there was a book of literature i tried rereading recently. i stopped on page five because life slips quickly through fast moving years and there are more books to be read in this lifetime than i’ll be able to finish before dying (even if i live to be 103) so i’ve decided i don’t have time for rereading dusty french classics.

there was a piece of art i transformed by layering my art on top after midnight when i couldn’t sleep. folk art, recycled art, trash art, mixed media collage….whatever you call it, i’m drawn to make it.

there was a girl (three, actually) i saw and heard play music and the music smoothed and enlivened my pulse. i wanted to tell her (all three) but i couldn’t think of words for my tongue to accompany the song in my heart that feels gratitude larger than words can contain…that’s what art is for.

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confessions of blood, birthdays, and art

confession: mosquitoes love me. i used to consume massive amounts of garlic pills in an attempt to become less alluring to mosquitoes. i can’t remember if they worked to prevent mosquito bites, but they tasted gross (even in capsule form) and i quit taking them. now i get bit. i scratch the bites until they bleed. then i pick the scabs because i’m gross. then i bleed on the sheets. that’s why i buy dark blue or wine colored sheets. problem solved.

confession: tonglen practice is fucking hard. if you’ve tried this form of daily meditation practice that asks one to hold the suffering with fierce compassion, you know you’re volunteering to do the thing we otherwise use sugar, sex, netflix, social media, books, video games, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sports, and neuroses to avoid feeling. sitting with the suffering, compassionately creating space for the suffering, allowing the suffering to be touched with attentive openness…fuck…yeah, that’s hard. is it worth it? is feeling the most vulnerable, painful part of humanity worth increasing one’s capacity for compassion? yes. i am training for kindness.

confession: i’ve known her for nearly two decades and every year i text her on june 19th to ask her, “is your birthday the 20th or 22nd?” every year she patiently reminds me that her birthday is june 20th and i wish her happy birthday eve and goodnight until the next day when i wish her happy birthday. today is her 40th birthday. today she is a married homeowning mother. when we met during our youthful ignorance we both would have guessed her present reality would more likely be my future than hers. life is tricky and tragic and perfectly surprising. i’m grateful she is the mother, wife, and homeowner. i’m grateful i am not. i’m grateful i will spend the weekend in her home with her wife and child to celebrate her 40th birthday, to celebrate her life that neither of us would have predicted, to honor our unified path as we traverse this mysterious process that is this long life.

confession: when i returned home after ten days’ traveling in brooklyn, maine, and connecticut, two letters from her were waiting for me. one of them included the most beautiful artwork i’ve seen this year. she drew it for me. she colored it for me. she made it specifically for me because she knew i would love it. she knows my taste. she gives me excellent gifts all year long and each offering opens my heart. i’m not sure she knows her talent for art. her humility bumps up against understatement of her gifts. the things that come naturally to us are the things we take most easily for granted. what comes naturally to you? please value your gifts. thank you for sharing your gifts. i value the goodness, generosity, and beauty you add to this world by being, doing, giving yourself.

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varieties of delight

tiny delights: sometimes microscopic…or almost. sometimes requiring a flip of a negative into a positive. for example, finding a nymph deer tick crawling up your arm and squishing it before it attaches for twenty-four hours undetected and gives you lyme disease. finding lost keys in the first place you look. stopping angry words from spewing while pms hormonal and he says something stupid and you roll with it instead of bowling him over.

small delights: the butterfly landing next to you, giving you a nice long flirtatious look reminding you of a stripper working her moves for the five dollars in your hand when you walk up to stage two after she has taken her top off. also, unexpected girl scout cookies delivered with your check at the local joint. wildlife sightings anytime and anywhere. even roadkill counts when it is a humongous porcupine. canceled plans that mean you get to stay home in bed with a book.

large delights: great food, sex, and sleep. as one gets older, stylish-looking comfortable shoes. as one gets lots older, comfortable shoes regardless of style points or ugliness. vacation. a new car.

giant delights: getting a clear cancer-free scan five years later. celebrating others’ happiness–weddings, pregnancies, starting a company, publishing a book, sobriety anniversaries, dumping a deadbeat partner. doing (or feeling) the thing you’ve avoided your whole life because of fear and discovering fear won’t kill you afterall. practicing that thing into mastery.

more tiny delights: flowers growing in cracks in the sidewalk. funny bumper stickers. kid jokes. uplifting graffiti.

more small delights: keeping houseplants alive. petting someone else’s friendly puppy. rainbow sightings. making someone laugh.

more large delights: epiphanies in therapy. understanding oneself or another. forgiving yourself or another.

more giant delights: accepting exactly what is as it is. (also known as peace.) letting go. moving forward. loving more.

i wish you delights of all varieties everyday.

pro tips: actively seeking out delight increases opportunities for delight. sharing your delight with others multiplies delight.

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multi-topic confessions

confession of gossip: i had lunch with a long-time ex-boy-best-friend a couple weeks ago. in my missing of him i had forgotten that he gossips. sitting across from him for two hours listening to him dish details about mutual acquaintances that i didn’t want to know, i realized i would never miss him again.

confession of boob smashing: i had my second mammogram yesterday (after putting it off an extra year because OUCH). after the torture concluded, the radiologist invited me to look at my 3-D scan. yeah, i know i’m a weirdo, but my mammogram scans made my boobs look sexy. also, my lymph nodes remind me of perfect little cough drops. i would totally suck on a hottie’s lymph nodes if i could access them (and *ahem* were into that kind of thing).

confession of trivia: do you know which states make-up the tri-state area? i didn’t know for sure until i looked it up and then the answer is trickier than one might think…because there is no official answer and unofficially the tri-state area includes parts of four states because it isn’t about states. (spoiler alert:  the tri-state area refers to the greater nyc metropolitan area.)

confession of handwritten letters: if i could write letters in the shower or in my sleep or while driving, you’d receive more handwritten letters. in my waking non-showering non-driving hours my time is occupied with other things, not more important things, but other things, and i’m sorry for that because the letters i write to you in my head while showering, driving, and sleeping are filled with love and gratitude and quieter private confessions that would increase intimacy between us.

confession of youth fiction: sometimes i read youth fiction to accumulate more inputs in order to rewrite my own childhood. because why not? childhood is ancient history and memory is faulty and unreliable and the brain is elastic and manipulatable so i might as well make up an entirely new childhood to remember-on-repeat that would result in the more secure, more peaceful, more trusting person i could have been if i’d had a different childhood. but here’s the kicker—most of the youth fiction i read has a bullying theme that makes me wish i had been nicer to other kids in my actual childhood. i wasn’t a bully but as an introvert, i didn’t actively befriend the lonely freaks who were bullied when i could have. i was an isolating abused freak on the inside who was passing for “normal” on the outside and therefore i was never bullied at school (only at home). i could have befriended the ones who were bullied at school. i could have stepped between a bully and a freak during the tauntings. i could have beat the crap out of any bully because i knew how to fight and how to take a beating, but i didn’t and every youth fiction book i read makes me wish i would have.

confession of wildlife: in texas, i recognize all the wildlife. in pennslyvania, i have no idea what some of these critters are. the northeast is a different country, y’all…and i love it.

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