Good morning on this Monday — are you settling into this new time? Now the dark is earlier in the evening and the light comes sooner in the morning; the pup and I were just getting acclimated to morning ball-catching time by the half-light. Full sun is cheating!
For you Nanowrimo-ers reading, have you already reached your word count goal for today? Listen for me cheering you on from your sidelines! I’ll be joining you later this morning, pushing out my own 1670 words.
Today I am in this new life all the way. Friday was my last day at my day job at UCSF. The goodbyes felt complete and honest, and today I’m here wondering how all the pieces are going to come together. That perseveration isn’t at my surface, though. A calm has lifted in me, one that I’m not sure yet I can trust. One that feels like — like what? Faith? Is this what faith feels like? Continue reading “releasing the transition”→
Change sometimes feels like catastrophe, doesn’t it? Even if my conscious mind understands that what we’re going through is just transition, learning curve, new growth, my body/psyche/other parts are battening down the hatches and armoring up, trying to hold their ground, ready for battle. If change provokes anxiety, if we’ve got something at stake in this new learning, the inside selves run around in circles, worry the underside of my eyes til we’re blue with bags there, send out the old voices: why are you so weak? why are you so tired all the time? why aren’t you working harder?
I understand that those voices, once upon a time, just wanted to keep me safe — to get me to start questioning myself before anyone else started to question me. Didn’t that give me a sense of safety, or rather, a sense of control?
So I breathe into the questions now, and check in with my friends a lot: what’s the matter with me? nothing’s the matter with you — you’re just doing some new learning.
Stepping up to our passions, our authentic desire, can be terrifying. Is this also true for folks who aren’t trauma survivors? I need a poll. But normal for me is trauma, and so I believe that this fear is true for most people: what if what I always wanted was wrong? what if I’ve been pursuing the wrong goal all these years? what if I can’t do it after all? what if my dreams are too big for me?
Do any of these fears sound or feel familiar? What do yours sound like?
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Yesterday was the first meeting of our third go-round for the MedEd writers at the UCSF Office of Medical Education, where I have my day job. We’ll get together for an hour a week over the next 8 weeks and use creative writing as a way to get more comfortable with all writing, as a way to take a break and refresh ourselves for our regular work, as a way to connect as team members. I love this group, not least because I get to meet other sides of my coworkers through their creativity, their writing.
For our first exercise, we wrote to Where I’m From — you might be familiar with this poem/prompt; have I talked about it here before? When I give the prompt, I read the George Ella Lyon poem first, and then invite folks to start with the same title/first line: This is where I’m from…
A bit later today, I’ll update this post with my own write in response to the prompt. But let this be your write for today, if you want — and let the writing take you anywhere it seems to want you to go.
Edit, 6:17: Here’s my response to that prompt:
She’s from lost angels, from words nobody can pronounce the way they were originally spoken in Sioux: Niobrara, Nebraska, Ogalalla, Omaha; she’s from flat As and wait, where is that, exactly? She’s from the sort of place that people on the East Coast get mixed up with other places — you were from Oklahoma, NE, right? She laughs at them, strikes up bravado in the face of their ignorance, their lack of caring, their phrases like Flyover Country.
She’s from fried potatoes and bacon and hot coffee and griddle cakes, from turkey and pheasant hunts that even the liberal dads go on, from criks and blufs and fireflies and late May lilacs, she’s from a place no one can put their finger on, from those amber waves of grain that always just looked green or tan-brown when she rode across the tate in the back of Dad’s old orange VW bus.
She’s from Swedish holiday festivals and Indians in the museums with the wolly mammoth fossils and no one talking in Social Studies class about Wounded Knee. We thought Custer was a martyr. She’s from the town Malcolm X was born in, though nobody there ever mentioned it — she didn’t learn his name til she left for college.
