An Inventory of Seeds: A Poem

Lately, I have been thinking of how the seeds that have been planted by years of practice are only sprouting forth now. And how some are still lying dormant in fallow earth, waiting for their time, not knowing if their time will ever come. And yet, how every word, deed, action, bears its fruit and has its purpose. And some contribute to necessary decay, which makes for fertile soil and good ground. We plant seeds that we forget, yet we can always trust their timing.

everything that grows and ripens

comes from a place of fallowness

and beyond that a place of dark soil

fertile unknown

parceled in

messy oblong garden plots of possibility

all of it could easily

become life

or death

or something in between

that never quite materializes

but remains a silent hum

on the astral plane

whatever makes it this far

is delivered into

a world of

words

thoughts

desires

its difficult passage is acknowledged

by cacophony and

a thankless slap on the rump

this morning

i thought i heard the voice of some

mouthless deity

its eyes spelled beauty and foreboding

its hands were long-stemmed roses

extending beyond the sleeves

of its funereal robe

what will your seed bring forth?

i was still beginning to awaken

rubbing sleep and the

dread of my undreamed dream

from my ocean-black eyes

i could feel my life unraveling

like a spool of thread traveling down

a paved dirt road

chased by headlights

or a trail of saliva dribbling

from my open mouth

i could see myself

shuttling forth

giddy with speed

unfurling and blossoming

a vulgar multifoliate plant

strangling myself on my own life

not fully understanding that

what i had deemed growth

was only the wild motion

of hunger

i could see myself

stretching up

then bowing beneath

my own excess

decaying into the nameless home

that exists beyond this

body house

i could see myself crushing this body

bone and sinew

blood and byways

ancestors and empty atoms

back into

the first kernel of life

that held me

dripping down the roots of

my family tree

i could see myself attempting to know

and unknow my life

in prayer

released from

this song of satire

this expanse of lingering

this identity stripped of its zodiac

free of labels

devoid of assigned worth

it was here

that i finally danced

it was here that i reveled

in the smallness of my seed

it was here that I tasted

the sweet fruit

my life

longed for me

to bring forth

Fear Is the Mind Killer

“Fear is the mind killer,” I should have said after receiving her cautionary text message about compulsory lockdowns across the nation and militias patrolling the streets at night to make sure that nobody looted or rioted. I knew that awareness of the right to civil disobedience was rapidly eroding in this strange new era, but I also knew that reliable sources of information were a rare and valuable commodity.

Instead, I offered, “I know you’re trying to be helpful.” I was conciliatory, not wanting to bruise a premature friendship that hadn’t yet ripened. Not wanting to offer a criticism that might not be received.

“Well, I thought you should be aware,” she said curtly, reading between the lines. “I was doing you a favor.”

I remained silent, but my mind was exploding with images. The amygdala flashing in neon lights, signaling alarm. An entire networked collection of amygdalas mirroring each other’s levels of panic and fear, setting off a chain reaction of neon lights bright enough to power a city and be visible from space. A collective nervous system infected by the virus of misinformation. Of course, it looks a little different from the view on the ground. It looks like entire supermarkets emptied of toilet paper. Ammunition stores wiped out of bullets. Subtle and overt hostilities directed at the people and places where this virus is said to have originated.

“Shame on you,” I wanted to say to her. “At a time like this, our words and actions matter. And here you are, adding fuel to fire. Wrapping the steaming pile of shit that is your fear in a nice pretty blanket of unsolicited information.”

But she was my friend, so I tried to be calm and collected. I tried not to sound like a know-it-all. “Hearing news from a friend of a friend of a friend is a common trope of fear mongering and crowd manipulation,” I explained. “This is how urban legends are born. This is how ugly myths get seeded in the collective consciousness.”

“Maybe so,” she responded, adding an emoji with a protective face mask. “But still, it wouldn’t hurt to stock up on some extra items.”

