The unbridled, Molly-fueled, throbbing and writhing, raver variety of glee

In acting class yesterday, the assignment was to create an emotional prep—which, as you might imagine, was a terrifying prospect. I’ve never emotionally prepared myself for anything. Ever. We were given the freedom to choose between these five flavors of feelings: joy, arousal, rage, fear, and grief. Thinking I’d start with something easy and fun, I chose joy.

My joy prep involved listening to Born to Run and a guided fantasy of riding my motorcycle through the flatlands of southern Indiana, into the hills of southern Ohio. In my daydream, it’s warm, but the sun isn’t oppressive—it’s setting. I feel free. I feel like I’m flying. When I think about happiness, there it is. Back home. Over wheels and a hot chassis, the roar and purr of the engine revving.

Unfortunately, my joy paled next to my scene partner’s joy—which was closer to the unbridled, molly-fueled, throbbing and writhing raver variety of glee. Had I been pitted against grief, I might have triumphed. Instead, my instructors asked me to come back with joy—this time, cranked up to 11. “Rolling on the floor, laughing and freaking out because you’re so happy” joy.

I’ve never been that happy.

That’s why it’s called acting. Yes.

I don’t know my upper limit for joy. I think I’ve had peaks for rage and grief, but how do you know you’ve hit the ceiling of happiness? Is there even a roof in that house?

I dose out joy more judiciously than I would a slow-burning sorrow or my ever-present anxiety. Because being joyful is one thing, but when it’s taken away—man, that sucks worse, right? Grief and fear are intrinsic in my joy. It’s cyclic in nature even. And now I’m tasked with distilling the latter.

I starting acting classes because I thought it would be fun to pretend to be someone else for a few hours each week. Instead, I have been confronted over and over again by my unavoidable self.

Will you walk with me out on the wire
`Cause baby I’m just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta know how it feels
I want to know if love is wild
Babe I want to know if love is real

Here is to your joy. To a joy-filled weekend. You can be sure I’ll be practicing for my next class.

I’ve been practicing any art

In Ithaca, instrumental music formally begins in third grade. So this past fall, I was so excited for my son to start in strings. See, when I was in fifth grade, I picked up a violin. When I was in middle school, I switched to double bass. And by the time I graduated high school, I’d played in all-state orchestras, scored tops in multiple solo and ensemble competitions, and earned scholarships to prestigious music camps across the country. Music (among other artistic pursuits) was my life. I thought, for my son, this is the beginning of his life! How thrilling!

But it was pangs of jealousy I felt when I went to the music shop to secure his viola. “I was in the orchestra in school, but I didn’t pursue music in college… so I missed out,” I explained to the woman who fitted him for his kit. I always wanted to play cello, I went on, but our school was lacking in bassists, and the orchestra director wouldn’t approve my switch.

Of course, the music shop girl had no sympathy. “You could always rent a cello yourself,” she shrugged, ticking through our paperwork to ready Sullivan’s viola rental.

She might as well have slapped me—I was standing there with my chin hanging in stunned silence for a whole minute.

Because that hadn’t occurred to me. I’m a grown ass woman and I don’t need permission. If I want to play cello, I get a goddamned cello and I make that shit happen1.

The point is, I got a goddamned cello and I’ve been playing it. I’ve even combined it with other things I like—coffee, wine, Instagram. It’s awesome, I’m having a blast.

I sound horrible.

Here’s the thing about learning something new as an adult: it’s really hard to go back to being a beginner. It’s really hard to be present in practice—which is what art requires.

Self awareness is a burden. My son is terrible at music—and I love him so I can say that2, but he doesn’t know that, so he loves it.

I know I suck, which stirs up feeling of shame. And as an adult, I feel programmed to run, run, RUN away from shame. I start to worry that my neighbors will hear my screeches, that some good-intentioned houseguest will ask me to play for them, and I’ll have to explain that I sound like a goat being (ok, gently!) castrated.

It’s challenging to be open and vulnerable. Two things I definitely don’t like being3. But two qualities that are a necessity to learning anything. I have to be okay with YouTube videos of six year old prodigies. I have to work at pushing away expectations that I should just know, that I should just do, that I should just be... I have to be present with myself and the cello and the music and just be okay with where I’m at.

