holding our no and our yes

graffiti depicting a concrete wall being pulled back, like a page, to reveal the green wilderness behindGood morning good morning! Outside, the morning is just starting to uncurl itself around the city, and I’ve been up for about an hour, working on morning pages and now moving into this space. What’s beginning to unfurl in your body in this early part of your Friday?

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There’s a lot I want to write about here — I’m feeling grateful to be drawn back into these “pages,” this blog space. This morning there are a couple of things: more about what’s nonnegotiable and, too, what it means to write like a girl. Maybe I’ll start with the first, and move to the latter in a second post.

I kept thinking about ‘nonnegotiable’ while I was walking in to my day job yesterday: There’ve been so many of my nonnegotiables, my bottom lines, my needs, my must-haves, that I rationalized away in order to keep others comfortable or make nice. What can nonnegotiable mean under these circumstances? How do I want to talk about this? It feels like another layer of reclaiming my yes and my no.

Was this your experience? When my stepfather would come to me and demand sex, he always required an affirmative response from me — he wanted me to verbally agree, wanted me to say yes (and, too, he wanted me to come to him, wanted me to ask for it from him; that’s another post, too). And so, even though all of me was no, what came out of my mouth in those times (most often) was, “Yes.” And so the very word “yes” came to have less meaning, does this make sense? I’m trying to get inside this experience of very simple words having complicated insides, an explosion of possibility living within two or three letters, a set of two or three letters that are meant to be, in our linguistic construction, nonnegotiable: yes means yes, no means no. Isn’t that our chant? But for me, yes meant no. No meant nothing (went unheard, unseen, unresponded to — it was almost a nonword, a verbal tic, a semblance of space, an utterance of inevitability).

So when could yes mean yes? What does nonnegotiable mean if I don’t know what is negotiable?

Much of the work that I’ve done over the last twenty years of my healing/trauma aftermath/body-soul-self reclamation has been to reenter the body of the words that were used against me — which meant, of course, working to reembody almost all of my language. The words that have been the hardest to get clarity around, still, are  yesand no. And I need those words to understand the inside contours of nonnegotiable, of boundary. It’s one thing for therapists and social change activists and others who love us and want us to be whole to talk about clearly stating our boundaries — and, too, we need to give ourselves the time and breathing room to get to the place where we can even inhabit the possibility that our yes and no will have clear and singular meaning again.

(As a side note: Vanissar Tarakali recently wrote about finding the goodness in all of our coping mechanisms, in the ways that we have found to keep ourselves alive in the aftermath of trauma (in, say, consumption of alcohol and drugs, or introversion, or oppression survival strategies). This is profoundly powerful thinking, something I first met when I was doing domestic violence work back in the 90s and then again much more recently when I began exploring somatic work last year — our bodies and psyches do so much to keep us safe, and we do a justice when we can hold that work in gratitude, even when we come to a place where we can release one practice for another. I am looking for the goodness in this capacity to hold, for a single word, mutually exclusive meanings, simultaneously, in my heart and body. Eventually I’ll find the language to express my gratitude for that ability.)

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Yesterday, I offered an invitation to write about what your (or your character’s) nonnegotiables might be — and today I want to drop down into that even further. What does nonnegotiable mean for you, for your character? What does boundary mean? What does No mean? What about Yes? Let yourself write into any confusion or sorrow or anger or complexity around these words that are “supposed” to be so straightforward and clear. We hold the capacity for a profound multiplicity — let some of that emerge today.

Thank you for your good thinking, your good body, your good heart, your good, good words.