Tag Archives: gratitude

Thanks

The birds are already awake this morning before I get to the keyboard. I had a whole plan for last night — celebration at the final meeting of this fall’s Fearless Words group, hustle home, and head out to Brothers & Sisters to dance hard enough to find my gratitude, to sweat out the toxins, to touch and grab hold of my joy. But when I made it home I was just too tired to go back out into the world; several nights of not enough sleep finally caught up with me. And how could I drive through or around the protests in downtown Oakland in order to go dancing of all things. It felt like crossing a picket line. So instead I obsessively updated my twitter feed, trying to follow what was happening, and ended up crashing on the couch. Not exactly the celebratory evening I’d had in mind, but this 42 year old body doesn’t rally the way it did when I was 22, even though I don’t like dancing any less now — it’s still one of the very small handful of healing practices that have kept me going.

Today I am thinking about the complexity of gratitude. All over America, we’re supposed to be grateful today — we have a national holiday set aside to be thankful for all that we have. It’s meant to be a time for gathering with family, connecting with our beloveds — no one is supposed to be alone on family (even if they’d prefer to be). Meanwhile, we are surrounded by advertisements for so-called Black Friday sales, enticing us into believing that we do not have enough, that we need to buy more, proving the lie of this day of gratitude practice, at least culturally. On this day when we’re supposed to be jubilantly grateful for home and hearth, kith and kin, we have a nation rising up in grief and rage. Many, many people will not be safe today with the people who are supposed to be their safest havens — many of us will grieve the families we ought to have had, the safe hands and hearts we ought to have been surrounded by. This is the beginning of the most complicated time of the year for so many of us.

There’s a poem I like to hand out every November — if you’re in a workshop with me, you’ve probably seen it. It’s W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks,” written in 1927, and it goes like this:

Thanks
-W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

This is one of my favorite poems, one I would like to commit to memory someday. I find it to be outrageously hopeful, naming the possibilities and claiming of gratitude even at our most difficult times, even when gratitude seems wildly ridiculous, even laughably hopeless. How can we be grateful when our country is dropping bombs on people around the world? How can we be grateful when we know somewhere in our own neighborhoods a child is being harmed right now? How can we be grateful when our friends our sick, our communities are hungry, our hearts are aching, our own bodies suffer?

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

I read this poem and I think about resilience. I think about the times I sat with my stepfather while he had his hands on me and I made it through his violence. I think about getting out from under his hands when they were on my neck or between my legs. I think about the moments I had alone — walking my dog, doing homework, riding the bus home from school — when I saw something that brought me joy. Maybe it was a flock of pigeons diving and pooling in the skies over Omaha. Maybe it was my dog bouncing after a squirrel that she had no hope of catching. Maybe it was figuring out the answer to an especially difficult calculus or physics problem. And yet, what right did I have to feel joy? How could I possibly have had the capacity to feel joy? What is it in us that allows us to smile at all when we know we are headed right back into the fire?

For that skill — the wonder of our human ability to continue to allow ourselves pleasure when we know what great pain feels like, when we will be mocked or harassed or harmed if someone catches us grinning to ourselves, for exactly that measure of resistance and resilience — today I say thank you.

I love that the first line of the poem is a command, a harkening: Listen — I hear the poet, the voice of the piece, calling us to hear what’s happening underneath the destruction all around us, these quiet, whispered, continual thank yous. We are not alone in this complicated place of grief and gratitude. Listen: there are others who are saying thank you anyway, who are smiling anyway, who are dancing anyway, even as the thefts and the beatings and the losses go on and on and on.

Today I am grateful for the resilience of the women I wrote with for nine weeks in Fearless Words, women risking everything to reach out to one another, women risking ridicule and shame by offering their true voices and stories to one another, women who found a new community of beloveds. It’s a devastating thing, this being grateful for a community of others who have been hurt like you’ve been hurt — it’s not that we want anyone else to have to have gone through what we went through, raped by someone who was supposed to be a friend, or sexually violated by a parent, or the friend of a parent, or a cousin or — we don’t want anyone else to know what this pain is like. And yet, we also do not want to be alone with this pain anymore. We are tired of our loved ones treating us like we’re crazy. We are tired of feeling crazy. So we are grateful to find ourselves in a room with others who get us from the inside out because they have been there, too: we go on saying thank you thank you

