Monthly Archives: March 2011

what if we lived

graffiti: silhouette of a child walking a dog - behind them are enormous bright flowers(some maybe-intense writing about incest this morning — not details of a story, but thinking about how we think about ourselves, the language we use to describe ourselves. In any event, please take care of you — xo, Jen)

Today’s tea is tulsi-anise-nettle-mint. I choose tulsi for the calming, anise for the thick, round taste and the belly comforting, nettle for the cleansing and the bitterness, mint for the sweetness, the quickening sharpness. And, for the first time since moving, the first time this year, likely, I have the window open while I write. 2 candles, the tea-smoke pushing into the light of the flames, and some cool breeze from outside that feels like a good morning.

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This is what I thought about this morning, considering the language of incest & trauma: the idea of soul-murder. The language around incest is this language: he killed the child I was, he murdered my soul. It’s the language of death (and rebirth, sometimes). Death is irrecoverable, it’s an end, it’s finished. And sometimes, during the recovery/healing/growing process, incest feels like that, like having been killed, because we see how the trajectory our lives were on was irrevocably changed, and we can never know who we might have been if this person hadn’t decided to take our life path into their own hands, to intervene on our bodies and minds and understandings and beliefs, to seem to forclose our futures, shut them down, close our eyes to tomorrow. That can feel like a killing: I might have been a happy teenager, I might have been someone with close friends, I might have been able to learn some comfort in my body playing sports or in other physical activity — but you (that abuser/the abusers) took that from me.

Recently, I was telling my therapist that I wanted to get to that light, I wanted to feel it flare, I wanted to get underneath all the layers of self-protective mechanisms and inside walls and fear and shame and self-aggrandizement and loss and sorrow and make some windows so that that flame could burn a bit more brightly. In my inside metaphors, that flame is what: soul? will to live? will to survive? that flame is the fingerprint of a little girl who had to take her life into her own hands. that flame is a closed eyelid of a child who decides to see what she needs to see, but not let out what she wants to keep safe. That flame, the small one deep in my chest, is the self-mothering. That flame is the heat of living. That flame is curiosity about tomorrow, the thing that kept me alive. That flame is what fed my understanding that he couldn’t make the clock stop ticking. That flame is what he could not blow out, no matter his 10 years of trying — and what I couldn’t drown in alcohol, self-loathing, deep shame, cloaking, couldn’t choke out with too much food, couldn’t run away from. That flame is this me still alive. He didn’t kill anything. He didn’t have that much power.

The idea of soul murder is a impactful one. It says to the reader,  These people do terrible things from which their victims never recover — because, as we know, murder victims never recover. It conveys a message to policy makers, and others in all our societies, that have condoned the sexual use of children apparently since the beginning of time: we should think differently about this act of child sexual use. We need people to understand that it’s a really bad thing, so that they start taking action to prevent its continued prevalence, to stop being so silent around the great numbers of people being used sexually against their will or desire.

(The birds just woke up outside.)

The words we use to define ourselves shape how we understand ourselves, in how we can see ourselves. If we as people who have experienced child sexual abuse, and/or other undesired/unconsented-to sexual use, learn from the experts and authorities that our souls were murdered, that has an effect on us — that tells us something, it gives a shape to the enormity we carry, the stuff that has so little language for it, and there’s a relief in that: This awful feeling inside, the emptiness, the thick loss? It’s what was killed. It’s a death we carry around inside our skins.

But: What if our souls weren’t murdered, and it was still an awful, inexcusable, unwelcome, inappropriate, not-at-all-ok thing that was done to us?

There have been times that I have felt, psychically, like I was digging out of a grave. I felt that far down, that far away from humans, that distant, that dead. And I have appreciated, needed, the myth of the phoenix, that which is resurrected from the aftermath of the flames, that which rises up anew. But what if I was never dead? What if he didn’t kill my teenage self? What if I survived without being murdered? What if you did, too? What if my psyche did a tremendous, un-willed job of keeping my inside-light protected and lit? What if yours did to?

