Category Archives: positivity

No Place Like Home

oxfordIn the month (!) since writing here last, a lot has happened.  I graduated (at last!) with my Master’s in Literature from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English summer program.  It’s a journey that’s been four years in the making.  My experiences at Bread Loaf’s three campuses, in Vermont, in Santa Fe, and in Oxford, England, have been life changing.

It was during my first summer that I met and worked with Tracy K. Smith, who encouraged and helped me to apply for an MFA in poetry.  Bread Loaf was the first place I read my poems aloud to a group of peers.  It was the first place I was able to feel a community of likeminded educators who bonded together in love of pedagogy and poetry.  It was where I gained confidence in my ability as a speaker, a scholar, and a writer.  It was where I won my first poetry contest.

A lot of people don’t know that I applied for PhDs twice–and was rejected twice–before I decided to give myself over to the MA and MFA route instead.  Bread Loaf lead me to UNCW, and both lead me to realize that it was actually a good thing I was rejected from my so-called “dream.”  It helped me create a new path for myself–one that’s been less straight forward, but still unforgettable and important.  I’ve met some extraordinary mentors, friends, and colleagues along the way.

I’m, however, exhausted.  I’ve essentially been attending two Master’s programs at once.  I’ve learned a lot this past year about over-extending myself.

This therefore is the year I say no.  No to odd jobs.  No to social engagements that make me stare at the clock.  No to extra responsibilities.  No to extra classes.  No to trying to plan everything ad nauseum.  And yes to my writing.  Yes to reading.  Yes to thesis.  Yes to Ecotone, where I participating as the non-fiction editor and honing my skills in publishing and editing and behind the scenes.  Yes to my mental health.  Yes to whatever comes.

I’ve never been more grateful to be where I am.  I am home.  I have an apartment that is clean and (mostly) quiet.  My cat has mellowed out a ton.  I know who my friends here are.  I know where to buy discount organic groceries and how to find the cheapest, best yoga classes.  I am a stop away from some of the most beautiful waterfronts this country has. I have everything I could possibly need.  And I have a third year free from any distractions other than my thesis and my teaching and my work on the literary magazine.

During orientation, we were asked to share our greatest gift.  I didn’t say it at the time, but having a third year to do my MFA thesis right is the best gift I could imagine right now.  A gift of time.



Filed under creative writing, literature, positivity

An Update

ccI haven’t written here since March, and for good reason.  My health sort of blew up in early April, right around the time I was heading to the Associated Writers and Publishers Conference in Minneapolis, MN, which also happened to be the time my busy semester was coming to a head.  I’ve struggled in that time with anxiety, insomnia, migraines, nausea, muscle pains, and weird nightmares, to the point where my doctor sent me to a neurologist to rule out a tumor [side bar: not sure it was the smartest practice for her to use the T word with someone struggling with anxiety, but I digress].

After some preliminary tests, so far it seems there’s no real reason to worry–that what I really need to do is better figure out how to relax so that I can sleep better.  It’s amazing how much of our health depends upon sleep–and how hard it actually is for me to relax, despite trying so hard [Second side bar: I recently had the epiphany that it’s perhaps that I’m trying too hard that is in fact what is preventing it from being natural.  What is relaxing about your mind screaming, “RELAX?  Why can’t you just relax?”  Nothing, actually.  Nothing.  I recently had a horrible experience with a massage therapist who actually took that approach.  She seemed frustrated that she wasn’t strong enough to dislodge some of the knots in my back, and therefore kept exasperatedly asking me to “let go,” to which I got angry and anxious and couldn’t help but retort, “I’M TRYING.”].

To that end, I’ve decided, after prompting from my doctor, to abstain from drinking alcohol (for the most part–I cheated on my birthday and at my brother’s graduation), to restart taking my daily vitamins, to restart a twice daily yoga and meditation practice, to create a bedtime ritual devoid of screens, to try to eat more veggies as the basis of my plate, and exercise every day, supplementing the hard pounding of running with lighter activities like biking and swimming or even just long walks.  It’s amazing how tight my muscles are because of nearly fifteen years of running.  I sometimes catch myself with taut muscles even just sitting at my chair, and once I catch myself, I can coax myself into softening.

