Driven to Distraction

Me and my friend Terri. We used to sit on her front porch late at night, smoking pot and maybe drinking beer and just talking. Her street was quiet––a residential area, a bit off the beaten path, and after 9 p.m. or so there wouldn’t really be that much traffic. But then, once the bars let out, there’d be a steady stream of cars. People who’d had a drink or two and were taking back roads to avoid the reliable patrols on the main thoroughfares. So we’d sit there, close our eyes, and try to identify cars before they came around the corner by the sound of their engines. Then we’d open our eyes just as they drove under the streetlight so we could check our work.

Keep in mind this was back in the day, when different makes had fundamentally different sounds––a Ford had a deep, throaty growl, while a Chevy was more insistent and higher pitched. A Honda was persistent and energetic, like a high school cheerleader. Toyotas had a similar sound, but they were more controlled and even, like the high school class president.

I wasn’t that great at first, but we played this game so often and for so long, we both eventually got good enough that we had to up the ante. No longer was it enough to simply identify the make, you must also give the model. Then you had to also estimate a year. Bonus points if you could identify problems with the car just by listening to it (more often than not, the problem was the driver––but I digress).

Overstimulation. When forced to pay attention to multiple stimuli for long periods of time, our senses become less sharp. The edges blur, and we start half-assing or mindlessly doing things––and I am trying to be more mindful. Not all at once, but incrementally.

It starts with a simple question: Why. If I feel the need to start something, or do something, I ask myself why I feel the need to add that thing. I’ve been doing a lot more things all on their own, rather than multi-tasking. Perhaps more importantly, I’m not over-taxing myself, or demanding too much of my senses. I’m not overstimulating myself and then wondering why I’m so exhausted all the time. Rather, I’m getting more things done, and with more mindful attention to what I’m doing. I’m actually experiencing the thing, even if it’s something as mundane as doing the dishes.

This is what Terri and I were doing, listening to cars. It’s no super-human feat––it’s something anyone can do who has the interest and can force the focus. We did it while impaired. Just close your eyes (eliminating visual sensory input) and listen. It’s almost meditative. There’s no conversation, so you’re not thinking about how you’re going to respond or trying to interpret what the other person is saying. You’re just listening. You start to pick out subtle differences you wouldn’t have noticed, and when you make a mistake, your brain pins that lesson on the sound, it doesn’t split it among other inputs, such as the color of the car or the speed at which it traveled.

For a long time, I’ve worn my ability to multi-task like a gold star. But it’s really not an ability at all. Saying you are proficient at multi-tasking is effectively saying “I can half-ass half a dozen things at once without significantly disappointing anyone.” And sometimes that’s necessary. Maybe. But what I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that we can get a lot more accomplished by slowing down and doing one thing at a time. I’m better able to focus, because I’m being gentler and kinder to myself, and not demanding that my brain process so much sensory input at once.

It’s hard to get used to at first. Like, maybe when you eat you just eat. That sounds fucking boring. I need something––need to be reading something or watching TV or something. Why? Why do I need to distract myself from eating? Well, because eating is boring. Is it? What are you eating? Are you enjoying it? Does the food taste good? How does it taste? Why? You can unpack virtually any basic human rote experience like this and occupy yourself for hours. Why would you deprive yourself of that?

I, for one, am enjoying the experience of reconnecting with my senses. And for the record, I can still tell whether it’s a Ford or a Chevy by sound from a mile away, but I’m a southern girl so that kinda comes with the territory.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

This Is a Shout-Out

I don’t do these. Or rather, I didn’t do these in the past, when I was active. Then I became inactive and I definitely didn’t do them. But now I’m active again and I’m doing them, or at least I’m doing this one now, because it feels good. And my yoga instructor says “find what feels good” so dammit, I’m finding it and doing it.

So this is a shout-out to @thebonegardens . Damn I love this woman. We don’t talk much now, although we did for a brief period and they were some damn good conversations. But I enjoy her blog and the things that she posts, even if I don’t necessarily show it through heart-bombs and such. Maybe this makes up for that.

This isn’t a “promotion”––child, please. This is much more personal than that. This is a barbaric yawp through the void. Out of all the humans in all the world, she is one I’m thankful I got to know even a little. She enriches my life, and all I can do is thank her profusely for that.