She’s from: rhubarb-strawberry pie, cantelope-peach salad, homemade jham with wax sealing the Bell jar top, she’s from light up the faeries and wishing every day for an ocean vista and now every time she sees the water, she thinks how much it looks like the grasses undulating on the prairie, the ones Laura Ingalls ran through. She’s from day dream and Electric Company, homemade yogurt and lunchmeat platters, she’s from people gather in the church basement after a funeral and the same three ladies serve all the food and clean everything up, from bad coffee with lunch, flags waving everywhere, we love our troops, peace vigils at the Catholic church, she’s from long stretches of emptiness inside her parents’ marriage that eventually pulled wide enough to break, so she’s from that shatter, carries fragments in her bones, knows something always about being incomplete.
Thanks for your roots, for your tenderness to them, to the ways you let them hold you as you grow. Thank you for your words.
I should be getting in the shower right now, not just starting my blog post.
There was a dog to walk, to run up and down a long flight of stairs a couple of times, just to work off some puppy energy. There was dog breakfast to make (fill those Kongs — how does she empty them so fast?) and a new garden to water.
My shirt, from the SFBC, says change is happening. That’s not wrong.
There’s change happening that I resisted for decades, change happening that I’ve only just opened to — but the change happens, no matter what I do or how I’m feeling. It happens. Change is.
So, it’s another quick-n-dirty today: What change is present, happening, poeming itself around you or your character right in this moment? Let yourself dive into it for 10 minutes (or more, if you like), explore all its edges, show us, and yourself, what’s cracking open in and around you or them.
Thanks for the ways you let change happen around you, for the awareness of your resistances, for your presence in it all. Thanks for your consciousness. Thanks for your words.
There’s a mourning dove outside my window; I turn off my quiet morning music to listen. It’s mostly just that harmonious throb — whoo, whoo, whoo, in a breathy thrum.
I am thinking about boundaries, about elasticity, self care, and about perfection.
Last week I had my first cup of “real” coffee, fully caffeinated, that is, since around Nov 2009. There’s been a little voice/message/feeling: What would it be like to get coffee? I sipped at F!’s french roast one morning out at breakfast several weeks ago, I listened to the little question filling inside my arms, and finally I walked into the Peet’s and instead of asking for decaf, I asked just for coffee. There was a short hesitation, I caught myself, the words “decaf” and “coffee” got kind of tangled & trainwrecked in my mouth, and “coffee” was the one that got through. (None of this, I think, was visible to the barista. He’s just waiting to get through one more order — whatever, coffee, that’s easy.) I took the small cup over to the adulteration stand and added some sugar, took a sip, and thought I would burst with joy. One of the other customers took note of this big smile and sigh, said something grand like, “That first sip’s the best, isn’t it?” And I wanted to tell him something about the first sip after many months. I didn’t feel like I was falling off the wagon, and then, a little, I did.
I giggled at myself on the rest of my walk to work: naughty girl, what are you doing? I expected the big rush of euphoria that caffeine can deliver, thought maybe I would start talking like a chipmunk on speed (which I have been known to do when caffeinated), thought everyone would know.
I expected maybe a little downside, too.
There was no real rush of caffeine high, though I did get wired — I felt happier for awhile, lifted, more brave. I accomplished a couple of tasks I’d been putting off, confessed to a couple of friends about the caffeine. My neck and shoulders got sharply tense, the way they’d been when I was drinking caffeinated coffee regularly. And then I barely slept that night — my body was sleepy by 10, but my head was still running the rapids, and my heart pounded loud and heavy right alongside it. I woke up maybe five times that night, every other hour, and was still wired the next morning, did some good, somewhat-frantic writing in my notebook, pen racing, almost unable to keep up with my thoughts — this happens much less frequently now since I stopped taking in so much caffeine, and it was great to feel this writing again. (Also good, though, was recognizing the effects of caffeine. I’d though maybe I was just less passionate about my subjects these days, no longer pouring the words out almost like they were on fire inside me — here, last Wednesday morning, I got some evidence that that writing style is a caffeinated one, and not a measure of my interest, passion, desire to write.)
