Zazen Day 25 – 28 – must have skills and experience with words

At minute 18, I notice my foot starts to tingle with pins and needles. It’s the same every day, each sit. I only become aware of the time passage when this happens, the body preceding the mind.

Last week I finished my 28 days. I’m still sitting, though I’ve admittedly skipped two days since. The first time I skipped I had an awful night’s sleep. Last night was okay, because I read before sleeping, which activates the same parts of my brain.

As the proof of the pudding is in the eating*, the proof of the sit will be in my work this week. I’m finishing a long-incubating project and also looking for work. Both prospects are equally demoralizing, but in different ways. Zazen has evolved from a way to examine my weaknesses to dealing with them. Hopefully as I continue to sit, this confrontation will allow me to overcome them. The whale is still there – it always will be – but I don’t have to be willingly swallowed.

At the close of the 28 days, I was surprised with how little I felt. There was a sense of accomplishment, of course, but an acceptance overrode that feeling. It’s become a part of my routine. I don’t dread it even if I’m not in the mood to do it. The doubt has largely vanished. But that routine can still be broken; I allow myself to break it. To throw another idiom at you, it’s the exception that proves the rule. By choosing not to sit, my relationship with Zazen is more intimate and personal and respectful. I respect the sit, not the obligation to sit.

I feel very much caught between knowing a lot and not knowing anything. I’m trying to find my place in the world, which is extremely unsatisfying. I know I have to make my place in the world, to carve out that niche rather than ask to be rewarded with something that doesn’t exist yet. At this point in my life, I thought I’d know more, I’d have done more, and I’d just have more. The one thing I still have – will always have – is me. I barely know who that is, but I know who she’s not. And I know what she could be. I have to find a way to find her. Or allow her to come out more. There’s always a tension between the way the world is and the way you think it should be. It’s worth remembering that there are no rules. You can say yes or no or fall off the grid. You can sit or not sit, read a book or play a game. Having this much power or control is terrifying – even if control is all we say we want. Oddly, in giving up some of that control each day, I found it easier to access it the rest of the time.

My neighbor’s dog is howling in time with the music.

I miss my mom, the only person who never minded getting my drunk calls from the back of taxis at 2AM.

My phone is on Do Not Disturb more often than not.

I’m a little jealous of the snowfall in the east.

A CGI tiger made me cry.

I’m excited to sit later.

I will try not to fail today.

*I hate that this idiom gets mangled – you can’t shorthand the point.

Best Online Thing I Read Today: Sell Out by Simon Rich / The New Yorker

Song I Loved Today: Heavy Water / I’d Rather Be Sleeping / Grouper

Zazen day 24 – homestretch

My reports are at least a day behind, as I’ve been sitting before bed for about 10 days. I think it’s probably more beneficial to do earlier in the day, in the afternoon before I start writing…or, before I intend to write. In tackling some stuff head on the past week, I’ve let the writing lag but I also started another project right before the lag, so I’m choosing to be somewhat proud of myself.

Finishing seems to be the problem I’ve had since the spring. A project that was supposed to be completed months ago I’m just nearing the homestretch in now — which is dovetailing nicely with this project. I asked my boyfriend (whose suggested 28 Days of Zazen* to me in the first place) if he expected I would stick with the program and he said no. I appreciated the honesty; I didn’t think I’d go all 28 days. Tonight’s sit will be 25, and I’m choosing to be proud of myself.

I do wish I stuck to the program regarding the blog. It would be nice to have more of a record of each day’s progress, but I do think I plateaued a bit where the gaps are. That’s not a bad thing, it means I just need to change something up slightly – add a few more minutes to the routine or, ideally, start sitting twice a day. Sitting at night helps me relax and fall asleep but it also feels a bit like a mind-dump – whatever I’ve pushed aside that day flows forth during the sit, which defeats the purpose. I think when the 28 days are up, I’ll attempt to sit twice. I do want to keep this up here and there, to mark progress as the trial period becomes a true routine.

