Sunday, January 28, 2018

Essay 5: On Being (Not) Still

This is "Deep Thoughts #3" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some so-called deep thoughts. :)

I cannot be still.

I know, I know: what you say is what you will become. I should, instead, say, I try my damnedest to be still and sometimes it happens, sometimes not.

I’ve been reading (on and off) Deepak Chopra’s Seven SpiritualLaws of Success. I can’t quite get myself to just sit down and read it all at once. I don’t know why. Could be the layout of the book. The manner in which is it written. Or it could just be me, not in a place to receive the messages he’s telling me. I read a little and then I put it down, carry the book with me everywhere, but don’t open it up again until days later (if I’m lucky). Instead, I open Ellen Bass’s The Human Line. Or Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I don’t get it. I’m all about the yogic philosophy and spiritual practices. Chopra’s book outlines things I’m already aware of and reinforces these ideas –and maybe that’s it, the reason why I’m not done with the book already. Maybe I'm looking to learn something new. (Though isn't everything an opportunity to learn? Perhaps it's something else then.)

Anyway, I digress.

In the book, he talks about the Law of Pure Potentiality. (Yes, that’s chapter 1. This is how slow I’m reading a short book, which I “started” in the fall.) He talks about accessing this potential by being still, by sitting in silence, by meditating. Sounds good to me, right? I meditate every day. Twice a day.

But wait. My meditations are not sitting in silence. Often, I have a chant or mantra playing (or I’m chanting myself). There is power in sound and I am using it. On the other hand, there is also power in silence. Quite a dilemma.

I know, I know: I can hear the peanut gallery now: you meditate twice a day – just make one with chanting and one with silence. But that’s not the problem. The problem is stillness.

Lately –since the start of the new year, actually—my meditations have been difficult. My mind refuses to be still. Which is not to say that prior to this, my mind had been successful in achieving stillness, but that I have been able to go deep within and connect with Self, even if only for a few moments. Now? Now, I am all over the place. Like the Road Runner caught in a labyrinth trying to find my way out but moving so fast that I go down every path and miss the turns and slam into dead ends and try to back up but forgot where I came from and so end up repeating certain paths.


My friend Eugene reminds me that the most important thing is to just show up.

But you know, the judgmental ego says: yeah yeah whatever – that’s not good enough.

I have so many things I wanted to write about for this week’s essay. I’ve been thinking about the soundtracks to our lives and once again, wondering if we can reset the memories associated with certain songs. I’ve experimented and I wanted to write about that. I’ve also been thinking about race (what else is new??), but specifically in two instances: 1.) as a mother of color to biracial daughters – thinking about what messages our culture sends to them (white & thin is beautiful, for example) and how to, not only subvert that, but equip them with tools that challenge the status quo while celebrating who they are as they are; and 2.) the relationships across race that have been tested and possibly broken due to our current political landscape (I’m being intentionally vague here, because there is a lot to unpack –and I will write that essay for sure.) Also, I want to write about depression and anxiety, about people’s relationship with mental illness, about how stigmas and presumptions can cause real damage, about how we need to figure out the best, most effective ways of interacting with those in our lives who suffer on the inside.

See? There’s a lot brewing in my head. But I can’t sit still long enough to just listen to the silence, to be in the silence. Because perhaps there is something (likely the Self) whispering in that silence, telling me something important, something useful, something loving.

Being still sometimes feels scary because of what we might hear. Because what we find may be the thing we want to deny. Maybe the thing we find is the truth of ourselves that we do not want to face.

Eugene asked me: how do you do it? How do you do it all? I’ve been asked this question on more than one occasion. I do a lot. Between raising three kids (and acting as mom taxi for swimming, basketball, piano, and ballet), a teaching job, teaching yoga at two studios, going through Kundalini teacher training, running a household, and, oh yeah, writing – I don’t know how I do it. Honestly, I don’t. I know I get less sleep than most people. So there’s that.

But this is what I see: I do all of this because I am running. Whatever is chasing me (demons of all kinds), I am trying to outrun them. Which is why I think I have a hard time being still. Sure, I can sit on my cushion and physically sit still. But my mind? Wheels are spinning at a thousand miles per hour. But you know what? I can’t outrun them. They’ll catch up to me pretty soon. And then what? I don’t know. Maybe I should work a little harder on that stillness. Which means I have to also work on surrender. Eek. Maybe I can get through Chopra’s book to arm myself for spiritual success so that when they do catch up to me, I am prepared.