I don’t want to take this language from anyone for whom it’s working/necessary/important. I do want expand the way we think about ourselves, about anyone who has experienced sexual violation. The metaphors we use predominantly in our society put shape around our thinking — which means they also put boundaries around that thought. (I first learned about this idea from reading Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson — a profoundly important book.) First looking at, becoming aware of, and then (if we choose to) changing the metaphors we use for our situations, our understanding of ourselves, can intensely resituate us in our understanding of our world — resituate what we understand our possibilities to be.

We lived. The flame within us lived.

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A writing idea, for when you have some safe and uninterrupted time — this is one of the few prompts in which I’ll specifically invite you to use the word ‘incest’ or ‘rape’ (as it works best for you), and so please take care of yourself around this one (as with any writing prompt). If you want, check in with someone before starting this write, or think about who you can call/talk to after, if things come up that are triggering or upsetting.

‘Soul murder’ is one way we think about incest/sexual violation. I’m going to invite us to create some other metaphors. let’s take 10 or 15 minutes for this one, after we create the list: number a sheet of paper from 1-7 (you don’t have to do this; I just always liked the numbering part of the spelling test at school.) Write down a list of 7 everyday-type actions: “going to the store” “tying my shoes” (or his shoes, or her shoes). Don’t think too much about each item, just put them down as they come to mind. Then let the phase “Incest is like” or “Rape is like” or “Sexual harassment is like” or “Molestation is like…” go in front of each phrase — say it out loud. It’s ok if they don’t make any immediate sense. Choose one that sounds interesting to you, that catches your writer’s creative attention, that you feel especially curious about, and let that be your starting point: for instance, Sexual harassment is like tying his shoes — ok: what does that mean? Write down your prompt, whichever one you chose, and write it at the top of a new page (or below your list) and start there — it’s ok if your writing isn’t logical, is filled with images and ideas; that’s just right! Write for your 10 or 15 minutes, as fast as you can, as much as possible without editing. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

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Thank you for all your knowings and reknowings and deep, unlanguaged understandings, and your survival. Thank you for the creative ways you have found to heal and hold you and be present with others. Thank you for your words.

Primavera: Festas, Wildflowers, and Inspiration (5/6)

The excellent writer & facilitator Chris DeLorenzo (of Laguna Writers) is co-leading (with Sharon Smith) a daylong writing retreat up in Forestville at the beginning of May — I whole-heartedly recommend Chris’  (AWA method) workshops to anyone looking for a safe and fun place to write. And check this one out: fresh new writing and amazing food? Talk about sensory inspiration.

-xox, jmc

Please join us for our first 2011 daylong retreat in Forestville on Saturday May 7th, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. As we anticipate our two upcoming writing retreats in Umbria this fall, we will once again let Italy inspire us here in West Sonoma.

In Italy, May is a month of flower, food, and wine festivals (known as a festas), so we’ve decided to have one of our own. We’ll feast on luscious words in the morning and afternoon, and our lunchtime meal will be a celebration of flowers and the spring Italian harvest.

This retreat will have the same format as our previous retreats: we’ll write all morning, take several short breaks, and one longer break at lunchtime. For lunch, we’ll serve a spring asparagus risotto and Italian skewers, a seasonal salad and a special Italian dessert. After lunch, we’ll write again all afternoon, and end the day with an evening prosecco toast paired with some antipasti. (Expect artichoke bruschetta, another seasonal Italian treat.)

The Forestville Retreat is $150 and includes the all-day workshop, as well as the morning treat, snacks, lunch, dessert, hot beverages, and wine.

These retreats tend to fill fast, and many participants return to write with us again, so if you are interested, please make a non-refundable $75 deposit to hold your place. You may do this by arranging to send Chris a check; you can also sign up on the “Fees and Deposits” page, using the Paypal drop-down menu.

For more information, please go to Laguna Writers or call: 415-206-9771.