The Super Bowl is this weekend…..I don’t care. I’ve only been to one Super Bowl party (that I can recall) and it was weird, to say the least. I like sports a lot, though football’s not my favorite, so I like watching the game just fine. I find it odd that it’s such a cultural event. Because I love hockey so much, I’ll watch pretty much any playoff game, but I won’t feel invested in it as much as if my team was playing. Maybe hockey isn’t quite analogous because the Finals are a 7-game series and not winner-take-all-win-or-go-home. (Don’t you also go home if you win…Win and go home?) I mean, I sorta live-tweeted it last year. We had come to look for an apartment over the first weekend in February. We were staying a few blocks over from where we eventually ended up living, in an Airbnb owned by a film composer with a pithy name. Every time I pass Berendo, I say his name in my head (it’s very similar to Steve Holt). The apartment we live in was only the 3rd or 4th we had seen. Looking for a place in LA is different than NY; there are more options, you don’t feel like you’re speed dating with a bunch of rabid ferrets. We got lucky for sure, so we ended up spending Super Bowl night watching a live feed without commercials and intersticials and then ate tacos. It was pretty sweet.

Which means I’ve been in LA almost a year which is…insane.

Best Online Thing I Read Today: Double Agents in Love by Lorrie Moore / NY Review of Books

Song I loved today: And This is What We Call Progress / The Besnard Lakes

*Sometimes I want to write that as (28) Days of Zazen…a mindful romantic comedy sequel to 28 Days Later.

Zazen Days 13-23 – honest

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I blew through the halfway mark without commenting on it – which, in and of itself, is a comment. There’s something natural about zazen to me now. Just as natural as blowing off this blog, apparently.

I was at a get-together last weekend and the worst question ever came up – what’s your favorite movie? True to form, I gave a blurted out answer with a preamble (“in college I used to say A Clockwork Orange”), then owned up to the first thing that popped in my head (“Blow Up” ::crickets:: “It’s Italian”), and then after everybody had their turn, an addendum (“But the movie I wish I wrote is Moonstruck”). It’s an impossible question to answer, but I tried to go with the flow and tamp down my social anxiety (red wine!) and just kind of blurt what was in my head. Most people chose something classic and mainstream; my boyfriend said Seven Samurai, which was deemed almost as pretentious as me. After the fourth person gave their answer, a guest thanked her for her honesty – a pointed comment I believe was directed at me (social anxiety! narcissism!). I had never met these people before in my life and may not see many of them again, so what were the stakes involved for me to lie? Pretty low.

Honesty came up last night when I went out to trivia with my friend. We did okay, except we both heard “zip codes” when the question was about area codes, so we were soundly out of the running for top of the pack (beer!). We were talking about femininity and how there are sometimes skeleton keys to unlocking “the female experience” that neither of us have ever felt strongly. She mentioned a study she took in college as part of a freshman seminar that measured a person in relation to gender norms. She told me she scored somewhat in the middle of the 100-point scale, more feminine than masculine, but nowhere near “as feminine” as the rest of the girls in the class. The boys were all totally bros. I’ve often identified with male characters, or felt more inspired by men – at least that was quite true when I was growing up and entered my formative creative years. I’m much more political than I have been before, and I gladly, loudly, excitedly champion feminism and feminist causes all the time. All the books I’ve read lately have been written by women, I find more content by and for women appealing, and write pretty much solely female protagonists.

Still…I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like a girl in the construct sense rather than the physical sense. Last night we also mentioned Lena Dunham and tried to unpack and untangle some thoughts/jealousy. The flak she gets should largely be aimed at the system that normalizes privilege and only lets in women one at a time. My friend said that at the very least she’s honest. And that’s true. Art should always be about truths you tell in the dark, but in film/TV it’s so much easier to reinforce the standards. We both hoped that maybe this will open doors to more truth-telling women…but we’re not so sure.