I decided not to continue the conversation, for at that moment, I was lulled by the birdsong outside my window. The cerulean sky held only a few scattered clouds. A pair of squirrels were climbing the giant oak tree, playfully chasing each other’s tails. I hadn’t seen a groundhog since winter, and one was now happily sunning herself on the lawn. The knot that had formed in my belly slowly dissipated, and I breathed in the sights and sounds of spring.

For all the strange realities that we humans inhabit, there is still a world beyond this one, governed by seasons and cycles.

Why Don't the Poor Understand (As Soon As They Stop Being Poor)?

When Shawn and I were on our walk today, we talked about money. How we are beholden to it and wish to be free of it all at once. How we hate being under the thumb of capitalism, but how it also offers us access to certain realities we’ve been conditioned to crave and to which we aspire, despite our best intentions.

Biggie Smalls once mused, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” I don’t know if this is true, but the sea change in my own life became apparent when I moved up the socioeconomic rung at some point, after years of nibbling on dull, rubbery slices of leftover Domino’s pizza and clumps of watery ramen. Years of bouncing checks and incurring overdraft fees. Years of never knowing if or when I would arrive in that mythical destination known as responsible adult life.

Today, I recalled that as soon as I began to make more money, I spent more money. My tastes changed. I drank expensive wine rather than the cheap $7 bottles with hand-drawn labels you could get at Trader Joe’s, along with your $5 calla lilies. I stopped making brunch, and instead, went out to fancy restaurants with exposed beams and brick walls trying so hard to be rustic but only managing to convey hipster pretentiousness.

There, I sat with people whom I suppose in retrospect were my friends, although I no longer remember their names and it’s been years since I’ve seen them. Everyone forgets who you are as soon as you make the two great escapes: from city life and social media. Together, my nameless faceless friends and I drank bottomless mimosas and ate overpriced avocado toast as we chatted about literature, politics, and other highbrow topics, interspersed with the occasional tidbit of salacious gossip.

I went home and slept off the drink and feverish conversation, everyone straining to be heard above the restaurant’s white noise. Morning faded into afternoon, and I woke up to epic hangovers and a craving for greasy diner hashed browns. I conveniently forgot the exquisite frittatas that I had once so lovingly and painstakingly made in my tiny San Francisco studio apartment. I would serve them in giant wedges on my mother’s kitschy 1970s-style floral plates. In lieu of a fancy beverage, I filled old tequila bottles with ice-cold water that my dearest associates and lovers and I drank from tiny mason jars. You know, before they became trendy and all the wine bars on Valencia Street began to use them.

I laugh when I reflect on that gradual transition from being poor to being something else. Perhaps not quite wealthy, but at the very least, brushing elbows with the privileged and entitled, some of whom made their way into my circle of intimates.

Now, tucked away in our beautiful house in the woods, I have to remind myself that Shawn and I have nothing to complain about anymore. Frugality seems to be in vogue in our consumer-driven age. We no longer live in a city or spend ample amounts of time with people we hate, yet whom we still attempt to impress for reasons unbeknownst to us. What we have is sufficient, perhaps even abundant. Many of our loved ones have commented on how much they envy us our bucolic environment, the quiet predictability of our rural lives.

These days, it feels quaint and satisfyingly rustic to make a cassoulet from scratch, and regressive and gauche to drop a small fortune on an outing with friends. It reconnects me with the ingenuity of my former life as a penniless artist, when I learned to make so much out of so little. When beauty is not something you can thoughtlessly purchase, everything is infused with magic. Like the fairy tales in which the guileless but poverty-stricken young explorer shares what little she has with the local witch, who rewards the girl’s kindness with unexpected abundance.

And then, there was my childhood obsession with rationing small parcels of food for my dolls and imaginary friends, who seemed much more real to me than the people who lived in my house and complained about never having enough. I had other matters to attend to, but in my make-believe games, I never inhabited the role of princess or schoolteacher. Rather, I was the leader of the resistance, smuggling stale crusts of bread to the persecuted and injured during wartime.

Even when I was poor, I never knew hunger, but I could imagine it. And because I had my imagination, I always knew there was something better, brighter, and more significant than being rich.