Today I am grateful for you and for your words, for the exact struggle of your life, for the fact that you take on that struggle in order to laugh and breathe and weep and make art and hug those you love and make a safer place for someone or something else, I am grateful for the days you walk through the fire and for the days you are immolated by pain and then rise from the ashes. I am grateful that you give yourself time to rest, time to be silly, time to garden or dance or play World of Warcraft (is that even around anymore?) or solitaire or watch endless episodes of True Blood. I am grateful for how you perceive the world: you are the only one who sees things like you do, and I love hearing from you exactly what you see and hear and feel and smell and taste and sense otherwise, with the knowing that lives deep in your liver and gut and heart. I am grateful that you give yourself the possibility of deep desire, that you have worked so hard to reclaim your sex, that you are working hard still.

in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

Today I am in grief and I am grateful anyway. I want better for us and for our children and I am grateful anyway. I am grateful we continue fighting. I am grateful we sometimes give up. I am grateful we resist. I am grateful we are not alone. I am grateful we are no longer alone.

Be easy with yourself today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, too, if you can. Thank you.

finding a way into thanks

Good morning, beautiful writers. The sun has just crept itself up over the Oakland hills, and is spilling bold and bright right into my eyes. How is this Monday greeting you?

So, this is Thanksgiving week here in the US. This Thursday is Thanksgiving, that celebration of consumption, that  re-memorying of our national origins. Many of us will be with family, and it will be a struggle. Many of us will not be with family, and that will also be a struggle. Many of us will want more connection, more intimacy, more honesty. Some of us will be right where we want to be. And many of us will, in spite of this national holiday’s ostensible and onerous origins, use this time for reflection and gratitude practice.

There have been years when I raged at anyone who asked me to be grateful, who invited me to remember that in spite of my oppression, I had plenty to be thankful for. Fuck you, I thought. I spent ten years having to lie beneath the hands and body of a man who threatened to kill everyone I loved if I didn’t do what he wanted, a man who brainwashed my whole family, and stole from me both my adolescence and my sexuality. Don’t tell me to be thankful. I am not grateful. I resisted the relentlessly cheerful aspect of survivor culture that wanted me to only focus on the positive. When I heard leaders in the movement telling me that I had to couch all my thoughts in positive terms lest I draw negativity to myself, I simply heard them engaging in victim-blaming; I also heard the sort of brainwashing language that my stepfather used, claiming even my thoughts, and the structure of my thoughts, as his own to manipulate.

I slowly came into my own relationship with gratitude, as we all do, I think. For awhile, whenever I went out to open mics where I would often read about both sex and sexual violation, I wore a t-shirt that read “Lucky.” It was ironic, sure, but also intended to complicate my listeners’ experiences — how could someone who went through sexual trauma be lucky? It was a question I began to ask myself more and more as well.

I began to find that I was grateful for having survived, grateful for having lived through the violence, grateful for the capacity to write and reflect and revision and move forward. This is tender work, this experience of gratitude: I am thankful for the capacity to develop empathy and compassion in the aftermath of my experience of trauma — and I am also not grateful for having been violated. It’s not what doesn’t kill us that makes us stronger; that saying always worked my nerves a little bit. I don’t believe that my stepfather’s violence, or our community’s negligence, made me stronger. Instead, I believe that the strength I manifested in the wake of his awfulness was always in me — as the strength that manifested in the wake of your own experience of violence was always in you. And I am grateful for that strength — as well as for the capacity to feel rage and sorrow and disappointment and joy and desire and compassion and love. I am grateful that I have lived long enough to experience enough healing that I can experience these emotions more fully, more openly, both more messily and more gracefully. I am grateful for the years when I raged against gratitude; it was (and may be again) a necessary part of my process. I am grateful for words, for language, for writing. I am grateful that my body continues to work with me and teach me its stories. I am grateful to continually be cracked open by the beauty of the morning sky, a joyful dog, an enormous love, a new writer’s words, and more and more and more, every single day. I am grateful to have made it this far. I am grateful for another day to try again.

One of my favorite poems is this one from W.S. Merwin, which I hand out to my workshops annually at this time of the year. In it, the poet describes the beautiful ludicrousness of our gratitude: we are thankful even though the sky is falling, even though children are still being harmed in their beds at night and bullied at school, even though our country continues to try to control everyone around the world, even though corporate interests trump natural and human interests everyday. We are thankful even though we are surrounded by pain and violence. We are thankful even though that can’t change what was done to us or to the people and planet that we love.

I am not one to pray, but I do say thank you.

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What is your relationship with gratitude? Let that be your prompt today — what’s your response to the word or concept? How do you feel when someone asks or invites you to be thankful? Give yourself twenty minutes, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

You know this already, but I am grateful for you today, and I am grateful, today as every day, for your words.

