Monthly Archives: February 2011

on leaving (again)

my fingers holding up a 4 leaf clover, still in the ground, next to some purslaneIt’s moving day today, and we are leaving. Wasn’t I just writing that line? Last time it was Oakland; this time, it’s San Rafael. I barely got the time to learn the skin of this place, never mind put my ear to its heartbeat.

The photo is one I took on my walk to the bus stop one morning, past the dog park. Dangerous business, putting your fingers into the greenery next to a lamp post in a dog park, but that four-leaf clover was worth it. Wasn’t this place supposed to be lucky?

This is the last morning in our new house. This is still our new house — we’ve just barely been here a year. I woke up and looked at the walls, the light fixtures, I remembered just how I felt when we walked in and I so longed to live here.

I’m going to miss this place, I’m going to miss what I wished it could be, and I’m going to miss the neighborhood, the walk, the flowering everywhere, the neighbors, the kids walking to school, the creek of the gates opening to the cement place across the street. We are leaving the orange neighborhood cat and the orange neighborhood dog, both of whom came to visit us on our back stoop. We are leaving our back stoop, and the terrible little back house that was supposed to be a workshop space and is actually riddled with mold and wet and cold. We are leaving the small first garden in CA that was carried in containers, the cukes and the never-appeared melons, the multiplicitous tomatoes, the greens that I can’t get to come up beyond baby size, the nasturtium that stayed tiny: everything knew how much energy I had to give it, and met me there. The yarrow and mint may come up strong, though. We only got one season. And then he let us go. He sent us a letter at christmastime: we are not renewing the lease. This was a termination, and even though I was already finished with the house and the relationship, still, it’s so difficult to have the decision made for you.

We are leaving the lavender walls, the green walls, the yellow walls, and are moving to white, which we will get to decorate and brighten.

I am leaving this front window with the morning sun that comes through, and the little cafe across the street. The hardwood floors and the terrible brown curtains that we bought to try and keep the bedroom warm. I am leaving the fear of mold, the fear of being evicted. As soon as he told us that he wasn’t renewing the lease (which, of course, isn’t the same as being evicted), I wanted to get out. This place has felt like category five, like disaster, uninhabitable, like living in a barn, but without the adventure part, without the part where you’re kids, outloading glasses and dishes and books and a small light and a little broom from your mom’s kitchen and you;re creating a haven, a secret place for yourself, out in the world, and you can be adventurers, explorers in a dugout, sweeping the dirt floors, coating yourself with blankets, reading in the crickety-dark by lamplight. And then you run inside, to where the real warm is, the real bed.

Did this place ever seem real? Yes, it felt real — at first, it was magic. At first, I couldn’t believe we got to live here. I don’t understand what happened — how we could have known that, once winter came, the floors would let all the cold in, that it would be below 50 in most rooms at night, and wouldn’t hold heat very well. It was so cold at the beginning, and he wouldn’t do anything to help us. He just offered to let us out of the lease — which was the last thing I wanted. We should have taken it, but at the time, we didn’t have any more money to move. And, just a couple of months (or less!) before, we had already moved twice. And so instead I got quiet, I said, Let’s quit complaining. Goddamnit. And this from someone interested in releasing her voice, saying what’s true. Totally unhealthy.

This little house that we’re leaving was supposed to be the 5 year place.  I don’t know if I can keep thinking that way about homes (“that way”=”yay, we can finally settle down!”) because something keeps going wrong. I don’t know how long we’ll be in Tiburon — a few months? A year? How to release the expectation of home as someplace unsettled, flee-able? How to quit having one foot out the door?

What about that? We are moving to quiet and green, we are moving to sea birds and water, we are moving to something completely different. When will it stop feeling like I need something completely different to survive?

Tomorrow I will be writing in Tiburon, though not yet blogging from there, since our AT&T won’t go live til Friday. It’ll be notebooking until then.

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A quick prompt: Write about a leaving, something that’s happening right now or happened 20 years ago. Who left what or where or whom? What all was left? Get into those details, if you want; so much emotion can come through them…

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Thanks for the ways you are patient and gentle with yourself through your times of change, for the ways you notice what’s hard and let it just be hard for a bit. Thanks for how you can meet your real selves. Thank you for your words…

Sexton: “Said the Poet to the Analyst”

Said the Poet to the Analyst

My business is words. Words are like labels,
or coins, or better, like swarming bees.
I confess I am only broken by the sources of things;
as if words were counted like dead bees in the attic,
unbuckled from their yellow eyes and their dry wings.
I must always forget how one word is able to pick
out another, to manner another, until I have got
something I might have said…
but did not.