Words and Incantatory Magic

I am:

Star-studded midnight blue

Infinity

Velvet worn down by rough fingers

Cicadas that sing for an eternal summer

Thick maroon wine

Clanging pipes distorted into melody by the welcoming receiver

The hollow of the chest belonging to the one you have named Home

Unfurling

I’ve always pondered what it could mean to live a beautiful life—a life that is the stuff of legend and gross hyperbole, that is shrouded in the kind of mystery that summons whispered murmurs and hypnotic fantasies. For me, creating the kind of persona whose life force could push myths into existence and haul boulders into place began with my words. Quite literally.

I recently experienced this with a friend of mine with whom I was engaged in a practice known as Inner Relationship Focusing. It’s all about getting in touch with the labyrinthine world of sensations and emotions that often escapes our notice and that we tend to relegate to little more than fleeting sensations. But this world is the birthplace of my words, imbued with its own uncanny gestalt.

In the beginning of the session, I told my partner that I wanted to investigate what I experienced as an ongoing obsession with security and certitude. Mysteriously, as my inquiry deepened, I received exactly what I had come for. Not some abstract tete-a-tete with the security that is in common parlance, but a literal experience of security that transcended my previous associations. I quickly recognized that my body felt like it weighed a ton; in fact, I had assumed a solidity, a rootedness, an impermeability and obduracy that made me question whether or not I was hallucinating or caught in some fortuitous mystical spiral that had temporarily given me leave of my body. As hard and enormous as I was, I also felt in myself a softness that was quite strange…almost as if I were a cool, chalky mass of limestone hulking in an airy but humid cave in the bowels of my earth. The certitude my human self had always sought seemed like a moot point. Here, in this unmarked cavern, I was certitude incarnate and there was no question whatsoever of my belonging.

In effect, I had managed to manufacture not just the generic idea of security but the sensation of what security really was, from its own point of view. It was a revelation: now, the experience I was having actually matched the word that I’d injected with so much fruitless longing. Security wasn’t a good job or a big house or a changeless community; it was an a priori state of being, a subjectivity in and of itself.

Words have power. We all know that.

Our intentions themselves have power when we speak them as words, especially to others—but beyond this, they contain an even greater power: the power to merge us with the experience we are verbally describing. Rather than vague metaphors and stand-ins for the real thing, they can actually be the real thing.

This is the power of incantation that poets and sorcerers alike have known. And I knew it in that moment of becoming the limestone boulder. In speaking the words of my longing, I became one with it. I would have no need for substitutes for security anymore.

**

But I want to speak of another way incantatory magic works: words themselves are not solid, so we can actually come to see the lies behind some of the words that abound in our culture: words like patriotism, nation, morality, loyalty, etc.

About a year ago, I was listening to a poem I’d never heard being recited by Chuck Berry on the radio, on a cold dark drive home from my partner’s grandmother’s 91st birthday party on Long Island. (The specificity of the occasion seems important to mention.) There was an ache in my heart as I listened to these words, plaintively stated by the man who was indisputably the predecessor of rock n’ roll and who perhaps never fully received such acknowledgement in his own lifetime.

I began to think about the tawdry details of his personal life, which then led me to consider the effects of respectability politics. People like Bill Cosby or practically any evangelical or senator who got caught with his pants down getting a blow job from a prostitute are common purveyors of respectability politics. Respectability politics is a system whereby people who may or may not belong to marginalized groups police the members of these groups by insisting their values be compatible with those of the mainstream—instead of challenging the mainstream for its failure to accommodate difference and dismantle the oppressive structures that are responsible for said community’s downtrodden status.

Then one thought led to another, and I contemplated the myth of “inherent goodness,” which is often exploited by our culture of domination to get us in lockstep with ideals that have nothing to do with goodness, but with compliance. This is how political leaders who are accountable for some of the world’s most egregious crimes can wax poetic about God, decency, and good old family values without any irony whatsoever. They have encountered another one of language’s superpowers: the magical spell that is cast by words that have been emptied of their meaning, that have become like trompe l’oeils on peeling wallpaper. There is no there there, and we know it, but still we seem to see what we see…a vision that has been orchestrated by design.