 

 

 

We deserve to be celebrated

Good morning good morning. This morning I was up early, at quarter to five, and managed to actually pull my body from the bed in order to write. Yesterday, too. Maybe I am entering a new (old) creative circadian rhythm. Time will tell.

This morning I am feeling deep and quiet with a kind of appreciation that maybe I should better call reverence.  I want us to celebrate anyone who is doing any work to connect to the real and authentic heart of their sex, their desire, their erotic self. We as a culture do not encourage this kind of work, and we don’t make space for it. We want sex to be business or irony or easy; we don’t have a lot of room for real sex.

If you know anyone doing this sort of work for themselves — for example, reconnecting to a traumatized sexuality, taking steps to manifest a long hidden or silenced desire, or trying something that they’ve always wanted to try but have been deeply afraid of, saying what they really want, knowing what they really want, saying yes as well as no, reembodying during sex, allowing themselves to have a body during sex — I want you to celebrate them. If you are doing this work, I want you to celebrate yourself. This labor is deeply powerful — it transforms our relationship to our whole lives, not just to our sex lives — and it is so often unwitnessed and unreverenced.

There are so many reasons not to do this work, so many very good reasons to walk away from sex forever. But we don’t, many of us. We don’t. We want to know what all the fuss is about. We want our bodies to know this joy. We take classes and we read books; we try to learn the languages that the untraumatized around us seem to speak with ease — with ease, can you imagine?

We talk to therapists, we sign up for groups, we risk saying aloud what it is that we want. It seems so simple and small to write it here, and I keep pausing as I type, wanting something more profound to say. But this is it: I’m grateful to you. I honor the work you are doing. I recognize the struggle, and I want to celebrate with you your successes. Where do we get to be witnessed in the work of our body’s unlearning trauma and reengaging the language of yes and hope? Where do we get to be met on this path? So many of us have our eyes cast downward, we are not supposed to be seen: this is shameful work. Sex is shameful stuff. We all know that. We know that we’re supposed to be able to do all this sex stuff naturally, that the normal and healthy people can do it naturally, that if we were normal and healthy and untraumatized, we would only have ease and delight in our sex. Isn’t this what we know?

Of course it isn’t true — one doesn’t have to be a survivor of sexual violence or molestation to grow up with confusing and damaging ideas about sex in this culture. But we who did have to walk through the land of erotic loss, those of us who did have to unlatch our skins from our psyches in order to survive into adulthood, we assume we are alone on the path that leads us back into the delight of the body. We certainly don’t see anyone else walking with us. All of us keep our eyes cast down and our mouths shut when we are in public– and often when we are in private, too. We know about shame, and we certainly don’t want anyone else to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. We don’t want other people to know that we don’t have all the answers already, we don’t want people to know that we are broken.

But how long does it take for us to realize that many, many people feel broken; that many, many people feel lost and confused around sex; that many, many people want more from their erotic life but are too afraid or ashamed or embarrassed to reach for change?

The fact that you are doing so is cause for celebration. The fact that you are making room for your grief and loss, as well as for new ideas and possibility, deserves recognition. The fact that you want to be all the way in your skin — with or without another person nearby — is a holy thing. It’s magnificent. It’s beautiful and life-affirming, not to put too fine a fucking point on it, and I am grateful for you today. We have every reason in the world not to want anything to do with sex. We have every reason to put sex down and never pick it up again. But you decided to pick it up again. You decided to put it back in your mouth and against your cheek. You decided to take the risk of imagining, dreaming, fantasizing. You put to your lips the words for what you want. You allowed yourself even to want. You know what an extraordinary thing that is. I know, too. Today I want to celebrate you. I want to celebrate every person I’ve written with or spoken to who has undertaken the private, gorgeous labor of untangling their erotic from their trauma, of untangling their bodies from the mouth of history. You deserve a cheering crowd. You deserve confetti and a marching band. You deserve witness and withness. You help make the body of this world more inhabitable. Thank you. Keep going, ok? Please don’t stop.

where do we find our teachers?

silhouette of a dancing person, before a multicolored backgroundGood morning this morning. I’ve got a green Earl Grey tea this morning, which is nice and odd. I woke up from a difficult dream that involved my mom, and I only captured the very end of it, where I was in a bed making, spelling out the word AMAZING using my finger dipped in frosting and letting the letters dry on some hard surface. I was looking for housing in Crete, Nebr.

How have your dreams brought you into this day?

This morning I am thinking about other mothers, about teachers, about who we learn from when our parents aren’t able to be the ones who give us the lessons we need to move into and through life.