To contact Sharon about accommodations or restaurants, or see more photos of Birdland, check out her web site at http://www.savorsmith.com or contact her directly at SavoringSF@aol.com or 415-378-8005

The Icarus Project in Vancouver – this week!

For all my Northwest folks: Check out these amazing workshops that Kiran, Anthony, and Jacks from The Icarus Project are presenting in Vancouver this week! The folks at Icarus do amazing, accessible, layered, intentional, beautiful, exciting work around radical mental health issues — if you’re anywhere in the area, I absolutely urge you to attend!  – jmc

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icarus logo: you are not alone

the icarus project: navigating the space between brilliance and madness

4 Icarus Project Workshops – This Week!

Radical Mental Health in People of Color Organizing Communities – TODAY!
7:00pm – 9:00pm, Wednesday, March 30th
La Bicyclette Rouge
1227 Victoria Dr

Note: This workshop is intended as a safe(r) space for people of color and has limited space, please RSVP.

This will be a facilitated discussion around the issues and challenges that people of color experience in common when faced with addressing mental health concerns in their communities. The discussion is intended for people of color, and will be focused on drawing out the experiences of the group with the goals of sharing strategies and resources for radical mental health. The discussion will be facilitated by Kiran Nigam (AORTA, The Icarus Project) and Anthony Meza-Wilson.

Tea and cookies will be provided :)

Space will be limited to 20 participants, please RSVP to: anthony.mezawilson@gmail.com.

For more information:
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http://aortacollective.org/
http://theicarusproject.net/
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La Bicyclette Rouge is not wheelchair accessible. There are approximately 10 stairs with a banister. Washrooms are standard, single occupant washrooms with minimal clearance and no rails.
Please no strong or artificial scents.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=198774696823557


Bent, not Broken: Queer/Trans Lives and Mental Health

6:00pm – 9:00pm, Thursday, March 31st
at the UBC Student Union Building room SUB 206
6138 Student Union Boulevard

A radical community discussion of the intersections between queer and trans lives and experiences of emotional distress, “mental illness,” and healing, facilitated by Jacks McNamara (Icarus Project) and Kiran Nigam (AORTA).

In this workshop we will open space for creative investigations of queer/trans experiences with mental health that inspire us to break isolation, find our stories reflected, share strategies towards healing, a…nd build community resilience in the face of a shaming, crazy-making world.

Graciously hosted by:
the UBC Social Justice Centre http://www.socialjusticecentre.org/
the Womyn’s Centre
and UBC Allies http://alliesubc.wordpress.com/
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For more info on the Icarus Project: www.theicarusproject.net
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Feel free to distribute widely and share with friends.
Please minimize the use of artificial scents & perfumes.
This is a drug and alcohol free event.

Accessibility map:
http://www.maps.ubc.ca/PROD/index_detail.php?show=y%2Cn%2Cy%2Cn%2Cn%2Cy&bldg2Search=n&locat1=790&locat2#showAccess

http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=183576495019326

Creating Spaces that Help Us Thrive: Radical Mental Health in Shared Housing
11:30 am – 2:30 pm, Saturday April 2.
at the DIY Dharma Lab #202 – 1814 Pandora St

Join us for a workshop about radical approaches to mental health. Experiences labeled “mentally ill” affect us all, especially when we’re living, working, or organizing in communities. There are a lot of big questions on our minds regarding mental health, such as:
What structures can we put in place to help prevent crisis situations from occurring, or min…imize their potentially negative impact on the community when they do occur? What can we do for our friends in times of extreme crisis to keep them from either getting locked up or hurting themselves?
What can we do after wards to help everyone heal? How can we minimize feelings of alienation, anger, sadness, insecurity, etc. and create communities that foster self-determination and support us all?

