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.

2 responses to “alterations are already underway

  1. except this time, for the first time, i could scream

    that’s phenomenal — thank you so much for sharing this, tj. So grateful that you had this experience. xo!

  2. thank you. this made me think about how my dreams have been changing too.i too had dreams over and over where I couldn’t move or scream. i haven’t had them for a while, but last week i had one a bit like that, except this time, for the first time, i could scream.