Part of the issue is that I just had an overly busy semester: four classes, full load of teaching, belligerent male students, a second job tutoring undegrads in Spanish, lots of travel, helping my brother move, a persistently sick cat, freelance deadlines, applying for the non fiction editor position for our literary magazine.  I am just burnt out.

Throughout all this, my lovely boyfriend has been super supportive, more so than anyone I’ve ever met, and I remain ever grateful that he walked into my life last August.  He is so good to me, so kind, thoughtful, and funny.  I love laughing with him and feel so at home in his company.  At his and my mother’s coaxing, I took the six weeks I had in between my spring semester at UNCW and my summer semester at Bread Loaf’s Oxford campus (where I am now) forgoing new opportunities in exchange for relaxation.  I leisurely read some (not as many as I probably should have, but enough of that) of my books for Bread Loaf at the pool, at the beach, in my apartment on some of the more steamy, humid days.  I worked out twice a day, doing lighter activities, deeper stretches.  I did more with less, and it felt wonderful.

I guess though I’m glad I had the busy spring semester I had, if only because I needed that second job to save up for England, and because I have now arranged to give myself the gift of a third and final year of my MFA [Side bar: I have no idea how anyone does their MFA in TWO years], when I only have to concentrate on my teaching, my thesis, and participating in the editorial work for Ecotone (I got the non fiction editor position, to my surprise and delight).  I will be able to continue to do more with less.

I’m also grateful to be back in Oxford for my final summer with Bread Loaf.  It’s so beautiful here.  I studied abroad in 2008 at Oxford, at Worcester College (for those who aren’t aware, Oxford University is comprised of many colleges that function together much like a federal state under the umbrella term “Oxford”).  It’s just as magical as I remember, if much more congested with obnoxiously large and fundamentally slow tourist groups that make getting from point A to point B a painfully drawn out labor of patience.  I am relieved also to have experience with this city.  I’m amazed at how much is flooding back into my memory as I walk the streets and remember short cuts and favorite haunts.  I’m particularly grateful also to have already done many of the touristy things here so that I can use my time outside of class to focus on my reading and writing.  For example, today a group is heading to Blenheim Palace, the grand family home of Winston Churchill, and I’m staying behind to write here and catch up on work (and to save money for excursions that I haven’t actually tried before).  I also happily feel as confident as I’ve ever felt as a student, thanks to all that has brought me here–a good thing given that I have a ten page paper due next week, and two 18-23 page papers due in three weeks.

I had a hard time getting here, though, which undid a lot of the nice relaxation I managed to gift myself with before leaving Wilmington.  I decided to fly out of Raleigh, to save money, and to book a non-direct flight via JFK to Heathrow.  My flight out of RDU ended up being hours delayed due to weather, which whittled my three hour layover down to minutes.  Having never been to JFK’s airport before, I didn’t realize that I would have to switch terminals and that that was the reason for having a three hour layover in the first place.  I nonetheless sprinted, at 11PM, through terminal 7, dragging my impossibly heavy carry-on behind me (I was instructed it was important to bring all the books I needed for the term on my person in case my luggage was lost and because there was not a bookstore in Oxford guaranteed to have the editions I needed for my primary texts).  My legs were shot by the time I reached Terminal 8 huffing and puffing, only to have an airline employee scoff at me and tell me to just go straight to ticketing to be rebooked, because there was no way I was going to make the flight, since I would have to re-go through security after taking a train ride from one terminal to the next.  I also nearly got on the train to the city proper instead of the terminal, because they are right next to each other (of course) with no signage I could see.  I leapt off at the last second, sweating, after bellowing to the passengers, “WHERE IS THIS TRAIN GOING” in a panic.

After being rebooked on the next flight available–which was to be ten hours later at 9 AM–I meekly asked the ticket agent where I was supposed to spend the night.  “We can’t give you a hotel,” I was told, because my flight over to JFK was American, yet my flight to LHR was British Airways/Iberia.  I’d have to go back to Terminal 7, which I could not do because the trains were no longer running and most employees except the cleaning staff had left, and besides the point, the ticketing agent was deeply doubtful I would get a hotel voucher for a weather-related delay on a “code share” flight (a flight where two or more airlines share in the profits and therefore can shirk responsibility as to who is responsible for putting up delayed passengers).