Using a popular education framework, we will explore these key questions together. We will also learn about what a Mad Map/ Wellness Map is and make our own maps to share with our friends and loved ones.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=170526956331987

Collective Liberation and Radical Mental Health
3:30 pm – 6:30 pm, Saturday April 2.
at the DIY Dharma Lab #202 – 1814 Pandora St

How do privilege, oppression and collective liberation relate to radical mental health? How can we create communities that support our mental and emotional health as activists? Does the undertaking of collective liberation recognize diversity in mental health experience? Problematic binary definitions of mental health experience (you’re either “normal” or “crazy”) are rampant in mainstream culture. The Icarus Project recognizes …the multiplicities of mental health experience and strives to create a community that regards the range of diversity as something to be respected and even rejoiced in. In this workshop, we will explore ways to promote safer spaces in our communities. We’ll discuss the importance of sharing our personal stories, giving and receiving support, and building communities that are truly welcoming to all marginalized people. Using exercises like “Mad-Mapping” and skill-sharing, we’ll collaboratively envision structures for mental and emotional support, and dialogue about why such strategies are vital to collective liberation.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=170026576381626

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For more info on the Icarus Project: www.theicarusproject.net
—————————————————————————————–
Feel free to distribute widely and share with friends.
The DIY Dharma spaces is wheelchair accessible.
Please minimize the use of artificial scents & perfumes.
This is a drug and alcohol free event.

those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise

graffiti of a cuppa coffee -- contains the spray-painted words: "props to soup + soil"

"props to soup + soil" -- love that!

There’s a mourning dove outside my window; I turn off my quiet morning music to listen. It’s mostly just that harmonious throb — whoo, whoo, whoo, in a breathy thrum.

I am thinking about boundaries, about elasticity, self care, and about perfection.

Last week I had my first cup of “real” coffee, fully caffeinated, that is, since around Nov 2009. There’s been a little voice/message/feeling: What would it be like to get coffee? I sipped at F!’s french roast one morning out at breakfast several weeks ago, I listened to the little question filling inside my arms, and finally I walked into the Peet’s and instead of asking for decaf, I asked just for coffee. There was a short hesitation, I caught myself, the words “decaf” and “coffee” got kind of tangled & trainwrecked in my mouth, and “coffee” was the one that got through. (None of this, I think, was visible to the barista. He’s just waiting to get through one more order — whatever, coffee, that’s easy.) I took the small cup over to the adulteration stand and added some sugar, took a sip, and thought I would burst with joy. One of the other customers took note of this big smile and sigh, said something grand like, “That first sip’s the best, isn’t it?” And I wanted to tell him something about the first sip after many months. I didn’t feel like I was falling off the wagon, and then, a little, I did.

I giggled at myself on the rest of my walk to work: naughty girl, what are you doing? I expected the big rush of euphoria that caffeine can deliver, thought maybe I would start talking like a chipmunk on speed (which I have been known to do when caffeinated), thought everyone would know.

I expected maybe a little downside, too.

There was no real rush of caffeine high, though I did get wired — I felt happier for awhile, lifted, more brave. I accomplished a couple of tasks I’d been putting off, confessed to a couple of friends about the caffeine. My neck and shoulders got sharply tense, the way they’d been when I was drinking caffeinated coffee regularly. And then I barely slept that night — my body was sleepy by 10, but my head was still running the rapids, and my heart pounded loud and heavy right alongside it. I woke up maybe five times that night, every other hour, and was still wired the next morning, did some good, somewhat-frantic writing in my notebook, pen racing, almost unable to keep up with my thoughts — this happens much less frequently now since I stopped taking in so much caffeine, and it was great to feel this writing again. (Also good, though, was recognizing the effects of caffeine. I’d though maybe I was just less passionate about my subjects these days, no longer pouring the words out almost like they were on fire inside me — here, last Wednesday morning, I got some evidence that that writing style is a caffeinated one, and not a measure of my interest, passion, desire to write.)

I went through Wednesday feeling like I was in a caffeine-hangover, all crunchy just beneath my skin, cramped, like I had cramp-ons underneath there, tensing everything. I remembered: Oh, this was why. This was why I stopped.