Anne Lamott talks about this in her book, Traveling Mercies. She describes the women who weren’t her own mother, mothers of friends, who took her in, who told her she was beautiful, who brought her through girlhood and womanhood with a steadfastness and encouragement, people you felt accountable to, whose opinion mattered to you, even when you were going to go ahead and fuck up anyway.

I am thinking about who we learn from.

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do femmes get to be comfortable?

young woman/girl in a red tshirt looking through a view master toygood morning and happy Wednesday — what’s rustling around under the skin of your morning dreams today?

I’m thinking these days about what it takes for us to be comfortable in our skin, to be comfortable in our selves. There have been years when I felt like I would never be ok, in the world, just as I am, that I’d always be performing some version of myself in order just to engage with other human beings. Does that make sense? But I just came from the 2012 Femme Conference, where I had a very different experience of girlness/femaleness, community, and ease.

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letting them (and ourselves) be real

graffiti in red of a girl with a heart in a word-bubble over her headgood morning good morning! Oh, it’s late here — I set the alarm for 4:30, but when the puppy woke me up after 6, I looked over to see that perhaps that alarm had gone off, but my sleeping self had taken no notice whatsoever. After a full (and mostly offline) weekend, I guess my body took what she needed.

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Write Whole begins again this evening, and April’s Writing the Flood is this weekend (join us!) — lots more coming up, too, including a new daily blog project for May, which I’m very excited and a little nervous about! It’s going to be kind of like NaNoBloMo, with a twist.

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This morning I woke up thinking about my father singing one of his own songs: Dance Dixie Dance Dixie Dance / Don’t miss your very last chance… What a thing, to wake up with your father’s music on your lips, and be glad of it.

This weekend I went on a bit of a road trip with a friend, and she was in charge of picking out music, since I was driving. We wanted music to sing along to, with the windows down and the wind everywhere around us. I only ever do big-voice singing when I ‘m in the car, and I wanted to let something out. We got a little of The Story, Greg Greenway, something else, and then she pulled out a cd that had written on it Dad Songs 1980s. I said, Oh, that will probably be good, go ahead and put that in.

My dad makes mix cds now and again, made one for me when I was on the first Body Heat tour so that we had some good folks music to listen to while we careened, sick and exhausted and delirious, through the midwest. They’re often hard for me to listen to, my dad’s mix cds; the songs are poignant and remind me of him, of the time Before, of when he played guitar for us on the weekends and we knew his singing voice like we knew the lining of our own arms, intimate and familiar and tendering and welcome. I usually start to cry about halfway into the first verse of the first song on the cd, and have to turn it off. It can take me years to listen all the way to music that my dad sends to me. He sent me a song some years ago — Christine Kane‘s “How to be real” — with these lyrics in the first verse and chorus:

Her job was no more than a cubicle / the opposite of beautiful/her soul for a check/but her smile/tells you that she found a deeper will/she didn’t know she had until the day that she left/ amd even though she’s flying high /she can’t help but wonder why/it took her half her lifetime/just to find out / she could let herself learn how to be real / to be radiant / to be elegant/in her clumsy kind of way/oh here’s to how it feels/to be real.

You understand, of course, that I was nearly sobbing by the time she got to the chorus, and I had to stop listening. Maybe it took me four or five tries, after a week, to listen to the whole thing, and just weep on the other side. He sent this to me I think after or in the middle of our most recent struggles, but, too, when I was fully immersed in my own wondering about how I was going to make it as a writer and workshop facilitator who also had this day job that took time and energy but didn’t at all fit into the rest of my real work, a place where I felt I had to shut off my creative/writer self just to sit in a cubicle and play with numbers. This was the underside of my tears: Was he really seeing this part of me? Did he actually understand who I was trying to be? And then this, too: Could I let my father be that complicated, someone who disappointed me, who failed me, who loved me (and who I loved) beyond words and could still see who I actually was, even when I didn’t think I was sharing that with him?

My father is all music to me, a guitarist and singer who wrote songs and shared his voice often with friends and family. We grew up with folk music, the old pop songs, and  his voice. He had his own cubicle that kept him from pursuing what made him real, making music, and that cubicle looked like a family, looked like responsibility, looked like two daughters and a wife and a house in the city and how can you go off and be a musician singing folk songs when all those girls need you to support them? And he loved his work with the schools, and he shared his music with us, with all the family, he pulled up his guitar into his arms like the tenderest familiar and gave us music every chance he got.

So my friend put that mix cd into the player, and the first song was Silver and Gold, another one that my dad wrote: Won’t you give me / silver and gold / don’t want love / the heart grows cold / love won’t pay / the rent when I’m old / won’t you give me / silver and gold.