At this point, I simply burst into hot, soft tears, apologizing to the ticketing agent for crying (side bar: WHY DO WE AS WOMEN FEEL THE NEED TO APOLOGIZE FOR OUR FEELINGS), saying, “I’m just so tired. I don’t know what to do or where to go.”

Somewhat pityingly, the man pointed to a plush arm chair in the business class lounge, telling me it was actually quite comfortable, and that I only needed to wait four hours before I could get in line to get checked-in for my new flight.

Still sobbing quietly, I called my mom and boyfriend, both of whom were still up, and both of whom tried to urge me to find a hotel.  My boyfriend was especially adamant that it might not be safe for me to sleep in the lobby of a terminal, not being through security, in NYC, but he backed off when I started to work myself up into a perfect panic not knowing where I would go or even how to get to a hotel.  I was also just exhausted at this point, not having slept well the night before my trip, and having sprinting while carrying a heavy carry-on bag for what felt like 30 minutes, all with a fist of panic around my heart regarding missing my flight.

My boyfriend then lulled me to sleep (after calling the airlines to give them a piece of his mind for not putting me up in a hotel) with sweet reassurances that I was safe, that he wished he were with me, that he had his arms around me.  I managed to doze in the arm chair next to a Spanish family in the same boat, only to be woken up by an unsympathetic cleaning crew member telling me I had to vacate the business class lounge because he needed to vacuum.  Wanting to retort, “you can’t just vacuum around my snot streaked person, jerk face?  It’s 2 AM for god’s sake,” I nonetheless got up and moved to the middle school esque desk like chairs right by the door that was blowing in cold air from outside and decided I might as well write a blog for Ploughshares that was due that weekend since there was no sleep to be had.

I got through the next day in a blur, only to arrive to my hotel in London very late, where I was overjoyed to discover my room had a large tub.  I took the hottest bath I could manage before drifting off to a deadened sleep after having been awake for nearly 24 hours.

I got to Lincoln College, Oxford (where Bread Loaf hosts their summer session over here) and unpacked, delighted to have my own private little room and bathroom overlooking a grove quad.  I was also delighted about England’s lush green hills and cooler summer weather–a relief after North Carolina’s swampy 100 degree humidity.

I then dashed back to travel mode, having gotten through orientation quickly so I could take a three and a half hour train ride up to Liverpool to participate in a conference on Silence and Meaning Making, at which I’d had my project on  silence and women’s poetry accepted.  The travel there was likewise fraught, as it turned out to the hottest day on record in the UK, and I got lost, only to discover my accommodation was 30 minutes outside the city center and not easily accessible to the conference site, so I arrived quite late.  The ordeal stressed me out so much I decided to come back a day early to Oxford, though I’m glad I presented and had the experience of meeting academics from all over the world who are interested in what I am interested in.  I also am submitting my paper for publication in a book on silence that the conference committee is editing.

Since settling back into Oxford, my favorite moments have been the quiet ones I spend on my own, either at writing at my desk listening to the bells, reading in my little armchair, walking in Christ Church Meadow and looking at the cows (yes, cows), staring up at the spires, sipping tea, wobbling on the cobblestones, waltzing past the tourists into the private, grandiose libraries, or running past the beautiful lush gardens alongside the river at University Parks.  Not to say that there aren’t wonderful people here and social moments–we have BBQs, pub quiz nights, formal hall dinners, lectures, receptions, excursions to London and Stratford to see Shakespeare–but after the semester I’ve had, those quiet moments are the ones I relish the most.

My classes are extremely interesting–the American Novel since 1945 and an independent study on women writers and the sonnet.  My professors are sharply smart and keep stunning me into new ways of thinking about literature and are very encouraging of my interest in creative writing, even going so far as to allow me to do a creative component to my final research papers–something I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to do at Oxford, but that will set me up nicely for my return to my thesis in the fall.  Furthermore, I was nominated by my graduating peers to the executive committee to help plan Bread Loaf Oxford’s graduation ceremony (a nice vote of confidence in my eloquence, dependability, and organization skills) , so I’ll be doing that here as well.

I miss my family, my Daisy, and my boyfriend something fierce, however, and can’t wait for them to come visit me for the graduation, followed by a week trip up to the Lake District.  After my parents leave, Jason and I will stop off in London for a few days to stay with friends.

