Ben and Adeline

If you’ve been reading this blog then you will know that it is in large part due to my cousin, Ben, that this Year of Yoga project exists.

In my first post , I wrote how it was a walk around Berkeley with Ben that inspired the idea of going to a new studio each week of the year and writing about it.

As you also know, the project took another turn when I discovered InnerStellar, and I haven’t been to or written about many other studios since then. The truth is, I was a little reluctant to go outside my comfort zone.

AdelineyogaHowever, a few weeks ago, I finally worked myself out of my rut and went to Adeline Yoga. This was again thanks to Ben. You see, when he was here for the summer, he signed up to take classes at Adeline Yoga. Then, when he left Berkeley, he converted his last class to a gift certificate. So, armed with my bright red envelope, I tried out my first true Iyengar class with the lovely, knowledgable, and truly charming Anneke Faas.

I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed by Anneke. Yes, we’d met before (she’s a friend of my sister’s), so I got a big hello hug. But she was that welcoming to every student, making sure she knew – really knew – everyone’s name. After checking in with me, she turned to the woman next to me and said, “You’ve been here before.”

The woman said, “Well, it was about a year ago.”

“Yep,” said Anneke. “You’re hyper-flexible, right?”

After Anneke moved on, the woman said to me, “I can’t believe she remembered me! I really was only in here the one time!”

But Anneke isn’t just a friendly face. She knows her stuff, and has a wonderfully specific yet gracious teaching style.

b555cf3926e8319761a3be8a4509da1eHere’s just one small example: She had us do baddha konasana with legs up the wall, and focus the entire time on the feeling of rotating our inner thighs up and out, while also rotating our outer thighs in and under. Then, with that very specific muscle memory, she moved us – and our knees! – safely into warrior poses.

I took not just that lesson and several other bits of yogic wisdom from the class, but also a very basic delight at having spent time with Anneke.

A few days after this, I got an email from Ben. We haven’t heard much from him since he left (he’s busy, we’re busy) so his email felt oddly coincidental coming so soon after my Adeline class. He wrote that he’s carried “two Californianisms” with him from his summer with us, one of which being that he’s joined an Iyengar yoga studio back home, and has been practicing twice a week. He wrote, “I’ve decided that Iyengar is basically yoga for nerdy teachers’ pets who want to do everything exactly ‘right.’ Me, in other words.”

His note got me thinking about what I’ve carried away from having him here with us.

For one thing, our coffee is better. Ben measured out the coffee grounds exactly each morning when filling the press pot. Like he said, he’s a nerd. We’re nerds, too, but he’s a scientist nerd. And coffee, made scientifically, i.e., actually measured, tastes consistently better. Not too strong. Not too weak. Just right.

While Ben may have carried the drum, he was really hiking to Coco’s beat.

He also brought all the things a younger generation will bring: new music, new sayings, a fresh way of looking at the world. You might think having a not-quite-thirty-year-old in the house would make us middle-aged folks feel old, but I think we really felt younger. Maybe it was just that having a third adult in the house tilted the adult-to-kid ratio in our favor. Oh my. How can that not give you more energy?

But the truth is, we benefited from having Ben here in more than just these little ways.  For example, Matt went out to several open mic nights to play his music, in part (I think) because Ben was there to cheer him on. Then, this fall, Matt finally did the Indiegogo campaign he’s wanted to do for so long, and produced the album of his new songs.

And what I’ve come to understand is that Ben, in a certain sense, also inspired this Year of Yoga project way before he took one step in Berkeley.

You see, when I first read on Facebook that he had gotten an internship in the Bay Area and was looking for a place to rent, I felt protective of my cousin. Rental rates in San Francisco are outrageous, and way too scary for a employed person, much less a graduate student. My immediate thought was that he had to stay with us.

My second thought, however, was one of fear.

You see, I am a true introvert. Here’s my proof: My biggest worry, when I went away to college, was not the transition from a tiny town to an enormous campus, or that the classes would be too hard, or that I wouldn’t make friends. No. My monster worry had to do with sharing a dorm room with another person. It made me anxious all that summer. And I never did get much better about the idea of roommates.

But now here was Ben, needing a place to stay.

Ben is my “littlest” cousin, the youngest of my mother’s youngest sister, so there’s a good sixteen years between us. A whole generation, really, and an entire continent, too, as he grew up on the east coast and I on the west. In his three decades of life, I’d probably only seen him a total of two weeks.