Left Unsaid

Your body beside me
warm and slow, I follow
the eloquent lines of your silence (and)
I know
this is what it feels like to belong
(and) even though tonight
our voices are gone ––
we will speak for us tomorrow
as we spoke for us today.

When next the light comes
high and cold, I swallow
the erratic rambles of doubt (and)
I know
(this is how feels belong)
I know. I know.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

Things I Want You to Know

You have made it this far, and this thing is no greater than the previous thing you thought would break you – it only feels that way because it’s immediate. You need to breathe. You have an infinite capacity for kindness, respect, and love – apply liberally. You need to breathe. You will work for the things you want. If you find you have to force yourself to do something, it maybe means you don’t want that thing as much as you thought you did. You need to breathe. You need to realize that moving on is not the same as failing. You can practice productive violence by understanding when certain emotions need release. You don’t need to beat yourself up if you find yourself unable to move. You need to breathe. You will notice more beauty than you previously gave the world credit for. You will be okay. You will be okay. You will be okay. You need to breathe. You will be okay.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

Time and Facets

Question: How can love
never felt, be written – or
never written, be felt. Why
so esoteric. Where day breaks
on skinned knees. When laughter
fell and rose on greener pastures.
What was that. Who knew.

Answer: You and I. Once
and new we grow – or
now we grew. When
promises turned and stuck to the roofs
of our mouths. Where night burns
on salty eyes. Why so bold.
How like always we’ve become.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

Amygdala, Darling

You had me at trauma:
a soft word for a hard thing.
A crash, a reboot. Coming
back is not the same as returning––
you never stand in the same place.
Never stand. Embrace
movement, make that movement
forward, always forward.
Learn as you go. Apply grace-
fully. Appreciate the path,
how it climbs and curves,
where it dips and swells. There––
only a whisper, straining to be
heard in the cacophony of dreams.

On tips of tongues and other wanting things

Falls my mind, times you
drive me to the point of abstraction –
a tick-tock-tick disturbance not
of silence. Not a metronome, not measured.
We are not of time and its passing; we are not
something ephemeral. How we are at once
both small and as we were. We are
life organs pumping life fluids to life
beings. How altogether separate yet
tethered. We are
in some buried way and
we, or you, or I, or us, must
dig. Beneath the many-
layered shit there is
something shiny yet
to be discovered once again.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

On Second Read

Rediscovering an author is an amazing thing. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you stop reading an author–– maybe you got busy, or maybe you thought you’d read everything they had to write, or maybe you didn’t want to re-read previous works too soon, afraid you wouldn’t get the same thrill on the second visit. For whatever reason, you let those works sit on a shelf for a time. It may even have gotten to the point that you didn’t even give them much thought. You’d look over at the shelf, and you’d see them there, but you’d kind of overlook or ignore them. Or, you know, maybe you just didn’t feel like reading at the moment (and that moment happened to last a really long time).

But then, for whatever reason, you see their name blazing out to you on that shelf again and it calls to you. Suddenly, their writing is the only thing you want to read. There may be a thousand authors or more whose works line your physical or virtual shelves, but there’s only one for you.

You grab the book and you dig in. You find yourself transported to another place and time with every story, your heart leaping to your throat and sinking to your stomach with every event that unfolds. You remember what drew you to that author in the first place, and why you were originally so enamored with their work. You read and reread with enthusiasm, knowing that anything this good on second read can safely be read again and again for the rest of your life without losing any of its intensity. You have found your favorite, and you know you are home.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

On Unintended Hiatuses, and Mostly Triumphant Returns

In August of 2015, my life changed in a fairly dramatic way. I tried to keep up with things for awhile, but a lot of things fell off my personal radar, for good reasons – I had just moved into a new apartment, I was nurturing a new and blossoming relationship, and I had veritable shit-tons of work to do. I didn’t spend a lot of time writing (for myself, to distinguish from the writing I do for a living), and initially, I used every excuse in the book: I was busy, I had other things I wanted to do more, I just needed to take a break, I had other projects I needed to prioritize, I needed to read more, I didn’t have time, it was hard to write for fun when you’d just written all day for work, etc., etc. If there was an excuse and it fit, I’d gladly take it up.

Keep reading

Just Passing By

In winter, when
trees are brazen, you
can stand
on my balcony, watching
cars on the highway
passing by. You
can wonder
where they’re going,
or why they’re going,
or when they will arrive.