Your business is watching my words. But I
admit nothing. I work with my best, for instance,
when I can write my praise for a nickel machine,
that one night in Nevada: telling how the magic jackpot
came clacking three bells out, over the lucky screen.
But if you should say this is something it is not,
then I grow weak, remembering how my hands felt funny
and ridiculous and crowded with all
the believing money.

Anne Sexton

We practice writing to know ourselves changing

graffiti from miss tic: a woman with devil horns, hands crossed in front of her, next to the words "A Lacan Ses Lacunes"“The unconscious is structured like a language” – Jacques Lacan

“We are in no way obliged to deposit our lives in their [the Lacanian fathers’] banks of lack, to consider the constitution of the subject in terms of a drama manglingly restaged, to reinstate again and again the religion of the father.” – Hélène Cixous [1]

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“Women come to writing, I believe, simultaneously with self-creation” – Carolyn Heilbrun [2].

There’s a sense of self that can emanate through writing. It is a transgressive self, a shifting, slippery self that doesn’t have to have one single constituency, is not beholden to one instantiation of a single and stable I. Continued writing practice can open a path to this consciousness.

Latina author Maria Lugones, shifting identities as she moves among the various communities she inhabits, describes a feeling “of being a different person in different ‘worlds’ and yet of having memory of oneself as different without quite having the sense of there being an underlying ‘I.’”[3]

There are ways, of course, in which this can be intensely painful, yet it does not have to be a uniformly negative experience, however–particularly when we are writing for self-creation or self-discovery. On the page I have felt it to be quite liberating. We are ever-changing. We are–I am–never the same from one moment to the next. All my meanings are always already changing–and so are yours and so are yours. Today you are new and old. Nothing is ever not changing in you. We are always never the same. The girl or boy who was raped is/not you. The adult who (was) fucked is/not you. We are/not the same. Not parenthesized, not encapsulated. We practice writing to know ourselves changing.

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“Write! and your self-seeking text will know itself better than flesh and blood […] When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love.  In one another we will never be lacking.” Cixous [1]

Thank you for the ways you allow yourself to unfold and enact, instantiate, moment after moment after moment after moment. Thank you for the creation of your words.

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[1] Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa (Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, trans.) Signs 1(4), 1976, 875-893.

[2] Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing A Woman’s Life, 1988, p 117)

[3] Maria Lugones, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception. In Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Tharp (eds.), Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women’s Writing. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998, p 174.

recalibration

graffiti: blue sun with an eye at the heart of it, green grass underneath, In my dream, everything vibrated when it was time for me to get hurt — like there was a recalibration going on, like the movie was changing, and instead of the truck I was driving flipping over, I dipped into the dangerous gravel patch, still couldn’t make the truck slow down, but wasn’t going to die.

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One of the prompts I wanted to offer during the Writing Transitions workshop (which I’m going to offer again later this year) had to do with presencing both what’s joyous and what’s difficult about change, at the same time.

Try this (this is adapted from a prompt I did with Pat Schneider last year):

On a clean page of paper (or in a new document), take 5-7 minutes and write about what you or your character are most excited about or looking forward to with this transition. Then take another page of paper and write for 5-7 minutes about what you or your character are sad or scared about with respect to this transition. In each case, try to go deep into those feelings, and let them pour out onto the page.

After the second write, you’ll create a new piece using alternating lines from each: take the first line of one piece and make that the first line of your new one, then use the first line of the second piece the second line of the new one — alternate like that until you’ve used all the words from each piece. Make adjustments, if you want, to the flow from line to line, then read it through — what’s there now? In responses to this exercise, it’s often been powerful for me to notice the flow between difficult and excitement, and the power and release of not having to be only happy or sad…

Thank you for the way you can let all the feelings be there, even when they come out in different or difficult ways. Thank you for the way you can be with those you love in all of their changeling emotions. Thank you for your necessary listening, your necessary words.

Ask anyway

graffiti: blue dragonfly with yellow wings, saying, Ask for peaceThis is about asking and receiving.