He was family, of course. I’d been to his wedding, and seen him at his brother’s wedding and our other cousin’s wedding. I knew he was funny and smart and very much the gentleman. As far as roommates go, I was pretty certain he would be great. And I loved the idea of having my kids get to know their cousin. But still. It wasn’t like Ben and I knew each other that well.

The introvert in me came up with all kinds of excuses for why it wasn’t a good idea to let him stay with us. Ours is a small, somewhat shabby house (that’s what eight years of rent control will get you). The room we could offer him was poorly built and very close to a backyard of early-rising, noisy chickens. We are parents, and we don’t always parent perfectly (i.e., we sometimes yell at our kids, and we sometimes spoil them). Neatness, to put it mildly, does not come naturally to my kids (or me). So yes, I was a little afraid of being judged, and I had a lot of anxiety over letting someone stay with us, even a grown-up little cousin.

While it didn’t take us more than a minute to offer Ben a place, it did take a small dose of courage for me to overcome the introverted habits of mine and all their attendant anxieties.

But here’s what I think. I think that leap of faith that we took in opening our home to Ben – sharing our home life, despite all its vulnerabilities and imperfections – somehow translated into the courage to take other leaps, leaps of creativity and self-actualization. That’s really what creativity is, after all, a leap of faith that launches us out of habits and fears and into the world, a leap of faith predicated on the belief that what we have to offer is, in the end, a good thing.








The most frequent question I get these days is, “How is homeschooling going?” It used to be, “How is your novel going?” or, more recently, “How is your Year of Yoga going?”

Lately, though, it’s all about the homeschooling.

So, I’ll tell you how it’s going.

My son loves homeschooling. He was pretty much made for it. He’s not the kind of kid who sits around complaining that he’s bored (unless he’s in school). He reads, researches, creates, invents, (destroys), writes, sets himself goals, comes up with projects, and constantly challenges his homeroom teacher (me). Neither one of us is bored.


We had a debate the other day about the best adjective to describe his relationship to knowledge. I said he was a “curator” of knowledge; he preferred the term “hoarder.” I suppose if you saw all the books in and under and beside his bed, you might agree with him. But I told him a hoarder doesn’t use or even value the things he hoards, he just keeps them. “You use and value your knowledge,” I said, “so I can’t really agree that you’re a hoarder of knowledge.”

“Well,” he said, “I still like ‘hoarder of knowledge,’ because sometimes I have all this knowledge and I don’t even know what to do with it, but I still want more.”

See? Perfect kid for homeschooling.

Homeschool isn’t always perfect for me, though.

For one thing, I don’t always know what I’m doing. I’ve never trained to be a teacher. Yes, I taught creative writing to undergraduates, but how hard was that? They were all busy making up their lives anyway, so to pull a little fiction out of them wasn’t such a stretch. Plus, they were in college. Already they had a huge advantage.

Anyhow, for some silly reason, the stakes just feel higher with this current teaching gig.

To make matters worse, I’m sometimes – ha! always – overwhelmed by the choices of curriculum, classes, and styles available for homeschooling. As soon as I settle on one course of study, I inevitably find another I prefer more. It’s a bit like being at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. So little stomach room! So much food! And if I stuff too much in at once, my kid will barf. Or something like that.

Also, no matter what I want to do, there’s never enough time. Not for all the classes and curriculum and projects and field trips, and certainly not for me. Yes, I would like more time to write my novel, or to work on this blog, but the kind of time I really need is more in the range of 40 hours/week so that I can bring in some bucks.

Unfortunately, that’s the real catch of homeschooling: It’s expensive.

“What? Why? Aren’t you just sitting in your dining room over some library books?” (Yes, I do know what you are thinking.)

Well, first of all, there are all the way-too-great-too-miss classes out there. They Are Not Cheap. (See the “all-you-can-eat” part above.)

But there’s also the opportunity cost. For example, let’s say you make $50,ooo. If you have five kids and you quit your job to homeschool them, then that’s a $10,000 per kid investment each year. If you have one, well, it’s a $50,000 investment. I know for a fact the most expensive Bay Area private school is not that costly.

But none of this – not the worry that I don’t know what I’m doing, not the constant feelings of being overwhelmed, and not the lack of time and money – are nearly as hard as my final confession about homeschooling:

My house is always messy. It has not been this messy in years.