The alternative is that I miss out, right? I did that the past decade and it wasn’t fun at all.

Truth be told, it’s not been completely awful. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I picked up reading music again. I was also glad to find out that when my finger slipped out of tune—that I can self-correct with some measure of grace. Other parts of being a cellist—achieving that warm, rich, smooth cello tone, which I think is key to really enjoying the sound you make—it seems that will take some time and practice.

That has to be okay. I have to breathe in and out and reaffirm that this is all just fine. It’s amazing, actually. And I’m blessed to have this opportunity to pick up right where I left off—on a whim I had as a child. How fucking lucky am I?


It’s been a recurring theme the past year or two—that by trying new things4, by doing things that scare me5, by jumping in6 and going to my darkest places, I find out more about the stuff I’m made of.

I wonder how deep I can go now, and how much of my soul I’ll recover in the process.

I wonder, if I started instead to run to shame with open arms—if I wallow in it. If I just let go of trying to please everyone, trying to look perfect, trying to be an ideal of myself that isn’t even true—what would I become?

 

Bokashi

Bokashi composting is a system for eliminating food waste from your trash bins. I’m a big fan of compost—I have all the books and I even fancied taking the Master Composter course at the county extension office (alas the schedule conflicts with roller derby). This is to say, there are many different methods you can try to efficiently compost your kitchen scraps—it’s a whole science and art. Bokashi, in particular, uses a small, air-tight bin and requires that you cover your waste with inoculated sawdust (or some other carbon-rich substrate—I use coffee grounds because coffee is another passion of mine). This dust is alive with beneficial indigenous (ideally) microbes that break down the organic material in an anaerobic fermentation process. Yes. I like bokashi the best, because it ferments your garbage.

The thing is, it’s not enough to just toss some dust on your carrot tops and forget it. Once your bucket is full, the material still isn’t suitable for use in the garden, unless it’s aged so it can further breakdown. You have to bury it somewhere. Or leave it in a dark closet. Or find another compost sister system it can become part of.

This site, for so long, has been my bokashi bucket.

If you’ve ever written a blog, a book, or endeavored any creative pursuit, you can probably relate. To begin, you toss everything in. All the scraps of your day—the stuff that doesn’t make it to work, the stuff that doesn’t get talked out of you in meetings, the stuff you’re not Tweeting or posting on Facebook.

And then, it has to ferment. You’ve got to layer it with the good stuff. Treat it gently. Keep it in a warm, dark place. I think of fermentation as an act of stewardship, and creative incubating is the same.

The part I struggle with is transitions—it’s not an intuitive muscle I have developed. So knowing when my bucket is full, when it has rested sufficiently, when it’s composition has changed so much that it is no longer the thing it started as—that’s the trick. If you want the process to remain easy, you just guess, when it looks good enough, that it’s time to spread that shit all over. And then, you hope you garden grows better.

But this is really about writing. And how do you know when the words you’ve gathered have fermented into a new and useful and even beautiful thing? If you’ve gone through the process of gathering, layering, and resting in the dark places, when is it time to turn?

Allow me a moment to pivot back to my metaphor. The thing about composting is, you really can’t fuck it up. I mean, you could move it along too fast, and the worst you end up with is some moldy potato peels in your flower beds. Sure it might stink—it might even stink a whole lot. But even if it smells, it’s not lost. You can fix it. Or you can forget it and (eventually), it’ll be fine. The point is, your cabbage hearts are out of a landfill—you’ve already won.

But do something with it. Pull it out and stir it up first, if you must. But decide that it’s good enough to throw on the lawn. Otherwise all the effort you’ve put into your bucket is lost, bubbling in a closet, until everything that was good, that could have been good, that might have helped, has been eaten away.