I went through Wednesday feeling like I was in a caffeine-hangover, all crunchy just beneath my skin, cramped, like I had cramp-ons underneath there, tensing everything. I remembered: Oh, this was why. This was why I stopped.
A quick digression: It appears that maybe I haven’t written here about the transition I made away from drinking caffeinated coffee back at the end of 2009, also in response to a quiet little question that kept repeating itself to me: What if you didn’t have coffee today? We were in Miami on a working-vacation, and I was recuperating after a several-month (year?) stretch of driving myself into the ground. I crashed at the end of October, and that’s about when I went to the Trauma Stewardship workshop, and started thinking differently about self care. The first day I heard the little question, I got a cafe con leche (we were in Miami after all, and I wanted one more good coffee if I was going to quit). I heard the question again the next day, and understood that it wasn’t trying to push me into feeling bad about anything — it was just offering a possibility. I didn’t have coffee that day; I probably took some prophylactic Advil, to ward off the headaches. Over the next several weeks, I sort of weaned myself off caffeinated coffee — I’d get a half-decaf in my cup, or go a day or two between cups, and eventually I wasn’t having any caffeinated coffee. I drank black tea for a little bit, but then it was just green tea sometimes, and more often than not, there were days when I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I learned that Chris Knightwasn’t wrong when he said, “There are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing” and I ate a lot of crow, given how much fun I’d made of the decaf-drinkers in my life over the years. My body felt better, more relaxed. I learned that I could function without coffee, the drug I’d started using in jr high (even on tour!). I learned I could shift my identity as a heavy coffee drinker, and it would be ok.
Back to now. I didn’t have a headache the morning after re-trying coffee, and, after experiencing the effects, I didn’t have any longing to start drinking caffeine again — except, maybe a little bit, my writing self missed that frenetic energy, the driving urge to get the words out, that barely-satisfiable ache that is writing under the influence of caffeine. Here’s the interesting thing, though: just for right now, I’m choosing the ability to sleep well, body-comfort and function in the rest of my life over the momentary writing buzz. That feels like a mental health step. (That actually feels massive.)
There’s something enormous about learning to trust one’s intuition — about listening to those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise, that persist. Every time I listen to and take action on my intuition, I am not disappointed — and that quiet place of light in me knows that I am listening.
There’s also something about checking in with our boundaries/decisions, when it feels safe enough to do so: Ok, I made this decision several years ago to start or stop some behavior because it was good for me at the time — is it still working for me? Do I have to stay with this decision into perpetuity? Sometimes the answer is, Yes, let’s stick with this for now — and other times, the answer is, Oh, you know what? Maybe we don’t have to do this anymore. Let’s try it out and see how that feels. No rushing — no blame, shame or guilt. Just trying it out, and noticing how we feel after. No perfection, just practice.
Want to write about that some? Is there a change you’re thinking about making for your own self care, that would be a big shift in your life, that would entail some loss as well as gain? Want to write about both those sides for a while, 10 minutes or so (5 min for each)? Or what about writing about a decision you made to take care of yourself once upon a time that you’re now rethinking — what does that look like?
Thanks for your ongoing elasticity with your stretching, growing, brilliant self. Thanks for your words, your words, your words.
It’s moving day today, and we are leaving. Wasn’t I just writing that line? Last time it was Oakland; this time, it’s San Rafael. I barely got the time to learn the skin of this place, never mind put my ear to its heartbeat.
The photo is one I took on my walk to the bus stop one morning, past the dog park. Dangerous business, putting your fingers into the greenery next to a lamp post in a dog park, but that four-leaf clover was worth it. Wasn’t this place supposed to be lucky?
This is the last morning in our new house. This is still our new house — we’ve just barely been here a year. I woke up and looked at the walls, the light fixtures, I remembered just how I felt when we walked in and I so longed to live here.
