Monthly Archives: May 2011

if I listened

graffiti: a black bird in a blue window, with the word 'listen' pushing out overheadHappy Tuesday! It’s quiet and grey here on the left side of the Bay (well, when facing Oakland — but who isn’t facing Oakland?) — how is it where you are? The birds are waking slowly; I think they’re not quite convinced of daytime yet.

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You know what’s coming up next around Writing Ourselves Whole, right? Everything kicks off the second full week of June: our 8 week workshops (Write Whole for women survivors of sexual violence — this one’s about fully registered — and Declaring Our Erotic, open to LGBT/SGL/queer folks of all genders) and the next Writing the Flood, on June 18! Got some resolutions for Pride month  around being truer to your fierce, creative self? Come join us!

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This morning I’m thinking about listening — and, of course, puppies. I’m learning to listen to Sophie, just like she’s learning to listen to me. We are practicing hearing each other, testing out what happens when we do. She communicates differently from other dogs that I’ve lived with, at least so far. There’s a way in which she’s been both herself and an instantiation of the other dogs in my life, all at the same time, since she’s been living with us — and slowly, as I get to know her better, as she herself becomes more known to me, that sense of being a representation or a placeholder for another animal begins to fade. I can hear her better for herself, just as she is, rather than listening for how my other dogs used to communicate with me. This is a moment to moment practice, and it’s both exhausting and wonderful.

Don’t we have to do this all the time, with animals, yes, but with people, too? You remind me of someone I used to know, and so it takes me awhile to quit expecting you to act and sound like them; it takes me awhile to really listen to you: to how you speak, to how you act, to how your youness manifests in the world.

And then, of course, there’s the learning, the every-day practice, of learning to listen to self — and the work required to become gentle enough to say yes to deep self longings.

This weekend, at the Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop, we did this exercise: Begin writing from the phrase, “If I listened to my body…”

And if you want to take some time with this one this morning, 10 or 15 minutes, remember to change up those pronouns if that makes the prompt more interesting for you: if he listened to his body, if she listened to hers, if you listened to her body, etc…

This was my response during the write:

If I listened to my body, this wreckage would begin to pool away, would slim first heavy then thinning from my shoulders, all the iron bars would falter, then break — if I listened. If I stepped aside, traded ears for armor, if I took the stories in. If I let you ask in all your nighttime longing and I shut aside the worry, the need to sleep or work, the heavy heartbreak or old aches that every relationship accumulates like jewelry, if I closed those thoughts into a warm room with iced tea and good conversation, if I just listened to the quick thud of my heart in my belly, the soft pearling beginning beneath and between, would yes slip more easily from my lips? If I could nuance my way through old panic and just let the body live its now, just here have your skin and mine speaking in filamented blessings, if yes were not tangled in a thicket of terrible history, if I weren’t still so glossed by the anvil glamour of no, would we ride hard and fast into more muscle-achey mornings, would I have more days when I had to keep a scarf around my neck at work?

If I listened, there would be more massage and dance — and don’t I slip into the passive voice there — because who would put on the tall shoes and take those steps on behalf  of this one brave and resilient body, whose scars lie invisible and brazen in her underbelly and along her breasts?  This body, who wrestles deep with every angry wind, this tenacious tired body who has been strung up like a live wire on red velvet alert for so many years and now would just like to recede into something like mo(u)rning and good rest, into something like day — this body, that carries pleasure in her cervices like it belongs there, this body with the taste of chocolate and bitter greens between the teeth, and the taste of salt and moon everywhere else, this body with its tensions and knots, this body is screaming       is howling        just wants me to put down my book and listen, like a little sister: play with me. And what keeps me from saying yes? What breaks open like a geode when I do — glittery, dusty, unfathomably faceted, and unable to close up again?

Thanks for all the times you keep listening, to the hard stuff inside and even, yes, to the easy, gorgeous, fun stuff. Thanks for your strong, knowing words.

re-training power

graffiti of the outline of a woman's face, eyes closed, with the word Power above her -- the O is a woman's symbolGood good morning — it’s Memorial Day. Who are you remembering today? How are you remembering them?

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I had so much fun in Sacramento on Saturday at the second Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop! Thanks so much to John Crandall and the Sutterwriters for organizing a beautiful write — we writers all got to do so much laughing together, and got deep into powerful, important, erotic/body/sensual story. I continue to hold images and lines from each writer’s work with me, and I’m so grateful.