This is about sitting with how that works sometimes.

One of my favorite Smiths songs is “Ask” (which you should listen to right now…), someone saying, hey, listen, it’s cute to be shy and coy, but sometimes you’ve gotta ask for what you want. It’s kind of an answer to, or a companion-on-the-other-side to Ain’t Too Proud To Beg (which, I know, The Temptations did first, but I always how TLC does it). These songs are about getting/giving yourself permission to claim your desire.

Which is all well and good, if you know what your desire is. But sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, someone asks you, “What do you want?” and you go blank. This isn’t just about sex, but it’s about sex, too.

Recently, as we’ve been in the middle of yet another move, Fresh! asked me, If we won the lottery and could go anywhere, where would you want to buy a house? I had no clear answer, and then, instead of stressing myself out about coming up with an answer, I let myself live with the question. For some weeks. I still don’t “know,” but possibilities are wool-gathering themselves within me.

We don’t have to have answers. We can have the questions.

Rilke says:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Not knowing the answers to questions can be terrifying for me. I don’t like to not know. It was an unsafe place to be, not knowing, not being certain.

Ask anyway. This is what I’m learning, over and over and over. Ask anyway.

(thank you thank you)

Thank you for the questions that have buoyed and carried you. Thank you for the ways you let them. Thank you for your words.

a longer song

graffiti: listen to the universe singThis was the prompt: take a few deep breaths, get quiet, and just listen for a moment. Then choose one of these three (or more than one) fragments/quotes as a starting place for your writing:

  • Change, when it comes, cracks everything open (Dorothy Allison)
  • The rim of the sky is on fire and the flames are rising (Annie G Rogers)
  • It was her/his/their/your idea to…

This was my write to this prompt at Saturday’s Writing the Flood:

Sometimes, the cracking open happens before you know about the change, doesn’t it? How can I fill details into this fabrication? She said, “Are you in danger of hurting yourself?” and I thought, you mean, more than I already have?

How to find a language, a translation, for the long messiness, the way my cluttered house fills with books and plans, the terror of the unscheduled moment. I’m too much at the edge of the sky — how to dive down in? That day was like orchestras blaring — the question is, where did we go when they were in New York?

My hand comes unnumb as the Lidocaine loosens its grip — I needed more than one numbing, like at the dentist, give me 2 shots, no, 3, don’t let it happen again, when the Novocaine wore off during the drilling and the bald dentist had his warm hands in my mouth and I can feel the plasticky leather of the long chair beneath me and see the dark-haired boy-apprentice dentist assisting the hairless man who says, “We’re almost done here — it’ll just be a minute” and he keeps on drilling into my unnumb tooth and nerves.

And so today they washed and swabbed the cut that happened when the broken jar dug glass into my hand, but that was only after she pushed the needle into the skin around the wound to feed the numbing agent in and after a second she pricked around the site with the needle point — Does that hurt? — and I jumped at the pressure, I didn’t look, I said, Yes yes yes. I don’t want to feel it. Maybe that’s a longer song, isn’t it? Haven’t we been working not to feel it for awhile now? How to know what it’s all right not to feel?

The Marin suburb emergency room was super calm, so quiet you could hear the muzak, and we watched the family who brought the grandma in for testing — the woman said to her father, If she gets out of here, she’s gonna need 24-hour care. The man’s doughy face pressed itself into a line and he raised his eyebrows. A totally-fine-looking young man went back before us. They took his blood pressure and then we watched him take off his shirt and put on a gown; I guess there wasn’t a door or a curtain to pull closed.

I sat acting quiet and calm, acting familiar and cohesive, I lay on the bed where they put me later, I watched the hand on the clock push its dark way around, I squeezed my husband’s hand, I was 7 or 9 and without my mother in a hospital emergency room. They brought me the bill before they brought me the stitches, then splinted what was left of our morning.

Thank you for your questions, the space you make for unfamiliar answers. Thank you for your words.

what hearts can can do

graffiti of a sacred heart, geometrically rendered

I am typing with all the fingers of my left hand and just three on my right — I broke a glass this weekend, cut my hand, and now my ring finger is splinted up and my hand is wrapped in gauze.  This weekend, during our last Writing the Flood at the Flood Building, I managed to write, though slower than I usually do, with just those 3 fingers. The words were fainter on the page maybe, but still went deep.