I’m going to miss this place, I’m going to miss what I wished it could be, and I’m going to miss the neighborhood, the walk, the flowering everywhere, the neighbors, the kids walking to school, the creek of the gates opening to the cement place across the street. We are leaving the orange neighborhood cat and the orange neighborhood dog, both of whom came to visit us on our back stoop. We are leaving our back stoop, and the terrible little back house that was supposed to be a workshop space and is actually riddled with mold and wet and cold. We are leaving the small first garden in CA that was carried in containers, the cukes and the never-appeared melons, the multiplicitous tomatoes, the greens that I can’t get to come up beyond baby size, the nasturtium that stayed tiny: everything knew how much energy I had to give it, and met me there. The yarrow and mint may come up strong, though. We only got one season. And then he let us go. He sent us a letter at christmastime: we are not renewing the lease. This was a termination, and even though I was already finished with the house and the relationship, still, it’s so difficult to have the decision made for you.
We are leaving the lavender walls, the green walls, the yellow walls, and are moving to white, which we will get to decorate and brighten.
I am leaving this front window with the morning sun that comes through, and the little cafe across the street. The hardwood floors and the terrible brown curtains that we bought to try and keep the bedroom warm. I am leaving the fear of mold, the fear of being evicted. As soon as he told us that he wasn’t renewing the lease (which, of course, isn’t the same as being evicted), I wanted to get out. This place has felt like category five, like disaster, uninhabitable, like living in a barn, but without the adventure part, without the part where you’re kids, outloading glasses and dishes and books and a small light and a little broom from your mom’s kitchen and you;re creating a haven, a secret place for yourself, out in the world, and you can be adventurers, explorers in a dugout, sweeping the dirt floors, coating yourself with blankets, reading in the crickety-dark by lamplight. And then you run inside, to where the real warm is, the real bed.
Did this place ever seem real? Yes, it felt real — at first, it was magic. At first, I couldn’t believe we got to live here. I don’t understand what happened — how we could have known that, once winter came, the floors would let all the cold in, that it would be below 50 in most rooms at night, and wouldn’t hold heat very well. It was so cold at the beginning, and he wouldn’t do anything to help us. He just offered to let us out of the lease — which was the last thing I wanted. We should have taken it, but at the time, we didn’t have any more money to move. And, just a couple of months (or less!) before, we had already moved twice. And so instead I got quiet, I said, Let’s quit complaining. Goddamnit. And this from someone interested in releasing her voice, saying what’s true. Totally unhealthy.
This little house that we’re leaving was supposed to be the 5 year place. I don’t know if I can keep thinking that way about homes (“that way”=”yay, we can finally settle down!”) because something keeps going wrong. I don’t know how long we’ll be in Tiburon — a few months? A year? How to release the expectation of home as someplace unsettled, flee-able? How to quit having one foot out the door?
What about that? We are moving to quiet and green, we are moving to sea birds and water, we are moving to something completely different. When will it stop feeling like I need something completely different to survive?
Tomorrow I will be writing in Tiburon, though not yet blogging from there, since our AT&T won’t go live til Friday. It’ll be notebooking until then.
A quick prompt: Write about a leaving, something that’s happening right now or happened 20 years ago. Who left what or where or whom? What all was left? Get into those details, if you want; so much emotion can come through them…
Thanks for the ways you are patient and gentle with yourself through your times of change, for the ways you notice what’s hard and let it just be hard for a bit. Thanks for how you can meet your real selves. Thank you for your words…
“We are in no way obliged to deposit our lives in their [the Lacanian fathers’] banks of lack, to consider the constitution of the subject in terms of a drama manglingly restaged, to reinstate again and again the religion of the father.” – Hélène Cixous 
“Women come to writing, I believe, simultaneously with self-creation” – Carolyn Heilbrun .
There’s a sense of self that can emanate through writing. It is a transgressive self, a shifting, slippery self that doesn’t have to have one single constituency, is not beholden to one instantiation of a single and stable I. Continued writing practice can open a path to this consciousness.
Latina author Maria Lugones, shifting identities as she moves among the various communities she inhabits, describes a feeling “of being a different person in different ‘worlds’ and yet of having memory of oneself as different without quite having the sense of there being an underlying ‘I.’”
