Tag Archives: emotional learning

renewing old strengths

graffiti of a small green-eyed child reading a book, with a stack of books next to her; the title of the book reads, "the more I read/the more I know"This morning we just had clean, flush air that was bulbous and bright with the early morning sun — the light reflects off the windows in the houses across the bay, on Belvedere Island, and they look like talismans, no, like beacons. No animal friends, though — well, lots and lots of birds, always.

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Writing the Flood is on Saturday, 7/23 this month — want to join us and give some time to your writing?

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In studying for the GRE, I am reconnecting with the academic in me — by which I mean, I’m remembering how to think the way school wants us to think. I remember being good at this once upon a time, could easily determine what test-makers would determine to be the main point of a paragraph or reading selection, make test-appropriate inferences, think well inside their boxes.

When I withdrew from school at the end of 1993 because I no longer had any money to pay for classes (when I told my stepfather he couldn’t touch me anymore, and he ‘fired’ me from the company that had been paying for school, withdrawing all financial support, of course, from anyone making fear choices) , I wanted to be done with the mainstream Academy; what I was doing in school (computer science, primarily) seemed to have nothing to do with the real world I was living in, couldn’t help the friends I was meeting who’d been raped by fathers or brothers or mothers or grandfathers.

I wanted out, into real work with real people. And I began to distance myself, once I moved away from school, from my educational-class background: I wanted to forget how to talk like an academic, never mentioned where I went to college, thought that these things would make me suspect in the social change world, and, too, with the battered and formerly-battered women I wanted to help/work with.

Never mind that I completely associated that particular academic world with my stepfather and his pursuit of and into an elite society that deemed itself better than others and thus able to behave without compunction for any societal rules or taboos. You see, maybe, where this is going: Did I believe in my inside heart that if I stepped out of my book learning and school-taught self and into the ‘real world’ (i.e., working class society, or rather, non-profit class society, in my case) (Because, wait, working class can’t also be book learned? I was working with some simplistic thinking), I could be safe and free of his classist (and class-climbing) elitism and racism, free always, too, of his hands on my body?

It was a running away, a part of distancing myself from who I’d been when he’d had access to ever part of me. And now I am reaching back through the fire to get some of those parts back. I spent a good part of my 30s wrangling with a femininity I thought I’d left behind for good; and now I want the full breadth of my ways of thinking and interacting with the world: critical thinking and skepticism can be powerful tools, not just wedges or doors used to slam down social change movements (this has been my experience of them).

Is it possible to bring these old tools forward, learned under the worst conditions, and apply them fresh and new? I am afraid, now, that it’s been too long — I’ve been outside this way of thinking for such a long time, maybe I can’t step back inside. How do I reclaim it — or claim it new?

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What’s something you and/or your character used to be good at, something you used to love, something you left aside when you thought you were supposed to outgrow it, or when you began to associate it with something negative? Want to take 10 minutes for that old skill or practice today? Describe how it felt, what you liked about it, what happened when you put it down?

Thank you for the breadth of your abilities, including those you’ve lost awareness of. You’re amazing. Thank you for how easy you’ll be with others today, how you’ll let others be easy with you. Thank you for your words.

re-training power

graffiti of the outline of a woman's face, eyes closed, with the word Power above her -- the O is a woman's symbolGood good morning — it’s Memorial Day. Who are you remembering today? How are you remembering them?

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I had so much fun in Sacramento on Saturday at the second Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop! Thanks so much to John Crandall and the Sutterwriters for organizing a beautiful write — we writers all got to do so much laughing together, and got deep into powerful, important, erotic/body/sensual story. I continue to hold images and lines from each writer’s work with me, and I’m so grateful.

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This morning in Puppy Land we are thinking about power and control: the leader of the pack. Sophie is showing some dominant tendencies, especially with other dogs, and this is making me look at how I’m treating her, whether or not she sees me as the alpha or leader.

I have a lot of resistance to this Alpha/Leader of the Pack thing, because I have a lot of issues with control. I feel like crying this morning, because I’m afraid that being Leader of the Pack means that I can’t be affectionate with my dog anymore. This is not true, and my head knows this, but my heart is resistant to change. I want to be the friend, the good mommy, the one who says Good Dog! and gives out treats. I don’t want to ignore her when she acts inappropriately or have to start setting and holding strict guidelines, even though I absolutely understand that this is best for her. I told the Mr this morning, I don’t want to break her puppy energy.

Let’s be honest: This is my own stuff. She’s not a child, she’s a puppy. When she has boundaries and guidelines and is clear about her place in the pack, she will be a happier puppy.

It’s long work, recalibrating my relationship with power.