But it’s true that even empty words hold many of us captive. Through these words, many of us internalize the slogans of the powers that be and continue to do their bidding. Words create programs that are orchestrated by design. The legends and origin stories surrounding these words are usually pregnant with the malformed fetuses of power, corruption, heroism, and ascendancy over the natural world.

The well of words that rise up to meet our true values, not just our imagined ones, must emerge from new myths.

These new myths that I desire are connected to the experience of beauty, not as an objective reality dictated by hegemonic ideas—but as an experience of intersubjectivity, connection, and permeable boundaries. So permeable that a human sitting and pondering the whats and wherefores of security can actually become the epitome (not a mere signifier) of security. Of course, myths such as those surrounding nationalism and ideal citizenship deny us this very experience of permeability, as well as the capacity to cross borders unhindered.

To experience beauty is to touch the untouchable, to know the unknowable, and to encounter the core essence of something as opposed to our simple-minded concepts of that thing. As a woman in my late 30s, it took me a pathetically long time to determine that my core essence is not in makeup, a sexy outfit, the way I sway my hips, or the desire that another person feels for me. My ecstasy cannot be contained in stereotypes and manufactured desires. (It is helpful to know this, because it enables me to understand more clearly the deepest romantic disappointments of my life, wherein I sought beauty but never came close to experiencing it…because I was allowing myself to only go so far as tasting the imitation and pretending that it satisfied.)

We so often succumb to imitation, perhaps because we don’t believe the real thing is possible.

Something is demanding our full awareness, and it is not comfortable. It requires sacrifice. It requires giving up what we had once determined to be valuable, not out of self-punishment but because we have allowed the imitations to compromise our clarity and we understand that this is no longer sustainable.

As I listened to that Chuck Berry poem and felt the universe exploding somewhere in the vicinity of my heart, I understood that we are all aching for the real thing—and there are times, usually late at night or early in the morning, when we are searingly clear and capable of seeing beyond the curtain of confusion (another thing orchestrated by design). I understood that the fullness of spirit we experience when we say that it’s ALL beautiful, that all has meaning and purpose, is actually bullshit.

The confusion itself is not beautiful; it’s only the recognition of the essential form and shape behind the dissonant information that makes something like beauty in the midst of despair possible. And that essential form and shape—that elegant silence beyond the curtain before which the drama is constantly unfolding—is usually present, although we are not always aware of it.

This is where the well lives; it is here that we must draw up new, life-giving words to match and augur our potential.

On that night, on the cold drive home, I was so searingly clear. I knew that the divine didn’t want me to merely have my desires fulfilled, especially because what I deem my desires are mostly inextricable from my programming and what it means to be indoctrinated into this culture, with all its empty words. I want to feel less oppressed, naturally, so it makes sense to seek complicity or allyship with the system that oppresses me, because then life would be EASIER.

But I don’t want a life of ease. I want BEAUTY.

That word again, which for me, has become an incantation just as important as “security.” And now, I think I know the true meaning of both.

BEAUTY comes from touching one’s essence, I am sure of this. An essence that transcends ideas of inherent goodness or sinfulness. This is the part of the self that is untrammeled, that cannot be colonized or distorted or beaten into submission.

What happens when our words themselves come from this place?

Our essence can only be touched when the shape beyond the confusion is seen for what it is: egress beyond the door. Communion with the divine. We can only know this when we are not susceptible to the domination system’s programs and orchestral maneuverings such that they undercut our ESSENTIAL desire and subdue our sense of meaning and purpose.

I know that I have to be very careful about my desire for commodified creature comforts, from sisterhood to knowledge to access to rare spaces. I have to be careful that the essential desire isn’t being curtailed or ushered down other avenues that will not serve to feed me or grow my own inner radiance.

The divine doesn’t want me to sit idly by, online shopping or reality TV watching, as Rome burns. The divine wants me to dismantle systems of oppression that cause us to forget our own and each other’s essence and dignity—not by perpetuating destruction but via a direct engagement with BEAUTY.