I’m also re-watching Six Feet Under now and it remains one of my favorite shows of all time (honestly) – and that show is about characters who, if they tell the truth, would explode. I’ve felt like that most of my life. Even when I was happiest or the most confident, I still felt like I couldn’t quite express who I was. Especially when I worked around women. I’ve lied a lot, little white lies to strangers at parties, and I try not to do that any more. So when I was indirectly accused of being dishonest about my movie choice – I stand by my choices, by the way – it was hurtful. Because there was some truth to it. So I try to be more honest these days. Because when I am, I can’t hide.

Best online thing I read today, part 1: Running Away From Running Away by Jill Talbot / The Rumpus

Song I loved today, part 1: Question Mark / Elliott Smith

Best online thing I read today, part 2: The Terror Of “Twin Peaks”: His Name Is BOB by Matthew J.X. Malady / The Awl

Song I loved today, part 2: Never Can Say Goodbye Via BBC’s Whites

Best online thing I read today, part 3: Saturday Rumpus Comic: All I Ask by Yumi Sakugawa / The Rumpus

Song I loved today, part 3: Bar Italia / Pulp

Zazen Days 9, 10, 11, 12 – the great catchup

Discipline has always been the hardest button for me to button. I have been sitting these last 4 days, mostly right before I go to bed. I’ve needed the extra boost of calmness (and, on day 10, a lorazepam) to rest my mind. Part of what makes zazen so challenging is the checklist of body positions one needs to master – left thumb hooked in right palm, hands cupped, half-lotus seat, shoulders back, head lifted but cast down, tongue resting loosely on palate, eyes 1/3 open. The last is particularly difficult for me; I’ve really only been achieving that about 50% of the time and for the last few days.

Which is horribly ironic considering how my eyes are rarely open fully. Part of my anxiety, my looming and overwhelming fear of failure (creatively, spiritually, physically) is the manifestation of guilt in the form of ignoring a problem until falling headlong off a cliff. Which pretty much happened this week. Now I’m playing catchup with my responsibility, making big, awful changes and accepting defeat – a failure that could cause serious problems down the line.

Debt is not something people talk about socially, but it weighs on every single action or decision. Each day I go to sleep with calculations buzzing in my head, the addition and subtraction that determine how I feel – comfortable or imperiled – and for how many days. My financial problems feed my anxiety – I worry about injury and illness and accidents, risks with low probability but huge, ruinous real-life implications. Being uninsured makes you a hypochondriac, a worrywort, or a doomsayer. I don’t go out much, which I can laugh off as social anxiety. It’s more acceptable to be quirky than broke.

I continue to sit, and have been more active in trying to rectify my situation. Though zazen may not be about control, it is teaching me to exert my agency over other areas in my life. And it’s free.

Zazen Day 7 – perfect

“She had little pieces of paper and notebooks filled with her round, girlish hand, with her proper cursive.”

Last week, I read a Vanity Fair piece about the making of Thelma & Louise written by Sheila Weller. The name sounded vaguely familiar and a search led me to another piece I had read in Vanity Fair, an excerpt from her book Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation. While I am almost wholly unfamiliar with the work of these women, other than peripherally or accidentally, Weller’s rich prose stuck in my mind. So much so that I chose my twitter handle, and name for this blog, from a quote about Mitchell’s habit of leaving lyrics and poetry everywhere – something I used to do in the analogue days.

Except, here’s the thing. I got it wrong. It’s “proper” not “perfect” cursive. I had revised the quote in my head, giving the speaker an almost scolding tone. “Proper cursive” sounds respectful – amazed at the writer’s technique that stands out in a sea of slanted or illegible scrawl. “Perfect cursive” has an edge of derision; this good girl who pursues straight As, who lavishes on her homework and keeps the torch of meaningless excellence burning, would write in nothing short of perfect cursive. Even with no one watching, she wouldn’t want to disappoint.

The narrative I’ve invented with this misquote is no doubt a reflection of my own. A character transformed and diminished through the years; the pre-lapsed Catholic; the teenager who never smoked, drank or fucked; the woman awaiting permission to tell stories. A song comes up on shuffle, an article flickers in the ether, a book’s spine leaps out in a beam sunlight and I remember the hurt girl I was for so long. The one I felt I betrayed by moving on, getting better, falling in love. The one inspired by others, not overrun by jealousy. Over time, the list of people I admire turned into an acrid catalog of authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers who are better than I will ever be.