Are you now as fascinated by bokashi as I am? If you want to get obsessed, here are some resources:

I was afraid I couldn’t be myself

Listen to me read this post:

Gentle reader, I have been working on curating this website for the past several months. The reasons I took it up again—

  • I felt confident I could create a delightful space that I’d be happy to tinker on
  • I really enjoy tinkering with websites, especially my own
  • I need the outlet to write and create and share, because otherwise all my existential angst ends up on Facebook
  • My mom doesn’t need to see that on Facebook

There is a lot of advice out there about starting and maintaining a blog. I know because I’ve read it all. I have also blogged a fair bit over the last decade—both personally and for brands.

When I was in college I had a personal/lifestyle blog. I was young, pretty, took good photos of myself and my world—Pinterest perfect (though Pinterest wasn’t even a thing back then). That seemed to be enough to garner a bit of a following and make some friends online. I found out I liked tinkering with my website.

Later, when I was a very young mother, I spent a lot of time sewing and knitting, so I started a craft blog. I have a propensity for tedium that crafting requires and I was good at taking photos of the finished product. I shared patterns and started a shop on etsy.com. Again, I enjoyed tinkering with my website.

Then someone suggested I start a blog about my New Agey obsessions—tarot and divination, dream interpretation, astrology. My longest running site was the Sassy Sibyl—through which I met a ton of amazing people, found opportunities to teach at conferences on each coast, self-published three decks of cards I created myself, had a huge list and Facebook following, and scored a book deal. All this came to a screeching halt when a health crisis put me in the hospital in 2013 though, and I never regained the momentum or energy to start it up again. I missed tinkering with my website.

When I was freelancing, as a writer and editor, dabbling in WordPress, I threw up one of those ultra-branded funky static-front-page websites that are supposed to appeal to female solopreneurs. You know the sort—professional photos, cool color palette. In-your-face copywriting. It wasn’t my favorite self, but look, I really needed the work. I’m grateful I found a full-time/peace-of-mind job, so I could stop all that nonsense before I started blogging six-figure business tips. 🙂

Throughout it all, I’ve been writing stories, poems, essays, and publishing here and there, keeping those worlds as separate as possible. I’ve also started and then abandoned many, many more websites and projects. I’ve had the domain name here, my name, and it’s largely languished on my Flywheel account because—well, this is the confessional part—

I’ve spent the last ten years writing online. And the whole time, I was afraid to be my whole myself.

I was afraid, because every bit of advice on the internet will tell you this—that you need to have a niche, a focus, in order to put together a successful website. And in each of the instances above, I was able to produce a successful website… but none of those successful projects ever felt true to the whole of me. I felt like I had a fractured online identity, especially when I was the Sassy Sibyl. I had fans and friends completely devoted to my work, but I couldn’t share some of my stories with them.

I was afraid that if I wrote about parenting, it wouldn’t be safe to publish about my struggles with mental health. I was afraid that if people knew that I own approximately 200 tarot decks, they wouldn’t take me seriously in WordPress. I was afraid that I’d get laughed out of the herbalism conferences if anyone knew I love romance novels.

A switch just flipped in my head recently though. I’ve been following the wrong advice. I’m not creating a brand, I’m creating a body of work. I can even let go of the idea of a successful website, because there’s no agenda here. No conversion needed. I’m not a product I’m selling.

The thread that connects everything I do is words. I am incapable of processing, learning, or expressing myself unless I write it out. I think I’m good at it. And I’m compelled by some horrible inborn defect of character, surely, to share. (Sorry.)

And I’ve reached the point where I feel like it’s important to me to begin pulling in and capturing that body of work, else it’ll be lost forever, save the pieced together bits available on the Wayback Machine on archive.org. I don’t want to lose anymore words because my life circumstances have changed. The words are my life, or will be, in the end.

So I recovered what bits I could from the Sassy Sibyl website and threw them in the archives here. I’ll have to work harder to find and restore the rest, sadly. And I’ll continue to hammer out, over the keyboard, what I’m reading, learning, doing—because I can’t not.

I’m okay with not knowing where this is going, because where it goes, I’ve decided, is not the point.

Yours always,
M—

PS: If you’re a write-it-out person, we should connect. Have you ever felt like you have a fractured online identity? Does your Insta-life match your real-life? And if not, does it bother you?

PPS: I embellished a point above. My mom is blocked on Facebook.