Tag Archives: listen

witness in the aftermath of disaster

There were lilacs at the table where I worked on my novel this morning, which made the day smell like home — although back in Nebraska, the lilacs don’t start blooming until the end of April or May. (I couldn’t quite remember that and had to look it up; that’s how spoiled I’ve gotten by California and their green-wet winters and January-blooming daffodils and year-round gardens.)

I’m deep in morning sunshine, I’m listening to the kids shouting during gym class at the playground a block or so away, I’m watching the dog try and climb the fence after the squirrels. I’m trying to figure out why it matters for me to sit at this keyboard when there’s a garden to tend and a dog to throw the ball for, friends I need to call, muscles to stretch, grass to feel beneath my toes — I mean, when there’s real and embodied life to live, why am I here sitting in front of a screen, giving myself carpal tunnel (knock wood)?

I don’t want to write about Boston yet, so I go online and read a news story about yesterday’s bombings. I look at the map, red starbursts marking the sites where the IEDs exploded on Boylston Street. I haven’t been to that neighborhood for years, not since my last Boston Pride. I think about what it’s like when throngs of people are gathered in one place, and how terrifying it would be to have those masses suddenly panicking in fear for their own and their loved ones’ lives. I think about Martin Richard, an 8 year-old boy, and the other two people who died as a result of the explosions, and the over 170 people injured (many of whom lost limbs). I think about the trauma that everyone at the Marathon experienced, and how their lives are changed forever. Continue reading

you listen

graffiti of a person talking, maybe shouting, hands around their mouth to magnify their wordsGood morning, all!

I’m a bit scattered today — the pup and I were up early, rushing around, getting ready for an appointment that it turns out wasn’t this morning, is scheduled for next Thursday. Now my energy is all twisted up, churned, and I’m trying to get back in focus. Do you ever have mornings like this?

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Here’s a prompt and a write from last night’s Write Whole workshop. I borrowed a prompt that was offered at the AWA Facilitator’s Training a week or so ago: Write about how to fix something that’s broken. (We took 20 minutes last night; give yourself the time that works for your schedule today, when you write – 10 mins? 30?)

This is what I wrote in response to this prompt:

This is how you fix it: you listen.

You listen.

You listen.

You listen.

You listen.

Listen, then, to your own sharp intake of breath, feel the ache of advice burning your throat, and notice how you are not listening anymore at the moment you are coming up with solutions that no one asked you for, that she didn’t ask you for. Feel yourself swallow the advice, exhale the tension that built in your body when you couldn’t tell her immediately what she should be doing different. Notice, then, how you can relax. Oh, this isn’t my responsibility, you think. Let that fill you, douse your hot veins. Oh, she only asked me to listen.


Understand what kind of work listening is. Listening is not just not talking, listening is also not planning what you’re going to say as soon as she stops to take a breath. Listening isn’t interrupting with scatter clauses of Ok, here’s what you should— wait.

Listening is not making her tell you, again, I don’t want you to fix it. I can fix it. I want you to hear me. I want you to want to hear me.

Listening is more than not talking. Listening is letting all the weight of the words into you, is opening your hands to what’s unholdable, opening your lungs to what’s unbreathable (and yet she holds — yet, she breathes). Listening is a deep and welcoming silence, it’s more than camaraderie — this isn’t about misery loves company. This is work, goddamnit, this is intimate solidarity, this witnessing. This is you shutting up because there are no easy solutions and you offering one up just makes her feel stupid or angry or both —

What she has to offer you is unfixable. There is no fixing the tender brilliance of the story she wants you to hold with her, its claw marks still visible and strange, its head misshapen, chewed on, twisted, it is what it is and it lives in her, holds space behind her heart, between her ribs, under her arms, between her legs; this story is her body, her day, her mind, and you are going to tell her how to fix it? Who do you think you are? Who are you to blaspheme,to run your hard, tossed-off words over this as-yet-unformed thing she is offering?

This is how to listen: Close your mouth. Have no answers. Make eye contact, or don’t. Take deep breaths, especially if she is breathing shallowly. Let yourself be moved, frustrated, uncomfortable. Especially uncomfortable. Understand that there are no easy answers. Understand you can’t fix her. Understand she can. Appreciate this about her. Be overwhelmed by it. Find yourself at a loss for words when, or if, she finally asks what you think she should do. Meet her confusion with your confusion. Have nothing prepared. Be still with the story. Say, I don’t know. What do you think? Listen to how she already has answers — feel pride, amazement, humility, gratitude, and keep listening.