Sitting today felt, for the first time, an obligation – in the lighter sense of the word. It was something I had to do, because I do it – not because I was afraid of the repercussions if I didn’t. “Routine” can have negative connotations but at a certain point the things we do become borderless, absorbed. I didn’t want to sit today, but I did. The permission I’ve been waiting for is the permission to fail. And now I’m learning to strive to be…not perfect, but proper. A proper writer.

Best online thing I read today: A Feminist Timeline by Kara Vanderbijl / This Recording

Song I loved today: Frankly, Mr. Shankly / The Smiths

Zazen Day 6 – Adjustment

My favorite part of zazen is the part where I remember that I am not supposed to focus on one spot. This realization inevitably dawns on me after contemplating a singular wood grain pattern on the floor. In the introductory video I watched, the instructor says something along the lines of your peripheral vision should be active at all times so you are viewing the whole room as you sit.

For some reason, it feels extraordinarily good to widen out your scope. There’s something inherently relaxing in not choosing. It was easier to calm my thoughts tonight then in the past. I still have a hard time not making a to-do list, or drafting a post, in my head while sitting. But awareness of my eyeline and also my body helped to minimize the wanderings. I had an itch at about minute 12 and wouldn’t let myself scratch it. It was kind of fun to examine how the itch evolved – a pin prick of annoyance at my brow, a creeping vine of near pain, a rash of eerie numbness. Doing something metaphysical helped me find the physical, tangible world.

Right before I sat, I finished reading my alumni magazine or, as I call it, parade of people who have done better than you. I’m 33, more than a decade out of college and a nearly a decade since I enrolled in grad school. At a standstill, working towards my best shot at a goal, it’s easy for me to negate all I’ve done in the last few years. I don’t feel like I have anything tangible yet to show for my work — a lot of almosts and behind-the-scenes work that meant a lot to me, but not much to the outside world. I’ve come to terms with my need for glory (a character term from grad school, not like actual glory where I would contribute anything seriously meaningful to the world) and am straining to make sure it doesn’t outstrip my work ethic. It’s too easy to get caught up in the feeling I’ve wasted time; my anxiety revolves around this notion. Ironically, anxiety has made me waste even more time. I’m hoping sitting will knock the inertia out of me.

Best online thing I read today: Now That’s What I Call Small Talk, Volume 452,793! by Dan Rozier / McSweeney’s

Song I loved today: You Will / Lia Ices

Zazen Day 4 – Focus

Today was even more scattered than usual, and I’m choosing to put the blame on my cat. I could barely get to one today but Monkey decided to step on my computer at minute 12 today. I’m supposed to be focusing on nothing, taking in the whole room at once with my eyes cast 45-degrees downward. But my concentration was easy to break today. I felt restless, frustrated, sad. And really curious what I’ll feel like on day 28.

So, for a particularly scattered day, a particularly scattered post. Things I was thinking about during Zazen today:

– That episode of Buffy when Giles makes her stare into the crystal while he’s drugging her for the birthday trial. I keep focusing on a particular spot on the floor, a few really, that look like eyes. Not quite a flaw in a crystal, but then a British man isn’t trying to inject me with power-draining serum. I swear that’s not a metaphor for anything.

– One of my absolute favorite episodes of TV – “Gone” from Spaced series 2. Watching this series was strangely formative for me; my sister and I mainlined the whole series in a night a few summers ago. Tim and Daisy’s relationship reminded me a lot of the friendship between a me and a guy I was interested in. At the close of the series, I realized that I was in fact completely in love with him. So Spaced will always have a spot in my heart, regardless of its utter brilliance. It’s always a treat to rewatch, especially now…I’m watching “Gone” next to that friend – now boyfriend – who was also randomly thinking about this episode today.

Best online thing I read today: The Old Corner Bookshop is Now a Chipotle by Rhian Sasseen / The Millions

Song I loved today: Plumage / Menomena