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This morning in Puppy Land we are thinking about power and control: the leader of the pack. Sophie is showing some dominant tendencies, especially with other dogs, and this is making me look at how I’m treating her, whether or not she sees me as the alpha or leader.

I have a lot of resistance to this Alpha/Leader of the Pack thing, because I have a lot of issues with control. I feel like crying this morning, because I’m afraid that being Leader of the Pack means that I can’t be affectionate with my dog anymore. This is not true, and my head knows this, but my heart is resistant to change. I want to be the friend, the good mommy, the one who says Good Dog! and gives out treats. I don’t want to ignore her when she acts inappropriately or have to start setting and holding strict guidelines, even though I absolutely understand that this is best for her. I told the Mr this morning, I don’t want to break her puppy energy.

Let’s be honest: This is my own stuff. She’s not a child, she’s a puppy. When she has boundaries and guidelines and is clear about her place in the pack, she will be a happier puppy.

It’s long work, recalibrating my relationship with power.

My old issues with the misuse of power and control don’t have a place here — or rather, my old coping mechanisms don’t: this is when we step up into the triggers and move around and through them. My whole body is tense this morning, my neck and shoulders aching, with this movement, this change. Is it power and control to set boundaries? Is having power and control in a situation necessarily or always a bad thing, or an abusive thing? Intellectually, don’t we know that the answer is “Of course not”? — and still, here’s me, struggling with taking and holding power conscientiously, clearly, unabusively. So I take deep breaths, read over and over about why it’s a good idea to be a leader of your pack, and set my own boundaries (no alpha rolls, no choke collars). I remind myself that it’s ok that I don’t know how to do all of this yet — it’s ok that I don’t already know how to train my dog. We haven’t had to do this before; it’s ok to have to look to experts.

Here’s this voice inside me: I want to do this all correctly — I want her to be ok. I want us to be ok. It’s these moments when I’m working with the pup in the now, and with the teenage girl in me from Then, from when we didn’t have any say in pet training. It takes work to be the adult, and that’s my job. Deep breaths, step forward anyway into this unknown. It’s ok to ask questions, and, too, it’s ok to be in charge.

We’re both, all, training and being trained through this process, about where we fit in our systems, and how to step up into that place.

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What’s your, or your character’s, relationship with power and control, both positive/generative and negative/abusive? Let yourself write about that a bit. You could begin with, “When I’m in charge, I…” or some variation. Notice what situations or feelings arise just when you read that line, and let that inform where your writing starts. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go — let yourself learn more about how you think and feel about power.

Thanks for your bravery, for how you step up to what scares you. Thanks, every day, for your words.

focus on what’s working

graffiti around a window: sky-blue painted brick, and a few white-painted cloudsThis is what I want to say on this good morning with the crescent moon — once upon a time, when I was going to write, I had very specific needs or I couldn’t write at all: I required at least two hours of uninterrupted time, and preferably an hour or more after that, so that I shouldn’t feel rushed, and headphones, and specific music in my tape player, and a particular cafe, and a particular cup of coffee, and a particular pen in my particular notebook.

Now I’m actively writing while Miss Sophie bounds around me in the living room, squeaking the new super-loud toy that the Mr found for her, which she loves. (It sounds like an out-of-tune harmonica that someone attached to an erratic breathing machine.) Talk about gratitude for practice, persistence, and change.

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I need to be on the road in a little over an hour, to head up to Sacramento for today’s Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop. Last time, back in January, I had so much fun with this group; I’m looking forward to being back with them today!

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In my dream, an early morning dream, there were stuffed, like taxidermied animals floating away on the ocean. Something had happened to the places where they were being stored. A friend looked like she had a slug next to her nose, but when I got closer, I saw that it was a tiny duckling, dark pinfeathers shimmering in the changing light — it was saving itself there against her body, on her face.