Thank you for your presence with others’ words yesterday, today, tomorrow. Thanks for letting others be present with your words, too.

if I listened

graffiti: a black bird in a blue window, with the word 'listen' pushing out overheadHappy Tuesday! It’s quiet and grey here on the left side of the Bay (well, when facing Oakland — but who isn’t facing Oakland?) — how is it where you are? The birds are waking slowly; I think they’re not quite convinced of daytime yet.

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You know what’s coming up next around Writing Ourselves Whole, right? Everything kicks off the second full week of June: our 8 week workshops (Write Whole for women survivors of sexual violence — this one’s about fully registered — and Declaring Our Erotic, open to LGBT/SGL/queer folks of all genders) and the next Writing the Flood, on June 18! Got some resolutions for Pride month  around being truer to your fierce, creative self? Come join us!

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This morning I’m thinking about listening — and, of course, puppies. I’m learning to listen to Sophie, just like she’s learning to listen to me. We are practicing hearing each other, testing out what happens when we do. She communicates differently from other dogs that I’ve lived with, at least so far. There’s a way in which she’s been both herself and an instantiation of the other dogs in my life, all at the same time, since she’s been living with us — and slowly, as I get to know her better, as she herself becomes more known to me, that sense of being a representation or a placeholder for another animal begins to fade. I can hear her better for herself, just as she is, rather than listening for how my other dogs used to communicate with me. This is a moment to moment practice, and it’s both exhausting and wonderful.

Don’t we have to do this all the time, with animals, yes, but with people, too? You remind me of someone I used to know, and so it takes me awhile to quit expecting you to act and sound like them; it takes me awhile to really listen to you: to how you speak, to how you act, to how your youness manifests in the world.

And then, of course, there’s the learning, the every-day practice, of learning to listen to self — and the work required to become gentle enough to say yes to deep self longings.

This weekend, at the Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop, we did this exercise: Begin writing from the phrase, “If I listened to my body…”

And if you want to take some time with this one this morning, 10 or 15 minutes, remember to change up those pronouns if that makes the prompt more interesting for you: if he listened to his body, if she listened to hers, if you listened to her body, etc…

This was my response during the write:

If I listened to my body, this wreckage would begin to pool away, would slim first heavy then thinning from my shoulders, all the iron bars would falter, then break — if I listened. If I stepped aside, traded ears for armor, if I took the stories in. If I let you ask in all your nighttime longing and I shut aside the worry, the need to sleep or work, the heavy heartbreak or old aches that every relationship accumulates like jewelry, if I closed those thoughts into a warm room with iced tea and good conversation, if I just listened to the quick thud of my heart in my belly, the soft pearling beginning beneath and between, would yes slip more easily from my lips? If I could nuance my way through old panic and just let the body live its now, just here have your skin and mine speaking in filamented blessings, if yes were not tangled in a thicket of terrible history, if I weren’t still so glossed by the anvil glamour of no, would we ride hard and fast into more muscle-achey mornings, would I have more days when I had to keep a scarf around my neck at work?

If I listened, there would be more massage and dance — and don’t I slip into the passive voice there — because who would put on the tall shoes and take those steps on behalf  of this one brave and resilient body, whose scars lie invisible and brazen in her underbelly and along her breasts?  This body, who wrestles deep with every angry wind, this tenacious tired body who has been strung up like a live wire on red velvet alert for so many years and now would just like to recede into something like mo(u)rning and good rest, into something like day — this body, that carries pleasure in her cervices like it belongs there, this body with the taste of chocolate and bitter greens between the teeth, and the taste of salt and moon everywhere else, this body with its tensions and knots, this body is screaming       is howling        just wants me to put down my book and listen, like a little sister: play with me. And what keeps me from saying yes? What breaks open like a geode when I do — glittery, dusty, unfathomably faceted, and unable to close up again?

Thanks for all the times you keep listening, to the hard stuff inside and even, yes, to the easy, gorgeous, fun stuff. Thanks for your strong, knowing words.