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off to see the wizard

Painting of a log cabin in the woods, beech trees in the foreground; the house has a steep, peaked roof and stands up on chicken legsGood morning, good morning.

On my screen is Baba Yaga, going off on an adventure in her cup, hair flying wild, broom in hand. Her house stands up on chicken legs. It’s just right for this day that I’m getting for my own adventure.

This morning, though, I am sick and scared, and even though I’m exited, there’s part of me that just wants to stay home, not do something new, stay where I know, with what I love and what’s familiar and good, stay with my pup and the view of the water and the trees and the bay. It’s like a wall inside me, this fear, something stubborn and seemingly immovable.

It’s scary, going to new places, doing new things, trusting: so much trusting. Let that be ok, I try and remember to whisper to the inside parts. Let yourself be the person you are: worried, careful, wanting to take care. Let yourself take care. Scrub the places that are breaking out. Scrub the safe zones. Uncover what’s ready to be risked now.

When you run up against the wall, you have options. you can sing,you can bleed, you can pound, you can cry, you can try and climb. sometimes the wall feels like it’s going to be there forever, sometimes you can’t imagine yourself not sitting up against it every morning, every day, every night. sometimes you look up to watch the birds build their nests on top. Sometimes you turn back, walk away. You forget about climbing. This is and is not a metaphor. You know the walls I mean.

This morning as I was doing my stretches, waiting for the teakettle to boil, I stood in a dark room and looked out at the thick morning fog. The lights twinkled on, off, on again as the clouds moved over the city. Then I caught a glimpse of something behind me, froze inside, turned to look in spite of myself — but it wasn’t him. He wasn’t there. It’s just and old wall, a memory, a forgetfulness and a remembering, a fear. I watch for him sitting on the couch, waiting in the dark for me. He probably didn’t imagine, all those years ago in New Hampshire — when he sat in my apartment in the dark waiting for me to come back home — that, more than twenty years later now, I’d still catch glimpses of how afraid I was that day, glimpses of his ghost, his threats.

How to explain an old fear like this that lingers in the peripheral vision, that isn’t even him anymore, but some embedded bit in my psyche that says keep to what you know, don’t go out there galavanting. Stay here. Be where you’re supposed to be. Be what we know, what we’re familiar with. Be safe. Don’t risk, don’t change.

It would be interesting to pay a different kind of attention to this, to learn whether there are times that I’m more likely to see him sitting there in the dark, waiting for me. Times I am more afraid, times my psyche sends up more flares in the flavor, in the shape, of his shadow, his echo, there on the couch, waiting for me in the dark. it’s an old message: You have something to be afraid of. You aren’t safe. You should stay vigilant, you should not relax. When I come home at night, alone, and catch that fear, I have to check all the closets, slam open the shower curtain (quickly — so it startles him if he’s hiding there), turn on the lights in every room. Still, he’s not there. He’s not there, Jen. He’s not there.

And he wasn’t there this morning. It’s a presence in me, though.

Sometimes the wall seems like it’s still there, in the body, in the heart. sometimes it feels like a forever thing. The wall obstructing your view, obstructing the future, obstructing your possibilities. Other times the wall is gone, and you are free.

It has its uses, the wall. It can be a friend, if I let it. If I look into the fear and ask it what it wants to tell me, if I don’t just berate myself for being stupid and afraid, or steep into self pity. I don’t mean never doing any of these other things — but not only doing them. If I let myself notice that fear, hold it in my hands, maybe even comfort it, comfort the parts that are afraid, the me that is afraid, the me that wants what’s known, that is tired of risking. Why do we have to do the scary thing? it asks. Don’t you know our show is on, and there’s popcorn you can make, and we can pull the curtains and make a safe cave and be here all day until all the bad things go away outside?

I do know that, I tell it, me, her, that scared self, the old just wanting things to be ok. And another day we’re going to do that. But today we;’re going to get on an airplane and go to a new place.

She wants to stay home cuddled with the dog. I tell her the dog is gong to be with a good friend and is safe and in good hands and will get to play a lot and even have her ball in the house like she doesn’t get to do when we’re home. We know she’s going to be ok. We both still cry a little, though, me and that girl inside, the scared one.

Underneath the scared one is the adventurer, the fearless curiosity, the place that ignores the wall, or just sees it as something to get to figure out how to get over. Come on, it’s time to go, she says to us. She’s tired of our weeping. She has backpack, hiking shoes, a walking stick, her hair in long braids down her back. She has her hand out for me to take. She wants to go out with Baba Yaga. She’s not afraid of the chicken legs, and wants to know how the old mother can get that cup to fly.

So we’re doing something different today, all the old places and times and selves that live in me, all the trauma history and memory and the adventurous girl and the tomboy and the girl in the twirly skirt who just wanted to be pretty. We carry our fear with us and our curiosity, the thing that has kept us alive all these years (maybe both have kept us alive, and finding a balance between them) — what is going to come next? The old stories can help carry us through, if we let them, show us all the ways we know how to be safe, to survive, and to risk everything we have for change. We’re off to see the Wizard, with our brains and our heart and our courage and our home always with us, always already inside, and out there for us to discover, too, over and over again.

Thank you for the ways you are easy with the walls you’re still living with, and easy with yourself when they flare up before you. Thank you for the ways you let yourself move around them, over, through, and the ways you lean against them sometimes, too, resting your head against concrete or brick, tears on your cheeks. Thank you for all the ways you use to get over. Thank you for your words.

(A note! While I’m away I probably won’t blog much, but I’ve scheduled a handful of posts to share excepts from the book (coming next month!) — I’m excited to hear your thoughts.)

