Open Heart, Big Effing Fence

Open Heart Sunshine“Protect your heart so that you can keep it wide open.” Danielle LaPorte

Open Heart, Big Fucking Fence.

I have said those words over, and over, and over again since I read them.

Open Heart, Big Fucking Fence.

I have written them down on pages. I see them in the air when I say that I am fine but I mean the exact opposite. Open heart. Open heart. Open heart.

I do not mean to say, “I am fine.” What I mean is: “Do you see me? Do I matter? I am hurting.”

Open Heart.

But the heart, ugh the heart, it knows when it’s hurting. We can be so clever in our pain with our distractions and to-do list and busy-life-excuses. We numb and hide and pretend to be cool or edgy or distant. Isn’t it better this way—to not feel, or cry, or hurt? We look to protect ourselves by denying that anything could be wrong. We build the fence, and we put it in the wrong place. At least I do. I put the fence inside the heart instead of around it.

Part of being open and loving and in it is letting people into our lives. We make special keys for those who should be allowed in.

To borrow words from a friend, “I have a fence around my heart and it’s in the shapes and sizes of the people who love me and stood by me in this life and never asked me to be more or less than I already was, and have picked me up in the places where I couldn’t walk any longer and waited until I could.” That’s the fence. That is the big, fucking, glorious fence we put around our precious hearts. That’s the fence that gets keys and guards and visitors at the entrance.

We allow others in who are honest, and kind, and gracious, who see us. We learn, in time, who to trust with the keys. We can hold space, and serve, and laugh, and give, and love big when that fence is high and solid and true. It is what allows for wholehearted living in a mysteriously beautiful way.

I met a girl whose heart reminded me that being open, and vulnerable, and broken can be life-changing, affirming, and earth-shattering good. But that fence is what gives permission to the heart to beat wildly and honestly, bleeding and caring in all the right places. So that fence, that fence is so, so important. That fence is essential to the heart.

But it is not one or the other. Never.

It is both.

It is always: Open Heart, Big Fucking Fence.



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From My Inbox: On Writing

writing and coffee

I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting up [blogging] again, but every time I go to write something, I just stare at the screen with nothing to say. But of course, when I’m driving around or sitting in a meeting where I should be paying attention, I have all sorts of thoughts, ideas and things to say. Or even when I’m rambling on to you in this email for example!

I’m assuming you have experienced this as well?? Any tips on getting started again? I know I should probably just start writing and see what comes out, but that seems too simple! 

It’s funny that your question comes when it does because I’m in the midst of trying to write daily and it is simultaneously the best and worst thing ever. It’s the best because it’s how stories get told and books get written; it’s the worst because I often write crap, and don’t know where to start, and sometimes it’s really, really hard to tell the truth. Especially when the truth sucks.

And yes, what you discovered–the complete absence of words when it’s actually time to sit down and write–happens ALL. THE. TIME. I can’t tell you how many times I start writing and my first line is “I don’t know what to write…” But I make myself write anyway, even if it’s nonsensical rambling about how I have nothing important to say. I shoot for 500 words a day, but I try to be gracious with myself and realize a sentence on a gum wrapper can suffice if it needs to. I also have friends who check in on me to make sure words made it on a page.

I keep pens and paper, and my cell phone handy for whenever one of those writing ideas come my way. If I don’t write them down, they vanish. I use the Notes app on my iPhone to keep a running list of blog ideas (and good quotes I hear). Some people rave about Evernote, so that could work too.

Right now my current list reads:

  • Walking barefoot on Polk St.
  • Review of Jeff’s book
  • International Travel Tips

Eventually I may get to the story about how I found myself barefoot at Polk & Green with four blocks to go before getting to my house in broad daylight on a Tuesday. But until I do, it’ll be on my phone.

My ideas very rarely show up right when I sit down to write. But I think the practice of showing up every day in the same spot potentially helps the writer-brain know it’s time to start. Some days it turns on more easily than others.