My old issues with the misuse of power and control don’t have a place here — or rather, my old coping mechanisms don’t: this is when we step up into the triggers and move around and through them. My whole body is tense this morning, my neck and shoulders aching, with this movement, this change. Is it power and control to set boundaries? Is having power and control in a situation necessarily or always a bad thing, or an abusive thing? Intellectually, don’t we know that the answer is “Of course not”? — and still, here’s me, struggling with taking and holding power conscientiously, clearly, unabusively. So I take deep breaths, read over and over about why it’s a good idea to be a leader of your pack, and set my own boundaries (no alpha rolls, no choke collars). I remind myself that it’s ok that I don’t know how to do all of this yet — it’s ok that I don’t already know how to train my dog. We haven’t had to do this before; it’s ok to have to look to experts.

Here’s this voice inside me: I want to do this all correctly — I want her to be ok. I want us to be ok. It’s these moments when I’m working with the pup in the now, and with the teenage girl in me from Then, from when we didn’t have any say in pet training. It takes work to be the adult, and that’s my job. Deep breaths, step forward anyway into this unknown. It’s ok to ask questions, and, too, it’s ok to be in charge.

We’re both, all, training and being trained through this process, about where we fit in our systems, and how to step up into that place.

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What’s your, or your character’s, relationship with power and control, both positive/generative and negative/abusive? Let yourself write about that a bit. You could begin with, “When I’m in charge, I…” or some variation. Notice what situations or feelings arise just when you read that line, and let that inform where your writing starts. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go — let yourself learn more about how you think and feel about power.

Thanks for your bravery, for how you step up to what scares you. Thanks, every day, for your words.

on (not) getting messy

stencil graffiti of a bunch of mushrooms growing out of the concrete, painted at the base of a  post

amazing stuff comes up out of mess, when we let it...

Good morning! On today’s short short walk, we saw a long-eared jackrabbit, sitting quiet in the road (at least until he was accosted by a puppy), and then, so quiet overhead, slung the enormous wingspan of a great blue heron — silent amid all the cacophony of birds around us.

Right now I am sitting on the floor, legs in a diamond shape, typing over the puppy sitting in the middle of them. This is a good morning for sure.

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Just a quick one today, about messiness.

Yesterday at work, I was a mess. Exhausted and trying to focus while my sweetie and pup spent their first day at home alone together — I missed them, it was hard to focus on work tasks, not because I didn’t want to do them but because I was so tired. Then I got a message that brought the tears just erupting to my eyes (see the comments from yesterday’s post) and I tried immediately to stuff them down, to deep breathe them back into my eyes: Ok, Jen, it’s ok. Ok. But I couldn’t stop them, got up and hustled down the hall to the bathroom, where I patted my face with paper, breathed more, did not let myself sob.

But why not?

And then it happened again when I went back to my desk, the scene of the ‘crime,’ body memory takes over, we’re still not done with this feeling yet. I put on my headphones, redirecting myself. The internet radio station plays Moby’s At Least We Tried (which includes the lyrics, “Oh now baby, don’t cry / Oh my babe, at least we tried”). This did not help. I changed the station to KCRW, which was playing Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up. Are you kidding me? I took off my headphones — and yet, it felt like a clean message from the universe: Go ahead. Break down.

But I didn’t. I let a few more tears come, because I couldn’t stop them, but I didn’t let all the sobs come: I was at work! We’re supposed to be together at work, not messy, not crying, not overly upset, not overly anything. Workplace is for modulation, where we ride that mild middle ground of feeling, never too much. People who are doing too much, we look askance a them, like they don’t know how to modulate their emotions.

We keep the feeling out, because people are easier to control that way.

I cried later, when I was telling the story to the Mr., and that was good. But why not just go to the bathroom and let my work-self get all messy? What would happen? I go back to my desk, red-faced and eyes puffy, maybe a little emptier, maybe one more wave in a long ocean of grief passed through me.

There are plenty of other places where I don’t want to get messy: this isn’t just about work. This is about those public personae, maybe about a white or Protestant-mainstream culture that devalues emotional displays as irrational, about being socialized as a woman and learning, quick and early, crying girls are not smart or respected girls (and let’s not even mention crying boys…). Even in bed, during sex, I mean, I worry about being messy: not my-hair-is-f-ed-up messy, but my-feelings-are-coming-out-and-I-want-too-much messy.

Messy is out of control, maybe that’s it. This is a trauma aftermath thing: learning to be ok with being out of control, and with what new growth can emerge from that release. Yesterday, I felt no control over those tears, they came up fast and immediate and were suddenly there — this is ongoing learning, how I let myself just be in all those different places, feel exactly what I’m feeling, remind myself, my inside selves, and even the people around me (should they wonder or worry): it’s ok, I’m ok, even when I look not ok. Even when I’m messy.

So, here, now, in these 10 or 15 minutes: what happens if you get messy, or for your characters if they get messy? What does that mean, that phrase: do you see physical mess, emotional mess? What do you look like? What does it feel like inside your body? What do you want when you’re messy? Follow your writing where ever it seems to want you to go — even if it doesn’t make logical sense; yes, even if it’s messy.

Thanks for your bravery, you deep innocence, the parts of you that can still splash in the mud: those are deep, creative parts, I think. Thanks for how you can be present with others’ mess. Thanks for your words.