All in all, of the 15 resolutions I made in 2015, I have been successful at keeping all but five, and as we’re only halfway through the year, I still have time to work on 1. developing a better editing routine for old work 2. writing more poems 3. submitting work 4. maintaining my twitter and 5. blogging here more regularly (though my Ploughshares gig does mean I’m regular in one venue, even if not here).


Filed under creative writing, positivity, self-esteem, self-help, vacation, women, writing

Literary Self-Help? Can It Exist?

nymagcoverI’ve been thinking a lot lately, as someone who studied the “canon” in college and attended one of the most prestigious (positive connotation)/hoity toity (negative) universities in the world, about my love for so-called self-help literature that has crossed over into best-seller territory, and even, some say (some more derisively than others) into “chick-lit” territory.  Over the last five years, I’ve fallen in love with titles like Eat, Pray, LoveTiny Beautiful Things and Wild, all three by women who fearlessly share their bottom hitting and weary introspection that allowed them to make themselves a ladder.  I’ve also developed an obsession with Taylor Swift (I may or may not have been blasting 1989 on my way back from yoga today).  I’m not sure why I feel that’s relevant, but it is.  I’ve also been devouring psychology books, including Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamieson, several self-help books by Harville Hendrix, Amalie Chance, and Steven Carter and Julia Skotol as I’ve been seriously trying to answer for myself questions about how I fare in my relationships.

In my current MFA circles, this is generally met with scorn, especially by my male peers, a scorn that bristles my neck hairs and sends me into fits of defensiveness.  I’m not sure what it is that so irritates my colleagues: that these writers are commercially successful with “the masses” as opposed to an elite, referent loving crowd; that these writers are commercially successful when my peers are not; that these writers are successful women writers; or that they dare to bare their deepest faults and most earnest wishes for wholeness in an wholly un-ironic way in writing when irony seems more hip(ster) these days.

I came across a self-help column in New York Magazine through a friend from high school posting it on her facebook (side note: this alone is reason enough for me never to quit facebook: I have pruned my friend list to people A. I actually keep in touch with in the non-virtual world or B. who continue to post fascinating articles that don’t get lost the way they do in my twitter feed, since my twitter feed is swept up by professional organizations who post 2-5 times a day).  This article reminded me of why I have fallen so hard for such titles when my own inner literary snob side cringes in embarrassment (driven no doubt by said colleagues above, some who include professors).  The answer, written by “Polly” for the “Dear Polly” column, hit me like a stack of ill-placed books.  I felt seen.  I felt my deepest, most obsessive questions about myself and my past failed relationships answered, not definitively, but answered in a way that gave me much needed perspective.  The blend of kind-hearted exasperation and teasing alongside serious reflection on matters of the heart in the response made me feel wrapped in a blanket just out of the dryer.  Like a small fluffy kitten curled itself deep into the darkest, dankest place in my own heart.  I felt a little bit of good-natured shame at recognizing myself in the plea that prompted the response.  I don’t know why it’s often easier said than done for smart, over-achieving women to find successful relationships–but it is.  I myself have been torn in knots over someone who fits the general description of this article to a damn T several times–and I couldn’t ever figure out why!

I’m coming to a place in my life where I don’t mind owning my hurt, because it means owning also what I’ve learned over the years by making such mistakes–and what I’ve learned has opened me up to appreciating someone more fit for me. And aren’t those kind of changes what drives most character studies in great literature?  Isn’t there a sort of quest involved in improving yourself?

Some of the titles I mentioned above get flack for not being more interested in the social plight of non-white women, especially when their healing process takes them to other countries/wildernesses  to benefit from expensive tourism.  And I get that.  But in today’s post-Freud world, how can we start to educate and improve the world around us if we can’t first start with ourselves?

I may just be posing this to make myself feel better about my current trend in book selections.  But I wonder what other readers think?  Can “self-help” lit be literary?  What about “chick-lit”?  Are these categories useful or out-dated?

As a personal update, Daisy went a week flea free, until my new boyfriend found some on her this morning before we hit up the farmer’s market.  After all that work last Friday, which was supposed to last a month.  I’m devastated.  I am the kind of person who hates feeling like she did EVERYTHING SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO DO, and the result was still a failure–and in this case, a waste of a lot of money I don’t really have at this current state of being on my third Master’s degree.  I’m pretty sure I used every flea product on the shelf at home depot/the pet store in one way or another in the past three months.  I wonder if I am just to accept fleas as a reality until winter, when hopefully they might all die of frost.