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We have just about completely moved out of Suite 423 — many big thanks and lots of love to Fresh! White, Renee Garcia, Lou Vaile, Alex Cafarelli, and Cayenne Woods, who made the move happen! With my right hand effectively out of commission, I couldn’t do much more than some packing and pushing the dolly. Thank you so much for the help!

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Today, if you want to, write about what hearts can do, what they can hold, what they release. How fragile and resilient they are, how strong and meaty, how tender.

Thank you for your fierce hearts, your powerful words.

cradling the desire to be cradled

Apache sculpture of Earth Mother, woman cradling a baby, looking off to one side, singing

Earth Mother by Apache artist Allan Houser (photo by L. Craig Schoonmaker)

One of the exercises we did with Vanissar involved imagining something that you care about, that you’re working for, that you want, and finding an image or a few words to represent whatever that is, and then putting that representation into ourselves, just behind our belly buttons, at our centers.

This image is similar to the one I put in my belly — although not quite. The woman I imagined had an empty lap, broad and full and open and waiting. I want to find that figure, the one in my head, in my body, for my altar.

Now I am cradling that image, that desire, that old need. What else can I say about that right now?

(Feel welcome to use the image as a prompt: What responses or voices or stories come up for you when you see it? Follow your writing for 10 minutes — or more!)

listening to the body’s stories

graffiti: black wingsThis isn’t like that — this is like something else. (That’s how it begins.)

Last night, I went to one of Vanissar Tarakali‘s workshops, Do It Yourself Trauma: Healing principles and practices to support your personal healing process. I want to follow my own instincts, these desires to let others both help and witness me into my body, to do the incredibly simple but also simultaneously (sometimes) devastating work of just noticing what’s going on in my body and letting it be. Last night Vanissar talked about emotional first aid (she talks about it on her blog here), and then we practiced some of what she described: grounding into the body, physical practices to meet and/or engage with particular feelings, appreciating the body for doing all that it does to take care of us (and this includes our trigger responses, the stuff we do that we don’t want to do anymore because it doesn’t serve us but it did serve us once upon a time), lots more. The three hours flew by! Here’s a great thing she said: if you beat yourself up for the ways that your body responds when it thinks it’s threatened, that’s going to seem like a threat! Whew.

What do I want to say about this? This morning I am both more achy and less — the armor around my shoulders (which last night I began envisioning like a pair of shoulder pads, the kind that footballers wear) feels softened. Not gone, just malleable; not penetrable, but able to shift some.

Here’s some of what is coming up for me in several different arenas these days, as I am interacting more with somatics/generative somatics work: it’s ok to appreciate how my body has kept me safe, the instincts that my psyche developed to protect us. Getting angry at and ashamed with myself for freezing or walling up or “going away” or getting defensive or… (fill in your own — this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list for me!) only reinforces that I’m in a difficult or dangerous situation; it’s like beating a puppy for doing something you wish she wouldn’t do.

This is some powerful unlearning: what happens if I’m curious and appreciative about the triggered-response? What if I can just meet it with gratitude for its wisdom? Vanissar talked about how the body wants to tell us its stories — and we can allow it to, if we can meet ourselves in this way, if we can notice with gratitude and curiosity, instead of (or, sometimes, alongside the) shame and anger and frustration. What if I practice other ways of being in my body? Slowly, the instinctual responses become options, one of many different possible responses to a triggery or dangerous situation. This morning I notice the stiffness in my neck and back, and a kind of swollen energy around that part of my body — I’m about to go meet it with some hot water in the shower, be a little tender to the places I’ve often been frustrated with.

I want to write more clearly about all this right now, and, too, I am softened and sleepy and rushed.

It reminds me of what happens in the workshops, how there’s no wrong way to respond, how so much of what I appreciate about our workshop method is the invitation to notice just exactly how our writing wants to go, and when we follow that, when we teach our writing voices that we trust them, that our stories are trustworthy exactly the way that they want to come out, other stories begin to emerge, our writing shifts and stretches and expands: not because we’ve forced it to do so, but because we’ve met it with curiosity and appreciation and trust.

So what happens if I meet my body with those same principles? Interesting (!) how that feels so new and foreign, in spite of the fact that I’ve got that method for engaging with creative process embedded in my cells! Trauma recovery is creative process, of course, because humans are creative process.