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Earlier this week, talking with an AWA friend and collaborator, I talked about what a pleasure it is to get to give my dog positive reinforcement, to train her by telling her what she’s doing right.  In the past, with my last two dogs, certainly with the first one back in jr high, what I told her was everything she did wrong: wasn’t that how you learned? So she was punished for peeing in the house, punished for getting on the couch, punished for chewing on things, punished punished punished. We had a few dog treats — I remember the box of Milk Bones, but what did we even use those for? Not for training, that I recall. We had the rolled up newspaper, we pushed her nose in the poop when she went in the wrong place. All this brings tears to my eyes now; I hated it, then, and sometimes, too, it gave me a sense of power. This was how I knew, how I understood, to teach her. Didn’t most of our teachers focus on what we did wrong, rather than spending a lot of time on what we did right? If you did that, the dog would get spoiled, the kid would get a big head.

Is it easier now, since I found AWA (and, too, know lots of people who train their dogs well using positive reinforcement)? With AWA, we focus on what’s going well, what folks are doing right, what’s strong already — and we teach each other that way. We reinforce the excellent, and gently encourage around the stuff that might improve. In a roomful of people writing their guts out, wanting to be true to their own stories, we use positive reinforcement to teach one another: when we say to one writer, “I really appreciated that metaphor, when the narrator described themselves as driving into the moon” — the whole group pays attention, listens, grows. And it’s a pleasure.

It’s a pleasure to get to be kind to one another. It’s a pleasure to get to be kind to my pup. It means I, too, want to do it more, want to be more clear with our guidelines, more consistent with our training, because then I get to praise her, and she praises me back. A gift.

This is an open-prompt Saturday: If you could have the two hours I described at the top of the post to write about anything, what would that be? Leave a comment, if you want to! And then, consider giving yourself 15 minutes, or 20, at least, to write about that, to step in, to give your own writing some positive reinforcement. Then, too, give yourself some good praise: a tasty cup of coffee, maybe, or a long walk.

Well done! I’m grateful for you. Thanks for your words.

the right time

graffiti of a flower, a bee hovering over, maybe a microphone in the background?Good morning! The birds are quiet today — maybe this blue-grey wakening day is subduing them.

What do things look like outside your window? (That’s a great place to begin writing, btw — if you’re just opening the notebook and wondering what to say. Start anywhere — say anything. All the starts are just opened doors that you can walk through, that your writing can walk you through, to get you where it wants you to go. So take that square of windowpane: what’s on the other side? What exactly do you see, or don’t you see? The descriptions will pull you in to the writing, the process, the flow. Let yourself get pulled, notice what associations, what words or phrases or characters start to bubble up, and let those down onto the page next, then follow them.)

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Tomorrow I head up to Sacramento for the second Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop! This is a day-long writing opportunity, a chance to engage in some fun, hot, risky writing with a wonderful community of folks. Light breakfast served, lunch on your own — we get to fill the library of the Sutter Hospital in Sacramento with our sexy and powerful stories! I had a great time with this workshop in January, and I’m so looking forward to returning. (There are still a few spaces available — write to John Crandall if you’d like to join us!)

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Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans.

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. -Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; the majority of the quote was actually written by William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

(Does it matter where the words come from, if they move you? When does it matter? Why?)

I was afraid it wasn’t the right time to get a dog. And of course, it wasn’t. We have so much on our plates, our calendars, so much we are trying to do. I have three workshops, maybe four, starting next month, a day-long workshop tomorrow — remember hat June is Pride month and we want to do everything. I’ve been complaining here that an hour writing time in the morning just isn’t enough, I leave the journal frustrated, have to slink to the day job. We didn’t make a good plan. I have classes I want to sign up for, and so much work to do. How could I possibly think about adding a dog? I should have waited until I had more time, until the coast was clear, until we have a perfect plan and budget and know exactly how it’s going to go.

Of course, you know: the coast is never clear. There’s always something else. It’s never the perfect time. We did it anyway — and after a weekend of profound anxiety, it turns out, it was the right time. We’re still adjusting, opening, stretching our lives to accommodate her, like she is stretching to accommodate us — and here’s an amazing thing. So far this week, I’ve had about a half hour at the blog, and it feels like enough. I wake, do my three morning pages in the notebook, and those feel like enough, too. Then I have time with my dog, this new companion, in and around all of that necessary writing time, and the time is enough. A half-hour has expanded, moved, shifted, opened. I can’t explain it, and I’m grateful.

It’s never the right time, and then again, that might mean that it is. What’s the thing you want, that your character wants, that it’s not the right time for? Write it, ok? Give it 10 minutes this morning.