There are ways, of course, in which this can be intensely painful, yet it does not have to be a uniformly negative experience, however–particularly when we are writing for self-creation or self-discovery. On the page I have felt it to be quite liberating. We are ever-changing. We are–I am–never the same from one moment to the next. All my meanings are always already changing–and so are yours and so are yours. Today you are new and old. Nothing is ever not changing in you. We are always never the same. The girl or boy who was raped is/not you. The adult who (was) fucked is/not you. We are/not the same. Not parenthesized, not encapsulated. We practice writing to know ourselves changing.
“Write! and your self-seeking text will know itself better than flesh and blood […] When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking.” Cixous 
Thank you for the ways you allow yourself to unfold and enact, instantiate, moment after moment after moment after moment. Thank you for the creation of your words.
Today I woke up from a dream about us living in a house here in town, one we haven’t been able to see inside of yet: in the dream, I could see the big, fat calla lily in the front yard. I’ve been having a hard time getting enough sleep, and somehow managed to wake up, get out of bed, when my 2nd alarm went off just after 6. I spend most of the morning spinning about my to-do list, which I am best able to tackle early in the morning. With this day job, I spend the bulk of my best and most creative working hours either getting ready for work or in commute — by the time I get to the office, the yoke of the day has set in.
What would it be like if this were my priority, the workshops, writing about the workshops? Have I told this story already? The person who controlled and sexually abused me/my family from 1982 until 1996, when he went to prison, my mother’s second husband, was a therapist — both he and my mom worked with kids who had been sexually abused. This has meant that I have been suspicious of all therapists — all therapists. Even my sister, now, I ask myself — yes, maybe even her. And this is why, named just this week by my former employer: because of my prejudice. I myself have felt it to be a fully-justified prejudice, but it’s a prejudice nonetheless, a preconceived opinion about every therapist I meet, at least momentarily, that isn’t based in any knowledge about that person. Yes, there are lots of shitty and manipulative therapists — and there are lots of shitty and manipulative and abusive teachers and clerks and computer programmers and… abusers aren’t limited to the realm of the transformative/healing arts.
Let me be gentle with it: this prejudice, like an armor, kept me safe — I needed to question and work to trust anyone who called themselves a therapist; I didn’t want just anyone thinking they could get at my brain. I still don’t. I know what they can do — ok, what some people who call themselves therapists can do with the skills and knowledge they have been entrusted with.
Given this prejudice, what does it mean, then, if I am successful as someone who walks with and witnesses folks through their own transformational processes? You’ll notice I am careful not to use the word therapeutic (which, yes, has medical connotations at the root, but also means, in our current idiom, that which is healing or helps maintain health): this deep desire not to be one of them. Not to be him.
What does it mean, suddenly, that I can envision myself doing one-with-one work with people around their struggles to find language for their stories, to find words for what wasn’t allowed words, to access their own, individual, brilliantly creative languagings and tellings for the unsayable? Is that part of what feels like it’s crumbling inside?
What does it mean to release a prejudice?
These are the questions that I want to take to school: how is it that we humans are shaped by/created by language — how does that occur? What happens to that languaged self (and how does this happen for people differently in different situations at different ages) when we are traumatized? What happens, neuro-linguistically or psycho-linguistically or socio-linguistically, during an expressive and witnessed/communal writing practice, for folks who have experienced trauma? What’s the connection between our being language and our embodiment? What’s the erotics of a languaged self, an ability to express our desire? I’m desperate to get Lacan and Pennebaker talking, Foucault and Pat Schneider, Carol Queen and Audre Lorde and Saussure and Kristeva and Califia and more.
What about a prompt: A prejudice is any preconcieved notion, positive or negative, formed about a person, place, thing or idea without experiencing them/it directly. What are your character’s prejudices — what does she believe about certain people or places without needing to meet them or go there? Does she know that all liberals are kind to animals, that all people who drive Priuses care about the ocean, that all 7-11 clerks are slackers? What prejudices has she released over the course of her lifetime? How did she come to understand that she had a prejudice, and then decide to let those go? Let yourself meet those inside places that shape her vision, shape how she interacts with the world, even without conscious knowledge.