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letting the feeling be a feeling

Good morning, writers. The sun has just pushed, a thick orange plum, over the lip of the Oakland hills. Maybe we’ll warm up a little now. How is the day where you are? What is your morning bringing you?

Today, I am caught on the line, deep in the struggle of trying to pull myself out of a depression. What do you do on the days when you are feeling bad about yourself? How do you treat yourself on the days when the triggers have overridden your coping mechanisms and you slip out of normal functioning for awhile? Do you allow yourself to fall apart a little (or a lot)? Or do you try to stuff everything into the shopping bags you carry around labelled Normal Functioning Adult! and pretend like everything’s fine?

On the days when I get caught in the difficult voices, when my skin feels too sensitive to everything, when all the noises are too loud and the tears live just at the surface of my throat, my initial instinct is always to try and figure it out. This is how the inside interrogation begins: What’s going on, Jen?  — never mind that the voice can sound remarkably like my stepfather’s; now I’m the one keeping me late from school or up without sleep, asking the questions. What’s going on with you? Why are you so upset? When are you going to pull yourself together? I go back through the previous days, recounting my actions and behaviors, trying to pinpoint the moment when everything came apart again, the moment when the clock turned over to 0 and my body broke open to depression again. It’s rare that I can find a single exchange or interaction or trigger point — but that doesn’t stop the inside interrogator from looking, and in trying to escape from the interrogation, I sink deeper and deeper into an inside cave.

The rational parts of me do their best at these times: I remind myself that it’s a feeling, and that feelings are always in motion. There will be another feeling that comes along soon. Depression doesn’t let that message in easy, though, does it? Depression throws a bag over your senses and says, This is how it’s always been and how it always will be. Depression makes it as hard as possible for the self-care voices to get in. Depression is selfish and wants you all for itself. Depression doesn’t ask for much — just that you sit on the couch with your tears and bag of Cheetos and terrible television and beat yourself up for not being out there conquering the world. It wants you to then look at yourself from above and tell yourself how ridiculous and self-indulgent you are — are you crying about that again? When are you going to move on? The voice of depression is rarely kind. We are often meaner to ourselves than anyone else possibly could be.

Trying to “figure it out” is often not the most helpful thing for me to do when I’m feeling this way, though it can take me days to remember that. The inside voices that are demanding an explanation are the same ones that are telling me I’m a failure and a fraud. Among the things I can do for myself on these days are: 1) talking to people about how I’m really feeling, and 2) letting myself feel exactly what I feel. Questioning, interrogating, resisting or critiquing a feeling is rarely useful for me — and yet I have to learn that lesson over and over again. Fortunately, as someone who lives with depression and sorrow, I keep getting opportunities to practice.

Some days are bad days. Some days we are triggered, or angry, or sad, or depressed — or all of the above. We’re not supposed to talk about feeling this way, especially if we work in any sort of helping profession. We’re supposed to have our shit together all the time. But the fact is that we don’t. No one does. Some days are hard. Some days we are lost in the long sorrow that we carry through and into this life. Some days we are devastated by everything all over again, and the walls we have casually built to contain our grief come crumbling down, and we can feel it. We can feel the parts we haven’t mourned or assimilated or processed yet. We can do a little more of the persistent work of survival.

Sometimes I can write into these feelings; sometimes I am not able to — I have to wait until they have abated a bit. Being without words to explain or organize or make sense of a feeling or experience can be quite scary; that’s how I process the world. But there are feelings that just want to be felt, feelings that just ask me to live into them. Yikes. Over and over, life gives me the opportunity to try again: Just feel it, Jen. You’re ok exactly as you are. Let yourself be.

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What would it mean to trust your struggle, as the image above reads? How do you take care of you when you’re hurting or triggered or lost? What do loneliness and depression mean for you, or for your character? Can you give yourself twenty minutes today to write into any of these questions — not to get it all worked out, but just to be present to and with your experience?

Thank you for the ways you are spacious with others when they are hurting — and thank you for the ways you are learning to be spacious with yourself, learning to allow others to be present even when you are feeling the most messy. Thank you, of course, for your words.

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friendluv & friendjealousy

stencil graffiti: your existence gives me hopeGood morning!

Listen, have you seen the movie Bridesmaids yet? Will you go see it, so that we can talk about it here?

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Quick reminder: Early bird registration for the Summer’11 writing workshops ends this Friday! The Write Whole: Survivors Write and Declaring Our Erotic begin on June 13 and June 16, respectively — I’m so looking forward to these workshops.  Please let me know if you have questions or would like to join us!

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I want to talk about friendjealousy, the kind that happens when your good friend has another friend/is amazing/has something you want, and you’re happyjealous, thrilled for them and aching with frustration all at the same time. I can actively remember feeling this, first, in elementary school, and it only grew. Maybe it’s fair to say that I felt it earlier, around my sister, but that gets into sisterlove & sisterjealousy, and that’s different.

I can’t tell you how much I identify with the main character in Bridesmaids, how much I’ve been thinking about friendjealousy recently, the ache to be the one and only bestfriend for your friend, that kind of deep and vulnerable love and desire. This is not the same thing as significant-other/lover jealousy: in some ways it can feel more knife-y, more difficult, more scary.

So, more on this soon. It’s a bigger topic than I have time for at this moment, but it’s throbbing around in me, wanting out onto the page. Maybe I can journal about it on the bus.

A prompt, though: friend-jealousy — have you and/or your characters experienced this? What are its contours — I mean, really, what’s its shape? What does it feel like inside your skin? What are you/your character jealous *of*? This might be something happening now, or something that happened back in high school — whatever arises as you read this prompt, begin there, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go, for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes. Just let yourself write.

Thank you for your honesty about your feelings, even when it’s just deep inside the most secret places of you. Thank you for knowing what matters to you. Thank you for your words.