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.

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