Thank you for your wisdom, the way you have allowed your experiences to guide you to this now, and the ways you have been resilient around questioning your beliefs and letting new information in, growing and stretching and holding on. Thank you for your dense and thick creativity, for your amazing words.
It’s freezing in the office this morning — welcome to winter! It’s hard to type when you want to keep your fingers wrapped around the cup of nettle-mint-green tea.
This morning I’m thinking of harm reduction, and how it’s self care. Right now, I have an agreement with myself: I can eat whatever I want, as long as it’s not wheat. That means, yes, I can buy the chocolate or the bag of popcorn that I’m going to eat all of, in exchange for not buying the piece of cake with the slab of frosting that will make me feel like a shaking sugar-wheat mess. I have not made this arrangement about sugar, just wheat, and just for right now. Just for right now. Just for today. Each day I can decide if I want to continue. My body is happier when it doesn’t have as much wheat to process — of course, it’s also happier when it’s not processing all sorts of sugar and not packed in and overfull, as can happen when I decide to feast on popcorn. But harm reduction is about choosing the lesser evil and going with that for awhile, to make it easier to live without the worse evil. And it is making it easier for me to transition away from wheat for a bit — and for that, I’m grateful.
Mostly, I think about harm reduction in the context of drugs and alcohol: let me smoke instead of taking a drink, right? But it’s a constant self-care practice and possibility, especially on the hard days. Let me watch just 3 hours of tv instead of 10. Let me be late for work because I did some stretching rather than beating myself up all day and living with this tension headache (that’s not really harm reduction practice, but it is reducing a harm). For some people, it’s let me give this blow job without a condom if I’m not going to fuck without one. Or, let me fantasize or write about this person it would be very bad for me to have sex with (maybe for emotional reasons, or because there would be other consequences) rather than having sex with them in real life. Sometimes a self-care practice is about incorporating the ‘bad’ decisions, in layers and ribbons, rather than deciding to be all of a sudden completely virtuous and perfect (then failing at that, then beating myself up). We all know that there is no perfect: There’s my imperfect humanness, right there with me every morning as soon as I open my eyes. Sometimes it’s eating the chocolate instead of drinking the four glasses of wine. And then later, maybe the body and mind are more accustomed to moving through the difficult process without the four glasses of wine, because they had a chance to practice. And for some people, the four glasses of wine are going to be the lesser evil compared to something else. For a long time, because I wanted to re-learn to touch myself and be ok with it, I would “let myself” fantasize about things that I felt sort of awful about after masturbating, rather than fantasize about the things that I felt really awful about afterwards — and then, later, my harm reduction was about moving away from things that I felt sort of awful about fantasizing about. Harm reduction is relative and always in flux, I think. It’s about being easy with yourself. Sometimes you can choose a kind of abstinence (I’m not going to do this thing at all, again, ever) and sometimes you can choose a harm reduction strategy.
Remember that the Body Empathy workshop that I’m co-facilitating with the amazing Alex Cafarelli is coming up in just a few weeks on November 13! This is a day-long writing and gentle body movement workshop for queer/SGL/genderqueer/trans survivors of sexual trauma. Spaces are starting to fill up, and we’d love to have you there if you’re thinking about it…and if you have questions, feel free to write me a note and we’ll chat!
Also! Tomorrow is the monthly Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture — we didn’t meet last month because both Carol and I were away, so I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone! We’ll be at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission Street in San Francisco (between 11th and So Van Ness) at 7:30 on Wednesday night — every fourth Wednesday of the month.
What about a prompt? You might write about the ways that you “imperfect” decisions get you through the night… or make a list of your imperfections, and write about how gorgeous each of them is. Remember this quote from Rabbi Daniel Hillel: ‘I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.’
I’m grateful for you today, for the ways that you’re human and stunning, for the ways that you stumble and keep dancing, for how you model for others every time you do.