Some great mentors of mine are Jeff Goins and Anne Lamott. I’ve never actually met either, but their tips for writers (and writing style) have helped me along the way. I’d recommend picking up Bird by Bird by Lamott and checking out Jeff’s blog They’re both chock full of practical ideas for when you get a bit stuck. I love Anne Lamott’s sarcasm and Jeff’s ability to get at the heart of things.

One trick I’ve tried (which Anne Lamott also recommends) is writing letters. I’ll simply quote her: “When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can’t just leave your work alone for awhile and wait, you might try telling part of your history–part of a character’s history–in the form of a letter. The letter’s informality just might free you from the tyranny of perfectionism.”

I started doing this a bit on my blog with the Note to Self posts. And some of my best sentences have shown up in those. You might consider writing a letter to your younger self, or outlining what you wish you would’ve have known a few years back. I promise you that if you just start, the words will eventually come. They may be shit at first (they usually are) but the good news is, everyone writes shitty first drafts. It’s how you get to better second drafts.

I get how it can get a bit heavy and depressing to write during the times when life isn’t cooperating, but I think there’s something to be said for getting stuff down anyway. There was a time when I was basically going through hell and decided to keep a private blog just so I could get things down. A few months later, after the worst had passed, I decided to edit those posts and publish them publicly. I wanted those who I had been through similar experiences to know they weren’t alone.

There was also a time when I dreaded blogging because I hated my literal online space. My blog design was uninspiring. So, I changed it.  I recommend you pick colors/font/photos you like, and get to writing. That’s really the main thing–writing–it sounds simple, and it is, but it isn’t.

I truly believe everyone has an important story to tell. I’m glad you’re getting yours down.

My inbox is always open if you ever have any questions.


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Death at Powell Street Station

Girls Walking

Today at 7:55am a man jumped in front of a train at Powell Street BART Station and died.

I didn’t know this when I left for work, and grabbed my bagel, and walked down Mission St. I had no clue when the attendant saw me and said, “ You going downtown? There are delays today,” and I told him, “I’m not in too much of a hurry.”

I didn’t suspect it when the announcements came over the intercom letting commuters know that, “Due to a medical emergency at the Powell Street Station there will be delays. We recommend you find alternative means of transportation.”

And it didn’t cross my mind when too many minutes passed, and I followed the crowds toward the buses and hopped on the 14 toward Embarcadero.

I kept moving to the back of the bus as the bus driver yelled at us to make more room. We shuffled and sighed, and made more space, and played musical chairs, and tried not to fall. I looked out the windows at the day beginning, and people waiting, and a woman walking with her clanking walker, yell-speaking to a man nearby.

I  moved my eyes to the phone of the guy in front of me and I shamelessly read his texts: “Suicide, Ma.” It finally clicked.

I opened up Twitter and typed “bart” into the search bar. The news appeared, I scrolled through my screen: Man jumps in front of BART train this morning. Attempted suicide. Pronounced dead. Investigations pending.

It all felt so heavy and sad and hard. Heavy in a way that sinks your soul and fills your eyes with tears and makes you want to hug all those tightly-packed strangers. It feels heavy in the cold, in January, in the same month of my dad’s suicide. I am reminded again that sometimes the fight is hard and there are days when we simply give up.

It is painful to know another human being couldn’t manage, couldn’t make it one more day, not in a new year, not this time. It was all too much. We can be so fragile when we feel alone.

Sometimes it is all we can do to breathe and stay alive. One more moment is so much work. The weight of it can suffocate.

I was an hour late to work. I stopped to think about what was, and is, and isn’t, and how our stories overlap and intertwine and we cannot know the impact. I felt a little lost and sad and overwhelmed.

I sent my feelings to a friend and she responded with love. She knows the pain of depression, of suicide, of life. She understands too well. I guess we both do. So we reminded each other again that we are not alone. We are not alone in this. We won’t be. We can’t be. Ever.

And that is how we make it.

That is how we make it to the next moment.

We love.

“If I believe one thing to be true about heaven, it’s that the collection of souls that gave up the fight after valiantly fighting depression – they are treasured for the battle, held in precious regard because it’s unlike anything else.”  Shaylynn Kilfoyle