We were driving through the thick green redwood cover, past Fairfax, on our way to Tomales Bay. I said, that’s my dad’s song. He wrote that song. Who is this? I didn’t quite recognize the voice, got very quiet inside, put my fingers to my lips. Who was that singing? It didn’t quite sound like my dad now — but, I realized into the second song, Dixie Dance, it was my father then, an old recording of all my dad’s songs, maybe his set list, songs he probably recorded himself on the old reel to reel that he kept in the basement of his house in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the important music. There driving through Northern California redwoods, maybe thirty years after those songs were recorded, something in me lit up. I said to my friend, This is my dad. These are my dad’s songs. This is my dad singing in the 80s. I could hardly believe it. Here, issuing from the cd player in my little Prius, was the voice of my childhood, that rich fullness, that guitar, those particular songs. And then I heard new ones, songs of longing, songs of hope: here was some of my father’s creative work, my own backstory. Here was work he did that wasn’t about family or children — here was something of him beyond the man I know as father. What a tremendous gift.

In the car this weekend, my reaction was too deep for tears. I let the music and my dad’s voice push through me, while my friend exclaimed, delighted to get to be with this music. He sang us all the way up through Inverness, all the way to the sea, where she dozed and I played fetch with the puppy.

Again, again, again, I get to complicate what I have believed to be true about my parents, I get to be with and in a narrative less easy and more honest than ‘ they let us down, they gave us to the monster.’ So little is actually that easy, at least in the stories I’m living within. It’s hard to hold all their facets, like it can be hard to hold my own, but that hardness, I think, is just stretching beyond the story I wanted to be true of them, that they were perfect and loved us and would protect us from any bad stuff. That is just one part of our story. And then there are the songs, my father’s fingers on strings, my mother’s poetry, everything behind who they were as parents, that maybe I am well enough, now, to hold, too.

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Thoughts for prompts today: Maybe let yourself listen to a bit of How To Be Real and notice what rises for you in response. What does it mean for you to be real — or, to let your parents, partner, friend, puppy, boss, coworker, characters be real? Give yourself ten minutes, or twenty — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for your presence today, for the way you breathe into the layers that don’t resolve themselves into easy narrative, for how you hold your own and others’ complications tenderly, even when they frustrate the hell out of you. Thanks, too, always, for your words.

bring that beat back

graffiti of a turntable, painted onto the side of a grey concrete building ornamentationGood morning — how is this morning treating you so far? Here it’s rainy and it took me a long, long time to wake up; I think I hit snooze about 20 times.

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What’s going on this morning? I can’t remember my dreams — in the dream I wish I’d had, my grandmother, one of them, or maybe both, came to me. we were sitting in a city park, on a dry bench, and they were holding hands. They looked like I remembered them, washed grey permanents, slightly bent bodies, deeply kind faces, my father’s mother’s face a little more open than my mother’s mother’s face, but still both so very much there. They pat the space between them, want me to sit down there. They tell me things I need to hear, they tell me about the time when I was gone, the time when their families were missing two grandchildren — this is what the holidays were like, they say, this is what it felt like to miss you and your sister. The space didn’t fill in around you, they say, there was just a hole. We didn’t talk about it much, but we all knew it was there.The wind blew against our faces, gentle, and somehow they were sitting next to each other and also around me.The air was blue, fresh, the sky was open. There were other people, far away, walking. My grandmothers explained about their lives, they told me how to go forward in my own. They opened their hands and let me put mine there, they let me see how our hands are so much the same. You see, they said to me, look at our hands. You belong to us. You’re home here.

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Night before last, I went with a good friend to see Erasure, a band whose music saved me when I was coming out (and when I say that I mean both coming out as queer and also coming out from under my stepfather; these are always intertwined for me). I want to tell you about dancing, about dancing there in the way high seats at the Fox theater with my friend and hundreds of other people, about opening my mouth to sing along with a favorite song and realizing that hundreds of other people are also singing, about not being ashamed of loving something this much, about letting my body explode with and into this intertwining. At one point, when I was singing and all these other people were singing, and we were hollering for the artists who made the music, people we would never meet, who would never know us personally but whose work had touched us, had maybe made us feel heard and understood and welcome at moments when we believed (we knew) no one would ever really welcome us again, I understood sports fans. Just a flash, but it was there: this was a place of communal celebration, a place of connection — because we shared a love for those artists on the stage, we could share a love with one another.