Thanks for how you let your dreams come through you into reality, how you are the body of dreams, how you live. Thanks for your resilient creative self, and for your words.

on (not) getting messy

stencil graffiti of a bunch of mushrooms growing out of the concrete, painted at the base of a  post

amazing stuff comes up out of mess, when we let it...

Good morning! On today’s short short walk, we saw a long-eared jackrabbit, sitting quiet in the road (at least until he was accosted by a puppy), and then, so quiet overhead, slung the enormous wingspan of a great blue heron — silent amid all the cacophony of birds around us.

Right now I am sitting on the floor, legs in a diamond shape, typing over the puppy sitting in the middle of them. This is a good morning for sure.

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Just a quick one today, about messiness.

Yesterday at work, I was a mess. Exhausted and trying to focus while my sweetie and pup spent their first day at home alone together — I missed them, it was hard to focus on work tasks, not because I didn’t want to do them but because I was so tired. Then I got a message that brought the tears just erupting to my eyes (see the comments from yesterday’s post) and I tried immediately to stuff them down, to deep breathe them back into my eyes: Ok, Jen, it’s ok. Ok. But I couldn’t stop them, got up and hustled down the hall to the bathroom, where I patted my face with paper, breathed more, did not let myself sob.

But why not?

And then it happened again when I went back to my desk, the scene of the ‘crime,’ body memory takes over, we’re still not done with this feeling yet. I put on my headphones, redirecting myself. The internet radio station plays Moby’s At Least We Tried (which includes the lyrics, “Oh now baby, don’t cry / Oh my babe, at least we tried”). This did not help. I changed the station to KCRW, which was playing Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up. Are you kidding me? I took off my headphones — and yet, it felt like a clean message from the universe: Go ahead. Break down.

But I didn’t. I let a few more tears come, because I couldn’t stop them, but I didn’t let all the sobs come: I was at work! We’re supposed to be together at work, not messy, not crying, not overly upset, not overly anything. Workplace is for modulation, where we ride that mild middle ground of feeling, never too much. People who are doing too much, we look askance a them, like they don’t know how to modulate their emotions.

We keep the feeling out, because people are easier to control that way.

I cried later, when I was telling the story to the Mr., and that was good. But why not just go to the bathroom and let my work-self get all messy? What would happen? I go back to my desk, red-faced and eyes puffy, maybe a little emptier, maybe one more wave in a long ocean of grief passed through me.

There are plenty of other places where I don’t want to get messy: this isn’t just about work. This is about those public personae, maybe about a white or Protestant-mainstream culture that devalues emotional displays as irrational, about being socialized as a woman and learning, quick and early, crying girls are not smart or respected girls (and let’s not even mention crying boys…). Even in bed, during sex, I mean, I worry about being messy: not my-hair-is-f-ed-up messy, but my-feelings-are-coming-out-and-I-want-too-much messy.

Messy is out of control, maybe that’s it. This is a trauma aftermath thing: learning to be ok with being out of control, and with what new growth can emerge from that release. Yesterday, I felt no control over those tears, they came up fast and immediate and were suddenly there — this is ongoing learning, how I let myself just be in all those different places, feel exactly what I’m feeling, remind myself, my inside selves, and even the people around me (should they wonder or worry): it’s ok, I’m ok, even when I look not ok. Even when I’m messy.

So, here, now, in these 10 or 15 minutes: what happens if you get messy, or for your characters if they get messy? What does that mean, that phrase: do you see physical mess, emotional mess? What do you look like? What does it feel like inside your body? What do you want when you’re messy? Follow your writing where ever it seems to want you to go — even if it doesn’t make logical sense; yes, even if it’s messy.

Thanks for your bravery, you deep innocence, the parts of you that can still splash in the mud: those are deep, creative parts, I think. Thanks for how you can be present with others’ mess. Thanks for your words.

another chance

graffiti on a concrete, outdoor staircase: at the front of each step is painted the word Try, so it rises up as you climb: Try, Try, Try, Try, Try...This isn’t like that. This might have similar features as that, might look familiar, might hold its head about the same way, but it’s different. It’s right now. It’s new.

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Good morning — this is a new-schedule day. Up for morning pages, then short dog walk, now blog, then feed dog, then get ready for work: all by 7:15 am. I am ready and not ready to go.