(*Side note: I also have to work on being more kind to myself. This is for another installment of "Deep Thoughts".)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Essay 4: Writing that MeToo Story

This is "Deep Thoughts #2" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some so-called deep thoughts. :)

There is a writing contest being run by Memoir Magazine. This is not unusual for a literary journal to hold a contest. Writers and poets submit their best work, an editorial staff reads it, a judge –usually one of established reputation—makes the final decision on a winner. We’re not going to get into the complications and problems of writing contests here – that’s for another post. What I want to talk about is Memoir Magazine’s contest. They’re calling for submissions of MeToo stories.


I’m all for women speaking out about their experiences with sexual violence and sexual harassment. I’m all for each person to tell their story. These stories matter. We need to hear them and we need to see each person for who they are, for the experiences they had to endure. We need to believe them and to support them. We need to think more critically about how to work towards changing our cultural norms, about what’s okay and what’s not. (Don’t get me started on the whole "Grace" & Aziz Ansari crap and how people are trying to define what happened. You weren’t there so shut up. I have thoughts about this but I am too exhausted to put energy into writing about it. Plenty of people have already expressed my same sentiments. Here is one example.)


Is it me, or does it feel weird to enter a contest with your most personal, traumatic story about something like sexual violence? I feel like I’m pimping out my trauma for some cash and recognition. While Memoir Magazine does its best to state that they “love Truth” and they believe that “your story matters”, why does this feel icky? Is it just me? It’s already difficult enough to tell our stories, to have to relive our traumas in the writing and telling of our stories. But then to have it “compete” against other stories in which the authors have likely been re-traumatized in the retelling? It feels vicious.  Yes, our stories matter. Yes, it’s important to tell them. Yes, it’s important to hear them. But in a contest? I don’t know.

And then imagine winning that contest. “Hey everyone! Great news! I was just won a contest where I trotted out my worst personal trauma for all the world to see. How cool is that?!”

Uh, yeah. No.

I understand that Memoir Magazine is trying to honor the voices of those who choose to speak up and speak out about sexual violence, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. The Rumpus is a good example of what is helpful. They have a new weekly column called “Enough” that appears every Tuesday in which they feature a handful of MeToo stories to spotlight just how rampant rape culture is. Each person is given a place to speak. And importantly, not in competition with another’s story.

I just read Alison B. Hart’s “How to Write a MeToo Story” in LitHub. It hits the mark.

I’ve been thinking about writing my story for some time now. I’ve written about it for the last twenty years –mostly in poems, mostly through really obtuse metaphors. I’ve never written about it in prose, in a straight up “this is what happened” story. A couple of years ago, Roxane Gay put out a call for submissions for her new anthology, Not That Bad (which is coming out in May. Yes!!), asking for stories that relate to rape culture. This was well before MeToo. I took that as an opportunity to write down my story. It was fucking hard. On all levels. You want talk about re-traumatized? Damn. But I did it. I wrote it. Kinda. It was framed as a cautionary tale to my young undergraduate women students. Not quite the bald-faced “this happened to me” story, but it was a start. No, the story did not get accepted by Roxane, but that’s okay – the writing needed a lot more work. What I was grateful for was the push to write the story in the first place. That helped start the ball rolling for true healing. And so much has happened since. Good and difficult things.

So while I will not be submitting my story to Memoir Magazine, I will write it down and share it as I see fit. We need to ask ourselves if what we share will help us in our healing or if it will hinder us. After all, look at what happened to "Grace". We need to choose actions that will benefit, nor harm, us. And if that means telling our stories to our best friend and no one else, then so be it. As long as our silence is not held within.

Sending love to my fellow survivors--

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Setting Intention (Essay 3, or the new Essay 1?)

This is "Deep Thoughts #1" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some deep thoughts. :)

The year is fourteen days old. We’re practically halfway through January. It is the start of Week 3. Here I am, writing my first post. I am a tiny bit late. (For the record, I did write Essay 1 & 2, but felt "meh" about it. So why not start fresh with something I feel good about ?)

