Monthly Archives: February 2012

dance church

sticker graffiti of a dancing yellow Ganesh (Ganesh is the remover of obstacles in the Hindu pantheon))

Ganesha, remover of obstacles

Good morning to you — how is this new day holding your body so far?

My body is a bit achy this morning, stiff and singing, after a dance party yesterday afternoon during which I barely stopped moving. That is, for me, the very best kind of church. I continue to reverberate with gratitude for the love in the room yesterday, for the people who came out to celebrate (early) my birthday with me, for the people who sent their love over even though they couldn’t join us, for the space (thank you Carol & Robert & CSC!), for old friends and new, for readings and listenings and witnessings and constant, aching growth.

I am ready for forty now, especially if it means I get to keep bouncing like I did yesterday. I haven’t danced like that in ages, so up off the ground, so both near flight and rooted hard to this tender gravity.

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I’ve said that to people often, that the dance floor, for me, has been church, and this morning, I want to say what that means, what the word church has meant for me (particularly since now I’m going to a church-church, where dancing might happen sometimes, but the focus is a little more traditional.).  I’ve written this story before, and will keep writing it, because it’s so integral to these twenty years of healing and survival.

Here’s what I say: dancing saved me, was a necessary part of the constellation of friends, lovers and practices that kept me away from the edge when I was just beginning to imagine what it might look like for me not to live under my stepfather’s control. The dance floor was the one place where I could be in my body–be sexual, even–without any expectations other than big joy. I’d danced in high school, hadn’t I, gone to those all ages parties where I wore tight dresses and flat shoes and moved my body in ways that I thought would look sexy and provocative, just barely finding a place for myself in or against the music. One guy I danced with at that party — held, of all places, at an amusement park– asked something like, Is that really the only move you know? There I was with my side to side step, swing the hips: keep it together. I was embarrassed, indignant, but aching somewhere inside, too, to know what it would be like to do more. I looked at the girls around me, some of whom moved with more abandon, but I had no idea how to let myself do that.

More came when I went to college, got 1000 miles away from home, quit wearing the skintight dresses to the dance parties, started wearing clothes I could really move in. And then, of course, it was the early nineties, and oh, I discovered house music, a beat big enough for me to entirely lose myself in, for me to submit to. Is this what church means: this feeling of being carried by something greater than myself, of being moved and held, of joyous fellowship and a both singular and shared experience? This music, this place, was my only experience of someplace safe where being in my body meant power and celebration only — and that was a revelation. I never drank when I was dancing (and began dancing less when I started drinking more heavily), because the alcohol got in the way of the feeling, of that sense of release (and also it fucked up my feet, made me trip, which irritated me. I didn’t understand the people who said they had to drink to get loose enough or comfortable enough to dance — drinking wasn’t ever a way to get in to my body. It was a way to get out. But that’s a different post.)

What I mean when I say that the dance floor saved me is that I have always had a place where it was safe to be in my body, where my body was both deeply gendered and not at all gendered, where my body was about reach and enormous smiles and deep desire and mine and also offered out to the room as connection — where, simply, it was not just ok to be in my body but desirable to be in my body, where it was not scary to be in this body. That, for me, has been a gift, sometimes the only line back into this place that otherwise has felt like a battleground and crime scene and confusion, a place to step up into my head to escape.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing work to come back into my body all the way, to reconnect with the child self who loved to move, who celebrated her body (without having to name it as such — this was just what you did in this human existence), who swam and played basketball and rode bikes and ran as fast as she could as often as she could. The day before yesterday, on a little run-walk with the dog (after I’d had dinner — this is not the ideal order in which to do such things, btw; better to have the run-walk, then the dinner. Also another post.) I had a moment where I ran as fast as I could down one little rise and up the next, stretching my legs out to their full stride, pulling hard at the ground, feeling exactly a six-year-old Jenny in me, going hard, loving the feel of all of our strength going into just this work, for no other reason than that it feels really, really good. Today I feel like crying at the thought of it, being able to touch that part again, being able to be right here.

And then yesterday, I was up off the floor as much as I could be, bouncing just exactly the way I did back at college, in those little dance rooms, when the music was better than I could bear, and the only possible response was to pop up off the floor and into the air, giving every muscle in my legs a chance to lift us, lift us, lift us.

If church is about survival and love, about holding one another, about sharing in an experience of connecting with something utterly of and also greater than ourselves, then I can say for sure that dancing has been the place of church for me. One definition of church is an occasion of public worship — and I have found that on the dance floor, when everyone around me is sweaty and smiling, connected and internal, witnessing and showing off, sharing in the experience of being profoundly in our bodies exactly as they are, celebrating our messy humanness, our stumbles and our perfect beat.

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What has dancing meant for you? Are there places where you are in or want to be in your body? Want to let those be writes for today? Give yourself 20 minutes — take that for you on this Sunday — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your good body today, for the creativity that lives in every cell. Thank you for the breath that you allow in, and that you release. Thank you for your words.

the deep vein of your body’s true story

stencil graffiti that reads: I say / the say/ the say/ says/ me/say/sayGood morning good morning good morning. Who is feeding you this Wednesday? What does it sound like where you are? Here, I think it’s mostly quiet outside — there’s a lot of clamor in my head this morning, so it’s hard to say for sure.