This is supposed to be serious blog time: but there’s a puppy at my feet, pulling at a rope bone, cuddling it with both paws, serious, yes. She is learning about the sliding glass door. Sometimes it’s open, sometimes the glass is in her way, sometimes the screen door; she knows this because either she can move right through the doorway or something bonks her head. When you’re teaching a puppy about new things, it’s not good to laugh. Yesterday, when she wanted to go out on the deck with hew new Kong, she approached the door gingerly, stopped, waited, then put one paw out in front of her, scooping at the air, looking to make sure the way was clear. So smart.

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I am thinking a lot about second and third chances, about doing it over and over.

Do you know this book: Another Chance to Get It Right, by Andrew Vachss?

I’ve written a lot, mostly in my journals, and a little bit here on the blog, about my first dog, Katja. I got her as a young teenager, in jr high, I think, a puppy we rescued from outside the pound in Omaha; we were there to find a cat for my sister. The people outside the pound had their puppies in a box, didn’t want to take them inside and release them to the pound, which only gave the animals about a week to be adopted before they were put down. The people wanted their puppies to go home with someone. The dogs were small and black, lab-husky mixes. She lept up to me and I fell desperately in love with her. She was the dog I had hoped for for my whole life. We came home with both a kitten and puppy that day. I can’t write much about Katja right now — I cry too much. She was my closest companion during the years at the house in Omaha, with my mother’s second husband; he had to shut her out of the room a lot, because she was protective of me She died when I was a sophomore in college. I’ll write the story someday.

The second dog I lived with was my ex’s, Tor — he was still young when I moved in with her, just a few years after my own dog had died, and I was still aching and not ready to let a dog back into my heart yet. He and I had a very hard time, maybe a little jealous of each other, maybe a lot. He looked like my first dog, and then didn’t at all, too. But he was generous, like her, and loving, gentle, loud, and kept on wanting to be with me, coming to me, even when I was mean, frustrated, snappish, overwhelmed, impatient, not a good dog mom. We found our way, and loved each other.

That’s the most beautiful and sometimes the hardest thing for me about dogs: how they love me anyway, even when I am most certain that I don’t deserve it. Dogs don’t understand that I don’t deserve it. They understand differently. This is part of what aches about allowing a new pup into my life: she will love me anyway. And I get another chance to show up all the way into that love, to meet it and respect it and be kind and gentle and patient and strong. I am not the same person I was as a teenager, trying to train a dog with no skills or modeling. And yet, I am the same person: terribly in love with dogs, wanting to do right by this one. And maybe I can do right by this one.

And so I’m thinking about regrets, about feeling the guilt and moving forward anyway, about trying again as self care, about moving through the self-recrimination, the self-blame, -shame, and-guilt, and trying again. That’s resilience, I think.

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If you’re working with a character, do they have something that they feel regret about, and want to try and do over? What would that look like? If that’s true for you, and you want to take 10 or 20 minutes today, you might write a little bit of the old story, how it feels in your body now, where you hold it, and what the do-over might look like: not about going back in time, but doing something else now. What about giving yourself, your character giving themselves, that chance?

Thanks thanks thanks.

talking to the triggers

Italian graffiti poem: "La verità è che non sanno cosa vogliono; piccolina, lasciali stare, non ne vale la pena. Ti vedi bella; sei bella!!"

"The truth is that they don't know what they want, sweetie. Ignore them, it isn't worth it. You see yourself beautiful, you're beautiful!!"

Good morning! Today has been morning pages on the floor of my office, candle-lit, at 5:05, then a dawn-break walk with the puppy, where we were serenaded by an owl. Now it’s nettle-mint-skullcap tea and settling down for some quiet time. We are learning the different ways to be with each other.

What next? The sun comes up. I wrote in my journal, “she wakes up like morning in a new town.” I’m afraid of becoming one of those pup-parents who only talks about her dog — and then I remember that it’s only been three days. Yes, it’s ok to still be obsessed.

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Quick reminder: Registration is still open for the 8 week summer workshops! Regular registration rates are in effect until June 5, so connect with me as soon as possible to sign up for either Write Whole: Survivors Write (open to all women who are survivors of sexual trauma or violence) or Declaring Our Erotic (open to queer/TBLG/SGL folks of all genders!) or both!