In professional news, next week is Writer’s Week here at UNCW.  I’m looking forward to my get out of grad class free pass in order to check out some writerly conference style events and readings.  As an added bonus, my students don’t have anything to turn in this week, and I get a break from grading, too–though some are coming in for grade-panic conferences, now that the semester (whut) is nearing to a close.

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Filed under famous writers, literature, north carolina, pets, poetry, positivity, psychology, reading, self-help, teaching

Mountain Retreat


Stairs to the cabin.

This will be a photo essay of the amazing time I had in Hot Springs last weekend with the kindest, most understanding, generous and easy going get-away partner a gal could have.  (He was a heck of a photographer, too.  Also, wonderful at getting stains out of wood that a certain someone created when she left her wet towel atop an antique dresser and at calming down a kitty in a 7 hour car ride.)

Path outside the cabin. The colors were like dipped paint brushes, electric in the light.

Path outside the cabin. The colors were like dipped paint brushes, electric in the light.

A perfectly secluded writer retreat.

A perfectly secluded writer retreat.

I've always wanted to hike the AT!

I’ve always wanted to hike the AT!

A walk in the woods is refreshing for both mind and body.

A walk in the woods is refreshing for both mind and body.

Atop Max Patch.

Atop Max Patch.

Odd trail companions came out of nowhere.

Odd trail companions came out of nowhere.

My favorite are the splashes of red.  Also, weather cold enough for a jacket at last!

My favorite are the splashes of red. Also, weather cold enough for a jacket at last!

Such a great view after a brisk hike.

Such a great view after a brisk hike.

Can you tell it was hard to come back?


Me reading Kasischke for class and failing to stay candid.

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Filed under cats, mountain retreats, north carolina, poetry, positivity, vacation

On Cats and Mountain Escapes

This week’s post will be a little quicker, less processed as I have a lot to do today before jetting off for fall break to the mountains tomorrow.  I’m heading off to Hot Springs, NC (voted best small mountain town by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine in 2012!) in order to bask in cool mountain air and autumn colors.  I always have the urge to “get away” into nature.  To lose myself in a thicket of trees.  To feel the certainty of having to put one foot in front of the other.  To leave behind traffic noises and the sound of small talk.  To feel infinitesimal under a big sky and looming peaks but also rooted in time and place.  That I’m renting a secluded cabin near Max Patch feels right.  I’ve been overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, and in need of a change of scene for a while now.

daisy 1

Daisy curled up on the couch the first day I got her.

I’ve also been really stressed about the health of my little kitty, Daisy.  She’s almost six months old now, which in kitty years means she’s technically an adolescent.  This is also evidenced by her overall newfound brattery (shredding bed spreads/curtains, sitting on my face while I sleep, stepping her own poop and then pouncing every where in the newly cleaned apartment, knocking over and shattering pottery/lamps/mugs, chewing…all the things, flinging out the hair guard I have in my tub and playing soccer with it, and knowing just when I’m about to have a break-through in my relationship with my writing muse and taking that particular moment to jump up and down on my keyboard).  I love her, though, more than I thought I would.  She consistently makes me laugh and remember the benefit of furry kisses and cuddles every morning and night.  It’s also so nice to have something that scampers eagerly to the door when I arrive home after a particularly frustrating teaching gig or writing workshop or social outing.

Unfortunately, she’s had diarrhea for two months–ever since I first brought her home–and it’s getting worse.  The other week I found her straining and her watery stool had blood in it.  I panicked and called the vet and ran her over to the hospital, where they did a full work up of tests–and everything came back negative.  Which, on the one hand, is great (no cancer! no AIDS!), but on the other hand, means I am hundreds of dollars poorer and still no closer to understanding what is wrong with her or how to make her feel better.

daisy 3

Daisy playing with the mouse attached to the pretty dark walnut/rattan scratching pad I bought her that she has no interest in clawing (not so for the wicker ottoman I have).

