Tag Archives: metaphor

uprooting and untangling the binds of rape culture

Squash seedlings, damp, spreading out in morning sunlight

Squash seedlings almost ready for transplant!

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sun doing where you are right now? How is it feeding your heart?

Even though it’s possible, here in California, to garden year-round, I still live with the rhythms I learned growing up in zone 5 out in the midwest, where one had to take a break in gardening overwinter because, you know, snow. But every late February, something about the quality of light changes, and I get called back out into the garden. We moved last fall, so I have a new garden to build here. I’ve put in some carrot and radish seeds, have peas and chard and onions and herbs and nasturtium and sweet pea growing, and I can just barely see the tips of gai lan seedlings. It’s hard not to want to do it all right now, to have the garden bursting with color and fruit and flower that we left behind in Oakland. I’m re-learning the slow work of cultivation.

I had to dig out some kind of tenacious weed yesterday — California burclover, I discovered — and, while I dug my fingers around a particularly obstinate stem, I got to thinking about the work of uprooting rape culture.

The burclover, right now, is lovely, tender, with clover-like leaves and small yellow flowers. You can just barely see the buds of the fruit next to those flowers; the green pods are covered with a fine fringe that, when they get brown and dry, will turn into spines that dig into any bare feet or paws that go walking through the lawn. I know from past experience how difficult it is to get rid of these plants once they’re established in a garden, so I started pulling them out of this new yard as soon as I realized they were what was matting the area around my garden bed. But they don’t come up easy — though each plant just has one white taproot (like a dandelion) holding it in place, aboveground it sends out suckers and vines that also put down little roots in the soil as they spread. If you can get the whole rosette in hand and twist up, often you can pull up the taproot, too, but the sucker branches twist into those of other plants, growing over and under, through and around. Untangling those as best as possible, trying to save other small plants caught in between, becomes the slowest part of the weeding process.

I spent more than an hour on this yesterday, and still only managed to clean out a couple of square feet, barely noticeable if you’re not paying close attention. The ground I’m working with is clay-y and hardening — often, instead of getting the taproot out, I just tore off the surface greenery, leaving the slick greenbrown stems. I got out tools, used the hand cultivator and trowel, spent several minutes on each one of these plants, trying to dig out the root.

It was good and patient work, centering, calming.

While I was at this, I thought, This is what the struggle against rape is like — this is what it takes to end or change a cultural mindset that says that some people (mostly men) should get to have sexual access to the bodies of the people (mostly women and children) whenever they want. This mindset has deep roots, is well-established, can look harmless at first, in certain lights or seasons or when young or early in relationships, say, and gets twisted into and through the rest of society, choking the life from other things — both wild and cultivated — that need air and light and room to grow.

A bucketful of burweed

I can’t pull out one plant and be done with it. I have to try and get them all. But I can’t do it all at one time, nor can I do it all alone, as burweed certainly has a presence in every neighbor’s garden and in the wildlands back behind the house. I have to be vigilant, return to the same spots that I worked over yesterday to pull up the plants that I missed or whose roots kept hold. And during the time that I live here, I won’t eradicate all the California burclover. But I’m also choosing not to lean on the easy solution of poison, which will damage the soil I’m trying to reclaim and make it less hospitable for other life, will kill other plants also deemed weeds by a certain type of gardener and the gardening industrial complex, but that I want to nurture and save.

So I keep going in with my bare hands, now, when the fruits are still young — before they dry into hard burrs that are intended to dig into feet and feathers and fur, get carried away to establish new colonies elsewhere — and root out what I can.

The work of change is like this — slow, persistent, requiring patience and tenacity and vigilance. And with as many people as there are tangled up in the binds of rape culture, uprooting it is going to take time, as we try and help untangle the thoughts and beliefs and behaviors and entitlements and shames from the other stuff inside that needs room to breathe but has been choked of light and air — kindness, creativity, vulnerability, humility, grief, tenderness. The work is slow. It may take our combined lifetimes.