For any of you up in the Sacramento area, or who want to travel, there are still a couple of spaces in the Erotic Writing as Liberating Practice workshop this Saturday, 5/28!

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This is still a day of wrangling with fear, fear of good stuff, fear of following through on decisions. I would like to get back to writing about writing, about surviving, maybe even about desire, but this is where we are right now: Trusting my gut, the messages that rise up sharp from my intuition and I still so often question them. I was going back through a couple of previous posts that touched on this process, relearning to trust self, and being ok with our responses — trusting that, too. Trusting the self-doubt, the self-questioning.

What about that? What if I sat down with all the panic that’s been bubbling through me, all the worry, all the fear, offered it all some tea and said, “Ok, right on — tell me your stories.” What would those voices say? Would they talk about body memory of puppy time back in the house in Omaha, when I got my first dog ever in the place that would become a prison for both me and the pup? Would they talk about relationship worries, would they sing old songs of wanting freedom, what would their breath smell like? Would they say what it feels like to walk face first into a decision with 20-year consequences? (But don’t most of our decisions have long-lasting consequences? I just don’t pay attention to that all the time — here, though, is a body to show me that reality.)

This feels a little jumbled, not as clear as I would like to be — still, talking to the triggers, the sore spaces, the fear-voices, that’s not a clear process either. But it’s a worthwhile one: for me, everyone calms down inside a little bit when they’re listened to, the sore spots get a little soothed, swelling goes down. This is a trauma aftermath process: listening to the stuff that got us through, even when it’s not serving us anymore — and saying thank you. And so, right now, I’m saying thank you to the panic, to the fear and old memories that live beneath and breathe life into that panic, for the messages it wants to be sure that I remember: I might not be safe if I love too much; people might get frustrated if I have to change my routines, my habits, my life around for this new addition; I am going to make mistakes and sometimes they’re going to be big — and I’ve gotten in trouble for those before.

It’s important for me to listen to those voices, be present with what’s underneath and inside the triggered stuff, let it come to and through me, bubble up to the present with my intuitions, let us all pay attention to each other, and learn new ways together. This is something I’m learning through the somatic practices I’m participating in: expansion instead of foreclosure. I practice new ways of responding to and through old patterns and trigger-responses, and let the trigger-responses know, too, that I’m not abandoning them, that I have needed them in the past, that I may need them again — but we are also learning and practicing new ways.

It could be a prompt for today. What do you think?

Be easy with you today, ok? And I will practice the same. Thanks for that, and for your words.

let it wash through

graffiti of dog with wings, by the words "Orasul e al nostru" (Romanian for "the city is ours")

she says, "the city is ours!"

Good Monday morning to you! Right now, I’m in my living room, and just to my left, at my feet, is a 5-month old, hound-lab-mutt mix puppy called Sophie. We found her in the animal shelter up in Mendocino County (a great road trip for us, a less fun road trip for her) on Friday and brought her home to live with us on Saturday — today is our second full day together, this new pack of ours, momma & poppa & Sophie Star. She curls up into a small ball when she’s sleeping, then stretches out wide and long, and is a fireball of energy when she’s awake. She’s quick, smart, and has been making this huge change very easy on us.

What do I want to tell you? I’m exhausted from not sleeping, really, for two nights — there’s a new life in the house, one I’m responsible for now. What sounds will she make? How will she take to her crate? Will she let me know if she needs something? This morning she let me get up and do my morning pages before I opened her kennel and we went out for our walk, just as the sun was about to lighten the sky. It’s 6:42 now — I stayed in bed as long as I could, and got up at 4:23, listened to some tail-thumping coming from the crate, but no whining. We are learning how to be with each other, how to flow with each other’s movements, how to accommodate each other’s needs. Yesterday we went on 5 walks together — in the past, I could go days not taking one walk. The past is finished now. (That, of course, is a tautology, but still…)

And this is the other thing I want to talk about: how scared I am.  Sometimes it’s terrifying to get what you want. I’ve been wanting this–a dog in my life, this addition to our home–for several years. It’s been an ache, a place of real sorrow: I’ve always been a dog girl, checked out dog books from the elementary school library and fantasized about the dogs I would have. It’s been 7 years since I last lived with a dog, and so bringing a dog into the family was something the Mr. and I have talked about and planned for. Once we decided it was time, we moved fast, maybe too fast, but we moved, and now here we are: transformed. Transformation means change, means what was has to end, means growth. And you know: with growth come pains.

