Last summer, I was hanging out and making videos with my across-the-street neighbor and film co-director, James, when we noticed a visitor on set: a MASSIVE, unmoving turtle. We stopped filming and hovered over the turtle with both confoundment and enchantment: confoundment in that we had no idea how this hulking, prehistoric-looking fella had crawled along, unnoticed, along suburban streets into James’ backyard all the way from, what we assumed, was the nearest pond half a mile away—which would have required a steep, uphill hike for our new friend; enchantment in that what we were looking at seemed like it could have lived and thrived five million years ago.

We just stared at the turtle for a while, too stunned to film it, too stunned think about how to get it back to wherever it came from. (Eventually, my mom told us turtles need to be left alone. And then James and I had our juice boxes and went back to fourth grade, and all was well.) But since that day, almost exactly a year ago, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by turtles. They’ve become, for lack of a better phrase, my Spirit Animal By Nurture—as opposed to my Spirit Animal By Nature (a golden retriever: generally smiley, occasionally drooly, happiest when chasing tennis balls, slightly restless, eager to play, eager to sleep, eager to eat). A Spirit Animal By Nurture is the animal that you aspire to be, whose temperament you admire, whose core qualities feel like you at your best, most confident, sturdy self. (It also shouldn’t be overlooked that my first pair of tighty-whities in 1994 were Teenage Mutant Ninja TURTLE tighty-whities, so there might be more Turtle Nature than Nurture here than we originally thought.).

Last week, I was reminded of this growing turtle kinship. I’d written a piece that I was really proud of and had pitched it to a few websites. And in return, I got some loud rejections and some loud non-responses—to which my wise and supportive mom said, “BE A TURTLE. Part of life. Keep a strong shell and press on.” (She also included seven turtle emojis in the text which was a nice, personal touch.)

So, what does it mean to BE A TURTLE?

For me, it means being a few things and doing a few things, separate things that somehow feel very interconnected:

Trudging—purposeful, steady, un-sexy-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plodding. With creative work, my mom calls this “sticking to your knitting.” With physical trudging, I always think of the turtle from the beginning of The Grapes of Wrath:

“And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging his high-domed shell over the grass…the back legs went to work, straining like elephant legs, and the shell tipped to an angle so the the front legs could not reach the level cement plain…the turtle entered a dust raid and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench in the dust with its shell. The old humorous eyes looked ahead.”

Unhurried. Unflappable. Unfazed. Un…der water (nothing scares me more than open waters; nothing relaxes me more than swimming—slowly, by myself, close to the shore):

Things take the time they take. — Mary Oliver


What I wish I could have told myself when I was hopeless about my writing prospects is that I should have defined artistic success in ways that weren’t shaped by forces beyond my control… Writing and publishing are two very different things… The only thing you can control is how you write and how hard you work.Roxane Gay

Trudging-induced tranquility and mental spaciousness. Mindfully still:

 “Mindful” by Mary Oliver


I see or hear


that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for —

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world —

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant —

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these —

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

Levity. LOL-ing:

Equipped with a hard shell. On-the-go, constant self-protection (1:06 – 2:27):


They’re not quite my favorite animal (elephants!). And we’re not related like I am with the Gibbon monkey. But turtles, they plod. And I applaud their plodding. And when I applaud their plodding, I remember to plod myself.

3 thoughts on “BE A TURTLE

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