Water Experiments (photo: E.Maupin)

Seriously. It’s like having a toddler again. Remember how you could never keep your house clean? How you’d tell yourself that as soon as you cleaned the living room, you’d head out to the park? But how by then the bedrooms were all a disaster because your son had been building a fort with all the pillows in the entire house, and now it was time for lunch, but then there were the dishes to do and also you needed to go to the grocery store?

Yes, that kind of messy.

The real benefit of sending your kids to traditional schools? Your house stays clean for one day.

But you know what? I’m okay with it. Not just the mess, but all of it – the lack of time and money, the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. All of it. And here’s why:

Before my son went off to kindergarten, he had such a radiantly curious energy to him, such a joy of being in this world. His was an eager and open-minded approach to life; he was always game to try new things, to explore. He believed in himself. He liked himself.

(photo: E. Maupin)

Then he went to school. Of course he had teachers he adored. The two schools he attended, one public and one private, I hold in high regard.

But school seemed to dim his very existence. He was always tired, allergic, and sick. He didn’t want to try new things. He was overwhelmed and down on himself. He apologized constantly. He certainly didn’t seem to like himself very much. He’d lost his confidence, and he also seemed to have lost himself. It was as if the little pilot light of his soul had been snuffed out.

You would think that I saw all this as it was happening. I did, but I also didn’t. In other words, I saw that school wasn’t the right choice for him. But it was only recently, after five months of homeschooling, that I understood how completely lost he’d been while he was in school.

What made me finally see this?

The other day he played his fiddle at the farmer’s market, something he hasn’t done in almost four years. When he first put down his case and took up his fiddle, the area around him was in a lull. There was a wide empty space, not many folks stopping at the vendors there. As he played, however, people began to gather. Children pulled on their parents’ hands so that they might stop to watch. The farmers on either side of him began to do a more brisk business. Within a few minutes, the area was alive and bustling, transformed by his presence and his music.


Watching him fiddle, I realized that he, too, has been transformed. He was connected to his music in a way he hasn’t been for years. He played with energy and confidence, smiled at folks, enjoyed himself. I felt like I’d suddenly come upon an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long while. That got me thinking about who he was in school, and how he’s changed in these past few months of homeschooling.

He’s no longer constantly allergic or sick. Yes, he’s sometimes tired, but that’s because he reads too late (no matter, he can also sleep in now). He’s eager and excited to take on new challenges. He comes up with new projects to do every day. He’s rediscovered the joy of learning for learning’s sake. He laughs a lot. He’s confident again. Most importantly, he likes himself.

Vibrant would be the best adjective to describe him.

So, yep. Homeschooling is going great.



During a yoga class a few weeks ago I felt a sudden surge of hostility toward the teacher. She had just asked us to do bakasana, or crow pose. “You and your stupid arm balance poses!” I thought. This sudden intensity of feeling struck me – knocked me off balance, as it were – because I like this teacher, a lot. So what was going on?

When I examined the feeling further, I realized that the hostility was actually another feeling in disguise. It was resistance.

My resistance to crow pose is understandable. I’m not terribly confident about the strength of my arms and shoulders. I’m also afraid of falling, yes. I have, after all, actually given myself a real doozie of a shiner by falling on my face in yoga class. I’m sure others can boast the same, but not many.

So whenever a teacher announces that we’re doing crow, the same question comes to my mind: “Why are you making me do something I obviously can NOT do? Are you some kind of sadistic pig?”


Let me be clear: When I say resistance, I’m not talking about La Résistance française sort. No. I’m talking about the type of resistance that is all about fear, and manifests itself as a stanch enemy of change and progress.

Resistance rears its ugly head every day, all day, sometimes from the most surprising of places, other times from an all-too-familiar place. Here are just a few of my personal trophy heads of resistance:

  1. Not doing arm balance poses
  2. Not getting up early in the morning to write on my novel
  3. Not learning to sing

My daughter, I fear, has inherited my very tough “resistance” gene. Here are her trophy heads:

  1. Not eating food (except noodles)
  2. Not getting out of bed
  3. Not doing homework
  4. Not going on hikes

This last one is a particular problem, because the rest of our family loves to hike.

For example, my thing about New Year’s is that it must include a big view. I don’t really care about the count-down of the ball dropping, or a champagne toast at midnight, but I must have my big view.