This isn’t because I am supposed to save the world. Or even myself. Far from it. The divine wants for us only the end of this pointless self-imposed suffering, which keeps the foreground cluttered with systems and beliefs not of our making…and which keeps the background, luminous with the promise of communion and clarity, so far away and mysterious…something that we often talk about but scarcely experience directly.

**

Our words harbor our intentions, and intentions are often powerful. But although we think we know our own intentions, we often don’t, mainly because we’ve grown accustomed to being emotionally dishonest.

I find this to be true for myself in the denial of my own intentions. When I fail to admit to others, when they question the timbre and tone of a statement I make in passing, that I was, in fact, entertaining terrible thoughts about them—when I feign innocence although I was actually intending to harm them in some way, I become an agent of deceit. This damages relationships in that it impairs the ability to meaningfully decipher and interpret behavior based on energetic impact.

We can always hide behind the veneer of our "intentions," which we believe to be consonant with our words, although our intentions are likely to be seeded with emotional dishonesty. The dishonesty itself is a survival mechanism that enables us to maintain control (over our own messy emotions and other people's reactions to them). It creates the semblance of order, when in fact, it generates greater chaos and keeps us in a state of compliance and complicity with the domination system.

If you can willfully deny what you are feeling and thinking, this blind spot extends to giving everything else in your environment a similar free pass. It's like the internal adult chiding the internal child, "Shhhhh, you didn't see that," and training them to perpetuate the obvious lie. This is where words, ideas, and truths diverge. Hence, our forked realities.

Aside from beauty and security, what I most crave in my life is passionate resonance. But in order to have that, I must be willing to be in passionate resonance with myself, in a state of impassioned self-empathy. In the place where creation and destruction merge and I stand at the precipice of my own unknowing. This is where word magic begins. In the region of the void, where giving and receiving are one.

The well of words signals a new perceptual apparatus. Incantatory magic relies on receiving the vital information of the world beyond the words that have been mindlessly consumed and are now obese with black magic. In returning to something more primordial, we begin to see that our previous ways of seeing were short-sighted. Perhaps too reliant on our sense organs, which are more or less flawed to varying degrees.

There is something profound about interrogating your borrowed concepts, not with your intellect but with your entire presence. You will feel a space open up in what you believe to be your mind, heart, and body—until even those things are subsumed by another state of being. From that simple act of looking/seeing/being with, uninterrupted, without allowing other distractions to intervene.

The culture of domination and oppression plies people with a surfeit of information and stimulation, such that we become severed from our own senses (which, gratefully, number well beyond the five with which we’ve come to know our felt experience). Reconnecting with our own nature will require settling into our senses rather than allowing our lives to be run by traumatized inattention. It will require learning the language of your holiest longings, and writing them into fulfillment.

Incantatory magic will clarify your language so that there can be no mistakes or misgivings. You will speak words that are searingly honest and clear and imbued with beauty. In speaking those words, you will become the very thing from which your former language once separated you.

My Not-So-Maternal Instinct

(This story was originally published on Women For One.)

I am one of those women you sometimes hear about in urban legends: the kind that doesn’t want children. I’m 37 years old, and ever since I started to express my nascent opinion that changing diapers and dealing with the tantrums of a diminutive tyrant was not my idea of a life well-lived, I got the stock response from the adults around me: “Well…you’re still young. You’ll change your mind.” This always struck me as mysterious. After all, why would I change my mind about something I felt so passionately about?

Fast-forward about three decades. I still haven’t changed my mind, and although my declarations have been softened by tact and a teeny bit of guilt (after all, who doesn’t love babies, right?), I am set in my opinion that raising children is a perfectly noble enterprise—and one I was NOT born to do.

If I have a maternal instinct at all, it’s buried under a mountain of sarcasm and the kind of clearly-not-childproofed lifestyle that comes from an intentionally unstructured schedule.