A quick digression: It appears that maybe I haven’t written here about the transition I made away from drinking caffeinated coffee back at the end of 2009, also in response to a quiet little question that kept repeating itself to me: What if you didn’t have coffee today? We were in Miami on a working-vacation, and I was recuperating after a several-month (year?) stretch of driving myself into the ground. I crashed at the end of October, and that’s about when I went to the Trauma Stewardship workshop, and started thinking differently about self care. The first day I heard the little question, I got a cafe con leche (we were in Miami after all, and I wanted one more good coffee if I was going to quit). I heard the question again the next day, and understood that it wasn’t trying to push me into feeling bad about anything — it was just offering a possibility. I didn’t have coffee that day; I probably took some prophylactic Advil, to ward off the headaches. Over the next several weeks, I sort of weaned myself off caffeinated coffee — I’d get a half-decaf in my cup, or go a day or two between cups, and eventually I wasn’t having any caffeinated coffee. I drank black tea for a little bit, but then it was just green tea sometimes, and more often than not, there were days when I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I learned that Chris Knight wasn’t wrong when he said, “There are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing” and I ate a lot of crow, given how much fun I’d made of the decaf-drinkers in my life over the years. My body felt better, more relaxed. I learned that I could function without coffee, the drug I’d started using in jr high (even on tour!). I learned I could shift my identity as a heavy coffee drinker, and it would be ok.

Back to now.  I didn’t have a headache the morning after re-trying coffee, and, after experiencing the effects, I didn’t have any longing to start drinking caffeine again — except, maybe a little bit, my writing self missed that frenetic energy, the driving urge to get the words out, that barely-satisfiable ache that is writing under the influence of caffeine. Here’s the interesting thing, though: just for right now, I’m choosing the ability to sleep well, body-comfort and function in the rest of my life  over the momentary writing buzz. That feels like a mental health step. (That actually feels massive.)

There’s something enormous about learning to trust one’s intuition — about listening to those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise, that persist. Every time I listen to and take action on my intuition, I am not disappointed — and that quiet place of light in me knows that I am listening.

There’s also something about checking in with our boundaries/decisions, when it feels safe enough to do so: Ok, I made this decision several years ago to start or stop some behavior because it was good for me at the time — is it still working for me? Do I have to stay with this decision into perpetuity? Sometimes the answer is, Yes, let’s stick with this for now — and other times, the answer is, Oh, you know what? Maybe we don’t have to do this anymore. Let’s try it out and see how that feels. No rushing — no blame, shame or guilt. Just trying it out, and noticing how we feel after. No perfection, just practice.

Want to write about that some? Is there a change you’re thinking about making for your own self care, that would be a big shift in your life, that would entail some loss as well as gain? Want to write about both those sides for a while, 10 minutes or so (5 min for each)? Or what about writing about a decision you made to take care of yourself once upon a time that you’re now rethinking — what does that look like?

Thanks for your ongoing elasticity with your stretching, growing, brilliant self. Thanks for your words, your words, your words.

Pat Schneider in Sacramento, April 16

Hi all!

This will be a wonderful opportunity to meet the woman who developed the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop model — she’s an absolutely inspiring speaker, and you are certain to leave the event feeling ready to write. Plus, the trip to Sacto is a nice one! :)

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Pat Schneider, author of  “Writing Alone And With Others” and founder of Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA), will be in Sacramento for a public reading and lecture Saturday, April 16, on the first floor of the Sutter Cancer Center, 28th and L streets. Pat will begin the program at 7:00 p.m. and will sign books at the event, which is free and open to the public.

phone: 916-708-9708
contact: John Crandall

Rafael Campo speaking in NYC on 4/6

How I wish I could attend this event! – jmc

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RAFAEL CAMPO

“Cultural Competence: Poetry and the Importance of Voice in the Illness Experience”

RAFAEL CAMPO, M.A., M.D., D. Litt., is a poet and essayist who teaches and practices internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is also on the faculty of Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA Program. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Poetry Series award, and a Lambda Literary Award for his poetry; his third collection of poetry, Diva (Duke University Press, 2000), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and his most recent, The Enemy, won the Sheila Motton Book Award from the New England Poetry Club, one of the nation’s oldest poetry organizations. His work has also been selected for inclusion in the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and has appeared in numerous prominent periodicals including The Nation, The NewRepublic, the New York Times Magazine, Paris Review, Salon.com, Slate.com., and the Washington Post Book World.