When I say “big view,” I mean it literally: a breath-taking, awe-inspiring, not-your-everyday grand vista. The big view will preferably be hard to achieve; i.e., its acquisition will require planning, driving, and, most importantly, hiking.

The hikers.

When the kids were little, we went up to Inspiration Point in Tilden Park for our big view. A few years ago we headed over to the Visitor’s Center at Mt. Tamalpais to see the entire SF Bay spread out before us.

The Brandaburs, 12/31/14, Limatour.





This year found us back at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, where we planned to do the Dipsea-Steep Ravine loop. If you are in the Bay Area, can climb down a 12-foot ladder, and haven’t yet done this hike, put it on your list.

But of course not everyone in my immediate family loves the hiking part. Not even if you promise a great view.

You see, Coco has her own natural rhythm, if you will, and it tends to be a bit slower than the rest of this fast-paced world.

CocoonLogShe’s also the littlest in the family, which means that she has to take more steps than any of the rest of us to cover the same mileage. Often her brother runs ahead, leaving her way behind, which never feels good. So on New Year’s, as soon as she heard we were hiking, she went into active protest mode, with big-time Resistance. “I’m not leaving the car!” she announced. The outlook was seeming pretty grim.

When we got to the trailhead, however, several things went in our favor. First, Tazwell suddenly became the coolest big brother ever, and found Coco a perfect hiking staff.

Legolas was with us in spirit.

Then there was the trail itself, Steep Ravine, which really is just like Rivendell. As I said to Coco, you almost expect to see Legolas striding toward you. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

Coco ran off down the trail with her brother, who for once did not leave her behind. It is a magical hike, with lush fern-covered hillsides, mossy waterfalls, burned-out redwoods, and many quaint bridges.


At the intersection of Steep Ravine and Dipsea, you can take Dipsea all the way to the beach. Instead, we turned up Dipsea to climb to the view.


There were many “chocolate” breaks along the way:

The steep part.
Brandabur boys.

So why, if Coco has such a resistance to hiking, do I push for the “big view” on New Year’s Eve?  What’s the big deal with the “big view”?

Well, I suppose it has to do with inspiration. On the eve of a new year, I want my family to be in a place where we can “breathe in” expansiveness…


…where the possibilities seem limitless…


… and where the beauty of life feels absolute.


On New Year’s Eve, we made it up to the “Hot Chocolate Rock” right at sunset. I think Coco might have had the best time of us all.


I never regret “forcing” Coco to hike, even if it’s a bit of a slog and she’s tired at the end. For one thing, having myself been a reluctant child hiker, I know hiking is something that grows on you. For another, I want my children to have nature in their lives as much as possible. Finally, I want to inspire in them the belief that, no matter the steepness of the mountain, they can make it to the top.

Along the way I try to point out wonderful things, like the deer tiptoeing down to the creek for a sip of water. We talk about the age of the trees and all that they have seen or will see. We sing silly songs and tell stories. I make sure to tell her about the other hard hikes she’s accomplished, and remind her of the amazing things she’s seen. I acknowledge that this is a hard hike, and admit my own tired legs or breathlessness, and then we look far off into the ocean to catch a glimpse of a whale spout or two. I always offer to carry her when her feet hurt. More and more, though, she’s walking the entire way herself.

Since our Steep Ravine hike, I’ve been trying to take this same attitude toward my own resistance.

So when I next went into yoga class, I said hello to my fear of arm poses. I acknowledged that my teacher was trying to inspire me to try something new. And when it came time to try crow pose, I found I could hear instructions more clearly. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Bakasana is not just an arm pose, it’s also an abdominal pose.  If I pull up on my lower stomach, it takes some the weight away from my arms.
  2. If I look forward instead of down, I won’t topple over on my face.
  3. If I wrap my shoulders like I’m in turbo dog, then I’ll have a stronger, steadier base.

I’ve now made it into crow pose for a few seconds at a time. Maybe only one second. Next time, I know I’ll still be a little afraid, but perhaps a little less resistant.

Every time, less and less so.












The Trigonometry of Life

The other morning began normally, meaning that I was doing the relatively simple geometry problem of:


  1. Calculating just how long I could let my daughter sleep (line AB),
  2. while also leaving enough time to feed her a good breakfast (line BC),
  3. before rushing off to get her to school on time (line AC),
  4. so that she can have a good day at school (equilateral triangle ABC).