My earliest visions of my life included lots of adventure, friends and lovers galore, and the kind of leisure time most harried moms would give their firstborn in exchange for. Sure, I’ve been pegged as irresponsible for admitting to my desire to live a life free from (what I perceive to be) the hellacious burden of childrearing. I’ve been viewed as incapable of caring for others in a meaningful way (as if being a mom were the only method of expressing one’s love and goodwill). I’ve been told that I will regret this decision years from now (because, apparently, to replicate my DNA or spend copious amounts of time discussing my child’s eating and potty-training habits is the alpha and omega of a purpose-driven life).

And yes, obviously I know that there is more to motherhood than the aforementioned, but honestly, the great stuff—such as steering a living being through his or her unique hurdles and standing back to admire the results—still doesn’t sway me. I’ve made plenty of decisions that have prompted the great “What if…” and have even led me to regret the path I inevitably took. Not choosing motherhood has never been one of them.

All joking aside, a woman who openly expresses aversion to all things maternal will probably not score many points, even among the most liberal-minded. And if she is openly sexual, she will be seen as especially monstrous. In general, when women express their sexuality in a way that stands outside and beyond their “obvious” procreative functions, they are demonized. Sex as recreation rather than procreation is fine and all, but there is still the implicit notion that it must ultimately be channeled into motherhood.

We can’t lay the onus of the blame on men. As women, we still place higher value on those who are mothers. We still strip ourselves of any significant value when we are not mothers. We still see ourselves as defective, less than, and unfeminine when we do not fulfill this most prescriptive of socially imposed functions. We still reduce ourselves to the utility of our uterus.

While I have no intention of becoming a mother, I recognize that motherhood is shrouded in ambivalence, which makes it a role I can certainly sympathize with—at least in part. In our culture, the role of mother has either been upheld as the utmost standard of femininity, or it has been devalued to the point of being laughable—another feminine caricature that brings to mind emasculated mama’s boys and the cutting remarks of the cool-as-a-cucumber maternal monster who so often arises in therapists’ offices.

So, as you can see, all of this complicates the archetype of the Mother with a capital M, which I’d like to discuss. Typically, the feminine archetypes I’ve been drawn to seem to exist as counterpoints to maternity. They are warriors, rebels, witches—women who exist on the outskirts of social norms. But this is only true at first glance. Even the fierce Hindu goddess Kali, in one memorable myth, ceases her action on the battlefield to suckle a crying infant at her breast.

All of this makes me curious about the possibility of reclaiming the Mother archetype in such a way that enables me to make peace with my decision to not be a mother. This is an important step, because archetypes are symbolic rather than literal representations. Even if I’m not a mother in the traditional sense, this doesn’t mean that the Mother archetype cannot be relevant to me. Although we live in a culture that is in danger of either neglecting or inflating the Mother archetype, a more balanced, nuanced perspective could offer alternatives that are otherwise difficult to see, much less acknowledge.

Like an individual, an archetype always encompasses a spectrum of attitudes and behaviors. In looking at the Mother archetype, we can see the existence of the Nurturing Mother (characterized by fertility goddesses such as Isis or Astarte, or beacons of devoted maternity like the “Virgin” Mary) and the Ferocious Mother (innate in deities such as Kali, who may be as likely to suckle you at her breast as she is to bite off your head). Often, the Nurturing Mother is perfectly capable of changing on a dime and becoming the Ferocious Mother. Perhaps the ability of the Mother to encompass contradiction so elegantly is what makes her such a controversial figure in the human psyche. In one moment, she’s “too stifling” and in another, she’s “too cold and distant.”

Unlike the Father, whose presence tends to be less bogged down in polarities and more in our attitudes toward authority in general, the Mother dredges up all sorts of inconvenient feelings within us. Our frustration and inability to see ourselves as complex beings with hard-to-figure-out emotions can often cause us to project this messiness onto our real-life mothers and the concept of maternity in general. When we cannot accept our seeming contradictions as two sides of the same coin, our inability to integrate these varied parts of ourselves can leave us feeling like victims of the Great Universal Mother—not to mention our own mothers, who may be the most significant accomplices to our trauma.