Want to write about this some today? Are there ways that you or your characters respond in triggery situations that aren’t working for you/them anymore? What are those responses? Can you write into them with this energy of curiosity, noticing, witness? Can you let them tell their stories? This isn’t necessarily about writing what could be different, but exactly what’s happening now. Let that response/reaction feel the breadth of your attention, be all the way known.

Thank you for your brilliant, gorgeous, wise self, for all of the articulated and unarticulated ways that your psyche/body have worked to keep you safe and alive and here. Thank you for your endless and constant creativity, for your good words.

prejudice and rethinking

mural of young woman bunching up huge numbers of calla lilies for marketToday I woke up from a dream about us living in a house here in town, one we haven’t been able to see inside of yet: in the dream, I could see the big, fat calla lily in the front yard. I’ve been having a hard time getting enough sleep, and somehow managed to wake up, get out of bed, when my 2nd alarm went off just after 6. I spend most of the morning spinning about my to-do list, which I am best able to tackle early in the morning. With this day job, I spend the bulk of my best and most creative working hours either getting ready for work or in commute — by the time I get to the office, the yoke of the day has set in.

What would it be like if this were my priority, the workshops, writing about the workshops? Have I told this story already? The person who controlled and sexually abused me/my family from 1982 until 1996, when he went to prison, my mother’s second husband, was a therapist — both he and my mom worked with kids who had been sexually abused. This has meant that I have been suspicious of all therapists — all therapists. Even my sister, now, I ask myself — yes, maybe even her. And this is why, named just this week by my former employer: because of my prejudice. I myself have felt it to be a fully-justified prejudice, but it’s a prejudice nonetheless, a preconceived opinion about every therapist I meet, at least momentarily, that isn’t based in any knowledge about that person. Yes, there are lots of shitty and manipulative therapists — and there are lots of shitty and manipulative and abusive teachers and clerks and computer programmers and… abusers aren’t limited to the realm of the transformative/healing arts.

Let me be gentle with it: this prejudice, like an armor, kept me safe — I needed to question and work to trust anyone who called themselves a therapist; I didn’t want just anyone thinking they could get at my brain. I still don’t. I know what they can do — ok, what some people who call themselves therapists can do with the skills and knowledge they have been entrusted with.

Given this prejudice, what does it mean, then, if I am successful as someone who walks with and witnesses folks through their own transformational processes? You’ll notice I am careful not to use the word therapeutic (which, yes, has medical connotations at the root, but also means, in our current idiom, that which is healing  or helps maintain health): this deep desire not to be one of them. Not to be him.

What does it mean, suddenly, that I can envision myself doing one-with-one work with people around their struggles to find language for their stories, to find words for what wasn’t allowed words, to access their own, individual, brilliantly creative languagings and tellings for the unsayable? Is that part of what feels like it’s crumbling inside?

What does it mean to release a prejudice?

These are the questions that I want to take to school: how is it that we humans are shaped by/created by language — how does that occur? What happens to that languaged self (and how does this happen for people differently in different situations at different ages) when we are traumatized? What happens, neuro-linguistically or psycho-linguistically or socio-linguistically, during an expressive and witnessed/communal writing practice, for folks who have experienced trauma? What’s the connection between our being language and our embodiment? What’s the erotics of a languaged self, an ability to express our desire? I’m desperate to get Lacan and Pennebaker talking, Foucault and Pat Schneider, Carol Queen and Audre Lorde and Saussure and Kristeva and Califia and more.

What about a prompt: A prejudice is any preconcieved notion, positive or negative, formed about a person, place, thing or idea without experiencing them/it directly. What are your character’s prejudices — what does she believe about certain people or places without needing to meet them or go there? Does she know that all liberals are kind to animals, that all people who drive Priuses care about the ocean, that all 7-11 clerks are slackers? What prejudices has she released over the course of her lifetime? How did she come to understand that she had a prejudice, and then decide to let those go? Let yourself meet those inside places that shape her vision, shape how she interacts with the world, even without conscious knowledge.

Thank you for your wisdom, the way you have allowed your experiences to guide you to this now, and the ways you have been resilient around questioning your beliefs and letting new information in, growing and stretching and holding on. Thank you for your dense and thick creativity, for your amazing words.