After a combined total of seven years of elementary school mornings, I’ve gotten pretty good at this kind of equation. We even made it to school early!

Then I went back home. That’s when things got hard.

Coming home to a day of home-schooling with my son is a bit like coming home to a Labrador puppy who hasn’t been walked in several hours. As soon as we walk into the kitchen, he says, “What are we going to do today?”

The calculations of a home-school day are never easy. Even if I have a plan in place (line AB), he is certain to come up with his own very pressing agenda (line BC). This might involve testing out his recently constructed gold-panning sluice in the backyard, building a trebuchet, or making a map of the world.

While these activities may start at point B, I can never predict exactly how far they will extend into our day. Therefore point C is unknown, which of course makes it almost impossible to determine when we’ll get back to my plan (hypotenuse of line AC). Just how long this hypotenuse will be depends partly on the angle of my patience on that particular morning, whether it be acute, obtuse, or just right, so to speak.



This week we’ve been studying explorers. I had readings for him to do, and writing, and of course some math. But he said, “I’d like to build my own sextant and figure out how it works.”

Master & Commander, “Sextant Lesson”



It is at just these times that I feel profoundly under-qualified for my job. It is also at just these times that I feel exceptionally grateful for the internet.

I quickly found this very handy bit of curriculum, and we set to work on the sextant, which in this lesson is technically a quadrant, Tazwell pointed out.

Whether Acceffible or InAcceffible, it makes no difference.

A ruler, a protractor, a washer, a string, some tape… and we had our quadrant. Easy-peasy.

No, not easy-peasy, because then Tazwell wanted to to learn how to use his quadrant to figure out the height of a mountain. “One that you can’t climb,” he clarified.

Now, folks, I have not studied trigonometry for 30 years. Even back when I was in trigonometry, I wasn’t a great student. So I felt very ill-prepared to figure out the height of an mountain, be it “acceffible” or “inacceffible.”

Still, I pulled out the math books. Because the truth is, I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how to take the height of an inaccessible mountain, though my mountains are of the more figurative sort. They include:

  1. Finishing my novel
  2. Starting a new career
  3. Homeschooling
  4. Living on one salary in the Bay Area

Well, again thanks to the internet, I found this helpful formula, and using this wonderful home resource, we proceeded to walk through the calculations, using measurements my son had taken with his quadrant:

Determining the height of an inaccessible mountain.


The only problem was that he didn’t really care about plugging numbers into the formula. He cared about the steps behind the formula. In other words, he cared about the process.

So he re-wrote it:

tazwell's notes
Don’t worry if you can’t understand it. He does. He’ll explain it to you.

Now, what motivated him to determine the height of an inaccessible mountain is beyond me. Perhaps it was that we’d recently been in Yosemite to see the snow. Perhaps it was just that he likes to know things.


Anyhow, we spent three hours on this project. Three hours. And it was great, because my son simply LIT UP when he understood the process. This is part of the beauty of homeschooling.  And perhaps as a result of traveling that three hours with my son simply in the pursuit of knowledge, I suddenly felt as if my own inaccessible mountains might not be so terribly insurmountable.

So I wrote down my process for dealing with inaccessible mountains. See what you think:


I tried it out. I thought back to when I first started this Year of Yoga project, about four months ago. I know how I felt: Totally terrified. This was going to be yet another of those great ideas that never went anywhere, one of those projects that I started and never finished.

Well, just the other day I got a report from WordPress on my stats for 2015. I’d written 15 posts in four months! Not so bad. And already I’m a third of the way home!

This whole thing is starting to feel way more acceffible.





The Promise of Boredom

The other day a friend said to me, “I get bored in yoga classes.”

At first I thought, “Really?” But then I decided to be honest with myself and admit that I sometimes get bored with the idea of yoga, too. Sometimes I get bored in class; mostly I get bored with the idea of going to class.

It isn’t just yoga. When I was a long distance runner, I used to get bored with the idea of my daily run. I get bored with my healthy breakfast, or by the idea of going to bed on time.

Often I’m even bored by the idea of sitting down to write. Now that’s really crazy because, for me, life is so much better on the days that I get to write. Even so, I will do the oddest things to avoid the boredom that arises when I sit down to write: read spam email, make a schedule for when I’m going to write in the future (ha!), and yes, poke around on Facebook.