I believe that reclaiming the Mother archetype (especially among those of us who don’t identify as literal mothers) means coming to terms with our own perceptions of femininity and motherhood, as well as the personal disappointments and prickly burrs in our side that have informed how we perceive and value motherhood. I also believe that until we view motherhood not merely as a function of the body but as a function of the soul—which continuously births itself into a universe that is both benevolent and hostile—we will always harbor an uneasy attitude toward motherhood.

To reclaim the Mother is to acknowledge her complexity—it is to accord her the power of full expression, whether this be through her desire and sexuality, through her unconditional love of her offspring, through her shadow qualities of manipulation and power plays, through her activities and passions that exist independent of her children, and through the many ways in which she fails and surprises us.

To reclaim the Mother is to see ourselves in this vision simultaneously. It is to recognize the “good” and “bad” aspects of the devoted stay-at-home mom, as well as the fairy-tale crone at the edge of town—who devours small children and sets enterprising young boys and girls out on a path to discover a world that is much larger, much more formidable than their own parents might have taught them.

For me, the true maternal instinct is that upwelling of deep love that exists at the crossroads between life and death. To be a mother is to be the gateway of creation, but it is also to bring our children into a world that includes death and sorrow. To mother is to rush into the blind optimism of our creativity, even though the efforts and the outcome may be full of struggles and uncertainty. It is to forego comfort and sacrifice what we’ve always known for a vision that is much larger than who we think we are. It is to make room for something else to exist. And it is to take ultimate responsibility for that “something else” to exist.

In viewing the maternal instinct in this larger context of creation, I have a larger playing field for my own expression of this instinct. Motherhood doesn’t have to be a one-dimensional ideal that only speaks to those women who are drawn to birthing babies and kissing the boo-boos away.

While I’ve chosen to say no to the cultural baggage that weighs motherhood down, I am an aunt. And we desperately need aunts—especially since so many mothers are overburdened by responsibilities, some that are par for the course and some that are simply unreasonable. To take on the responsibility of aunthood is to offer the kind of love that once freed mothers from their daunting obligations and connected them to a larger support system of friends and family. It is to acknowledge the full and complex spectrum of femininity (and even of maternity), which also encompasses fierce love, sisterhood, and self-care.

Granted, I’m never going to be a matriarch or a caretaker; these aspects of the Mother archetype are just not in my nature. But I can be a loyal aunt, a loving sister, and a creatrix. One of my favorite archetypes, the Witch—who exists on the cusp between the known and the unknown worlds—is not simply a creator but also a steward. The ones who literally mother us may bring us into life, but perhaps we also need the ones who ruthlessly birth us into who we truly are and who we are capable of becoming. And maybe we need the latter to remind us that, while the maternal instinct is more multifaceted than we often acknowledge, many of us won’t be returning to the village to fulfill our “duty” anytime soon. And that, too, is perfectly acceptable.

True Talk: No Story Is Too Small

(This story was originally published on Women For One.)

Hi, I’m Nirmala, and I’m the Editor and Content Alchemist here at Women For One! I believe that women’s stories shape the landscape of the human soul, and I see myself as more of a gardener than a traditional editor. One of my gifts is that I recognize the innate beauty in people’s unique words, and I find a way to cultivate those words so that lots of people get to enjoy them. And from what I’ve experienced, our Truthteller stories are part of a soul-nourishing garden of words that people want to come back to, over and over again.

This is the first in an ongoing column that will offer seasoned and aspiring Truthtellers tips on how to create compelling submissions and become more comfortable sharing your work through the written medium. Whether cranking out your thoughts in the form of stories is second nature for you, or the image of a blank screen makes your palms sweat, I hope you’ll find insight in what I’ll be sharing.

We get a lot of questions at Women For One about the types of stories we accept. Do they have to be happy? Sad? Instructive? Inspirational? Often, women who think about submitting hem and haw over the details of their own personal story. “My life is pretty mundane,” they say. “I haven’t experienced any great losses or major successes. I’m still a work in progress. What could I possibly have to share with the Wf1 community?”

My answer? More than you could possibly know!