I’ve been switching up her food every ten-fourteen days to try to see if it’s a food allergy, but so far, none have seemed to really make a huge difference.  For a few days, it seemed as though a grain-free, wet turkey can food was working, but then, inexplicably, she went right back to having watery stool. (Side note: it is insane to me how many of my hours are now consumed with thoughts of poop.  I sardonically mentioned to a friend that this must be what it is like to be a new parent).  Frustratingly, I’d stocked up on a bunch of the turkey wet food before she turned back to the diarrhea, and now I can’t take the bulk set back to the store (it’s opened) and the vet wants her on this prescription hydrolyzed protein diet (which from what I can tell from the last two days, is just making things even more watery, stinky, and worse).  To make matters even worse, this was the most expensive shit (literally) yet, and it smells just like you would imagine food that comes from a lab might and kind of permeates the house.

daisy pumpkin

Daisy getting bigger, curled around a pumpkin.

I had a friend warn me not to adopt a kitten who is already sick, and now I realize why–you end up chasing down their illness and throwing lots of money at the problem without any real expectation that you’ll get to the bottom of it.  My only consolation is that for the most part, she is still perfectly friendly and playful and eats and drinks just fine.  The vet has pronounced her otherwise healthy and seems stumped (I grumpily wonder if it’s time to find a new vet after my fifth visit in two months with no answers).  However, I fell in love with her the moment the shelter put her in my lap and told me her name was Daisy (my favorite flowers) and that she was born around April 21 (my birthday).  She was soft and orange, just like my cat from my childhood, and was so inquisitive and purred so much even though she was sick that I just had to have her in the moment, without a thought for the consequences.  (Note: it is also not advisable to go “look” at kittens when you are still in the throws of sorrow after a break-up.  You will inevitably come home with at least one).  I was in a raw place emotionally and pathetically told myself, sick kitties need homes and love too.  Maybe more so than the healthy ones!

I’m glad I got her, but I do wish I could once and for all figure out what to do to make her feel better!

In other news, I did some minor research on writers and pets.  Edith Wharton called her tiny dog a “heartbeat at her feet.”  Ernest Hemingway had many cats and privileged their emotional honesty above human’s, stating, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” William S. Burroughs also had an orange tabby cat he called Ginger.


William S. Burroughs and Ginger.

Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens said of cats, “Some people scorn a cat and think it not an essential; but the Clemens tribe are not of these” –and neither am I.  This picture of him with a shoulder kitty killed me dead with adorableness.


Mark Twain and kitten.

I therefore like to think that puts me in good company.

Most writers I know have a furry friend who sits by their feet (or on their lap…or, let’s be honest, on their keys/paper…in Daisy’s case she sometimes tries to eat the paper I’m writing on) and provides comfort and distraction when necessary.

My fellow writer friends: do you have a pet and any funny stories about how they help/hinder your process?

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Filed under cats, famous writers, north carolina, pets, positivity, writing

On Surfing and the Law of Attraction

kurebeach_495_01This morning I participated in UNCW’s “surf clinic,” which is a scary way of saying I went with a group of gals to learn how to surf at the cove in Kure Beach about 30 minutes from where I live.  It was…hard.  Surfing is hard, people!  I fell off a few times even while just lying down on the board flat.  The waves come from from any direction depending on the wind and other current factors I once learned in Intro to Oceanography but have since forgotten because it involved numbers.

At first, it was a pretty, calm, 75 degree day and there weren’t many waves to be had (later I heard it was snowing today in Chicago, where my brother lives, and I couldn’t help but rub it in that I was at the beach).  Then, out of no where, the waves rose up and swung our board out from under us before any of us could manage to stand.  At one point I got caught in the area where the breakers were and just kept getting my legs cut out from under me and then dragged down the beach by my whipping, frenzied, free board (you are attached to it at the ankle).  Over and over.

It was pretty comical–and exhausting.  After being dunked for the fifth time, choking on salt water, and tired from paddling, I asked the instructor how much time was left–sure as I was that we’d been out there at least an hour.  Her response?  “An hour or so left!”  Apparently it’d only been twenty.

All in all, by the end I managed to ride in two waves, one on accident propelled me forward as I clutched my board for dear life and ended up riding in some weird chattaranga position.  The other time was on purpose and I managed to get up on my knees for a blissful, balanced two seconds before the board tipped and I went flying face first into the surf.