April 6, 2011
5:00 – 7:00 pm
The Faculty Club of CUMC
446 P&S Building
630 W. 168th Street (Between Broadway & Fort Washington Ave.)
New York, NY

**accessible entrance through Presbyterian Emergency on Broadway off W. 168th St. – take Presbyterian elevators to the 4th Floor**

Rounds begin at 5:00 followed by refreshments. Free and open to the public.

www.narrativemedicine.org
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(via the Lit-Med Google group, lit-med@googlegroups.com)

balance happens

graffiti: to the far right, the word Balance, then a grey circle, the, to the far right, a blue bass drummer, marching away

Up at 5 this morning, and actually got out of bed before the first snooze went off. This morning’s tea is nettle-dandelion-mint-anise-cardamon. This morning’s candle is blue. This morning’s thinking is vision and balance.

F! and I pulled our cards last night, the first time in this new place; is that right? I pulled Temperance, which in the Medicine Woman Tarot is called Balance — could it be more perfect, given yesterday’s blog post?

I could hardly think of a question for the cards, just something for right now, about work or school or relationship or… yeah … any one of those. And she gave me Balance, Synthesis. Here’s what the text says: “You have acted, you have tried, now you must integrate the experience with everything else that is you.” And: “You are the actor, I am the integrator of your actions. Take time for me. Temperance, the Divine Blending, happens automatically whenever you relax.”

Oh. Right. (Wait — really?)

So this goes right back to the self-care maintenance thing I was thinking about yesterday — it’s not just that we need moments of quiet, of relaxation, of deep breathing or other forms of mindfulness and conscious embodiment to maintain a well-being, to lower our stress levels, to help us stay out of the crisis zone, but also this: balance happens naturally when we relax.

I worry all the time that I have too much going on and not enough time to reflect on what’s happening, on all the different pieces of my life, on how things fit together. Here’s what this card is reminding me: balance comes when I make time for it to come — and I can’t force balance. This feels like a paradigm shift for me: It’s not something I can work on. It’s not something I can make happen. Balance happens when we slow down; reflection occurs naturally during moments of quiet, meditation, exercise, conversation over dinner. Integration of experience is something our bodies and consciousnesses know how to do — just like our muscles know how to integrate a new movement or stretch, with periods of tension and release. We need the release.

Constant busy-ness (tension) keeps this reflection, integration, at bay — and sometimes that is a survival strategy. It certainly has been for me: let me always be too busy to really slow down and let the feelings catch up with me. (We also have an ethic of over-busy-ness in our different communities, particular social change and activist communities — if you’re not exhausted and burning out, you’re not doing enough. This ethic isn’t helping us do our work better, unfortunately. ) Slowing down, even for a moment, can become frightening. I spend so much time running, I don’t know what I’m going to get hit in the face with if I stop for a second and turn around.

Turns out, when I do, it’s just my body, my sensations, wanting to catch up — this history, this conscious self that catches up and catches her breath.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s not my job to make everything happen right — to force myself to balance, to integrate, to relax. Just reading the second half of that sentence makes me chuckle, but only a little: that’s the feeling so many of us have, I think — that we have to make it happen. But balance isn’t forced. It just comes naturally when we give it breathing room, when we take time for a walk, when we make time for things we love: cooking, swimming, time with friends, long baths, phone calls, reading, art, walks, craft time, morning meditation… we get to let it happen. There’s some trust involved here, and practice, I think. Always practice.

