May 29, 2009

Guest Blogger: Maya Stein (my friend and favorite poet)


Maybe it’s all these years in tutti-frutti Northern California, or the decade spent in the cycle of New England seasons, but I’ve become very susceptible to the notions of renewal and rebirth. I love the idea of starting over, wiping the slate clean, and creating rituals around de-cluttering, deconstructing, de-stuffing my life and trying to get back to a state of purity, simplicity, and ease.

At the same time, I’ve also become enamored with states of in-betweenness. The places of not quite and almost. These are places of occasional mess and upheaval, disorder and dilemma, and they can be wonderfully creative landscapes to play in. I say “play” because I think there’s a misconception about what being in a state of in-betweenness means, and it could be a lot more interesting (and certainly more constructive) if we stop seeing it as a way station between here (where we are) and there (where we want to be).

In a few days, I’m leaving for a week-long bicycle journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS/LifeCycle event, which raises money for AIDS research and supports people living with HIV/AIDS. I have spent almost 6 months training for this 7-day, 545-mile trip, but despite this fact, I’ve had a million thoughts of “I’m not ready.” Like I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t trained enough, hadn’t prepared enough mentally. I was concerned that the miles and heat and grueling hills would prove insurmountable. And it was only the other morning, in the middle of a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, that I had an epiphany. What if there was no such thing as “hot” or “windy” or “freezing?” What if it was just called “weather”? What if I stopped thinking in terms of miles and used the word “space” instead? And what if there was no such thing as “uphill” or “downhill” and it was simply called “the path”? When I let myself relax into this place of non-judgment, of neutrality, I began to forget about the way the wind was whipping me around on the span, threatening to topple me from my bike. I stopped noticing the cold, how I should have put on another layer, maybe covered my ears. I could ignore the traffic, and even the fact that I’d left my bike shoes at someone’s house and had to manage on my pedal clips with my tennis sneakers. I forgot about how far I was going. And I found myself edging away from that potential discomfort and unease and moving, instead, into a feeling of being completely okay. It was just weather. The distance was just space. I was just on a path.

What does this have to do with rebirth or renewal, or for that matter, with states of in-betweenness? I think it’s easy for us to think that if we clear enough space and create a ritual around simplifying our life, something new will open up and we will be able to identify and advance toward what we want, what we’re meant to be. And yes, sometimes it’s true – we really need to slash and burn in order to get down to what matters, to get back to ourselves again. But “starting over” can also be an illusion, a distraction, a way to get out of touch with where we are. It can make us think something is wrong with our present tense, or more specifically, that something is wrong with us. That we need to make grand, sweeping changes in order to reconfigure, recharge, be reborn. But where we are can actually have lots of information and instruction for us, lots of color and shape and wisdom and opportunity. It can be a place to spring from, not escape, a launching pad rather than a dead end.

We are so hard on ourselves, trying to be superheroes all the time, expecting enormous things to happen so quickly and efficiently and perfectly. We get impatient, think ourselves inexpert, foolish, graceless, wasteful, doddering, tedious, afraid, weak, less than. We forget who we are. We forget what we know. And we forget what we’re capable of, exactly as we are with exactly what we know. Maybe we can learn to be a little gentler on ourselves. To stop telling ourselves we need to change so much so soon. This is the weather. This is space. This is the path we’re on. It’s expansive and gorgeous and rich with possibility, and best of all, it’s ours. Why would we want to start anywhere else?


how to climb a mountain

Make no mistake. This will be an exercise in staying vertical.
Yes, there will be a view, later, a wide swath of open sky,
but in the meantime: tree and stone. If you're lucky, a hawk will
coast overhead, scanning the forest floor. If you're lucky,
a set of wildflowers will keep you cheerful. Mostly, though,
a steady sweat, your heart fluttering indelicately, a solid ache
perforating your calves. This is called work, what you will come to know,
eventually and simply, as movement, as all the evidence you need to make
your way. Forget where you were. That story is no longer true.
Level your gaze to the trail you're on, and even the dark won't stop you.

You can find Maya's poetry on her web site, and more of her prose here.

Posted on May 29, 2009 09:55 AM

thank you for these beautiful words, the perspective and resonance of them are so amazing. i am not sure if times in our life open us up to the words or experiences we need to be nourished or intuition drives us to them, in either case thank you, thank you, thank you...exactly what i needed!

Posted by: dani keith at June 10, 2009 01:54 PM

My clean, well-lit path recently became so twisted and dark I can barely face it. Bad health, shakey employment, kids to take care of. I should be picking out swimsuits and putting a deposit down on vacation getaways, sipping cold wine by the pool, not looking up at a very scary mountain of uncertainty and wondering how I will ever make it. But walk it I must, and climb it I will. When these trying times are behind me and I pause to take in the beauty of the view from the top I will remember the words and people that inspired me to keep at it. Thank you!