If driving by you looked
left or right, depending
on the direction of your travel,
you might see a light
and wonder who stood there.
You might wonder if they
are wondering about you.

This is what it means
to be human, and also
something of what it means
to love.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

So This Was Adorable

I was in the grocery store last week (yes, I’m just posting about this now, don’t judge), and I was trying to pick what kind of “nut butter” and what kind of fruit spread I wanted because I wanted almond butter or maybe something else, but I wanted the ability to make PB&J sandwiches whenever I wanted, because I had the feeling I would be craving one pretty soon (does anybody else ever anticipate cravings that way? Also “nut butter” is funny), and so this is a long, involved, process because there is a lot to choose from and I have to evaluate each one before I make my decision. And then I’ll narrow it down, and then again, and then again, until I reach two, and then I’ll hem and haw back and forth between those two for awhile before finally getting annoyed with myself and how long it’s taking, so I’ll take one and put the other on the shelf, take two steps forward, then turn around and grab the one on the shelf and put the other one back. Or sometimes even a third one. This is how decisions are made in MAH HOUSE (”nut butter” is still funny).

Anyway, the point of all that was that I was involved in this long process, so I was in that same spot for awhile, which allowed me to observe the following exchange, which was adorable, and is the subject of this post. On the same aisle, there was a man and his daughter, who looked to be about the same age as my niece, who is three. And he was checking labels or consulting a list or something when she goes “Daddy?” And he turned to her and said “Yes?” And she goes “I love you, Daddy.” So he says “I love you too!” And kisses her on the head and goes back to shopping.

Then she says “Daddy?” And he says “Yes?” And she goes “How much do you love me?” And he says “Oh, I love you an awful lot. Very much.” But I guess this wasn’t good enough. So she’s like “Do you love me as much as I love you?”

Okay, here’s the adorable part. He says “Oh honey, no. I love you more.” And the little girl goes “How do you know? How can you know you love me more?” And he says “Because, I’m much, much bigger than you. That means I have a lot more love to give.”

(”Nut butter” is still funny.)

The Language of the Heart

One afternoon he suddenly started speaking a different language––one she didn’t understand a single word of, despite the fact that she was near-fluent in two languages and conversational in several more. This was a language she’d never even heard before, and as he spoke she was entirely unsure even how to react.

When he finally finished speaking, she could think of nothing but getting out and getting some fresh air for a time, maybe talking to some friends to find out if they could make sense of it. As she drove to a friend’s house, she repeated his vocalizations to herself, struggling to commit them to memory even though they still made no sense to her brain.

Though she spoke to a few friends that night, there was no one who was able to shed any light on even what this language was, let alone what he was saying. Growing more angry, she waited for him to return home. When he arrived, they launched into a screaming match. She was shocked to find that when she opened her mouth to speak to him, she, too, was speaking in some foreign tongue that she had never heard and didn’t know. It was different for her, of course, because she knew what she meant to say, so she assumed her vocalizations were in line with those intentions. At any rate, neither of them understood each other anymore than she had understood him earlier that evening. Exhausted, they dropped it.

The following day she awoke, thinking for a brief moment that the bizarre occurrence had been nothing but a strange bad dream. It wasn’t. She tripped downstairs and drank the coffee that tasted like cardboard to her frayed and numbed taste buds, certain that if she tried to say a word she’d start speaking that same language again, the one neither of them understood, and that he would respond in kind. At the brink of questioning her entire existence, she wrote.

And he read. But when they tried to speak, the words came out in the unfamiliar language again. There was anger and frustration. She wrote some more.

Their native languages never returned. They did, however, slowly learn to understand each other through immersion. It was difficult. There was still a lot of frustration––but in the end everything turned out okay, which is all anybody ever wanted anyway.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

Make It New

For months, the apartment complex has been promising new balconies. If you saw the old ones, you would understand. I’ve watched workers taking down other balconies, watched the wood crumble to dust and rot as it hit the flatbed of the truck. They were unsightly and unsafe.

Today was the day. The workers were friendly, and I was struck by the work ethic of the guy who actually had the task of building my balcony. He was singing the whole time, and if not singing, he was whistling. He was methodical and efficient, working at a steady pace and never stopping. The job done, he caught my eye and waved as he hopped over the balcony railing and down a ladder to the ground.

