The Manifesto

So, my dear friends, I have an announcement:
I have just published a self-help book. I wanted to say “a sort of self-help book,” but I don’t think it would fit into many other categories. Something about philosophy, perhaps? Or spirituality? But not quite. Not really either of those.
It’s a book. A short book, which should make for a quick read. I self-published it through Amazon. It is called The Manifesto. In it I list 10 ideas that help me to feel freer to be my own authentic self. I talk a bit about each idea, trying to explain and clarify. I give a few suggestions for exercises that might be helpful for readers, things I do myself. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I don’t suggest that my perspectives are the only “right” ones. In the end, I challenge readers to write their own manifestos for their own freer lives.
Why did I write this little book, when I’m a literary poet and creative nonfiction writer? Well—it felt urgent. It pushed at me. It seemed important. As I wrote it, I thought of the people I have been privileged to support through difficult times. I thought of the students who have cried in my office (NOT because I made them cry, but because I just listened). I thought of how much it would have meant to me if someone had said, years ago, that it might be helpful to try to stop judging myself. I thought maybe a few people will read this, and it will say something they need to hear. I thought, if even one person reads it and it says one thing that person needed to hear, then it is a good thing.
I’m not a self-help expert. I’m not a doctor, yogi, therapist, philosopher, or guru. I’m just a teacher, writer, reader, friend. I meditate, but not, I admit, every day. I think a lot of different groups are onto a lot of really important stuff, but for me, no single formulated ideology gets everything right for all of us all the time. I think the biggest job each of us has in this life is to try to figure out ourselves and the world, and any tool that helps with that job is worth trying. And I think you, my friends, are very, very smart, and already on the path of figuring out yourselves and the world, and if anything I say can support you in that endeavor, then I’ll be honored.
Another question: why did I choose to self-publish, starting with Kindle, through Amazon, a company some people have political difficulties with? Really, I just wanted to get the book out. I wanted to have complete control over it. I didn’t want to have long conversations with editors about making it “sexier” for the “market.” And I wanted the process to be very simple and very easy for me, so I could spend my time writing, reading, and teaching. I’m sorry if it is politically problematic for any of you. There will be a print version, also through Amazon, but that’s the next step for my tireless and saintly friend, Jim Miller, who has already volunteered his expertise to format the book for Kindle. If you don’t own a Kindle, incidentally, you can get the Kindle app for free on any computer, tablet, or cell phone. Or you can wait for the print version, which we hope will be available soon.
At this point, I will try to split my posts into “more literary” things that I put on this blog, and “more manifesto-related” things that I put on my other blog. I hope you will dip in and read either or both, and perhaps get something from the reading.
Boundless love and gratitude to all of you. 

November Grief

This Thanksgiving–the Sunday after Thanksgiving, actually–it will have been six years since my mother died.

The grief is like a cocklebur I have picked up on a walk somewhere, stuck to the back of my shirt. I feel a scrape when November starts, but it goes away and I forget. Some part of me knows there’s pain back there, so I spend a lot of time leaning forward without remembering why. And then plans for Thanksgiving finalize, and it’s like leaning back so the stinging bits of the burr finally push through my shirt. Oh yeah! That’s what it is. This is the anniversary of the loss of my mother, her absence from this world. No wonder it hurts.

If you’ve ever tried to remove a cocklebur from your clothing, you know it’s an imprecise process. The thing comes apart, each little hooked spine trying to stay embedded in the fabric. Even after you take the shirt off, even after you wash it, you might find bits of it scratching at your skin.

I know people feel differently about marking the anniversaries of painful events. Some believe that ritual gives us comfort, and maybe that’s true. For me, I need to mark the anniversary of my mother’s death–to remember it–because if I try to forget, the feelings cling to me anyway. I go around hunched and jumpy and not really sure why. That’s opens the door to self-judging, as I think I have no reason to feel bad and why don’t I just stop moping already? And then I remember. Or I don’t, but my sister reminds me, and then we both remember.

And, remembering, we recognize grief. Yes, that’s what is hurting. That hurt is never going to go away completely–a hooked spine will poke and scratch me at random, forever. But I know what it is. I can see it, examine it, feel it. And thereby make space in my awareness for all the other things I’m experiencing, as the days get shorter and we approach the winter solstice and holiday celebrations.

Maybe I’ll start making this year’s Christmas playlist.