What was a quiet, two-of-us house now has another life filling it, watching herself in the mirrors, watching and following us. She requires lots of attention, attention we used to give to other things. For awhile, we won’t be just running out to the farmer’s market, the movies, a friend’s nighttime party — at least, not together. Will we lose each other in this? What will happen to the family that was? How do I learn everything I need to know? What if I’m not a good dog-mom?

And so I’ve been feeling the fear, let it wash through me, paying attention, talking back to it: Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean it’s not the right decision, Jen. Just because it’s work doesn’t mean you made a bad choice. Trusting our instincts is hard work, ever, isn’t it? And then here, in the moments where it looks like maybe everything is going wrong, it’s so easy to listen to the counter-instinctual voices, the ‘editors,’ the saboteurs, who don’t want us to trust our instincts: they don’t want us to have to stretch or risk or be scared.

Here’s the metaphor, for me, to take out into the larger work of life practice: just because I’m scared doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. Isn’t this an ongoing re-membering during the process of relearning to trust our own instincts and judgments? This is a radical self-care thing: listening, paying attention, choosing, and then walking through the internal fire in the aftermath, the firestorm of questioning, of blame, shame and guilt. Keep listening, paying attention, recalibrating, moving forward — that’s the work.

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Anyway, I guess there are a couple of prompts for today; give yourself 15 or 20 minutes, and write about (for you or your character):

1) The first days at home with an animal you loved (what experiences, what smells, what change?), and/or

2) the fear that can arise after you welcome into your life something you’ve been wanting, waiting and working for — what do those fear voices sound like? What do they say? How do you respond?

Thanks for your ferocity in the face of those self-doubts, and the many ways that ferocity manifests. Thanks for your presence. Thanks for your words.

persistent practices

graffiti from Pacifica, CA: a flowing green tree, over flowing brown rootsGood morning good morning — it’s late! Happy Friday: I’ve got some nettlemintanisetulsi tea here with me, and a handful of walnuts. What’s waking you up today?

I just spent close to two hours freewriting, pen to paper, down in the journal. I feel calm, grateful, energized, a little more sane — writing on the computer has become an enjoyable habit for me, and, too, the process is completely different from freewriting in a notebook– for all my practicing, I still do more editing here at the computer, I stop/pause/break more in the flow of the words — and let’s not even mention the various distractions that avail themselves to me when I’m online.

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Today’s the last day to take advantage of the early bird discount for the Summer ’11 writing workshops! Remember, this is what we’re offering:

  • Write Whole: Survivors Write — meets 8 Monday evenings, beginning June 13. Open to all women who are survivors of sexual trauma. (Almost full — but a couple of spaces are still available)
  • Declaring Our Erotic — meets 8 Thursday evenings, beginning June 16. A sex-positive writing group, open to LGBT/SGL/queer folks of all genders.

Please contact me today if you’d like to take advantage of the 30% early-bird discount — I’d love to write with you!

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Turns out I’m not going to Seattle for the SEAF. While I was very much looking forward to it, I had to make some tough financial decisions this week, and it just wasn’t feasible to go up there without a workshop to offset the travel costs. Next year I’ll get that organized sooner! I hope everyone up in Seattle has an amazing weekend — I can’t wait to read the stories.

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This is what happens when I freewrite: all of my parts can come out and play. No editing, no trying to be just one self or another. After eighteen years of freewriting practice, I’ve gotten pretty good at not editing, at letting whatever pops into my head push its way into my hand and through the pen onto the page. The journal-freewriting is not a performative practice, like blogging is. Yes, sometimes I write in my journal with the idea that I will share that writing with others, I’ll use it in a piece, I’ll post it here — but the vast majority of that writing, for the vast majority of these years, has been deeply private, even from me; so much of it I don’t go back and read. It’s a process of embodying, of resituating myself, of regathering together all the parts, of letting flow the voices that aren’t socially acceptable, that don’t fit with this or that one of my identities, of figuring out what I’m thinking. When I don’t do it for awhile (and I’ve been out of the habit recently), I start to feel all grinchy inside, trainwrecky and at the same time, too clear, not messy enough, not whole in my parts.

