Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

the gifts of radical breaking

graffiti of a hand emerging, strong and full, from a just-cracking-open eggGood morning this Monday morning. Outside my window the thick grey fog is just beginning to lift, and the song birds have returned themselves to my feeder (now that I’ve replenished the seed stock). I’m back in the saddle today, even if the saddle has shifted, even if I am sitting in it a bit oddly in order to accommodate the pain that’s still wrangling with me. I’ve got the tea and the candle, I’ve got the quiet apartment (outside chainsaws and jackhammering notwithstanding) and I’ve got the pull into these words.

How are you rising into your (creative or other) saddle today?

This morning I am thinking about how different this month turned out from what I had originally planned. After leaving my day job back at the beginning of the month, I fully expected to erupt into busyness. There was so much I needed to do, now that I was my working hours were going to be devoted only to my writing and to writing ourselves whole: I’d opened conversations with many folks around the area about new writing workshop ventures; I had promotions work to do for the workshops scheduled to begin in January; there are two (just two?) books to write; I needed to figure out my weekly schedule, exercise every day, calendar lunch/coffee dates with friends and colleagues, run the puppy, go go go go go.

And then guess what happened? I’ve spent the month recovering/recuperating from a back spasm that hit me on the fourth day of my new life. Instead of continuing on with the busy that I have built a worklife and work-identity around, I was forced (allowed, allowed) to find a new way to interact with my work as my body took full-on precedence in my every day. Continue reading

DOE: What would you write if you did not have to be good?

impossibly tall, wooden high heels from the virtual shoe museum

This has exactly nothing to do with today's post, except that today's is a Declaring Our Erotic post, so it's an excuse for me to indulge in my shoe fetish...

Quick note: there’s some explicit sex in this post today — down in the prompt part.  Just so you know.  xo, Jen

So sleepy this morning — how did I used to stay up so late and still get up and write at 5? No more, I guess. Up by 5 means bed by 9-ish: working on that.

Good morning!  Today’s Wednesday, supposed to be a DOE (Declaring our Erotic) write today, and I have a prompt for you — there were some other things I wanted to say, though, like hello and how are you and did you sleep ok? What were your dreams like?  Mine were good ones, thankfully.

I should have made a note.  Too tired yet for short term memory, so I’ve forgotten already


I’m writing a review of Gurlesque, and I’m not ready to talk here about the book yet, but what I do want to say is that yesterday, while I was on the bus reading the opening essays, wherein the editors talk about where the idea of ‘gurlesque’ came from — a sort of girl’s/women’s writing and art that draws on burlesque and grotesque, camp and horror, riot grrl and second-third wave feminism — I suddenly opened way up, deep inside, and felt a great wide swath of possibility set before me again.

It’s been a little bit since I’ve been all that interested in writing any erotica — I’ve felt quite distant from that side of my work. I’ve been pathologizing it for awhile, self-blame, all that, and yesterday, there on the 44 on the way over the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought about how good I’ve been trying to be. Still working to be the good girl, particularly for my father, my family: the good daughter, the good lesbian child. (And I’m using ‘lesbian’ here with a particular purpose.)

Over and over, I see friends who are queer going to great lengths to be productive or extra-useful members of the family, so that we can still be welcomed: helping where no one else will help, caring for relatives, for instance — and hiding much of themselves away in the meanwhile. For a couple-three years now, I’ve been trying to be a daughter my father could be proud of — I’ve been working to be that daughter. Hide and lie when we’re together, so that he doesn’t have to hear about the stuff that makes him uncomfortable (writing and performing about sex, writing and leading workshops about sexual abuse), and, quick, get some work/workshops/publications I can talk to him about. And, quite recently, I had slapped in my face some proof that (yes, again), hiding and silence and lies won’t save me: being the queer daughter is the opposite of being the ‘good’ daughter, the quiet daughter, the safe daughter, the comfortable. The queer daughter will never be a good girl, will never be sugar and spice and everything nice. Didn’t Audre Lorde tell me that years and years ago?  But still I have to keep on learning the lesson.