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What’s a prompt around this? One might be not to write at all — but to set down the pen and rest for 5 minutes. Just close your eyes and let the breathing come, let yourself notice your breathing, let yourself just notice what thoughts come and let them pass through. Notice if any tension arises, notice where in your body you are feeling tensed, where you are feeling relaxed. Notice how it feels to be supported by your chair, notice how your hands feel on your lap or on the table or wherever they are resting. Set a quiet alarm for 5 minutes, if you want, so you don’t have to worry about the time. Or simply let yourself rest with your eyes closed for a few minutes.

It can be powerful, too, to write a vision of what your or your character’s life would look and feel like if it were more balanced — take 10 minutes and see it on the page: what does your or their morning look like? What’s your ideal, most balanced day? How do you or they feel, going through this day? What people are there? What smells, sounds — let all your senses out on the page. (Notice, too, what people or sights or sensations aren’t there, but don’t spend a lot of attention on this part — let yourself vision what you want!)

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Thank you for the ways you support balance in others’ lives, how you nurture and care for friends, family (chosen or blood or both or…). Thank you for the slow, deep breaths you take for you, too. Thank you for your inherent creativity, the brilliant stuff you were born with and that no one can take away. Thank you for your words!

maintaining

stencil graffiti painted on wood, ornate pattern oovering the surface, with a break in the shape of a flying birdGood morning! I don’t hear the foghorns this morning — does that mean things have cleared up a little bit out there? I’m writing from my newly set-up office; yesterday I decided I wanted my desk to be a place where I could actually work, so I spent the morning tucking away the as-yet-unpacked boxes, filing papers and figuring out where books could go, putting up some artwork (thanks especially to Dorian Katz) — I’ve got the candle going, the good tea, I’m at my own desk.

And what’s next? This morning, I set my alarm early, and I don’t even remember the alarm going off the first time, barely the second. I actually woke up, broke open to consciousness, about 15 or 20 minutes later, and then the voice started going in my head. This one: Get up, Jen, get up! You keep saying you want time to write, and then you fritter it away in bed and then you’re miserable all the rest of the day. So get up–god! Just do it!

It may not be all that surprising that that voice doesn’t really inspire me to get out of bed, to stretch out of tired and could-easily-sleep-more (and might-benefit-from-more-sleep) and move into the cold air outside the covers and sit down in front of the blank page.

This morning, in part because of a conversation I had with my sister yesterday, I let the voice shift some — or, I asked myself, just somewhere in the midst of all that racket in my head: What if you talked to yourself differently? I’m sure I’ve wrangled with this in the blog here before — and it’s ongoing practice, isn’t it? So, I thought to myself, to the part that didn’t want to get up, that wanted to (and had good reason to want to) stay in bed: Good morning! Thanks for waking up today — I’m so glad you’re awake! I know you look forward to this time in the dark for your best and favorite writing time, and look! You’ve made that time for yourself today! I’m proud of you.

I felt something soften in me, open; I felt actually glad to be awake. It still took me a few minutes to swing my feet out from beneath the covers and push away from all that warmth, but when I did so, the balance in me was more toward gratitude and looking-forward and desire, and less toward guilt and shame.

Here was the conversation with my sister: self-care is maintenance work, it’s daily work, it’s every day. This isn’t really a revelation, is it? Don’t I write that sort of thing often? Haven’t we been over self-care here? But here’s what she said: It’s important to take care of ourselves even when we’re not in crisis — especially when we’re not in crisis! Once we’re in crisis, it’s “too late,” in that those regular maintenance practices won’t work the same way.

We thought, Oh. Every day? This was what opened for me: The self care isn’t just about fixing myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of control; it’s about creating a whole different sort of steady state.

It’s more simple than that. She said, “We have to brush our teeth every day, right?” And we laughed, but it’s deep — right. These kinds of self care are like that. Like a daily shower, like breakfast. Why can’t some form of exercise be that important, and that routine? Why can’t even just a short meditation fit there?