All during my attempts to stand, however, I realized how much of my energy was consumed with negativity and doubt.  This is not going to happen, I remember thinking.  I’m not going to be able to stand up.  Oh God, what if I get hurt?  What if there are sharks?  What if they can smell my lady blood?  What about Man-O’Wars? What if I careen right into the instructor and break her nose? (The safety talk given by the instructor did nothing to allay my fears and instead served to remind me of all that could possibly go wrong).

As I write this, I’m reminded of this sound healing/ manifest desire meditation workshop I went to last weekend at the yoga studio I teach at.  The workshop was split into two parts: one, on sound healing with Tibetan singing bowls (which I loved!  Who knew vibrations could make you feel so good?), and two, on a journal exercise based on the book turned documentary The Secret (screening on Netflix right now!), where philosophers and psychologists weigh in on the phenomenon of the law of attraction: the idea that the universe is powered by thought and that we can manifest our desires if we channel our thoughts more positively.  I.e., when you are worried about debt, you tend to think, please no more debt.  You obsess about it.  Your body basically becomes this whole thought: your shoulders tense, your stomach hurts every time the mail comes, you don’t sleep as well.  And all the universe hears is debt, debt, debt. And what do you get?  More debt.

Instead, what the book/movie recommend is that you frame your thoughts positively.  What do you want?  More money? Think about that.  Think about what you would do with more money.  Imagine checks arriving.  And soon, you find yourself in a position to bring yourself to more solvency. A job opportunity arrives.  You win that poetry contest you sent off for weeks ago and had forgotten about.  Grandma puts a check in the mail.  And your body is more relaxed.  More rested.  More able to seek out cash opportunities.  But the trick is psychological.  You really got to get your brain to believe it, or your mind’ll sneak in with more negativity, and you’ll be right back where you were before: stuck in a sneaky hate spiral.

It sounds a bit like hocus-pocus (and the low quality of the documentary, especially the super creepy cheesy house of horrors music they use at the beginning, doesn’t help). But I found myself wondering as I sat here reflecting on surfing what would have happened in the water as I paddled with the wave roaring up behind me if, each time, regardless of the wind, regardless of my inexperience and silly fears about wildlife, regardless of the feeling of the board tipping, I’d started to imagine myself already standing?

There’s a really funnsm8y, silly, stoner-humor part of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (one of the hands down funniest break up movies ever) where Paul Rudd as the surf instructor keeps telling Jason Segel to “do less!” and I wonder if he really meant, just think less and do it.  I do tend to over think even the smallest of actions, something I’m trying to work on.

To end, I’ll bring this positive framing of thoughts idea to bear on my experience getting back in the physical, rather than online classroom this week.  I’m volunteering as a “writer in action” (gotta love that title) with UNCW, serving as a guest middle school teacher for two hours every Thursday.  This week we did a neat lesson on extended metaphor and I got to teach 7th graders what a tenor and a vehicle is (and remind myself what the difference is.  Teacher tip I came up with on the spot: tenor is your topic.  Vehicle is the comparison that helps you move through your description in refreshing ways). And I observed the teacher as he helped team teach the lesson with me taking the lead–he was so good at handling discipline in positive, rather than negative terms, of focusing on what he wanted to see, not what he didn’t want to see.  I remember learning this as a nervous, anxious, hopeless first year teacher with Teach For America and how skeptical I felt about it back then, but it’s true: in the hands of a master, it IS like magic, like hocus-pocus.  I watched, in awe/remembering when I’d utilized the method in the past, as the teacher walked around, saying, “I appreciate how this side of the room is doing what they are supposed to be doing, pencils out, answering the bell work prompt quietly….[pause as other side of the room scrambled to task, a sudden hush and whir of pencils scratching taking over the talk] and now I appreciate how everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing! I’m just so full of appreciation right now.”

And so, readers, I invite you to try it, even if it feels silly, and sound off if you have any examples of this law of attraction thing manifesting in your life (or of it failing miserably!).

For my part, I’m going to try to imagine myself standing.  Writing that book.  Healing those heart wounds.  Teaching well.  Entering complicated professional situations where I have to see people who’ve hurt me before hurt me in new ways not with more hurt, but instead with poise.  Confidence.  Feeling all the love that this world holds for me and finding who are the people who show up for me.  And I’m suddenly just so full of appreciation right now.

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Filed under Forgetting Sarah Marshall, law of attraction, north carolina, poetry, positivity, surfing, teaching, writing