November: National Guilt Month

Fallen leaves against grass and asphalt
The colors of November always surprise me — fading glory, but still glorious.

November is many things: my least favorite month of the year, one long sugar hangover between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the void into which the long evenings of autumn light become the sudden dusk of winter nights. It’s Movember, when men, women, and cars sprout moustaches to remind us that men should have shower cards too. It’s National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for those of us too hip to pronounce entire words). It’s Grateful November. In 2010, it was my own NaPoWriMo for about four days.

All of these 30-day, month-long commitments, all of these mutually supported do-good movements are great. They’re wonderful. They’re a sign of the in-gathering that is winter in the northern hemisphere: after the expansive summer and the exhausting harvest, the drawing together of the tribe around the fire to tell stories and… tweet about how many words they’ve written.

And for a perfectionist like me, they can also be a huge set-up for over-commitment and failure. Historically, November has been the worst month for me to do just about anything but plod along and show up day by day. The body knows this very well, but the mind forgets on a regular basis.

So this November, I resolve to do everything imperfectly. I will get my ass out of bed on a daily basis — imperfectly. I will express gratitude imperfectly, sometimes with mere gestures and sometimes with more sincerity. I will write haiku and journal imperfectly. I will update this blog imperfectly–perhaps weekly, perhaps less. I will join in the Dverse Poets community when it’s reasonable for me to do so, not each and every week, no matter how many times my calendar reminds me to.

I will conduct the next two sessions of my writing workshop imperfectly, doing my best to inspire and be inspired, enjoying the unfolding relationships developing among us all– and feeling lucky to be teaching writing, something so near and so dear and so close to my heart.

Imperfectly, I will accept the blessings and the gifts each day has to give me. And I will forgive myself for my own imperfections, give myself as many breaks and second chances as I need, and relax about whether I’m doing my imperfect November as imperfectly as I would like.

The Drama of the Disoriented Traveler

M thought we’d postpone the trip until June, but he underestimated the pull of California. I may be Yankee-bred, but I’m California-born, and that handful of years I spent there shifted me in some fundamental way a born-and-bred New Englander can’t comprehend. If I don’t feel the humid air and smell the eucalyptus once a year — preferably before the cherry blossoms burst out on the East Coast — I get very cranky. And nobody likes a cranky Okelle.

So what if we had just expended time and energy taking two households and combining them into one? Since when has an empty bank account — or exhaustion — ever stopped me from hopping on a plane to someplace warm?

When I’m feeling ashamed or embarrassed, M will say, “I love you because you’re a woman of strong passions.” Which calms me down a bit, strips away the old intensity of perfectionism. And allows me to forgive myself for dragging him off to my homeland before either of us was really ready.

On the upside, I’d been saving for the trip in advance and definitely stayed within my budget. On the downside, he bought the rip-off rental car insurance and couldn’t say the same thing. On the upside, we tooled around in a Mustang convertible so new, we had to break open the shrink-wrap on the owner’s manual. And he finally me the rest of my family. And after almost 800 miles negotiating the tiny roads that run from valley to valley, he was ready to admit that maybe California had a certain appeal. The upsides have it.

About 24 hours after we arrived at SFO, after an extra-long day that took us from the Embarcadero to Muir Woods and then to the rest of San Francisco, we met his brother at a Boston bar called, ironically enough, Connecticut Yankee. The aroma of 100 years’ worth of spilled beer greeted us at the door. Since I can no longer drink the tasty, hoppy, liquid bread — and since I’d spent the better part of the day pounding pavement and mud with my jet-lagged legs — I was more than a little cranky by the end of dinner. Cranky enough to make a bratty declaration and go for a walk before the check came.

Here’s what I wrote while standing at a mailbox outside of a boarded-up dot-com startup, taking deep breaths and regarding the San Francisco skyline while hipsters bar-hopped all around me. I won’t apologize for it, but I will say it’s very much worthy of my inner 13-year-old, who was very much running the show at that moment:

stand with legs closed
san francisco’s silhouette in the distance

inhaling, heart pounding
one breath, one moment, one breath

sometimes nothing heals but time
sometimes nothing fills the god-shaped hole

all day walking
through the city
through the redwoods

foreign city, foreign parts
foreign homeland

distress of disconnection
a technology deeper than time
wider than space

one moment, one moment
and then the next

What I Learned During National Poetry Month 2011

  1. Haiku improves with practice.
  2. Poetry is real work.
  3. Sometimes work is gentle, easy, and takes hardly any time.
  4. Sometimes work is hard and grueling and difficult.
  5. Sometimes I forget to do things I said I was going to do
  6. Instead of hating on myself or giving up, I can just start doing them again.
  7. I am an imperfect poet.
  8. There is a difference between work and discipline.
  9. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
  10. Writing can be a form of spiritual practice.
  11. Once upon a time I bloomed words from the tips of my fingers like a… word-blooming goddess with flowering fingertips. Now, I am embryonic. I need to be patient with myself.
  12. I am unreasonably jealous anytime another writer gets attention and accolades.
  13. Someone inside of me thinks all the attention and accolades should be long to ME ONLY ME IT’S ALL ABOUT ME DAMMIT.
  14. Ahem.
  15. I am reminded of my gentle, loving, sweet-natured kitty. She gives teeny mews most of the time and has an endless supply of soft kitty hugs and purring cuddle sessions for me. Until another cat invades our household.
  16. Then, sweet Tara turns into a yowling, hissing fiend of a cat. She flips like a coin: one moment hissing and attacking the INVADER, and the next minute turning to me with a look of pure innocence, asking “Mew?”
  17. Sometimes Tara can learn to share space with other felines, but only after a long and persistent campaign of desentization.
  18. In matters of poetry and accolades, I am more like my cat than I would like to admit.
  19. I am an imperfect human being.
  20. There is nothing wrong with giving my embryonic, easily threatened Inner Poet all the time and safety and attention she needs.
  21. WordPress’s post-dating feature is the best thing ever for procrastinators.
  22. I would like to do NaPoWrMo next year.
  23. Other poets have blogs.
  24. Actually, I already knew this.
  25. There is a very large and very important difference between writing and marketing your writing.
  26. I tend to forget that every task in the universe — even those done online — takes time.
  27. I find the notion of making numbered lists of disparate elements strangely entertaining.
  28. I can scrawl a haiku in a notebook while stopped at a traffic light.
  29. Doing so is not illegal, but checking my email is.
  30. Does that seem right to you?
  31. Nobody said that life was fair.
  32. Encouragement and accolades come from unexpected places.
  33. I should take none of them for granted.
  34. Daily posting is good for me.
  35. I feel curious and optimistic about the future.
  36. If one is not careful, one may post a single haiku that still contains typos.
  37. I have been alive for 37 years and some months.