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Tonight’s the Erotic Reading Circle, 7:30-9:30pm at the Center for Sex and Culture — if you are local to the Bay Area and are doing any writing that involves sexuality or desire, I invite you to join us. The folks who gather at the ERC consistently impress me with the power and variety of their work, and, too, with the generosity of their feedback for one another. It’s a good space for sharing new work, and a safe space for folks who are just starting to offer their work to others. It would be great to welcome you into the Circle!

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Today I am thinking about stories, and about this idea of re-storying, which is like restoring, but with story, right? Here are two quotes that are with me this morning:

Thomas King, in The Truth About Stories, writes,

The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. ‘You can’t understand the world without telling a story,’ the Anishinabe writer Gerald Vizenor tells us. ‘There isn’t any center to the world but a story.’

And then there’s this from Dorothy Allison’s interview in Writing Below the Belt:

Sexually, I have a fetish about truth telling. It does help in my work. I find it profoundly arousing to watch somebody struggle to articulate their desires. One of the things my girlfriend and I say together, around this whole thing, is that you can have anything you want if you have the courage to ask for it. But having that courage to ask for it, wow! So we set up situations where you can have anything, honey — you just have to be able to ask for it.

Hold those two quotes against each other for a moment.

These are the questions living in me right now (living is perhaps to passive a verb. Exploding is a little bit more accurate): What are the stories you are telling that shape you, that shape what’s possible for your life, what’s possible for or around your big life-desires? What would it mean if you could find exactly the language for what it is you want? What if you released that language, that desire, into the world with no expectations, no demands?

I am thinking about story today, and how it relates to how I have been living in my body for these nearly-forty years, but most especially over the last about-twenty years, since I both breaking contact with my stepfather and coming out as queer.Those two life-altering, body-and-deep-sense-of-self-altering experiences, occurred during the same time frame for me, and so they have been woven into each other, one entirely of and about the other. My queerness was necessarily about my trauma. My experience of incest was entirely queered. I can’t, still, take them apart –and don’t want or need to. That story is still true for me.

The story of my body has changed many times for me over the years — in particular, the story of my queer and queerly-gendered body. When I first came out I was so often so excited to be in this body and accepted; I found my desire and seduction on the dance floor, and fed it to everyone who could meet my eyes. And then, as I moved more fully into a gay identity, and more fully, too, into a sense of myself as survivor, I wanted to be visible, acceptable and protected, and offered my body into butchness the way the knight offers himself into his armor, and for similar reasons. I wanted the sword and shield, to defend someone’s honor (sometimes even that of my own inside-self), wanted a safe reason to kneel down. But armor only contains what we allow it to, and the girl in me kept leaking out, through all the seams, making herself visible, insisting that she be known, no matter how hard I fought and buckled and bound. So finally, some few years ago, I renounced (didn’t I?) and mourned that butch self and allowed (do we really get to allow this?) my body to mean girl again in the world, to mean visible woman, to be read as femme. I wanted to be all and only girl, Farrah Fawcett, please & thank you. (I have discovered that she lodged somewhere deep in me, and early, as the epitome of female sexiness, and am kind of delighted by how that marks me as of a particular time and place.) But, oh, sometimes our bodies reveal their stories to us, show us that we are not in control of them, and I came to understand that the interweaving that marked me as a child, that tomboy girl with dirty scuffed knees in the skirt that twirled high and a book clutched always in her hands, marks me still, that I bring both and more with me everywhere my body chooses to carry me. That I get to claim that both-and-more-ness as my birthright.

And the sense that I am actually able to claim anything, I mean fundamentally understanding anything, about my body as birthright is more powerful than I have words for right now. You understand, don’t you? At just the moment when I was meant to begin to learn my body’s own stories, gendered and sexual stories, stories of her desires and possibility, there was a man who entered my life and, soon, my body, who took it upon himself to retrain me into his stories. And I have been living in and struggling with those stories ever since (at the same time that I was trying to learn how to talk, how to use the same words that other people use, how to be human), and did not ever expect to –did not even consider the option that I might– reach within myself a deep vein of my own body’s true story. That I could hold in my hands a glimmer of this sense: this is who my body would have been anyway, even if he hadn’t come into it and tried to blow it apart.

Do you know what that means, why I feel lifted off the ground these days, like song and blown plum blossoms?

So there’s a new story rising like bread in me, rising like candleflame, rising like a skirt over the subway grate, rising like love and open hands, and I don’t have quite the language for it yet, but it’s a profoundly new articulation about the possibilities for and of my body. Not just about what my body can do  — about what it can be, what it can mean.

That’s as far as I can get into it just right now — there’s more, I know, and I’m journaling it, and will bring more here as I have it. For now, though, use those quotes up there as a prompt, if you want. Take 10 minutes (I’m looking at you there on your first writing morning) and let yourself into the stories you, or your characters, tell about their lives, tell about their bodies, their desires. What are those stories? What do you (they) want the stories to be? As ever, follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

I’m grateful for you today. Thank you for the freedom and shelter you have offered your own and others’ stories. Thank you for the hard work of healing you’ve done, and do. Thank you thank you for your words.

claim our own complicated truths

graffiti - calligraphy outline of a candleGood morning good morning — it’s a tired morning over here. The puppy, who has been sick, is curled up in the middle of three pillows, sighing. I’ve got Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “First Fig” churning and dancing through me this morning: My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— / It gives a lovely light. Today I am feeling these lines especially poignantly.

I would like to share with you everything that is happening around these parts, this side of the street, around Jen & writing ourselves whole both, but there aren’t words for all of it. At least not words I’ve found yet. I’m in a place of invention just now, though, so maybe new words can arrive, alliterate and at the ready.

There was something I wanted to tell you this morning, but the red lentil hummus is calling to me, wanting me to make sure it doesn’t burn, and there’s writing to offer feedback to, and a candle flame to watch dancing. In total this week I have four workshops and one performance — plus a day job and a personal life. That’s my burning at both ends. I keep breathing. I hug the puppy, do some situps, some pushups, I listen to what my body wants to eat, and try to feed it that. I can’t always manage to meet the exact craving, but I’m coming closer most days. How about that?

(Plus, of course, it’s the bleeding time, which means that everything is especially poignant just now. Hallmark ad over on evite? We are go for tears, thank you very much.)

There’s writing I want to share with you from last night’s Write Whole session, but it’s some difficult writing about my mother, who I know reads this blog sometimes (though not often), and so I am feeling worried about how she will meet the words. I’ll post this write eventually, maybe even soon, but for now I want to write about the work that can be involved in writing and sharing our true story. We’ve been beginning to talk about this question/struggle in the Dive Deep workshop — how do we claim what’s true for us and also honor those we love or care about who we fear will be hurt by our words (or, too, sometimes, without incurring a lawsuit)? This is about learning to trust our writing voices, and gut instincts, and so this is important.

As much as possible, I write my own truth in my journals and in first drafts, if nowhere else. It is true, however, that there have been stretches when even there I don’t claim my own honesty — when I am afraid that just letting the truth out anywhere outside my body, allowing any of my cells to lay claim to it, will be too apocalyptic. Those are not generally good times for me, but they happen, and what I have learned is that I just have to go through the difficult and necessary work of rewriting myself back toward my gut instincts, my complicated truths, my own stories, the ones that live outside the mouths of other people, that live behind the damp teeth of all my own inside mouths.

But mostly — mostly — notebook-writing and first drafts (and even workshop writes) are for the messy and honest story-telling, a place where I train myself to follow the thread of whatever I’m writing, even into places that other people might have trouble with (and for folks with even a shred of codependency, this can be a struggle. I myself have slightly more than a thread — more like one of those thick steamboat ropes-worth — and so this takes work and practice). When I let myself honor my true stories, then I learn more about the writing, I can go deeper, I can unearth and shove onto the page more difficult, complicated, layered tellings. This, in my experience, makes for better writing. I have, often often often, stopped my pen mid-sentence, afraid of what my stepfather, partner, father, mother, sister, friend would think or have to say about my side of the story, my understanding, my experience. I would argue with them in my head, struggle, go get more coffee, pick up the pen again. I began to just let myself write whatever it was I thought they might say to me — he would say that I was selfish and a tease, but that’s not what happened, and here’s why. Sometimes, letting those other arguments down onto the page just led me down deeper into the work.

In her book Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider writes:

As a young writer I talked to author Elizabeth O’Connor about my
work. There were things about which I could not write. I would “hurt”
my mother. My husband “might not like it.” She replied gently, “It sounds to me like there are a lot of absentee landlords of your soul.”

This is crucial: If you are to write, you must move out of “rented
rooms” in your mind, rooms that you have allowed to belong to someone
else. It will (usually) not happen overnight. But you can begin at any time
to be free. You must own yourself, have no “absentee landlords.”
This does not mean you run roughshod over other people’s feelings or
other people’s privacy. There are ways to protect others and still be free[…]. Remember that your first draft—which is absolutely essential—
is private. You can write anything that comes and “fix it” later.

Once you have the free flow of a full first draft on the page, you can do
the necessary editing to protect others, to protect yourself. But if you
worry about other people as you write a first draft, you will not be able to
free your unconscious mind to give up its treasures. It will be bound by
the great dogs of your fear, by “ought” and “should” and the internalized
voices of those whose lives intersect your own.

For first-draft writing, claim everything as your own. (pp. 11-12)

This is the only prompt I have for today: Just for today, let yourself write your own true story, no matter what anyone else might think about it. Take 10 minutes. What truth feels difficult today? Can you let it breathe between your fingers and the pen, let it rest on the page in all it’s complexity?

Thanks for that, and for this. Thanks for your being right where you are. Thanks for your words.

As a young writer I talked to author Elizabeth O’Connor about my

work. There were things about which I could not write. I would “hurt”

my mother. My husband “might not like it.” She replied gently, “It sounds

to me like there are a lot of absentee landlords of your soul.”

This is crucial: If you are to write, you must move out of “rented

rooms” in your mind, rooms that you have allowed to belong to someone

else. It will (usually) not happen overnight. But you can begin at any time

to be free. You must own yourself, have no “absentee landlords.”

This does not mean you run roughshod over other people’s feelings or

other people’s privacy. There are ways to protect others and still be free

(see chapter 9). Remember that your first draft—which is absolutely essential—

is private. You can write anything that comes and “fix it” later.

Once you have the free flow of a full first draft on the page, you can do

the necessary editing to protect others, to protect yourself. But if you

worry about other people as you write a first draft, you will not be able to

free your unconscious mind to give up its treasures. It will be bound by

the great dogs of your fear, by “ought” and “should” and the internalized

voices of those whose lives intersect your own.

For first-draft writing, claim everything as your own.

no longer severed from the me I’d one day hope to become

girlchild skipping on the sidewalk -- behind her, on a wall, the graffiti reads, "I can see the cracks -- I am not afraid."There are screech owls out there this morning — talking to that fat bulb of moon, I think.

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The prompt, grabbed from my friend Chris DeLorenzo of Laguna Writers, was this: Ghosts do leave shadows.

Here’s what I wrote in response:

Today I’m feeling quiet. I’m not hazarded by ghosts, or maybe I’m emptied ad so there’s little for the ghosts to stick to. I’d like some sleep, a long soak in a hot tub, more dancing, a good make out session at the back of a bar. Put your head on this pin and bleed on me.  I’m severing something new, like lancing the tether of skin that holds your tongue taut in the mouth, wanting greater reach, more range of motion. Something tied in me wants to be free, and the only ghosts these day are the celebratory ones, my grandmother’s smiling faces, their mothers’ too, and the women before. Are they really the sort of women who would celebrate a perverted daughter like me? These are my ghosts, their soft strong bony weighted cupping hands sheltering the new wings that are unlacing themselves from my shoulderblades — and why wouldn’t these foremothers be pleased that the daughter who once spent her dark mornings beneath the pale, furred belly of her mother’s second husband would now lift up those same split thighs, stained vulva, anviled belly, cauterized tongue and once-sewn lips and understand them, finally, as holy?

I can’t get enough of this metaphor, this newness, this sense, after twenty years of rage, that I can do something more than just say I love this skin — I can in fact actually allow it and be here and mine, cells and scars, stretch marks and seam of muscle; that my hands can just now be these good eloquence, not only their long yellow history; not the gentle tender home for sets of testicles that we didn’t want to touch. How this body is not glare or mask, no longer severed from the me I’d one day hope to become.

I am trying to write my way fully into this experience, I want to give you those years and layers of hiding, clothes don’t fit don’t bother don’t look this skin isn’t fit for the oxygen it consumes and somehow — now — I am relinquished from that backhand banter with shame and moving through the plum blossom days with new delight — Look, I want to tell the bay porpoise I saw this morning leaping up through the choppy waves lining the velvet space between Alcatraz and the Embarcadero — look, I’ve got one of those, too, a body. It’s exquisite, isn’t it, just to be able to run and swim and breathe?

How can I give you this delightedness, my own disbelief? I’m both waiting for the shame to fall again and somewhere, thick and meaty inside, I’m aware that something is irrevocably changed in me, that this is what healing and survivor looks like on me now, or part of, or encapsulates, contains, inhabits, incorporates — or, no, embodies. Right. Embodies.

(Thanks for being here today, for reading and dreaming, for writing you own good and necessary stories.)

“the slow, unglamorous work of healing”

graffiti of a small man with a net chasing the shadows of enormous birds, which remain free, flying, uncaughtHi over there. This is me waving with some new words. This is a quiet morning, or more like a thick blanket of quiet spread across fat noise, clanging cymbals (I wanted to write symbols, which, also, yes), the marching band of the soul. That’s how it feels this morning.

I have a poem as a prompt or just a reading-to-be-with this morning. I spent last night with a book of poems I’ve loved for many years, and it felt good to go back into those words, into all that they’ve held for me over the last decade plus. This is one of the books that I wrote about for my MA thesis, so I got to push really deep into these lines, wrangling with metaphor and possible meaning, stretching out onto my own pages the emotion and resonance that they brought up for me about desire, about claiming one’s own passion even though… (whatever your even though is: someone else doesn’t like it, your dad tells you to get a real job, your friends make more money than you, your lover wants to know when you’re coming to bed, etc.)

So, this is one of the poems from Alison Luterman’s The Largest Possible Life. Use it as a prompt, if you like. Notice what lines or images stay with you, grab them out, drop them on your page, and go. Write for 10 minutes — follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Invisible Work

Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don’t meen these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, “It’s hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there’s no one
to say what a good job you’re doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache.”
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world
day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world’s heart.
There is no other art.

Thank you for the ways you recognize others’ invisible work — and for the ways you honor your own ‘slow, unglamorous work of healing.’ Thank you for your enormous generosity with this world. Thank you (yes) for your words.

learning to be unnice

faded graffiti on brick of a woman's face, eyes closed, mouth open -- she is singing or crying or... Good morning good morning out there — how is your today so far?

(Sometimes when I start these posts, I hear (of course I do) the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (hello hello is there anybody in there), even though numb isn’t (almost) ever how I’d describe myself here at the writing desk, during this morning time…

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If you’re local to the Bay Area, and feel like doing some writing this month, don’t forget about Writing the Flood on Feb 18 — we’ll gather for great words, tasty snacks and absolutely fantabulous writing community. You don’t have to be a “writer”-writer to join us, and if you are a writer-writer (whatever that means to you), this workshop is a great chance to change up your usual writing routines. Don’t miss it.

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Last night, at the Write Whole meeting, I handed out a number of images as our second prompt — I invited the writers gathered to notice which one was most calling to their writing selves, which one inspired or evoked story, voice, description. We wrote for 20 minutes.

(Let this be your prompt today, if you want one. Click on the links and notice what percolates up for you as you view the images — begin as soon as you have a strong response, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. You can always use another image for a different write!)

Here’s my response — I bet you can guess which image I was working from.

Stop asking for permission. Isn’t this the interminable lesson for girls? Is it for everyone? (Not everyone.)

Stop waiting for someone to say, Yes please, come on down now, you’ve won a chance to live your life! This is me on the floor reaching upward, this is me slamming a door in your face because I’m writing now, this is me learning now not to be nice. This is a new skill: unnice. It’s not mean or unkind or hostile or even fucking high maintenance (definitely don’t be the unnice femme — that’s another write).It’s honest, which is a generosity, actually. It’s sleek and pressured, it’s not wearing enough clothes, it’s everyday handsome, it makes you uncomfortable. What happens if my face doesn’t shape-shift into an accommodating smile every single time someone makes eye contact with me? What happens if I wear only the body I want to wear and nobody else’s hopes or desires? What if no issues more often from my lips than yes? What if I get really good not only at knowing exactly what I need to be my very best and whole and evanescent self, but also at saying it out loud — and then (and then!), too, expecting it to fucking happen, without offering the backwash of but you know, whatever, I’m fine with whatever.

What happens when I’m no longer fine with whatever? This is a new alchemy, understanding how to hold against my body that some people won’t like it, and that doesn’t mean we’re going to die. How far back does nice go — the little girl who wants everyone to be ok and maybe then her daddy will come home and her mommy won’t be so sad and mad. This is a made up story that lives inside the malleable bones of the nice girl, the one whose main fucking goal was making sure everyone really liked er, who could easily be on everyone’s side, who can understand your point of view and the point of view of the man hurting you, who above all else wanted to walk out of the party with everyone saying, oh, she’s so nice.

What lives inside nice but murk and wishy-washy , the pond water of terror and control, the browned-out idea that if you don’t like me that means I’m bad, like core-bad. Bone bad. Let me break my bones for you, so you can suckle at the marrow– then the nice girl is saved.

How does the nice girl come to understand this, come to paste on her shiny blue mask of happy and appeasing, come to feed others on I’m fine! when the world is crumbling under her feet — come to swallow hard, I mean, choke thick on the stories inside her, the voices the painting the creative ricochet that someone else — almost anyone else — might not like? And then how does she unlearn that swallowing?

Tie a noose around her neck like the Japanese fisherman do with the cormorants, letting them down into the breached deep but then tugging up easy and snatching out what once was the bird’s lunch, now for the fisherman’s supper. This is how we train ourselves out of the habit of swallowing someone else’s shame, what doesn’t feed us anymore. I reach in, yank out the grimy green stench of nice now, before she has a chance to consume it, to relish in the old and sour familiarity. It may be that just now I am starving the nice girl, that I want her emaciated, brittle, stung, I want her less often to feed on me. Then slowly, maybe slowly, we can develop her — I mean my — palate for my own fierce power.

Keep writing, ok? Keep drawing or photographing or crafting or candlemaking or dancing or singing or painting or sculpting or collaborating — keep living into the fullness of your art. Thank you for all the ways you give yourself permission to dream and make those dreams reality. Thank you, every day, for your words.

some of the things I do

grafftiti of two enrobed women carrying the sun on their heads -- in between them is the word 'amor'Oh, hi. Hi. Happy Monday to you over there. Here there’s candle and, let’s see, wulu green-mint-nettle-cardamom-anise tea. What’s feeding you at the beginning of this week?

I have a short post for today, because I want to do a little work with the novel before I head out to the day job. I spent the weekend with an amazing group of women from my church (my what? oh, right) at a retreat space at Dominican University. The retreat space was filled with peace and light, quiet, flowers, laughter, and almost more poetry than I could take. But poetry is part of what’s feeding me these days, and so I got nourished in ways I’m still discovering. Plus, there is the tremendous (tremendous is my favorite word right now) power of being welcomed by a group of women when I have spent much of my life feeling outside and along the edges of, not belonging to, women. Not welcome. Too stained and shamed to be allowed into the rooms with the laughter and the knowledge and the teachings and the vulnerability and the loss. Too broken to be welcomed into my grandmother’s hands again. Too shameful to be allowed to touch anyone else again. So this was a big deal, and I’m still taking in to my body and heartbeat all that this weekend brought to me.

We did quite a bit of writing at this retreat, some of which we got to do with Linda Spence (who teaches people how to write their personal histories). Here’s one of the prompts she gave us, which I offered last night at the first Dive Deep workshop meeting of February:

Some of what I do, I do because…

(Open your notebooks and give yourselves 10 minutes — if you’re working with fiction or with other characters, they might speak up in response to this as well. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.)

Here was my response from last night:

Some of what I do, I do because I’m hungry and ungrateful, I’m struck hard with the backside of an inkwell, I’m too run ragged to breathe. This isn’t personal, it’s ink stains on the fingers, too much distance, but the plum blossoms have lit my inside streets all pale pink with fragrance and I’m waiting for just the right breeze to petal-shower me back to that bank of the Connecticut river, on the VT side I mean, where I sat with an oversized sketchbook twenty years ago, recording the crows overhead, the melt-swollen riverflow, the new leaves, the bees pushing their fat desire into the white apple-blossoms — then I wrote about him and what he was doing and  how he had to stop. How I was tired of taking his phone calls there in my college dorm room, giving him my private breath over the distance of those thousand miles, how I didn’t want him to have the inside branches of me anymore. This is the only piece of writing I have ever torn out of a notebook. I ripped the pages from the spiral binding, the thick paper leaving sprinkles of remnants as reminder. I put those pages in a box with all the jewelry he had given me — the black leather thong necklace with a silver geometric pendant, the ankle bracelet, the pearl ring — there was probably more. I said, I don’t want these anymore. I want you to let me be. Maybe I mailed, too, all the polaroids he had made me take of boyfriends, photos I didn’t want — maybe he already had those. He could take it all back. Just leave me be. I mailed it to their office. Of course he got the box and shamed me for putting him at risk: what if mom or the secretary had taken receipt and opened it? It didn’t stop then, his hands around the neck of my life, but a finger had loosened. And I have missed those pages, that writing, my first written truth telling, forever. I never took pages out of my notebook again, just copied out, rewrote, saving my own original words, my first breaths, for me.

Be as easy as you can be with you this week. Thanks for your thick honesties, the way you make space for complexity and struggle, and the ways you are learning to make space for peace and relaxation, too. Thanks for your creative urgency. Thank you for your words.

upcoming (and) gratitude

stencil graffiti from Miss.Tic: An image of a woman in a full-skirted, 50s style dress with princess neckline, one hand on her hip, to the right of the words, "la fille coupee en deux"  Good morning, my friends — it actually might still be night, according to some. I’ve been up for quite awhile, journaling since about 3.30. What a gift.

There’s the fog horn, awakening the sea mist. There’s this candleflame. There’re these fingers, wanting to find out what to say.

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I’ve got to get this month’s writing ourselves whole newsletter together, which means I want to give a bit of an update here as to what’s coming up:

– You are still welcome to sign up to join the small but mighty group of folks who are participating in the online erotic writing workshop that I get to offer through the Transformative Language Arts Network, Claiming Our Erotic Story. We are just barely into the first prompt, getting to know each other, and we’d love to welcome you into the fold. Visit the link above (or here) to register!

– I’ll be reading on Valentine’s Day! BLEEDING HEARTS, A Celebration of Dysfunctional Love. Tuesday, February 14th, 7:30 pm, The Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco, $10-20. Simon Sheppard hosts a St. Valentine’s Day massacre featuring Charlie Anders, Sherilyn Connelly, Jen Cross, Justin Chin, Daphne Gottlieb, Juba Kalamka, Kirk Read, and horehound stillpoint. (Honestly, this show is going to be phenomenal. Come on down and do something different for your V-Day — the chocolate will still be there when you get back home.)

– Don’t forget about Writing the Flood on 2/18!

– This month’s Erotic Reading Circle meets on 2/22.

– The Spring Write Whole workshop series all begin in April — and if you’ve been thinking about joining the Dive Deep manuscript workshop, we’ll be open again in April for new members (right now there are two spaces available — contact me for more info!).  The next Declaring Our Erotic retreat meets on Saturday, 4/7.

I’ll be away for much of the month of March (I’ll be at Hedgebrook for the first two weeks of the month, and then down in LA for my sister’s wedding toward the end of the month) , but Writing the Flood will meet as usual on the third Saturday, 3/17. Gotta keep some consistency somewhere.
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My online erotic writing workshop got started earlier this week, as I mentioned above, and last night I got to spend some time with the writers’ words before I got ready for bed. This morning, after I finish this post, I’ll be reading through the manuscripts for this Sunday’s Dive Deep meeting — marking up all the places I love, writing comments and gentle questions, generally, yes, diving into another person’s

I have to tell you that I adore this work. First of all, I get to read as a part of my living. This is precisely what my six year-old self dreamed of. And I get to “be read to,” just in the context of the workshops, where I participate in the pleasure of hearing brand new writing shared with a circle of open-hearted and supportive listeners. I get to experience the pleasures of writing over and over again, every single day. Talk about grateful.

I’ve had this thought, over and over since the beginning of the year: my god, do I really get to do this? I felt it on Monday at the Write Whole meeting, listening to the writers offer their words into the room, to one another, to themselves. I’m struck, continually, with the power of new writing, with how much creative desire and power each of us carries within, and what a tremendous gift it is to share that creativity with others, especially in early drafts or nascent forms.

I’m all superlatives these days. That’s just how it is. So this is just one of my sappy facilitator-love posts, wherein I talk about how much I love and appreciate the writing of every single person (no hyperbole) I’ve been allowed to write with, how grateful I am for the chance to be with your new and crafted words, how glad I am that we get to be on this writer’s journey in some small way together.

It’s so often an isolated thing, writing — what power there is when we come together and share this art that fills us up to bursting.

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On only a very slightly different note, I’ve been rereading Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (such an exquisite thing, returning to words you love after a long absence) , and I have this quote to offer you as a prompt for this morning (getting us into sensory detail, don’t you know):

When she lifted the soup spoon to her lips, how I longed to be that innocent piece of stainless steel. I would gladly have traded the blood in my body for half a pint of vegetable stock. let me be diced carrot, vermicelli, just so that you will take me in your mouth. I envied the French stick. I watched her break and butter each piece, soak it slowly in her bowl, let it float, grow heavy and at, sink under the deep red weight and then be resurrected to the glorious pleasure of her teeth.

Take 10 minutes (or can you give yourself 20?) to write what emerges in response to reading this– maybe your own (or a character’s) memory of a sensory meal, or a desire. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the generous ways you make yourself vulnerable today, for the way you hold with grace what others offer you, how you create space in the world for creative emergence. Thank you for your ferocious tenderness with yourself. Thank you for your words.

this moment

stencil graffiti of a pink person sitting in lotus position surrounded by blue omsGood morning! Happy Wednesday to you — or, no, wait, it’s Thursday, isn’t it? Happy Thursday. 🙂

Groundhog Day, too. Keep an eye out, there, for notice as to whether we’ll have six more weeks of reflection, or whether it’s time for an early bursting.

There was something I wanted to write about last night, when I was trying to fall asleep. I had a thought about something — what was it? Oh, hey, I thought. I could blog about that tomorrow — but I was practicing my mindfulness techniques, and so I didn’t let myself get up and go write down all my spinny thoughts on pieces of paper. Instead I told myself to relax and let it go — you’ll still have it tomorrow, Jen, or something else will come. And so I breathed in again and tried to just focus on that inhalation, that exhalation, this expansion of breastbone, this relinquishing.

Then this morning I sat down at my desk and had still forgotten, and got a little frustrated. Then I thought about the mindfulness class again, and thought, oh, wait, maybe it had something to do with mindfulness. then the whole story came back, and here I am sharing it with you.

To backtrack: I’m taking a mindfulness class at the Osher Center at Mt. Zion — UCSF has a lot of wellness resources, both for patients and employees, and I’m really grateful to finally get to try this out. In this class, meets four times, we will learn eight techniques (practicing two per week) to increase positive thinking and mindfulness. Last night we talked about and tried on a couple of mindfulness practices and gratitude practice.

Now, gratitude is something I feel I’ve done a pretty good job of incorporating into my regular life-practice: I hear myself using the words I’m grateful an awful lot. But mindfulness — slowing down, paying attention to only one thing at a time — and paying complete attention to that one thing — is a harder one. (Like right here, I’m paying attention to this typing, to Sophie who wants to go out again even though we just went out five minutes ago, to what all I need to do to get ready for this day…you know this run of thoughts). In the group, we talked about how our culture encourages multi-tasking, sees single-tasking as lazy, even, and certainly doesn’t make a lot of space for reflection or just sitting and watching the exquisite layerings of your own breath.

But here was the part I wanted to mention in the blog. At one point we were talking about how it can be easier (somewhat) to pay attention when we’re feeling good, or when something joyful or celebratory is happening — but that when we’re feeling bad, we see no reason why we should stay in that particular moment. Why would I want to be in this moment? my instructor imagined us asking ourselves.

And that stuck with me, hard. Why would I want to be in this moment? I thought back to yesterday’s post about stuffing, about escaping difficult emotions, and how many moments I have not allowed myself to fully experience because the feeling was bad (sometimes very bad) and I just wanted to get to the next one. Please, just let me get to the next thing.

Those moments are lost, now. What happens if I let myself be fully in each of my moments, whether I’m here writing, or walking with a gorgeous & exuberant pup, or pushing my way through the misty morning air toward the ferry, or experiencing heartache, or holding on to a wave of old sorrow, or — how much more full might my life feel?

She’s scratching at my leg now — I gotta go. This is the prompt for today: give me this moment. 10 minutes. Exactly — what are you feeling, seeing, experiencing.

Thank you for your patience, your practices, how you keep working. Thank you for your words.

stay hungry


image of a door with black, spray-painted graffiti, "Stay Hungry"

(click on the image to view the full photo, which gives a different context from the close-up here. A whole different prompt, the full view, I think.)

Hello and good morning — happy Wednesday (if it is indeed Wednesday where you are) to you. There is tea here, where I’m writing you from, and candlelight, and a little quiet music. No foghorns that I can hear, just a car now and again, early commuters, or maybe the paper-delivery guy.

What’s it like where you are this morning? What’s it like in you this morning?

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My online erotic writing workshop, Claiming Our Erotic Story (offered through the Transformative Language Arts Network) begins this week — we’ll be writing hard all through February, and there’s still time to register if you would like to join us!

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I am thinking a lot about hunger these days. I’m in the midst of some big transitions (it seems like this has been true for the entirety of my thirties, but here it is again), and my appetites have shifted radically. I am not hungry, and am mostly only eating when the rumbles in my stomach get loud enough that the puppy starts throwing me looks of concern, or when I am worried that my cube-mates at the day-job are going to start calling me out. I am feeding myself, let me be clear, but only just enough, small meals.