As I type up that paragraph, I know that there are times when none of those care practices work — days when showering feels like the hardest thing ever, times with no teeth-brushing or breakfast, when all forms of self care feel unavailable because I have felt like there’s nothing in here to care for. So I’m not putting this out there lightly, or with any blame/shame/guilt — but more like, Ok, you’re to the place where some regular, routine self-maintenance feels all right to do. How does it feel to stretch that daily definition to include a couple more pieces, something small, morning breathing, maybe, or 15 minutes of yoga or stretching?

There was something exciting for me, I’ll admit to you, in thinking about emotional/psychic/body self-care work as being as routine (and maybe even sometimes as boring as) brushing my teeth — you mean it doesn’t have to be some big psychological drama anymore, requiring lots of therapy and processing? (Note: Not putting down therapy and processing at all — they got me to this place.)

I’m sure I’m going to have to have this epiphany again, as I move more deeply into this different and new relationship with radical self-care. I’m so grateful to my sister for sharing it with me yesterday, though — and for our work, every minute, to be here.

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The possibility of a prompt: What are some pieces of emotional/psychic/body self-care that you (or one of your characters) want to incorporate into your (their) regular, daily schedule? Let yourself make a short list of small acts: 5 minutes of mindful breathing upon waking up? 7 minutes of stretching before your shower? 2 pages of journaling before bed? Some gentle inside talk-to-self as you wash your face? What other ideas? Just write down a few — then choose one and let yourself write for a few minutes about what your morning, your day, feels like after you’ve (or your character has) been doing that practice most days (doesn’t have to be every single day, perfectly) for a couple weeks?

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Thanks for your steady, flickering resilience. Thanks for the ways you make way to care for you. Thanks for your good words.

Naked Girls Reading – Literary Honors Contest!

Another great call for subs! The Naked Girls Reading series wants you!

Naked Girls Reading is once again having their Literary Honors Contest.

The Naked Girls want you to SUBMIT!

THIS year we’re inviting “gut level” writers all over the globe to submit original writing for a chance to win our fan/reader-funded literary prize of at LEAST $2000. Not only that, but at our Naked Girls Reading HONORS event in November, an international array of Naked Girls will read selections from our finalists at the celebration in Chicago. Deadline is September 1, 2011.

Get all the deets at http://ngrcontest.wordpress.com/!

Mary Journal is seeking submissions

"call for submissions"For those of you looking for places to share your work — found this in my inbox today and wanted to share it with you all!

Dear writers,

Mary is in search of great work to publish. We’re sending out a call for poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction for our upcoming Summer issue.

Mary is the online literary journal sponsored by Saint Mary’s College of California’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Since 2002, Mary has published contemporary poetry, prose, and new media arts from a diverse group of established artists, including Peter Orner, Brian Doyle, Gillian Conoley, Bruce Smith, Elizabeth Robinson, Nora Pierce, Rebecca Curtis, Brian Glaser, Carol Snow, Maria Hummel, as well as talented emerging writers. MARY Magazine has conducted interviews with award-winning writers such as Michael Palmer, Pico Iyer, Andrew Sean Greer, Nick Flynn, Phil Jenks, Cristina Garcia, Susan Steinberg, Michael Pollen, John D’Agata, Jo Ann Beard, Mary Roach, Forrest Gander, and Chris Abani.

There is no fee to submit.  Writers selected for standard publication are awarded $50.  Those who are chosen for our Nouveau section, which is dedicated to emerging writers who have not yet been published, are not paid.  Please visit www.maryjournal.org for more information and submission guidelines.  When you’re ready to submit, send work to mary@stmarys-ca.edu.  The deadline for our Summer issue is May 15, 2011.  Thank you for your time.  We look forward to reading your work!

Paul Barrett

Managing Editor

Another great place to think about sharing your work! All good thoughts and best-submitting wishes to you…