The good daughter, the quiet daughter, doesn’t write about sex. Doesn’t even have sexual desire. I’m still working with that line I brought to the Femme Conference workshop, from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: You do not have to be good.

What would you write if you did not have to be good?

I had some thoughts about that yesterday, what I’d write — what I’m ready to write — and it made me grin like a madwoman while walking down 4th street to my day job, and brought me great big joy.


Here’s a DOE prompt for today: imagine yourself or your character involved in some salacious scene, erotic encounter, seductive situation or flirtation (enough with the alliteration) — and then have them meet themselves in a mirror. Maybe you open your eyes and find that you’re staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror, or your character is flirting with someone across the room through glances in the mirror over the bar. Maybe there’s a mirror in a handbag, or reflection off a storefront window, or mirror next to or over a bed. Bring us into that moment: what happens for the character when they see themselves and/or their erotic partner(s) reflected in that mirror?

Here’s my response to this prompt (which I offered most recently at a Writing the Flood workshop):

It was exactly the wrong moment to look in the mirror, but Carmen had those closet doors that were all mirror, so when Melanie looked across Carmen’s body, just opened her eyes for a second, mirror was all there was to see. And — oh shit — here she’d been imagining herself so sexy, somehow looking like Cher or Farrah Fawcett or Jenna Jameson — where do we get these ideas anyway? — but forgetting she’s got no long thick locks to sling over anyone’s shoulder. All she saw was her own self split wide open, legs all sprawled. Up above, her face red and sweaty and smeared, and below — shit! — pimples where none ought to be and her new girlfriend’s thick wrist lost inside her body. Melanie’s breasts were smashed flat beneath Carmen’s weight and Carmen–fuck–looked like a Greek god. Why do butches always look handsome, sexy, no matter what they’re doing, even when they’re all contorted, trying to touch or stroke or push at or pinch every part of another body just exactly right and all at the same time?

Melanie teared up, too exposed and raw, like meat being pounded, and just wanted to hide. Right then, Carmen stopped moving, looked up, caught her breath. Oh, god, Mel, she said. You’re so damn beautiful

And Melanie started breathing again, grinned a little at that lost and scared self in the mirror, slipped back and hot into her skin.

Thanks for being out there today, for being exactly you. For reading, yes, and for writing.

Aural Alignments

Yesterday it felt like all the mercury retrograde hit me at one time — bracelets broke, folders spilled all over the back of the car when I was trying to get to work early, items got misplaced and were unfindable, and at my primary work gig, I found myself feeling deeply out of place and on the wrong path entirely.

Mostly I manged to stay in a decent mood, going with the rather ragged (at least to this conscious brain) flow — there have been plenty of bad days, bad mood days, sad days recently, and I didn’t want to have another one. Still, by day’s end, I felt in need of a deep spiritual chiropractic adjustment. I was all achy inside, weird and out of sorts. I had a mostly non-dinner, started watching old monty python sketches on youtube, walked to the laundromat for quarters so I could do laundry, then turned on the tv to distract myself even further.

I watched tv for maybe 7 minutes then went into the bathroom to do manicure-ish things, turned on the radio which was tuned to KQED, and a voice was saying, “I have to read the old ones first because people seem to want me to …” and a little more and then the voice was reading “Wild Geese.” It was Mary Oliver, reading her own work, and I turned and rested against the sink and just listened. I let myself cry, get into the rhythm and the possibility of poetry, and was thankful.

Listening to the pieces in her own voice, listening to the words flow with the rhythm into which they’d been intended to flow, hearing what was the same and different than how I might read myself. My mascara kind of racooned around my eyes further than is usual for me at day’s end, but now it looked like something proper — the mess of possibility.

The laundry got done, I fed myself something more like dinner, and Mary Oliver’s poetry reminded me who I am when all my parts are in the right places.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press