The balcony finished, I started to move the furniture back outside where it belonged. “Where’s the beer?” he lilted over to me. He had already started work on my neighbor’s balcony.

I laughed. “Today would be a good day for it, that’s for sure,” I said, referencing the unseasonably warm weather.

“It is Friday, you know,” he said.

“That’s true, that’s true,” I smiled and went back inside. For a freelance writer, Fridays don’t mean anything –– just another day, like every other day. But I wasn’t going to tell him that. It seemed a bit too … personal.

When I stepped out again a little later, he saw me leaning on the railing. “Does it feel better?”

“Yeah. It does feel better, actually,” I said. “Thank you. You did a great job.”

He smiled and nodded. “Feels better,” he repeated, an affirmation. “Looks better, too.” The word better hung in the air, an incantation.

A choice. A few days ago, I received a postcard in the mail. On that postcard, an excerpt from a poem by Alice Fulton: “It will be new / whether you make it new / or not.” New is inevitable. Better is not. Today is a new day––just another day, like every other day. But today, I choose better. I am making it so.

©2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

Limited Vocabulary

He said I never write about him. That’s maybe true. Maybe I never write about him, about how open and soft his eyes went when they caught mine, or how sure and strong his hands felt. But I never write about him because I never want to seal him up and commit him to the past. To write about him means that he is closed––that the moment has ended, the feeling has ended, that all of it can be held in a single page or a handful of lines, and that is both false and impossible.

So I refuse. As much as I might happily write him the briefest of verses or the boldest of letters––as much as I might write for him, I will never write about him, because our love cannot be constricted by the cartography of composition.

© 2015 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller


See, it isn’t about “making it work” or “working it out,” because if there’s nothing broken, there’s nothing to fix. If there aren’t wrongs, there’s nothing to correct. When what you have is an absence, the thing to do is create more to fill the void. Create, and recreate, and create anew.

© 2017 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

Be Kind

That was my New Year’s Resolution––be kind. I don’t know, after the dumpster fire 2016 turned out to be, it seemed appropriate. I figured if nothing got any better, or even if things got significantly worse, there was nothing wrong with increasing the general levels of kindness in the world.

When I made this resolution, I was looking outward. I was thinking of being kind to others, of not being so quick to anger or quick to judge, to give others more latitude, more tolerance, and to be more open-minded and less dismissive.

It didn’t occur to me until last week that I should have looked inward as well. In resolving to be kinder to other people, I wasn’t thinking about being kind to myself––but if anybody deserves my kindness, it’s me.

I doubt most of you reading this have any knowledge of this, but I am extremely hard on myself, and that is an understatement. That doesn’t mean I’m hard on other people––I’m generally pretty tolerant of others, quick to tell myself that I don’t have enough information to judge them and should give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m different. Me, I do have enough information. Me, I find no reason to give the benefit of the doubt. With myself, I am ruthless.

I’m an all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinker, for the most part. If I have nine things to do today and I accomplish eight of them, I am a failure. If I forget something, I am scatterbrained, a loser. Understand that I have cut off friends and loved ones from engaging in such negative self-talk, and yet I am the champion of it. There is no human being who has ever been crueler to me than I am to myself.

This is something I am taking not even one day at a time, but minute by minute. It isn’t easy, but I do everything I can to try to cut off the negative self-talk when I find myself thinking it, to be mindful and self-aware, and to affirm and validate myself.

I understand this may be an issue for some of you as well. For that reason, I will share things here as I find things that work for me and help to lift me out of the negative space. That way I’m being kind to myself and sharing that kindness with others, so it’s a win-win, really. I’ll be tagging them #kindnesses and at some point I’ll I just put up a link on my blog so they’ll be easy to find.

Okay? Okay.
Jen out.

This Is Us, Loving

And this is me, waiting
for every little word from you.
All your doings and okays,
your smiles and theres, your heres
and whats. Whether to or hence,
your essence remains the piece
you placed in the palm of my hand–
my fingers closing
to capture lightning bugs.

And this is you, waiting
for every little word from me.
All my doings and okays,
my smiles and theres, my heres
and whats. Whether to or hence,
my essence remains the piece
I placed in the palm of your hand–
your fingers closing
to capture lightning bugs.

And this is us, waiting.

© 2015 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller