Monthly Archives: April 2012

telling you about it: femmes go dirty south — and coming home

graffiti of enormous bird with a big striated blue eye looking down on a branch on a nest, all drawn up the side of an apartment buildinggood morning good morning good morning. Here it’s late and grayish out in the sky, the words hovering over everything in be (fingers, forehead, spleen), and I am distancing myself from their origins just to be able to breathe. I am covered with yesterday’s wantings. I am everywhere in this desire for writing today.

(The tea is earl grey — not so interesting — but last night’s was green with mint, cardamom, anise, allspice, ginger, fenugreek. It’s been awhile since the last tea report; earl grey has been with me since early this year, and I’m not tired of it yet.)

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I mentioned in a recent post, or maybe it was just in the newsletter,  that there are some changes and new projects in the works. I want to tell you something about a couple of these!

Here’s one: May 6, 2012, 7pm: Femmes go Dirty South! With Alysia Angel, Jen Cross and more: Come on down to the Center for Sex and Culture (1349 Mission St, San Francisco) for a much needed influx of dirty femme words! This reading features our guest star, the very ferocious Alysia Angel, who brings the dirty South here to us in the Bay. We’ve also got a phenomenal lineup of local femme wordslingers Cherry Poppins, Daphne Gottlieb, Renee Garcia, Blyth Barnow, Nomy Lamm, Virgie Tovar, Gina de Vries and Carol Queen, all of whom will bring you the very sharpest and most filthily-lipsticked writing you’ve been privileged to let shove into your body. Don’t miss this one. $7-15, NOTAFLOF.

The other big news for me is this: coming home – a national masturbation month blog-a-thon. This is a project I have been percolating over for the last few months, a place where I will both document and push into a new opening and presence I’ve been experiencing in my body, a place of profound healing, that’s centered exactly around masturbation and a daily orgasm practice. I want to spend a month really investigating how important masturbation has been to my own recovery from trauma (and still, how easy it’s been for me to step into shame about touching myself), how my relationship to orgasm has changed utterly since I first had to come under my stepfather’s watch — and, too, how necessary it is for us to know the contours of our own bodies as we are taking those bodies back — breath, bone, skin, trigger, fantasy — from the people who abused us, from the stories they wrote on our bodies about the possibilities for our sex, our recovery, our embodiment. Too, we take our stunningly beautiful bodies back from the mainstream narratives about jerking off and the ‘right’ ways to come to orgasm.

Let’s complexity all of our everything. Let’s stain the sheets of these pages.

This will be a place for your stories, too, for your ideas and fears, for your daily practices, for your relationship with shame and coming, for your revelations. The more we share our realities with one another, the less isolated/crazy we feel in our experiences!

I can use help funding this project! The scope I’m wanting for this project will almost certainly entail that I take some time off from other work in order to devote time and resources to interviews, transcribing previous writing, reading suggested books and other materials — here’s the thing: you can make a one-time donation at chipin or paypal, or you can make a pledge per post or per orgasm. I am most excited about pledges, given that this is a blog-a-thon, given that the idea for this project grew out of thinking about participating in the center for sex and culture‘s masturbate-a-thon. Consider these pledges: five dollars a post, a quarter a minute spent with my hands on myself, twenty dollars an orgasm, or anything else! The money will go to support writing ourselves whole and a portion of the proceeds will go to the center for sex and culture.

I am so excited for May 1, I can’t even tell you. Send me your favorite masturbation poems, the stories you never tell about how good it used to feel when you touched yourself, the writing you did last month after you came in bed alone and something in you snapped open, the stories about how much you want to be more connected to your orgasm and just don’t see a bridge to that possibility. Let’s give ourselves back to ourselves. Let’s come home.

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A prompt idea for today: what does self-love look like for you, or your characters? How has masturbation been a place of healing, a place of struggle, both? How has coming under your own hands (or against the bedsheets or with toys or…) changed over the course of the last five, ten, twenty, thirty years? Just take ten minutes (no one has to see this writing) and let yourself into the story. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your strong hands today, for your knowing ministrations, the way you tender to what has been brutalized, the way you know just how to allow the difficult parts of yourself to find some joy, some release, some laughter. Thank you for all the possibility you allow yourself to breathe. Thank you for your words.

how to fumble more often

graffiti of faces all pressed together in a tube, as the inside of an artery...Good morning good Monday to you — this morning there’s a good weightiness all around me; the world feels solid and maybe not entirely clear but present and necessary and open. The birds are a dawn chorus (thank you for that, Lucretia!), and the candle flickers over the words “Run your finger down the blackness behind my ribcage / make a puzzle of my womb / an alphabet of my fingers” (from the poem, taped to my wall, “Poem,” by Roberta Werdinger). How are you feeling your way into this Monday? What does the week hold in store for you? What are you carrying forward with you from this weekend?

A poem for today:

The Poems I Have Not Written
John Brehm

I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.

And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing

and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice

speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,

make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.

The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.

please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would

bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I

might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,

praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate

reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life

I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.

There is much–everything, it seems some days–that I haven’t written because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect. I have been thinking, recently, about the tyranny of perfection.

I misspelled tyranny as I was typing, keying it in as tyrrany, and the little wiggly red underline cued me in to my excellently-staged potential irony; I could leave that misspelling as a device, as a way to call you, out, reader, who would snag on that misspelling, almost assuredly, and want it fixed before you continued, thereby giving you an embodied experience of just what it is I’m about to continue on to write about; but I’m so deeply beholden to this tyranny myself that I couldn’t leave it sit there, that red squiggly line, that indication of my fault and incorrectness, that visible wrongness, so I went back and corrected it.

It’s one thing to say, and know (and we know, don’t we) that there’s no such thing as perfect and, simultaneously, that we’re all excellent just as we are, perfect in our imperfections, our scars and brokennesses, our fuck-ups and disappointments and celebrations and joys.

Fine. Yes. These things are true and my head knows the, but  then there’s the fact that I have so deeply internalized this idea of and desire for perfection that it stops me, nearly every day, for taking some first step toward a goal or a dream because what if I get the first step wrong and then everything else about each subsequent aspect of my pursuit of this dream is also wrong because I did the very first part wrong?

Tyranny means the cruel or unjust use of power. Tyranny can get internalized. We do it to ourselves, after awhile — we get trained into these ways of thinking that are fully intended to keep us from realizing the fullness of our potential and possibility.

Here’s what’s true: whatever idea I have, it always exists as perfect while still living only in my head, only as a fantasy. As soon as I begin to move the idea from my head out into the world, no matter what I do, I will imperfect it. Period.

What if I just allowed that to be true, and moved on from there? What if I took imperfect as my goal instead?

Here is something I wrote last week, at the second Dive Deep meeting of the second quarter.  The prompt was to grab one of the ideas from Bruce Mau’s “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” and write on it, or write the beginnings of our own manifesto for growth. (Look what it says right there at the top of that linked page: Begin Anywhere. The message comes to me over and over, and still I beat my head against wanting to do it right.) The idea from his list that chose me was, “Make Mistakes Faster.” Oh no.

Make mistakes faster. This is the hard one. This is five books sitting on the shelves inside me, unwritten, on the backburners of my brain and heart, this is the frozen aching, oh god what if I get it wrong? what if the idea was wrong, the premise is wrong, what if somebody doesn’t like the idea what if somebody challenges me on it and I don’t know what to say what if it’s the wrong journal the wrong publisher wrong agent wrong advance wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong? what if I just did it anyway, put out the ideas and stood behind them, what if I fucked up more publicly and more often, I mean what if I fell ass end up right on my face? My god, would I die? Doesn’t every single person know that we only learned to walk by falling forward, falling forward, falling forward? Why cares, now, the root cause of this fear of being wrong, of blueing in the face, this having someone who could say to me, you stupid girl, I can’t believe you would write that — ? Some days I would look at it and not believe that I’d written it either. But isn’t it true that most days, these days, I’d breathe into the insult, spine straightening, understanding, yes, exactly this is what I wrote and why? My tongue is working now. Some days I can fuck up. I have learned how to fumble without breaking my body open at its hinges just to offer my heart up as a replacement for the kicking.

I want to release this idea of perfection, this need to be and do perfect. I want to welcome wrongness more often, and with open arms, let the shame and embarrassment wash fully over and through me and then move on to the next step. Learn, grow, keep writing. This is my practice these days. If you got it wrong, change it, move forward. Begin anywhere, and then keep going. That’s what we do in the workshops, right? Just dive in, and know that you can come back to it later, change the beginning if you want, edit, revise, recraft, elucidate, concatenate, lengthen, alter — create the raw material first, then work with it. Do it wrong first, absolutely. What if I offered myself not just that permission, but that imperative? What if we had to do it wrong? What then? What brilliance would emerge?

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An idea for your writing for today: There’s this quote, What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? So, that’s one prompt, and a good one. Here’s a redrafting of that, though: what would you or your character take on if you knew that without question you were going to fuck it up, but that it was going to end up brilliantly anyway? Let yourself write into that idea, into all the ways whatever it is that you want to do will be wrong as soon as you start to do it — and then follow that writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for all your gorgeous, your breathtakingly beautiful wrongnesses. Thank you for the fierce risks that you offer yourself as necessary food. Thank you for your anyway writing. Thank you for your words.

slowing down to let more in, and out

sticker graffiti of arms crossed at the elbows, hands turned back toward each other, creating the shape of a heartgood morning good morning — this morning it’s all quiet outside the windows, like the birds and cars and morning listenings have thickened themselves into something dense and moist, and they’re waiting for some sign, some cosmic flare or the first breaths of magnetic celadon, to release their songs and begin to build the morning.

When I wake up this late, the puppy wakes up with me; she’s ready to play, and so am I, of course, but play looks different for each of us at this hour. For me, it looks like right here at the keyboard. For her it looks like the ball in her mouth that gets dropped at my feet, it looks like her nose tapping hard against my typing forearm, it looks like her staring at me with ears up, alert, ready. This reminds me of my sister and me when we were little: how I would just want to be stuck somewhere in a quiet sunny corner, reading, and she wanted to really do something: don’t read, Jenny! Come play with me!

So there’ll be a little typing this morning; then it’s time to play.

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Writing the Flood is tomorrow. I’m so looking forward to this group. It’ll be the last one that meets in San Francisco for awhile — we’re moving a number of the workshops to Oakland!

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This was the second write we did last night at our second Dive Deep meeting; we had just a few minutes at the end of the workshop, and so we did one of our quick-quick writes, a drop-down-in where we free associate and write hard for two to five minutes, then read around what we’ve written without any feedback.

Last night, I offered this as our jumping off point, a line from “Elegy in Joy” by Muriel Rukeyser: We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer… Here is my response to this prompt:

We tell beginnings and we do not stop      we are stumbling and strong        we are meant to be all in motion         we are holding these beginnings       every word is a beginning         every breath is a new        every sideswipe glance, every flush of eyelashes       these promises on paper, they deliver breath to somebody’s body and if you do not write them, if you do not bless these seeds, then somebody will not breathe that breath, somebody will go hungry for that feeding     please write it     please write it     please write it.

Today I am thinking about urgency and patience and breathing; how I have been rehearsing that old message, I don’t have enough time for everything I want to do. and how it just isn’t true, particularly when I slow down and breathe, when I do not try to do everything at the same time, faster faster faster. Going faster, doing more simultaneously, does not help. I just can’t, am not interested in multitasking the way I’ve done for so many years. I become rather like a trainwreck inside myself, everything trying to escape through my arms and fingers and mouth and heart at the same time; if it doesn’t all get done now it won’t get done! That’s the panic.  It’s a form of dissociation, is what I’ve realized, a way not to be present to one task, one doing, one desire.

It’s counter-intuitive, that I get more done when I slow down, and yet the more I let myself practice it, the more deeply this experience can live itself into my body. I’m working with that today, being present to one task at a time, choosing it, moving through it to completion (partial or total), and then allowing the next task/act/presence-ing to arise. Let’s see how that goes: a little less rushing around like a bat without one wing, a chicken with her head lopped off, a puppy with too many balls right in front of her — I cal already feel the tension in my shoulders beginning to release.

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What about a short Friday write? Take that line of Muriel Rukeyser’s, We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer — copy it onto your page, notice what rises for you as you read it, what associations you begin to make, just write. Don’t think about it, just let the words come. Give yourself fifteen minutes, or ten, on this early morning. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to take you.

Thanks for this. This, just here. Thanks for that breathing, this flame, your complications and the way you allow others to notice and love them. Thank you for your heart today. Thank you for your words.

recalibrating as we grow new skin

sticker graffiti of two hands gently cupping a heartGood morning! There’s a Maxfield Parrish sky blooming over Lake Merritt this morning, that thick blue and cottony clouds. What’s it look like out the windows where you are?

This morning I am thinking about rhythms, routines, rituals, and how we find them for ourselves, how we allow to emerge. I an thinking about new questions and the longing for answers.

Here I am in this new space, new schedule, new practices, new engagements with others, new relating with the puppy — and I’ve been trying to force myself to keep the same schedules as I was keeping before moving out: not that I’ve been able to do so, mind you, and I’ve been beating myself up for that fact. Why doesn’t everything already look the same as it did before you moved, Jen? Why aren’t you already able to get up at 4:30 and write morning pages, novel pages, blog pages, then take the puppy out for a run around the lake, then do your morning ablutions, then head out to work? — all by 7:45, mind you, which was when we used to have to catch the boat. It’s just not happening. Why are you so lazy? Why can’t you both set up a new home and keep your routines exactly the same?

You see the madness, the way the internal critic is entirely crazymaking, all about getting me to chase my own tail rather than open into new possibility. This is not the kind inside voice. This is the voice of judgement and shaming. How could anything look the same when just about everything is different?

Yesterday I had several amazing and transformative conversations, which left me a little destabilized — my spacial sense was all off; I bumped into people and things, dropped everything, couldn’t parallel park to save my life. This is what happens when we’re growing new skin, I think: our senses have to recalibrate. At first I tried to figure out what the hell was wrong with me: then I decided that was the wrong question, and just let it be.

In one of these transformative conversations, one with my analyst, I am talking about fear, some big terror that feels like it’s moving and breaking open in me. I haven’t been crying recently, not much at all in the last couple of weeks, and this is unusual for me. I process often through tears. But it feels like there’s something blocked, rather more like the tears that want to come are very big tears, and I’m afraid of the weight and the wash of them, I’m afraid of being hurt, overwhelmed, I’m afraid of what’s going to break when they finally come. The couple of times I’ve cried in the last month, I’ve had the sense of the tears coming through something fundamental inside, like welling up through igneous rock, through obsidian, through the layer of terror that’s shaped the core of me since I was a teenager.

Here’s the certainty that’s rising in me: if I truly claim my life, let myself move all the way into it, let all the parts of me quit watching over my shoulder and allow my whole self to settle into a sense of safety and possibility and growth and genius, that’s exactly when my stepfather is going to wash back into my life and take everything away. The joy that I thought was mine: no. He will just let me have enough to taste how big it could have been, and then he will take over, take it all away from me: my writing, my body, my joy, my life.

So, in the course of this talk, my analyst asks me to consider what it might look like, to both have something and not have it at the same time; for instance, what would it mean to both claim my writing to such an extent that it’s not something anyone else could take away from me, and, too, to let it pass through me out into the world.

I think of the Marge Piercy poem, to have without holding.

What does it mean to have and not hold, to claim for ourselves without clutching? I’m getting to live into this question all over the place in my life right now. And here’s another part of the conversation with my analyst: he said, when your stepfather demanded answers of you, when you were answered, the loop was closed, and he had something to use to control you with; when you were without answers, still in and with the questions, he didn’t have that control.

That got me into a very quiet place.

What happens when we let ourselves be unanswered, when we live fully into the questions for themselves (go back to Rilke again and again) without clutching to answers? If we let the questions resolve themselves in us, through us, over and over again?

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This idea for a prompt today: can you generate a short list (even a list of one!) of big questions that are present for you, or for your character (they might even be questions about your character, about a writing project or the trajectory of your work). Give yourself ten minutes to write into what it could be like not to try and answer those questions, but just to live into them…or just hold that possibility for yourself today.

letting them (and ourselves) be real

graffiti in red of a girl with a heart in a word-bubble over her headgood morning good morning! Oh, it’s late here — I set the alarm for 4:30, but when the puppy woke me up after 6, I looked over to see that perhaps that alarm had gone off, but my sleeping self had taken no notice whatsoever. After a full (and mostly offline) weekend, I guess my body took what she needed.

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Write Whole begins again this evening, and April’s Writing the Flood is this weekend (join us!) — lots more coming up, too, including a new daily blog project for May, which I’m very excited and a little nervous about! It’s going to be kind of like NaNoBloMo, with a twist.

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This morning I woke up thinking about my father singing one of his own songs: Dance Dixie Dance Dixie Dance / Don’t miss your very last chance… What a thing, to wake up with your father’s music on your lips, and be glad of it.

This weekend I went on a bit of a road trip with a friend, and she was in charge of picking out music, since I was driving. We wanted music to sing along to, with the windows down and the wind everywhere around us. I only ever do big-voice singing when I ‘m in the car, and I wanted to let something out. We got a little of The Story, Greg Greenway, something else, and then she pulled out a cd that had written on it Dad Songs 1980s. I said, Oh, that will probably be good, go ahead and put that in.

My dad makes mix cds now and again, made one for me when I was on the first Body Heat tour so that we had some good folks music to listen to while we careened, sick and exhausted and delirious, through the midwest. They’re often hard for me to listen to, my dad’s mix cds; the songs are poignant and remind me of him, of the time Before, of when he played guitar for us on the weekends and we knew his singing voice like we knew the lining of our own arms, intimate and familiar and tendering and welcome. I usually start to cry about halfway into the first verse of the first song on the cd, and have to turn it off. It can take me years to listen all the way to music that my dad sends to me. He sent me a song some years ago — Christine Kane‘s “How to be real” — with these lyrics in the first verse and chorus:

Her job was no more than a cubicle / the opposite of beautiful/her soul for a check/but her smile/tells you that she found a deeper will/she didn’t know she had until the day that she left/ amd even though she’s flying high /she can’t help but wonder why/it took her half her lifetime/just to find out / she could let herself learn how to be real / to be radiant / to be elegant/in her clumsy kind of way/oh here’s to how it feels/to be real.

You understand, of course, that I was nearly sobbing by the time she got to the chorus, and I had to stop listening. Maybe it took me four or five tries, after a week, to listen to the whole thing, and just weep on the other side. He sent this to me I think after or in the middle of our most recent struggles, but, too, when I was fully immersed in my own wondering about how I was going to make it as a writer and workshop facilitator who also had this day job that took time and energy but didn’t at all fit into the rest of my real work, a place where I felt I had to shut off my creative/writer self just to sit in a cubicle and play with numbers. This was the underside of my tears: Was he really seeing this part of me? Did he actually understand who I was trying to be? And then this, too: Could I let my father be that complicated, someone who disappointed me, who failed me, who loved me (and who I loved) beyond words and could still see who I actually was, even when I didn’t think I was sharing that with him?

My father is all music to me, a guitarist and singer who wrote songs and shared his voice often with friends and family. We grew up with folk music, the old pop songs, and  his voice. He had his own cubicle that kept him from pursuing what made him real, making music, and that cubicle looked like a family, looked like responsibility, looked like two daughters and a wife and a house in the city and how can you go off and be a musician singing folk songs when all those girls need you to support them? And he loved his work with the schools, and he shared his music with us, with all the family, he pulled up his guitar into his arms like the tenderest familiar and gave us music every chance he got.

So my friend put that mix cd into the player, and the first song was Silver and Gold, another one that my dad wrote: Won’t you give me / silver and gold / don’t want love / the heart grows cold / love won’t pay / the rent when I’m old / won’t you give me / silver and gold.

We were driving through the thick green redwood cover, past Fairfax, on our way to Tomales Bay. I said, that’s my dad’s song. He wrote that song. Who is this? I didn’t quite recognize the voice, got very quiet inside, put my fingers to my lips. Who was that singing? It didn’t quite sound like my dad now — but, I realized into the second song, Dixie Dance, it was my father then, an old recording of all my dad’s songs, maybe his set list, songs he probably recorded himself on the old reel to reel that he kept in the basement of his house in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the important music. There driving through Northern California redwoods, maybe thirty years after those songs were recorded, something in me lit up. I said to my friend, This is my dad. These are my dad’s songs. This is my dad singing in the 80s. I could hardly believe it. Here, issuing from the cd player in my little Prius, was the voice of my childhood, that rich fullness, that guitar, those particular songs. And then I heard new ones, songs of longing, songs of hope: here was some of my father’s creative work, my own backstory. Here was work he did that wasn’t about family or children — here was something of him beyond the man I know as father. What a tremendous gift.

In the car this weekend, my reaction was too deep for tears. I let the music and my dad’s voice push through me, while my friend exclaimed, delighted to get to be with this music. He sang us all the way up through Inverness, all the way to the sea, where she dozed and I played fetch with the puppy.

Again, again, again, I get to complicate what I have believed to be true about my parents, I get to be with and in a narrative less easy and more honest than ‘ they let us down, they gave us to the monster.’ So little is actually that easy, at least in the stories I’m living within. It’s hard to hold all their facets, like it can be hard to hold my own, but that hardness, I think, is just stretching beyond the story I wanted to be true of them, that they were perfect and loved us and would protect us from any bad stuff. That is just one part of our story. And then there are the songs, my father’s fingers on strings, my mother’s poetry, everything behind who they were as parents, that maybe I am well enough, now, to hold, too.

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Thoughts for prompts today: Maybe let yourself listen to a bit of How To Be Real and notice what rises for you in response. What does it mean for you to be real — or, to let your parents, partner, friend, puppy, boss, coworker, characters be real? Give yourself ten minutes, or twenty — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for your presence today, for the way you breathe into the layers that don’t resolve themselves into easy narrative, for how you hold your own and others’ complications tenderly, even when they frustrate the hell out of you. Thanks, too, always, for your words.

opening myself fully into a creative life

sticker graffiti of monkeys on these three stalks coming up out of the concrete,and birds resting atop the bulbs on top of the stalksGood morning writerfriends — what’s waking in you today? This morning there’s a small bird just outside the back window, maybe sitting on the garage or in one of the tree branches above, and she’s sharpening her chirp against the waking light, against the clouds and bare-bones blue, she’s a steady state reminder that all is not concrete and exhaust in Oakland.

I’m thinking of routines. My alarm went off at 4.45 to get me up for the blogging, and I think my fingers took over for my sleepy body, turned off the alarm with no snooze, and then I half-dreamed about what I would write in the blog. Then I became aware that I was doing this, and got so excited, because it meant the blog was just about done — all I had to do was get up and type out what I’d been imagining. Then I went more to sleep, and when I woke up an hour or so later, I’d forgotten what I’d dream-blogged. (Do you ever have dreams like that, with story or poems or songs or other writing/creative work in them, finished and whole and offered out from your psyche?)

So, routines: Yesterday I was in conversation with my friend Kathleen, who said, I don’t even know your schedule anymore — I used to know when you were headed to work, when you were on the boat, when you had time away from your dayjob, when you were in workshops. Now everything’s changed!

Right, everything’s changed, and the new schedule hasn’t settled itself for me, yet. Now there’s a lot more time with other people, friend dates, talking on the phone; too, there’s apartment-set-up time, unpacking time, errands and getting-settled-in time — a lot of time-consuming work that won’t persist into a daily routine, but is my all and everything right now. This is the transitory time, the getting here time, the opening time. It’s meant to be the opening time.

My friend Lou reminds me to be gentle with myself, and to take care of my body so that I don’t get sick, and the truth is that I have been fully expecting to get sick. I used to get sick every quarter, back when I was in college, after finals were over. I’d stay up late nights writing papers or studying, drinking coffee and soda, eating pizza and cereal and popcorn, plowing through, not even thinking of my body and its needs: no exercise, no sleep, no good food, no peace. (The — my– body was a tool to get me to decent grades, to get me to dancing, to get me through flirting, but not really some place to be.) Then, after it was all over, whether or not I had to go home, I would invariably get sick — my body would reassert herself, finally demand some downtime. I forced her to demand rest from me, in the form of illness. Not the best practice, and yet, the body, I think, always wins. Once I was sick, I’d sleep, read, get quiet inside — because I had no other choice. Given other choices, I tended to dissociate by being overly busy, that most American of dissociations: the more we do, the better/more important we are, right? And the less we have to be in our bodies.

At the writing retreat last month (which seems like about twelve years ago), I was reminded of the importance of rest, quiet, and downtime to my own creative practice — and to my own sense of embodiment; if I don’t ever get quiet, if I don’t ever stop multitasking, racing around (either physically or psychically) from one thing to the next, then its too easy to lose track of myself. I get out of touch with my deep self; I forget the language of my body — and my body, then, reasserts itself in ways I would prefer it wouldn’t.

My friend Ellen talks to me from a wide-open-heart place, even when she’s scared or overwhelmed, and reminds me of the importance of being all the way open, even to this time of change and too-much-to-do. There’s the practice: how to stay open-hearted (meaning, too, body-aware) when to do so means I can’t run my body into the ground the way I used to? There’s the tradeoff of awareness.  So this morning I’m slowing down, all this week, I’ve had moments of physically slowing down, noticing that I just can’t rush absolutely everything all the time — I don’t seem to have that capacity anymore. My body knows better.

Not my brain so much, though: I can certainly make my self crazy with multitasking: checking my email every three minutes, texting, facebooking, working on several projects at once, thinking that I’m getting it all done faster and smarter and the truth is that I’m doing it all half-assed. And when I’m doing this, I’m getting no writing done. The writing I need to do requires attention, requires patience, requires breath and bone open and present, asks that I turn off email, leave facebook alone for days. Yes, it’s important to get a writing space set up in my new home — and yes, that takes time and attention, takes trips to Ikea for storage bins and bookends — but I’m not going to get it all set up in one day, or even one week. I’m needing just now to get back into my practice of a little bit every day. Making a home, opening myself fully into a creative life, isn’t something I can plow through and get done during a single all-nighter. This is a bigger process than that, scarier, more demanding. Procrastination isn’t an option in this game. Just breathing, one thing every day, and allowing to emerge the practices that I know will save me: daily writing, daily friend time, daily exercise, daily eating well, daily self-forgiveness. This radical-self-care stuff, it doesn’t stop, does it?

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A prompt idea for today, this line from a poem of Yusef Komunyakaa’s: Why did you stay away so long? Take that line, copy it into your notebook, give yourself ten minutes (or thirty!) to follow the writing wherever it wants to lead you.

Thanks for your patience with you today, even when you’re feeling the most frustrated with everything about yourself. Thanks for your breath and hungers. Thanks, every minute, for your words.

alterations are already underway

releasing the heart from its cageGood morning good morning! Here it’s candlelight and earl grey tea, it’s some birdsong outside the window after early morning sirens, it’s a wave of dog howling at 5:30am that comes and goes clear through the neighborhood, from the lakeside, maybe, maybe from the hills and rolls on, after the quiet falls again here, on into the flats.

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A quick note about what’s coming up —

Write Whole: Survivors Write begins it Spring session next Monday, 4/16, and we still have a few spaces open. If you’ve been thinking about writing a new way into your old stories, come on and join us!

This month’s Writing the Flood meets on 4/21; we’ll meet in San Francisco this month, and next month we’ll start meeting in Oakland.

There’s quite a lot in the works here, including an upcoming reading with Alysia Angel in early May, and a couple of new blogging projects — I can’t wait to tell you more about those soon.

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This morning I am thinking about change, about its slow worth and wait, about how solid things can seem in a moment and yet already, underneath their apparently-stone fundament, alterations are already seeping, peeling away undercurrent layers, opening channels for new ways of thinking and seeing and being in the world.

I remember, for instance, I think I’ve written about this here before, how it used to be that I could only really write if I could be in a cafe for at least two hours (with open space, too, at either end of that time), at a window seat, with my right notebook and pen, with coffee, with headphones and a tape rolling in the cassette player — everything had to be just right, all the bits had to be in place so as to quiet all the shit that rose up in me every time I wanted to get words on the page. Here was my armoring, here was the ceremony I created in order to get around my internal defenses and censors, here’s how I could let it happen. This was true for me twenty years ago, when I started writing in earnest, and persisted for about a decade, maybe not quite — it was in Maine that I first started the early-morning writing practice (I would prepare a pot of coffee the night before, in a coffee maker that had a timer — at 4:30 the coffee would start to percolate, and what got me out of bed wasn’t so much the need to write as the need to keep the coffee from burning. Sometimes we can use our addictions to positive ends, right? Because, of course, once I was up and out of bed and all the way downstairs in the chilly morning kitchen, maybe I’d stir the woodstove and get it going hot again, then I’d light my candle and sit down at the old hardwood table, open the notebook and write into the morning quiet. It was bigger than I had words for, the capacity to write in quiet, to not be terrified of getting startled by some big noise (the music in my headphones would help settle my startle response) or to not get so easily distracted.

How do I want to say this? Sophie needs to go out, the people upstairs are dancing or racing or doing something that requires heavy footfalls and jostling the walls, everything is a distraction and here I am talking about how I can write now even though there are distractions. Here’s this opening. Here’s the softening again of my shoulders, the candle lit and dancing, this tea cooling in my cup, the way I used to think that things would always be exactly the way they were, whatever they looked like in that moment, that I would never grow and change and heal. That I would never heal or get better, no matter I always had evidence of the contrary. No matter that I had up and left a situation that I knew, when I was in it, I would never be able to escape. It’s so easy to fall into the idea that what’s happening right now will always be. It’s safe, maybe; it means change isn’t always everywhere.

I want to tell you about how my dreams have changed, about how much has changed. I had one of those old kind of dreams when I was at Hedgebrook, one where I can barely move and can’t speak. I used to have those dreams constantly, nearly every night, I would wake up moaning or shouting, trying to get the words out, I would wake up exhausted after spending a night pulling at grass, digging into dirt, dragging myself up flights of cement stairs using the wrought-iron bannisters as my handholds — always, in these dreams, my arms worked, but the bottom half of me was deadweight.

I thought I would always be in those dreams. I thought my stepfather would always be chasing me with knives through my psyche. I thought I would never be able to move freely through my nighttime subconscious. I would like to be able to go back through the history of my dreams and trace the transformation, the way that I slowly learned to pull myself upright and walk again, the way that I began to shout no inside the dream, not just upon waking.. The way that, one day, I started having completely different kinds of dreams. This all happened so slowly that I barely took notice — but there came a day when I realized that I wasn’t waking up screaming anymore. How did that happen? It’s felt like a tremendously slow process, this healing, but it happened, even when I wasn’t actively attending to it, even (and maybe especially) when I just let my body and psyche do their powerful work within and around me, without trying to corral or direct or control.

In the dream at Hedgebrook, there was a man who was trying to talk to me, and I wanted to get away from him, because he marked me as unnormal. We were inside a flea market sort of building, and I just wanted to go look at tshirts at community thrift, but I couldn’t move, and couldn’t tell him to get away. Something in me told me just to stand still, wait: this will pass, I understood. You’ll be able to move again, you’ll be able to speak. Now, there was a lot going on in this dream, but the part I want to pay attention to here is the fact that I understood, even in the dream, taht I wouldn’t always be in that frozen state; that if I just calmed down and breathed, I’d be able to move again. There aren’t really words to describe how big that understanding is for me, given where my dreams have come from. I woke up both scared and delighted, and ended up having a pretty big day, psychically-speaking (more about that in another post).

There’s something for me, these days, about practice and process — about letting things happen as they need to happen, particularly around my body/healing and around creativity. What does it mean (again again) to stop needing to control the whole fucking process? Why do I have to learn this lesson over and over again? And so what if I do? Isn’t the bigger point that I recognize the question, recognize the again-opportunity for change, and breathe again into relaxing, into release, into the practice of letting go?

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So, an idea of a prompt for today: notice something that has changed in you, or in your character — something you thought would never be different, maybe. Just notice what ideas or responses rise in you as you read the prompt, and then let that be your beginning place in your writing. Give yourself, this work, your words, ten minutes (then another ten, if you want!) — follow your writing where ever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you. (I forgot to say thank you yesterday!) Thank you for your being here, for your patience with the deepest parts of your healing work, for the delight you take in this waking. Thank you for your opening. Thank you for your words.

you must ask for what you really want

graffiti of a silhouette of a small girl holding a bunch of balloons, floating flying goingGood morning! What’s the morning like where you are? How has your writing been treating you? What stories are percolating just at the tips of your fingers today?

This is my first blog post from this new space. Here I am in my new little office, candle lit over the laptop’s screen up on a shelf, beneath poems and postits that I brought home with me from my space at Hedgebrook. They say things like: “solvitar ambulando” and “take care of the joyful present so that it can be the joyful past (Thich Nhat Hanh)” and “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow / I learn by going where I have to go (Roethke)” and this:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
– Rumi

Too, there’s an image of me and my sister from thirty years ago (what?), in 1981, arms slung around one another’s shoulders, smiling. We are in the house my dad rented for himself and us after he sold the last place we all four had lived in as a family, before he and mom split up. My sister and I are in our nightgowns, we are relaxed and comfortable with each other: this was Before. These days, I keep this picture next to the copy of “Wild Geese,” also taped to the shelf wall, that first line reminding me (about us, about myself, about this work): you do not have to be good.

I’ve been absent from the blog, and I’ve begun to really miss this writing time/space. Today I get up late, nearly 7. I’m catching up on sleep, and still working myself back toward my old morning writing schedule — I got in the habit of staying up late when I was on the retreat, writing letters, reading, since I was able to sleep in and still do my morning writing in silence and uninterruption.

Then, when I got back from Hedgebrook, I began in earnest the process of packing and moving to a new space, and moving fully into the end of my old relationship with the Mister. I will write about that here, eventually, but for now it’s just this: I’m in a new apartment with a puppy and a writing room, a candle, and lots of space for thinking and feeling, for holding open into loss and change and new growth.

March was a big month. I turned forty. I went away for a two-week writing retreat. I moved out of a home and marriage, and then, in the midst of this, was my sister’s wedding.  Am I really here in this writing? I’m aware I’m performing for you, I want to tell you everything that’s been going on, I want to make up for having been away. There are awakenings happening in me still, they are shifting and taking new shape, I don’t know how to all the way open into this new life that I asked for and now have received — a space alone. A room of my own.

A room of my own.

This is about claiming something enormous, something we’re not supposed to claim: exactly what we want. Rumi says, you must ask for what you really want. But to do that, of course, I have to know and accept what you really want, allow it all the way into my heart, let it lift up into my throat, live in me. This is what I have really wanted. What does it mean to finally step all the way into it?

Back about 8 years ago, I had my own space — when I split up with my ex wife, I moved into a studio on McAllister St. Up on the third floor, facing north, I could watch the fog roll in and out, its grey wispy fingers pushing into the summer air, bringing the seas chill right to my window. I watched the bottle brush tree outside the window. For a time, when some small birds were nested in the bottle brush or hawthorne, a hawk came to sit on the wires outside the window. I watched her face, while she got divebombed by the little birds, who wanted to distract her from their eggs. I felt guilty and ashamed after that breakup, felt awful that I wanted this space to myself, that I needed it, was also re-emerging to myself as female/femme/feminine and spent much of the first part of that time in my little two-room apartment  sobbing with the loss of my butchness, with the loss of visible queerness, with the failure to escape being a girl. That was a year of shame, and I gave myself into it with gusto. I created little altar spaces all over the apartment, put up the postcard wall with images I’ve carried with me since high school, tried to settle in to a space that was really mine. But I don’t know how much I believed I really deserved it, and plus, I was already involved in a new togetherness — since I didn’t have a dog then, I could spend a lot of time over at his place. When I wanted to be with others, I left my apartment — I had some folks over, but not very often.

Mostly, my apartment was a place to be alone, to stretch as much as I could into the facts of my life as they were: I had left my marriage, I had let femininity back into my life, I was overflowing with desire and guilt over that desire, because my desire had pulled me away from the stable love in my life. Here I had launched myself out into sea — this is the quote I received yesterday, from Written on the Body, which is entirely apt:

Love it was that drove them forth. Love that brought them home again. Love hardened their hands against the oar and heated their sinews against the rain. The journeys they made were beyond common sense; who leaves the hearth for the open sea? Especially without a compass, especially in winter, especially alone. What you risk reveals what you value. In the presence of love, hearth and quest become one. (Winterson)

What does it mean to launch out onto a journey whose end is indefinable, particularly when one is leaving something stable and clear? Here I am again on the backside of a marriage, here I am again in my own space and silence, this time with puppy and room for workshops. There’s this breath and morning music, this tea, these books, this writing, this uncertainty that I breathe deep into myself. I feel no guilt, today, for needing this space. The desire is so persistent in me, so life-long: my own space to come home into, to come apart and rebuild within. I feel the struggle of it — wanting company, wanting conversation (but that I can invite in, right?) — but no shame. When do we fully allow ourselves to be exactly who we are, to have exactly what we have always needed, no matter what others think or say?

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What about a line from that section of Rumi’s, as a prompt for today — either “don’t go back to sleep,” or “you must ask for what you really want” or another of those lines. What comes for you, what wants to come out onto the page? Give yourself just ten minutes (M, in the Dive Deep workshop yesterday, observed how those “ten-minuteses” can add up to a lot of writing!) and fall into the page; follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.