My superstitions tell me that this will be an indication of what my year will be like: I will be late. To everything. (Which, to be honest, isn’t much different from last year – haha!) I try to resist this thinking, but it’s hard when you grew up in a family whose existence is braided with superstitions. I mean, do we really believe that we’ll have an unexpected guest if we drop a utensil on the floor? (If it’s a fork, it’ll be a male guest. If a spoon, female. I have no idea why. I asked both my parents & grandparents and they have no idea. Filipinos & their superstitions, man.) Still, we superstitious folks hold on to these things as, uh, “interesting” ways to set our intentions. I’m curious: does anyone else put quarters out on your porch on New Year’s Eve to draw in prosperity (a custom Hubs did as a kid – its origins are unknown)? Or wear red, again for prosperity (a custom we Filipinos borrowed from the Chinese)?

I want to do two things here:
1. I will not let these first two weeks determine the outcome of the next fifty.
2. I will deliberately, purposefully, mindfully set intentions for 2018.


Expectations are a funny thing. What are they exactly? We’re often told to have high hopes but low expectations. What does that really mean? Hope for the best. Expect the worst. What kind of thinking is that? How confusing to the Self! We all do it, I know. I also know that it’s a protective measure. Apply for the job –go all out—but prepare yourself to not get hired. At least the disappointment won’t be so bad. Isn’t that setting yourself up? If our thoughts help create our reality, aren’t we already defeating our efforts by thinking in this way?


Last year was quite a feat for me. To write 52 essays in 52 weeks was nothing short of a miracle. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to the Challenge. I was eager to write, brimming with plenty to say. I was eager to let go of perfectionism and just publish rough drafts. I just didn’t know how much actual time –as in, actual minutes and hours—it would take to write these essays. It took a lot. So I’ve been thinking about the Challenge for this year, turning it over in my hands, examining its weight, its crevices, its curves like a river stone.

Because I know what it was like, I am a little hesitant to commit to 52 essays in 52 weeks. I want to make use of my time in a different way. And while the practice of writing is, in and of itself, useful, I already spent a year doing that. Now I’m asking: how will I engage with the practice of writing this year? My dear dear friend Ross wrote what he calls “delights” – every day for a year. That book, The Book of Delights, will be coming soon from Algonquin Press. I could try that: write a delight each day. But I am not like Ross, who sees the world with such joy even in the face of tragedy and despair. He is a gift of a person. Truly. If I were to attempt this, I would probably just grow resentment in my garden of failure, watering it with tears of “not good enough” and “this sucks” until I had a full bloom of pitch black blossoms, packed with thorns.

Yeah. That’s me. This garden sounds about right. Hah!

So what to do instead? I’m not sure. I’m mulling it over. But in the meantime, I will jot down some thoughts here –maybe on a weekly basis. Just to keep the writing practice going regularly. Maybe something like “Deep Thoughts With Leslieann” (I was reminded of that old SNL bit “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy” on a friend’s FB page – it was pretty funny). That title alone gets me in a playful mood so I won’t feel pressure to have to be thoughtful or serious. I could just joke around about whatever was on my mind that day. Or muse over the latest spiritual breakthrough (or cry about it, depending. Haha!)

Yes. This will be my writing intention for the year. At least for this blog.

The other writing? Well, I’m hoping to finish my poetry manuscript. But that can only happen if I’m actually writing and revising it, actually working on it, instead of doing whatever else I do with my time.

(Come to think of it, maybe I should do a time audit. See where I’m at and then plan out my time accordingly. To be mindful, intentional in how I spend my time. For real.)

(And no, this is not me being hard on myself – this is me trying to hold myself accountable. Me being hard on myself? Hah! You should see that one! Hmmm… maybe that’s the next “deep thoughts” so-called essay. Heh heh…)

So while the first two weeks of the year have been slow-going and really rough for me, I will not let that dictate the next 50 weeks. I will acknowledge it and keep moving. We cannot change the past but we can learn from it. We cannot predict the future, despite what our past experiences might tell us –nothing ever goes the same way twice. We can only be here, present in the now. (How’s that for deep thoughts?!) So, sit back, sip that tea, nibble that chocolate and enjoy your time here. I want this to be a year of self-kindness and love.


Disclaimer: There may be posts in which I’m in no mood for love or compassion or joy or peace of self-kindness. I reserve the right to say “Fuck” a lot and bitch and moan and vent… as long as I bring a little self-awareness to the table. J Namaste, bitches! Hahaha! *muwah!*

my intention bracelet with the word for 2018: authentic