In spite of this belly-throat-shut down-conspiracy, I seem still to be filled with hunger — just not hunger for what I have fed myself with in the past.

Do you ever do this? I have been a binger — maybe not clinically so, but I used to refer to myself as a bulimic who forgot to purge. I would (and may again still, as this is a long-held and hard-won coping strategy) stuff myself with something, anything, to get away from my feelings. I binged on alcohol, food, television, and after I did so, I was left awash in shame, which allowed me to focus on that feeling instead of whatever was up for me before I filled my body with something else.

When I was living in my stepfather’s house, of course, there was no room for this sort of over-feeding; he was the only one who could binge, and he did so on us. And so it was a profound release, when I was away from him, to sit in front of the television for seven hours, knowing that no one could tell me otherwise. I was free, goddamnit. This was my right. I could eat everything in the house if I wanted to — I was liberated. If I wanted to sit at the side of the party and polish off that entire bottle of Jack Daniels, well, first, it meant that I was not going to feel anymore the ache of not being with the woman I wanted at that moment, and second, it meant that I was truly out of my stepfather’s hands (he was a wicked social climber, and would have looked down on Jack Daniels as low class, which drew the bottle into my hands surely as if it and my hands were magnetized to each other).

This coping strategy was a way of understanding how to consume, how to manage feelings of loss and rage and terror that overwhelmed my body, left my limbs limp or aching with tension, woke me nightly with terrors all through my twenties and into my thirties. I spoke about it, went to therapists and support groups, filled endless notebooks with the words I could allow myself to write about what he had done and what I had done, too — it’s not as though I was without outlet. But still this need to sit with a bag of chips and push every single one into my mouth, until I felt myself bulging, a desire for that fullness and shame, how terrible I felt I was then. This, maybe, a safe way to engage with my terribleness. A contained way. A familiar way. And a way that would pass, quite literally, in the morning, and I could imagine myself empty, virtuous, free.

So there’s that part. Then there’s the part that I have never been the girl who would deny herself food — as a political statement, I have always ordered a full meal on a date. let me not be the dainty who says, Oh, I’ll just have a salad, in case, god forbid, you think I eat and maybe have some heft and weight to me, maybe could meet your appetites. I have, too, felt that commitment/commandment to finishing everything on my plate, thanks to those messages we got (though I don’t remember getting them directly from either of my parents — I think they were in the very air that we breathed in the seventies) about waste, and about there being other children in the world who weren’t getting enough to eat, so you better go ahead and finish what’s right there on your plate.

I think I haven’t written about all this before. These are some of the layerings for me around food, eating, feeding myself, engaging with my hungers.

I have also stuffed myself to avoid or shut down hungers that I felt I couldn’t feed — hungers that had nothing to do with food, but had to do with desire to write, desire for particular intimacies or sex, desire to construct my life in particular ways — another word we use for desire is hunger, right? And when I would stuff myself, I wouldn’t feel those hungers anymore. Instead, I could situate myself back comfortably in my shame, which I knew how to manage, and which I knew would dissipate (at least momentarily).

Here’s what I know: when I let myself stay hungry, stay in those hungers, I am uncomfortable (yes), but I also am driven to do my work, which then brings me profound joy and satisfaction. It used to be, when I lived in Southern Maine and drove in from Hollis to the Maine Mall (the one mall, for real) just on the outskirts of Portland to write for some hours at the Borders there, that I wouldn’t want to eat before I got into the car. I would maybe pack some snacks into my bag, nuts or an apple or something small, but I didn’t want breakfast. Eating sated something in me that I could otherwise put into my writing, and I wanted it in my hands, between me and the pen, pushing the page full of ink.

I am not talking about starving myself, or ourselves. I am talking about allowing ourselves to be in our hunger, feel it, ask it questions, find out what it wants for us.

This is all too surfacy, and I would like to go in deeper. But, for now, I am noticing how, of late, my body is simply not interested in allowing me to stuff it. It/she/we do not want to sit in front of the tv for hours with bowls of popcorn and bars of chocolate: we want to go to work. We are writing, following-up on long-missed email messages, making phone calls, playing with the dog. We are talking with friends, we are drinking poetry like water, we are lit up.

Paying attention to what we’re hungry for is necessary and healing work — radical self-care, even — whether we are hungry for a new way of eating, or a new way of being in our lives. So here’s a prompt for you: What are you or your characters hungry for these days? You might find yourself writing about food, actually, or about something completely other than eating. Just notice what arises as you read the prompt, and let yourself begin writing from there. (If you are working with a character and want to get to know them better, you might allow yourself to consider what they are hungry for…) Give yourself ten minutes for this, or more, if you want to. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you. Thank you for being here (in your exact here-ness) and for feeling, thank you for tending what it is within you that wants to be fed. Thank you for your words.

image of a door with black, spray-painted graffiti, "Stay Hungry"

(click on the image to view the full photo, which gives a different context from the close-up here. A whole different prompt, the full view, I think.)

Hello and good morning — happy Wednesday (if it is indeed Wednesday where you are) to you. There is tea here, where I’m writing you from, and candlelight, and a little quiet music. No foghorns that I can hear, just a car now and again, early commuters, or maybe the paper-delivery guy.

What’s it like where you are this morning? What’s it like in you this morning?

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