Erasure takes me back into the very early 90s, full on, to the time when dancing saved me more than anything else ever could, because he had never had his hands on dancing. He’d had his hands on everything else I loved, every other spot of possible escape, including writing, even including alcohol, but dancing was all mine, and like swimming, I could get lost on the dance floor, alone and also intimately interwoven with the bodies and energies around me.

Yesterday I unpacked all my Erasure cds, both to share with my friend, and to copy back into my life — I uploaded them to my music playlists, haven’t listened to them much since moving to California. Somehow, being in San Francisco was like having Erasure, all that bouncing queerness, all around me. But, of course, San Francisco I’ve found is less bouncing queer and more please I need a job or a gig so I can pay the rent so I can have some time to do my art, and under the weight of that pressure, a little Erasure (I mean levity) must come.

As ever, I’m thinking about radical self care, and about paying attention to what works for you, what self care looks like and feels best for you. Other people, back in those early days, for instance, went to the gym, went jogging, lifted weights, took boxing classes — I took the very best care of myself that I could on the dance floor; the dance floor, for many years, was the only safe place, where I reminded all the inner selves that, yes, look, we can be all the way in this body and be full of power, be a brilliant, explosive thing, be connected to something outside ourselves (that music, yes, that rhythm) and in each one of those steps, we can also be connected to these people around us. We can feel desire and let that live all the way in us, right here, just here if you want. Yes, body, we can feel delight and be safe, even powerful, in that delight. Powerful? Yes– that was it. I didn’t just feel safe when I was dancing, I felt wildly in control, both loose and firmly present. This was my meditation, my strength, my power.

I want you to understand, I want to find the words for you to be able to understand, what it meant to have something like that, a place like that, after living for a decade with a man who had made me believe that he had access to everything in me, who had shaped my insides to his own liking, who had crafted the perfect vessel for himself in me, not just in my body, but in my thoughts. In my thoughts. He didn’t have access to this place — even if I’d tried to share it with him, and once or twice, I probably did, in words, over the phone, long distance, coast to midland, doing the work that he’d trained me into: heaving all of myself into his hands, because that was the only way I could be made acceptable and worth anything — even then, he couldn’t really touch it. This was more than a miracle, more than self care: this was a crack in the thing he had made. this was the fissure I would escape out of. One time, when I was home on a school break, and I was in the home office (either working on the software application that our family business was supposedly producing for college students, or transcribing his notes for a new article about child sexual trauma), when I believed I was home alone, I put on some music, some something, and danced barefoot around the office (which had been my own bedroom before I went away to school). I turned the music up loud, I was taking something for myself from this house, allowing myself to be me, just for a few minutes, before he or my mom or my sister came home and I had to reshape into the scapegoat gnarl that lived only because she begged forgiveness or battled them every second. I was laughing to myself in that dancing, laughing out loud, I flung my arms out, sang along to the music, and then noticed that he was standing there in the doorway. I froze, flooded with adrenaline and terror, and shame, then stammered and went to turn down the music. He wasn’t paying me to dance, of course (let’s have a different conversation about waht he really was paying me for); we had to go downstairs to the living room and sit for an hour, more, talk about my priorities, my work, my psyche.

I think he saw, in that moment, what he couldn’t touch, what in me was already free.

There was nothing to replace that feeling, the work that dancing did for me, the work that dancing and I did together, when I stopped going, when I started drinking more, when the depression took me over for all those years. Here’s the thing: I can’t drink when I’m dancing; alcohol makes me sloppy and makes the dancing a mess. And so, for a long time, the drinking brought more oblivion than the dancing did, and for awhile, the oblivion was more important. Safer. No need to have any connection with others in the oblivion. I don’t write about that time much.

Since moving to CA, I go out maybe once every few months; with a full work and workshop schedule, plus needing morning time for writing, latenight dance parties are difficult to make and the dancing slips way off into the wayback machine. But every time I go, every time I fit my body back into that necessary place, I remember why it matters, I remember and am flush with gratitude for what dancing gave me, which was life, no exaggeration. And I make plans to go out again, and soon — even just monthly, couldn’t we make that happen? It helps to have dancing friends, one of whom was there at the concert with me, had shared his tickets; dancing friends know this place of resilient safety through connection with music and sweat and other people’s energy — they get it, and so we can call one another and say, ok, tonight? and they say, maybe, yes, tonight, and we go out into the world and make it a little more safe for ourselves and the others, the nineteen year olds there among us in bodies of all ages, the ones who are finding the space of safety that we had believed would never open up for (or in) us.
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This is the prompt: tell me about the music you loved when you were nineteen (or the music your character loved), a favorite song. Where were you living then? What about that song was alive for you, what drew you to that song or band or type of music? Who else loved that song? 10 minutes: take me there, then follow your writing wherever it seemed to want you to go.