Posted by: Kate E at June 3, 2009 08:53 AM

As always, Maya, your words hit me in just the right place and just the right time. Weather. Space. Movement. Life. The path. My path. Motherhood. Marriage - crossing the huge and windy and unstable span of both, as well as all the other spans I seem to be on at the moment, wondering if, no when, I will be blown off. And accepting that spills happen - often. And, thanks be to God, getting up and getting back on happen also.

Superhero-ism is exhausting. It truly is.

thank you.

Posted by: GailNHB at June 2, 2009 08:35 AM

This poem is exactly what I needed to read today. I'm joining a web-friend and several others in a 100-day project, creating 100 pieces in as many days. What a blessing to read this today, with my new journey beginning tomorrow.

Thank you!

Posted by: Amanda at May 31, 2009 02:09 PM

This poem is exactly what I needed to read today. I'm joining a web-friend and several others in a 100-day project, creating 100 pieces in as many days. What a blessing to read this today, with my new journey beginning tomorrow.

Thank you!

Posted by: Amanda at May 31, 2009 02:09 PM

what an incredible bit of insight. so exactly what i needed to read, absorb and reflect on. thank you so much!

Posted by: danikeith at May 31, 2009 04:57 AM

Wow. Talk about synchronicity.

As I was *literally* clicking my bookmark to get here, I was thinking that I really *need* to get a divorce.

But just can't right now. Insufficient income, two kids to support, and so on.

I'm in that messy middle place that I want to avoid, that I wish would just go away, and what I really need to do is LIVE through it, in all its messy glory.

Thanks for a great post.

Posted by: Andrea at May 30, 2009 10:25 PM

yes yes yes :)

Posted by: celisa at May 30, 2009 08:28 PM

exactly what i needed to hear today. thank you maya.

Posted by: s at May 30, 2009 05:08 PM

what an incredible post. especially the part about weather, space, the path. that was really enlightening to me. this has changed my perspective!

Posted by: Amber at May 30, 2009 07:47 AM

brilliant. my body is still absorbing this huge and beautiful gift. your words. the ones i needed to hear at just this moment. the weather. space. the path. yes, indeed. thank you, maya. my gratitude is immense.

Posted by: qmama at May 30, 2009 06:55 AM

I loved this post. Thank you for all of the words. And enjoy the ride! I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back last year, and that felt like an adventure for me, but to experience the journey by bike! Oh... yes, what a path.

Posted by: Imelda/GreenishLady at May 30, 2009 02:29 AM

Maya, thank you for your words. There must be something in the air today. I just blogged about a similar idea and loved coming here and finding reinforcement at just the right moment. I am starting something new, but in a more grounded, playful way than I have in the past. And it's allowed me to sit back and enjoy the process in a way I never have in the past.

Here's to the path (bike or otherwise)!

Posted by: darrah at May 29, 2009 09:38 PM

Have a great ride, Maia! I'll be out near hwy 92 cheering and will look for you. You are prepared, know what to do, and will shine. Really.

Posted by: Jen at May 29, 2009 05:47 PM

How insightful and timely! Thank you. :)

Posted by: Steph at May 29, 2009 03:50 PM

Beautiful post and beautiful poem. Very helpful thoughts about looking at everyday situations in a different way. Thanks :)

Posted by: Rhiannon at May 29, 2009 02:54 PM

this was exactly the nudge i've been needing. thank you.

Posted by: kathygrace at May 29, 2009 02:32 PM

Oh, now, this is the stuff. Because sometimes rebirth isn't possible, sometimes you can't clear and declutter. Sometimes you have to work with what you have right now, who you are right now... and that's where the real work always really begins.

Lovely. Thank you Maya, I love this.

Posted by: Meg at May 29, 2009 01:45 PM

Maya, love this. Love the discovery you made on your ride, your choice of words, the expression. Now I just must find a way to synthesize into my life and thoughts.

Good luck on the ride!

Posted by: deezee at May 29, 2009 12:42 PM

Maya, love this. Love the discovery you made on your ride, your choice of words, the expression. Now I just must find a way to synthesize into my life and thoughts.

Good luck on the ride!

Posted by: deezee at May 29, 2009 12:41 PM

these words are so healing to me at the moment.
just exactly what my heart needed to hear.


Posted by: maggie ann. at May 29, 2009 12:20 PM

beautiful Maya - love her words, her wisdom and her courage! xo

Posted by: stef at May 29, 2009 12:03 PM