My kids complain every day about homework and music practice being boring. My daughter is truly creative when it comes to protesting against boredom, and will spend more time designing elaborate “boredom tortures” for “the guy who invented homework,” than she eventually will on the actual homework itself.


Granted, sometimes her homework is really, really boring. Lots of things are really, really boring. Folding clothes, for example. Entering data into spreadsheets. Showering. Picking up legos. Driving across Iowa.

When I was a kid and complained of boredom, my dad would make me pick bugs off the potato plants, or clean out the car, or do a “litter hunt” around our yard. My mom would say, “If you’re bored it means you’re a boring person.” (Ouch.) In both of their responses there was an inherent disdain for boredom, as well as the message that you must at all time be active in order to be a good person.

After all, idle hands are the devil’s playthings.

But is boredom really so bad as all that?

Yes, of course. If you’re talking about the kind of boredom over which there is no control, such as for prisoners, or for workers who perform repetitive tasks for long shifts, like factory workers or air traffic controllers or miners. In these cases, there is no place for boredom to take you; you’re just stuck in boredom and it can be deadly, not just because it results in loss of attention and accidents, but because it steals away humanity.


But I’m not talking about that kind of enforced, prolonged, inhumane boredom. No. Because if I were dealing with that kind of boredom, I wouldn’t be writing a silly blog about yoga, would I?

But I am writing a silly blog about yoga, and so the kind of boredom I’m talking about, I would argue, is not the stuff of devilment.

So why such a fear of boredom? Why is boredom so equated with danger?

Well, put kids on a playground with organized activities, with structures and rules, and very few kids will get hurt. But give those kids an empty parking lot and maybe a stick… and expect bruises or scrapes or even stitches and arm casts, because anything can happen when a kid is bored. Every parent can tell you as much. Yes, sometimes they put the littlest one in an empty barrel and roll her down the hill. But sometimes they build a fort, or paint a picture, or write a story.  Sometimes they get out their instruments and form a band.

The truth is, boredom is incredibly fertile ground for creativity and (gasp!) change.

How often, during the most mindless of activities, does that creative inspiration strike, like a tiny lightening bolt to the gray matter? Maybe it jolts loose the solution to a scene in a novel, or sparks an idea about how to approach some parenting challenge. My husband once had the entire melody to a new song come to him while raking pine needles in my mom’s yard. I can’t tell you how many times a perfect line of dialogue has popped into my mind when I’m brushing my teeth.

Why does inspiration so often strike during boredom? Perhaps it is because, when we are bored, we actually begin to think in a different way. So often these days our minds are actively engaged or entertained or otherwise problem-solving, working too hard and fast to take time for reflection or wonder. But when our minds are released from a structured activity or from a frenetic pace, and put into a “boring” place, perhaps folding underwear, or waiting for the commuter train with a dead cell phone, our thoughts take flight from boredom before us; they wander and reflect, discover, make connections, and create.

I suppose the difference between “bad” boredom and “good” boredom is whether we can move away from it, and if so, how we choose to escape it.

If we run from boredom to another entertainment, then boredom has done nothing for us. It has taken us no where and improved us in no way. If I avoid going to yoga because I want to avoid the boredom of yet another Downward Dog, and instead watch a movie or search the web, I’ve not benefited from boredom. This is just inertia in disguise.

But if I go to the same old yoga class with the same old instructor in the same old studio, and do the same old sun salutations for the boring 4,085th time, what might I discover? What new insight might I have? Perhaps I will recognize that the way my bunions cause me to carry my weight on the outside of my feet in turn leaves my inner knees weak and prone to injury. Or perhaps, suffering yet again through an extended Warrior II, I might come up with my next exciting blog post. Both have happened – and are way more likely to happen again – when I’ve accepted boredom for what it is, a necessary evil on the path to something good.



Do No Harm

I have been writing my novel for years. Seven years, to be honest. On and off.

I’ve also been raising young kids (with all that that entails… volunteering, scheduling, sick days, vacation, summer, parent conferences, etc., etc.,), and holding down the homefront from 6am to 8pm while my husband commutes four hours a day (!) and/or juggles two jobs. I, too, have worked (out of the home, yes, actually) – sometimes part-time, sometimes way more than full-time.

In an exceptionally good week, I find 20 hours to write. In a normal week, it’s probably more like six. For over a year, while I worked full-time, I didn’t write at all. Or even read much. Unless you count work emails.