Today I am grateful for house music, for synthpop and techno, and grateful, too, for all the music you loved that saved you, the stuff that streamed into your walkman, the music that you met yourself within. Thanks for allowing that to happen, for sharing it with others, for continuing. Thank you for your words.

releasing the alone-ness

graffiti of the words "You are not alone," in a circle, around a group of birds, flying together

love this graffiti of the Icarus Project logo -- check them out, if you don't yet know their work: http://theicarusproject.net/

It’s wet and grey here, and I’ve been listening to the foghorns all morning. What’s it like where you are?

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This Saturday, March 19, is Writing the Flood! Come on and write with us!

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This morning, I am thinking about alone-ness. I don’t mean the fact of being by myself, but rather isolation: that sense that I am — what? — without companioning, without the possibility of companioning. Deeply without anyone to help or be with me.

I’m having a hard time with this post today. I started it more than four hours ago, and have found everything else to do instead of write it: read email, make a difficult phone call, respond to messages that have been waiting for a month, post on Facebook, make some actual breakfast, read blog posts … it’s all easier than this writing.

We many of us know about the tactics that abusers use on on their prey — a major one involves secrecy and isolation. Tell no one, and, too, no one is here to help you. No one can save you, protect you, fix this. There’s a way that we learn to root in our own selves, a sense that we are all we have to count on (Well, we can count on the abuser, too, can’t we? We know who they are and what they’ll do, even if what we know is that they’ll act in unpredictable and abysmal ways): we take into our bodies… am I using the we again when I  should use the I? — I take into my body the understanding, the knowing, that I’m alone in this life, in this survival, this experience. Other people aren’t trustworthy, they don’t show up, and you can’t be honest with them if they do.

This takes a long time to unlearn, as it turns out. Like, decades, for some of us. Others might get it into their cells more quickly; I haven’t. It’s hard to let go of pieces like this, that may have become core parts of our identities.

In this process that I’ve taken into my hands (in some ways, quite literally) to allow myself to be more fully embodied in 2011, I have had a sense of “sinking” into old and painful ways of feeling (it’s difficult to write about this stuff, because the body is outside of language in so many (of its) senses): the familiar numbness rises after an intense session in therapy, and that numbness has a recursive effect, both assisting isolation (it’s difficult to connect through the numb) and furthering it.

What I want to tell you is that yesterday I was surprised with a houseful of people who gathered to celebrate my birthday. I’m overwhelmed by this, still; still wanting to let it all the way into my skin, into my organs, into my breath: it matters to these folks that I am alive; it matters to me that they are alive. This isn’t about reaching for complements, about some emo-y place (maybe a little emo-y), but more about that teenage girl who wasn’t allowed to spend time with friends, who didn’t learn how to *be* a friend, who has grown up into someone who had to do that learning later, with much effort and scarring.

I don’t like writing about the alone-ness, the thing inside that says, there will never be anyone to meet you here in your humanness. Who believed that the man who raped me was the only one who could ever know me as flawed and smart and complicated– who decided, there will be no one, then, if he’s the only option. Isn’t that a terrible thing to believe? How many of us still live there?

I am still peeking into the bright light of outside, the fresh, fierce light of other faces who are also imperfect and brilliant and human, these friends who hold space for me to go away from and return to.

The isolation is a hard thing to release, let go of, let fall from my skin. I have grown to trust it implicitly, and can still be uncomfortable and raw in this connecting with others. So I could not be more grateful for the people who are willing to be patient, be present, be human with me as I learn to accept my own human skin and self and body. We are radiant in that complicated self — I can say that to you. Can I let it be in me, too?

There’s more about this; there’s always more: like, what happens when we don’t have to be perfect, when we quit expecting perfection from those around us, from our communities, our friends and lovers? But for now, I’m holding a concentrated and throbby thank you right at the base of my diaphragm, deep inside, where tears start (ok, a little emo-y), and I am just grateful.

Thank you for all the ways you have saved yourself, and, too, for the ways that you have allowed others to reach into the locked and messy stuff that is your full and brilliant heart, and the ways you haven’t turned away from the beauty in you that only they could reveal to you. Thank you for your gorgeous and daring words.

what hearts can can do

graffiti of a sacred heart, geometrically rendered

I am typing with all the fingers of my left hand and just three on my right — I broke a glass this weekend, cut my hand, and now my ring finger is splinted up and my hand is wrapped in gauze.  This weekend, during our last Writing the Flood at the Flood Building, I managed to write, though slower than I usually do, with just those 3 fingers. The words were fainter on the page maybe, but still went deep.