It’s a way I re-member myself, the way I collect myself, the way I am not on stage and still am storytelling to a perfect listener. Freewriting as a constituting practice continues to save me, and that sense of ‘being saved’ has shifted over these 18 years, but still it (the sense, the practice) persists.

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What have you (or your character!) practiced, intentionally or not, for more than a decade that brings you joy? Want to write about it? Take 10 minutes, 15 if you’ve got ’em, and tell us about it — what’s that practice? How did it feel when you started? How do you feel with it now?

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Grateful. Thanks to you, to your languaging, to your figuring out, to your patience and practice, for your words. Please keep writing.

finding a place

graffiti of a phonograph and drops of something (music? rain?) coming out of the amplification part

(this image has nothing to do with today's post, but I really like it, so here you go)

This morning the birds are trilling like mad, and I thought I heard a hawk calling from over the Preserve behind the house. The tea (nettle-dandelion-mint morning wake up tea) is warm in my hands, and my insides feel warm like fear is taking a dive to the edges and something good and possible is filling up the places that it’s fled.

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Early bird registration for the 8-week workshops (Write Whole and Declaring Our Erotic) ends tomorrow! It’s a 30% discount on the registration fee — that’s significant! Write Whole is nearly full — please contact me asap for more info about either of these workshops or to register. The workshops begin the second full week of June and meet for 8 Monday evenings and 8 Thursday evenings, respectively. I’m looking forward to writing with you all!

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I’m thinking about disciplines this morning, not the erotic kind (not that erotic kind), but the school-labeling kind (which can be erotic in its/their own way) — and how the interdisciplinarian finds a space. I’ve been doing interdisciplinary study since forever (cognitive science undergrad, transfomative language arts MA) and now I’m looking for a new interdisciplinary home and at the same time trying to find the right set of disciplinary-term-markers that describe the particular intersection I’m jumping off from/out of/in to: creative writing, trauma theory (itself an intersection of other disciplines), psychoanalytic theory, cognitive science, sociolinguistics, cultural studies, narrative theory,  post-structuralist theory… aren’t there more? Do there need to be so many?

The books I’m reading right now: Telling Sexual Stories: Power, change and social worlds (Ken Plummer, who introduces or reintroduces me to the idea of a “sociology of stories,” which, yes, is exactly where my interests lie) and Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction (Anthony Elliott). Next on the list are Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked, Derrida’s Writing and Difference, and Mitchel & Rose’s Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne.

Two things I want to say about all that: Thing 1) all of this is erotic reading for me; Thing 2) my mother was an English major/teacher, and then a psychotherapist, and my father taught Social Studies — talk about living into the intersections, no?

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A prompt and a write from this weekend’s Writing the Flood workshop (the next one meets on June 18 — come join us!)

The prompt was to create a short list of small pieces of beauty in your neighborhood — just take a minute, and jot down as many as you can think of. Then give yourself 6 or 7 minutes, and go into one of those pieces in more depth: how does it smell? what does it look like? what time of day do you see it?

This was our first prompt on Saturday. Here’s my response:

On work mornings, it’s the same rush out of the house, down the long stairs, down the driveway and a hard thumping my heels hitting the asphalt hoping I’ve timed everything right, exactly the right amount of time to hustle from my front door to the bus stop so I can catch one of two buses, the second of two buses, that go directly into the city.

And on the way I pass a wonderland that I can barely stop to wonder over, a riot of flowers, blackberry blossoms, nasturtium, red hummingbird-tubey blooms, morning glories, native trees in full pollen, fennel fronds and is that elderberry or queen anne’s lace, all this gathering around a marshy pond filled too with ducks, mourning doves, Canadian geese; the red-winged blackbirds whirr their morning greetings and the other day I saw a coalition of four or five smaller birds (swallows, sparrows, blackbirds, crows) hauling ass after a red-tailed hawk, chasing her out of their territory.

Every morning I want to make a sharp left at the tiny concrete bridge over the run-off brook making its way into the pond from the hills, and dive into the wild California brush, learn the feel of this spring mud between my toes, let the city bus, the city life, pass me by.

You find so much beauty everywhere — thank you for the ways you do that. Thank you, always, for your words.