I turn 45 Sunday. Last month my body began celebrating by throwing me hot flashes in lieu of a party. They’re like a personal, internal fireworks show. So I’ll be ringing in this birthday standing hot, alone, and naked outside on the deck, staring up at the stars at 3 a.m., trying to catch a breeze so I can go back to sleep. That may sound like a complaint but it’s not. This new body? The one who demands I strip to sleep and insists that I move open-eyed and naked like an animal in the darkness in search of breeze on my face? I like her. I like her a lot. She makes being a poet a literal breeze.
Here at 45, I’m done sugar coating things for myself and others.
Here at 45, I am enough. Just me. Just here. Sans lists. Without doing, fixing, stressing, worrying, or shopping to relax. Most days, I am enough now. Just me. The me that’s drinking green tea and taking Evening Primrose Oil supplements to cool down, turning loose pieces of paper into makeshift fans, and rediscovering star-gazing, sweatily, in the middle of the night. In fact, I’m more than enough. Here at 45, I’m totally bad ass.
In part, because I have to be. As youth fades, you become invisible to many of the parts of the world that you cultivated before. I’m making peace with that. Learning to cultivate new worlds, new friends, new ways of being. Learning to be as content moving alone in the darkness as I am moving visibly, collectively with friends in the daylight.
I used to avoid giving advice like the plague. I’m not a fan of receiving unsolicited advice myself. Bleh.
And, if you liked that me, this may not be the post for you…
In the fire of family pain and the death of friends this year, I became a dragon and I burned my to-do lists to ash. My daily to-do list now isn’t a list at all. It’s two interwoven mantras:
- I Love You
- Fuck This
I say I Love You to the world, myself, and others as often as I can now. And I say Fuck This (or Fuck That or Fuck It, I like to mix it up) almost as often now too.
Beyond these mantras and my writing (where I get to play with these mantras in infinite variety) everything else I do now is icing on the cake: great when it happens, not so terrible when it doesn’t.
At 45 I have failed. I have fallen apart. I have lost loved ones. I have broken down. I have looked like an idiot. I have not gotten nearly enough done. Regularly. I’ve learned that all these things are ok. I’m ok when they’re happening (even while sobbing or screaming to cope). I’m ok after they’ve happened. Often better than ok. It’s these things that have made me the bad ass that I am now: a person who fails, falls apart, receives loss, breaks down, looks like an idiot, doesn’t get nearly enough done, says Fuck It, I Love You, laughs with friends and family, and moves on.
- Say I Love You often
- Say Fuck This often
There’s my list for now. Possibly my last list. Who knows?
Writer Anne Lamott would call these words prayers. You’re welcome to do so, I Love You. And calling them prayers, for me, doesn’t feel genuine, so Fuck It, that’s not what I call them. For me they’re mantras: words I repeat throughout the day to remind me of my true self, my deep connection to everything, and my own freedom to choose disconnection in any moment, too. Some days I practice them. Some days they’re habit within me and keep me present despite myself. To pull/push them toward being habit every day, I’m learning to involve my whole body in them. I try to hear myself say the words, when possible. Try to use appropriate gestures, too. Or do my own special dances or songs, to accompany the words, when possible. I try to be present enough to witness the rippling impacts of my doing so.
Here’s one story from my life in which dragon-me burned away the To Dos until only I Love You and Fuck This remain…
Every day I log in to the human world as an indie author: a world that is chaotic, loud, demanding, contradictory, and often unkind. It tells me to get an agent. To do book proposals. To make business plans. To go to an endless stream of conferences and workshops and seminars and readings and networking events. To get degrees. To do proposals and pitches. To create an author platform. To live on social media, storytelling, and reader sites. To make friends with all local book sellers. To do in-bookstore readings. To visit book clubs. To teach. To grasp how to sell books and ebooks online on a dozen new and constantly shifting platforms. To read everything everybody else (who is really good) has ever written. To have a monthly newsletter. To work only with the best. To have perfect covers and keywords and descriptions and perfectly edited work and to pay for all this complementary expertise magically, somehow, out of pocket before I myself am making a living as an author. To get blurbs of praise to put on my book covers ahead of time. To never include color images in books. And good God never include color images in poetry books. To ask more for my books. To ask less for my books. To give books away for free. To never give away books for free. To have an in-depth Press page. To finish and publish covers months ahead of time. To create art beyond the written word, which is, we’re sorry, dead. To focus on just one genre. To build deep community within one genre. To ignore genre. To write for a cause. To never write for a cause. And most importantly, to be writing every day, all the time, and do nothing else.
Enough. Fuck This. You know, I think I truly, deeply learned this technique by watching my mom, who has Alzheimer’s disease, learn to do this first.
With Fuck This’ help, two years ago I moved to an island where I now spend hours in silence and hours in nature each day. I spend three days alone writing most weeks. I spend one night a week talking and eating and relaxing with close women friends. I spend two days working side by side with my partner Daniel and one or two days relaxing. Or some variation of the above. It was my own Fuck This that returned me to me. That returned me to I Love You. I’m finding that our Fuck This is wildly, uniquely our own and our I Love Yous look different too. Yet within us, they feel remarkably similar.
I Love You silence, trees, birds, whales, rocks, driftwood, wind, rain, sunshine, sand, warm days, sunsets, chilly nights, making things with my hands, talking with family, and meeting my people: the random people wandering in dog parks and on beaches and creative indie humans scattered around the world.
I Love You, reading books and writing books. I Love You, friends and family who help me create, share, gift, and sometimes sell books. I Love You self-publishing world that allows me to play with everything, including doing everything at a seasonal, tidal, poet’s pace and redefining what a book, a series, a genre, a writer, and an artist even is. I Love You, humans willing to be human together. People who look at what being “An Expert” or “An Artist” or “A Perfect Parent” or “A Teacher” or “A Woman” in the old world meant and say Fuck That.
I Love You, parents, who recently decided to move and join us here on the island, where we’ll all get better at saying Fuck This together.
When I wake up tonight at 3 a.m., in a puddle of sweat, neck on fire, I will begin by whispering Fuck This. Then I will rise, move out onto the deck into the night, look out at the ocean, up at the stars, and whisper I Love You.
We are one now—this ocean, these stars, and I—so one I Love You covers it. And when one I Love You covers it, it becomes easier to say Fuck It to everything else. Including to-do lists.