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We have just about completely moved out of Suite 423 — many big thanks and lots of love to Fresh! White, Renee Garcia, Lou Vaile, Alex Cafarelli, and Cayenne Woods, who made the move happen! With my right hand effectively out of commission, I couldn’t do much more than some packing and pushing the dolly. Thank you so much for the help!

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Today, if you want to, write about what hearts can do, what they can hold, what they release. How fragile and resilient they are, how strong and meaty, how tender.

Thank you for your fierce hearts, your powerful words.

Thank you, 2010 — Welcome, 2011!

graffit of Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant God, beneath a Hindi banner...

Ganesha: Lord of Beginnings, Remover of Obstacles, Patron of Letters...

Good morning & Happy New Year’s Eve!

What a tremendous, educational year 2010 has been! Lots of lessons offered and learned (or, learning). What did 2010 offer you? What will you bring forward with you into 2011 from this year just passing?

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Writing Ourselves Whole can still use your support! There’s this one more day in 2010 to make a tax-deductible financial gift that will support the transformative writing in your communities — thank you immensely to all who have already invested in our work!

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I’ve spent the last several days wrangling with a cold, so I’ve been sleeping a lot and, when awake, watching movies or reading. I’m making my slow way through Rob Brezny’s Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia. This book is reminding me of how I used to aspire to be in the world: full of curiosity, wide-eyed and also skeptical, lots of questions and few answers, aching for beauty and connection with everyone and everything, engaged with my complexities and contradictions, positively uncertain and joyfully observant.

I was writing in my notebook yesterday about how I’ve gotten more connected to having answers. The Knowledge/Information Economy tells us to become an expert on something, to become the go-to person on FB or Twitter or elsewhere about the wingspan of bats or why people collect seashells or how to frame digital photographs or what sex positions most suburban folks struggle with these days — that’s how you Make It. That’s how you’ll Succeed. And so I’ve been trying to figure out how to become an expert on surviving sexual trauma or writing about trauma or writing about sex or an expert on sexuality, period. And then when I run into personal struggles with any of these things (which I do on a regular basis), I feel like a completely failed Expert. How can I claim to teach something, or midwife folks through an experience, that I’m not 100% perfect at myself?

Of course, you can see the perfectionism, the self-sabotage, the voices that say, if you’re not perfect, you’re nothing. (Which means (doesn’t it?) that if you’re just human, you’re worthless.)

I’ve been actively engaged with this, one of my most entrenched inside-editor voices, for quite a few years — tangling with my just-humanness. Just human means stunningly imperfect, means scarred and scared, means I don’t have all the answers, about myself or anyone else. Means I’m a practice: this life is a practice. Every day is a practice.

So this week, with the blessing of a cold that left me with body aches and sore throat, I’ve been on the couch with Rob Brezny, remembering what it’s like to delight in not knowing. Remembering what it’s like to be present with the joy of our imperfections, to be grateful for everything that seems wrong, to take some tremendous comfort in the sheen of fog that covers the windows of our little house in the mornings. Who cares if I need to wear 4 layers, a scarf and hat inside my house? I’ve got all day to make Irish soda bread to feed the cold monster in my belly, have time and a stove with which to whip up a batch of cayenne-cheddar biscuits, will put the stove on low so that my specially-requested french bread will rise.

2010 taught me much about self-care, about receiving help, about saying no and about saying yes, about trusting visions and dreams, about slowing down in order to stretch and grow.

In 2011, I am looking forward to more delight in confusion,  more surprising myself with everyday magic, more attention to/with serendipity — what happens when I simply become an expert at asking questions, or noticing what is? Isn’t that a life-long practice?

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What about a prompt here, beginning with where we started: What are you bringing forward with you from 2010? What lessons will come with you even if there are habits, practices, relationships that you are laying to rest? What visions and wishes do you have for this coming year? Let yourself describe them in great, intricate detail.

A fun writing exercise can be to write yourself a letter from Dec 31, 2011 — describe what happened in the year, how you felt about it, what surprised you! Use as much sensory detail as you can: explain how something smelled or sounded, what it felt like, how it tasted, what it looked like. If you want, you can seal up the letter and set it aside to open at the end of next year: then compare and contrast!

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Thank you for being with me this year — I’m so grateful for this regular opportunity to connect with you! Thank you for all of your powerful, engaged, vulnerable work. Thank you, always, for your words.