Here are three things I’ve learned about writing – or not writing – these past seven years:

  1. Writing without a regular schedule is tough. Every extended break means you have to rewind. It’s like trying to watch a movie while you’re falling asleep. Your spouse keeps waking you up, but nothing in the movie makes sense. Not even when you rewind.
  2. Speaking of sleep… If you don’t get enough, you will write crap. You might as well just write down your weird dreams for all the sense it will make. Plus, falling asleep over your own words is demoralizing. If you can’t stay awake for your own story, who else will?
  3. If you’ve got money worries, it’s almost impossible to write. (Tip: Do NOT move to the Bay Area if you want to be a writer). Maybe a single person with no offspring can write even when they’re worried about money, or maybe someone farther away from retirement, but not me. I need to feel like everyone in this reality is going to be financially okay before I can start contemplating a fictional reality (oddly enough my characters have no money either).

Anyhow, after a year of so much work and no writing, I thought I’d lost my novel. I really didn’t know how or where to start again. It just seemed completely overwhelming. Sort of like getting halfway up Everest but an avalanche wipes out the trail, kills several of your hiking buddies, and breaks both your legs… and now it’s a year later and you have to start at the bottom all over again.

I could have stood at the bottom of that mountain and thought of all the many ways I’d failed, of how I’d never be able to get back to where I’d been before, much less go further. I could have criticized myself to no end.

Instead, I chose another mountain to climb. Well, hill, really.

I picked up a paintbrush and tackled my fireplace. It had been an ugly mess for years, and I just wanted some color. For a few weeks I’d pick up the brush and paint when I had a few minutes, and fill in another color. It was like putting all the pieces back together again. (It makes me happy every time I see it).


Then, while I had paintbrush in hand, I somehow found the gumption to do this blogging project.

Guess what happened next? After a few weeks of blog posts, I got excited about my novel again!

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic, she writes “Call attention to yourself with some sort of creative action, and – most of all – trust that if you make enough of a glorious commotion, eventually inspiration will find its way home to you again.” So very true.

The past month or so my struggle has not been starting up the mountain again, but finding time to do both my novel and this blog. A much better struggle, by far, than standing there at the bottom of the mountain feeling defeated and demoralized and beating myself up.

And you know what? Lots of other fun and creative projects have been coming my way, too! Here are a just a few:

Tazwell as Edmund and Coco as Regan.

I got to help my kids prepare for their roles in King Lear, put on by SF Shakes this past weekend. Wow! What a remarkable experience to see those two just rock it! Such poise and so grounded, both of them. They are amazing people and I am lucky to know them.

I’ve also been helping to promote the upcoming yoga teacher training, put on by the Yoga Well Institute, that will take place here in Berkeley in February. Last week I spent a few hours reviewing and logging video footage of Chase talking about his own training and all that the teacher training will entail. Not only was it a really fun job to do, but I came away thinking, “We are lucky to have people like Chase around in this world.”

Fantastic logo for Matt’s campaign done by the talented artist, Miriam Klein Stahl:

Finally, I’ve had the incredible experience of collaborating with Matt, my wonderfully talented husband, to launch his Indiegogo campaign for his new album. His lyrics are poetic, philosophical, and courageous. I’m so excited that he’s finally going to record his new songs and share them with everyone!  Check it out!

All the while, I’ve been working my way steadily up the mountainside of my novel. I’ve been able to write some scenes that before seemed just impossible to even approach, and I’ve also figured out some crucial plot points.

I’m not saying writing has all of a sudden become easy. There still isn’t enough time or money to write as much as I’d like. I still struggle to get good sleep.

And terrible, terrible things happen in the world that just seem to halt all forward momentum of creativity.

Saturday morning, I was halfway through this post when I learned of the Paris attacks. I didn’t know how to keep writing. Then, in yoga class, Marisha (one of my favorite instructors), spoke of dedicating our practice to ahimsa, or nonviolence and compassion. And I realized that to allow the violence done in Paris to defeat creativity would be to throw another victim on the pile, and to give himsa, injury or harm, another victory.

Every time we pick up a paintbrush, sing a song, plant a garden, see a play, or even cook a good meal, we are bringing inspiration and beauty and love to the world. We are practicing ahimsa.

So today I am dedicating this post, and all the creativity that has come my way these past few months, to ahimsa, and to the people of Paris and Beirut. And I am going to keep hiking up my mountain.