There are as many stories as there are women. And, as women, we learn and grow in spades when we are exposed to each other’s stories. Other women’s words—funny, earnest, sassy, wise, poetic—help to water our own garden of wisdom, and every time we share our own, we offer the same vital nutrients to people who are on different but parallel journeys.

But how do you share your story if you don’t know exactly what it is? Here are my top tips.

Start with the moments that stand out. Life is a collection of moments, some of which dazzle us with vivid detail and others of which play like the faintest music in the background of our memories. It is only when we capture these moments and give them a sense of coherence that we are able to make sense of our lives.

That’s why I love the act of storytelling—it brings our memories alive in the present moment and allows us to contemplate the experiences that have been most meaningful to us…as well as the things we didn’t even realize were meaningful until we attempted to describe them.

So, what are the moments that most stand out to you? Take some time to jot them down if you can. They might not necessarily seem connected to a larger story, but I promise that they are. For example, that one vivid night I stayed awake for hours alone on a beach in Hawaii is a time I can now recognize as the beginning of the end of my first major relationship. The story about how my current partner pulled a tiny spider out of my hair on our first date still summons laughter and groans when we tell it to others. And the experience of thumbing through first-edition volumes of Dylan Thomas poetry in a used bookstore in Berkeley makes me think of the one perfect summer of my life, and the first time I fell in love.

By the way, do you notice a recurring theme in these memories? Partnership is a vital aspect of my personal life, at least with respect to where I am and what tends to occupy my mental and emotional space the most. Remember, what captures your interest says A LOT about who you are and what’s important to you in this moment—so watch for the motifs.

Stories themselves are connected to moments that are strung together to create a clear beginning, middle, and end. So even if you don’t know what your particular story is, identify the moments that touch you to the core of your soul…and I guarantee that the story will reveal itself.

Be specific. As a writer, I like to stress the fact that great writing emerges from the details. As we explore in our online program, Truthteller: A Course for Boldly Claiming Your Story, the details of a story are the ingredients that allow the recipe to hang together and create a distinct flavor. Beautiful storytelling captures our senses, and it’s easier than you might think.

Again, once you’ve identified the moments that stand out, hone in on the details: The smell of lilacs that spring night you decided you were going to move across the country to be with your beloved. The deep blue of your baby’s eyes when you saw them for the first time. The song that was playing on the radio as you painted the walls of your first apartment.

In other words, slow down and give your reader the opportunity to take in the scenery. This is what can turn a seemingly minor memory into an epic journey. It’s showing vs. telling. It’s offering us a visceral glimpse into your unique perspective vs. simply giving us the CliffsNotes version.

Honor your journey. This means never qualifying your story with a disclaimer or the notion that it’s not really a big deal. Trust me, it is. Your work in progress is beautiful precisely because it is YOURS. Your story is meaningful because you lived it. Your unique voice is the result of countless experiences, and it takes a brave soul to capture those experiences in words and readily share them with others.

There is no need to compare your journey to anyone else’s or deem it too big, small, happy, or sad in comparison. The golden nuggets that others will appreciate come not from what happened to you but from the value you extracted. (Note: If you end up submitting to Wf1, please mention what that value is for you! How did you grow as a result of your experience?)

The world is made up of stories, and the idea that they need to be harrowing tales of love and loss or globetrotting personal-development adventures in order to be considered worthy of anyone’s time is a fiction. It’s also not true that you have to consider yourself a “writer” in order to share your story! Wf1 is for all women, from every background imaginable. Whoever you are, you are in good company. And your story will be treated with the respect it deserves.

The only thing that sets a Truthteller apart is her awareness. What brings us closer to the truth is our willingness to observe the small and large moments of our lives, and weave those into the tapestry of our being. Stitched into the tapestry of YOU is a collection of remarkable stories—some of them intimately simple, and others so vast they can barely be contained. The great thing is that you have an entire lifetime to tell each and every one of them. So why not start somewhere?

What do you think makes a good story? Are there any other tips you’d appreciate when it comes to becoming the best Truthteller you can be? Email me at nirmala@womenforone.com and let me know.