But I’ll tell you that yesterday, when I took a break, I noticed how good my body and mind felt, being at this labor, how grateful I was to be outside, my hands embedded with dirt, back sore, the work begun—incomplete, sure, but begun.

milkweed seedlings

My mother taught me the rhythm out of weeding, which, inadvertently taught me the rhythm of change work. She cleared out her huge garden a little bit every day, pulled a few weeds, tended the loosed soil, planted something new – until eventually she had the messy gorgeous beauty that is her sprawling wildflower-herb-vegetable garden. It’s a rhythm, a daily practice, something that can sustain us as we engage in the work of uprooting ideas and mindsets (of say, patriarchy and white supremacy) that have overtaken much more than their fair share of the earth, digging out space for more beauty, more birds and butterflies and bees, more sustenance, more space where it safe to walk on a spring morning in your bare feet.

Is there something in your life that needs some room to grow, to breathe? What would you be cultivating right now, if you gave yourself permission? Take 10 minutes with a notebook, open to a new page, and just write whatever comes when you think about these questions. Try not to edit or think too much about it, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Be easy with you today, ok? And thank you for your good words.

metaphor as medicine

good morning good morning — I’m morning pagesing here again today, as I’m up a bit later than I’d planned. The snoozed alarm kept harping at me, and I’d think, Doesn’t it know I’ve already asked it to let me sleep more? I think this alarm doesn’t know how snooze is supposed to work. I am, maybe, a bit tired. I’ve got some lemon zinger tea added to this morning’s green, to do small battle with the sick that wants to lodge itself in me.

What all is waking itself in you today?

I am just realizing, this morning, that the dark has arrived again — here it is, quarter after six, and still outside my windows the light is dim, the early commuters rushing toward the highway still need their headlights, the birds are even quiet yet. And I am thinking about how we story, how we metaphor, what’s dark around us. Continue reading

let the body do its work

graffiti of a hand facing out toward the viewer, one finger touching a small skateboard; flowers drawn, tattoos?, at the wristGood morning — wow, is it a Monday. How’s yours going so far?

Here’s a story: Yesterday, I spent a bit of time helping my friend, Alex, get ready to move. I don’t like this part of the story, because I don’t want her to move. She’s giving away a bunch of stuff, and I snagged a small bookshelf, a mug, a bag of things from the fridge, a couple of pet carriers, a cast iron cauldron. Everything fit into the car–snug, but still–and we got it all home. I gave Alex a long hug and said See you later (not Goodbye).

When I was taking the bookshelf out of the backseat, I got a serious splinter deep in the third finger of my right hand. Upstairs, in the house, I fussed over the splinter for a long while — I squeezed at it, got out the tweezers and tried to dig out the wood; the Mr. went and got a needle and tried to pull it out, but that didn’t work either. I soaked it in warm water, then tried everything again, but it was just in too deep. So I went to bed, still with splinter, invader, in my hand. I thought about letting the body do its work.

This morning, when I woke up, the area around the splinter was red and aching; I washed it and cleaned it, then started to do my morning writing. After a bit, I squeezed the splinter, and the wood pushed–easy, slick– out of the wound. My body had already started the process of expelling this foreign object, this invasion, this unwelcome thing. I barely had to do anything, but got the tweezers anyway, and took out the wood.

This feels like a metaphor, in and around the matter-of-facts. I’m thinking about old ways of thinking, behaviors, even trigger responses that are manifestations of this exact physiological response: my body doing what it’s built to do, without any real intervention from me. What happens when I step back, let the body do her work? Trust the body to do her work?

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

ETA: Katrina, in her comment to this post, shared the following fantastic quote from Ranier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:

“If there is anything morbid in your processes, just remember that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself of foreign matter; so one must just help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and break out with it, for that is its progress. In you, dear mr. kappus, so much is now happening; you must be patient as a sick man and confident as a convalescent; for perhaps you are both. and more: you are the doctor, too, who has to watch over himself. but there are in every illness many days when the doctor can do nothing by wait. and this it is that you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now above all do.”

Yes yes yes.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Want to use it as a prompt? What invasions have your body, your psyche, encircled in a coating that protects you from them, and prepared to expel? What happens when you or your characters trust your/their bodies?

Take this wherever you want to; follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you thank you, on this Monday morning. Thank you for your youness, your words.

what if we lived

graffiti: silhouette of a child walking a dog - behind them are enormous bright flowers(some maybe-intense writing about incest this morning — not details of a story, but thinking about how we think about ourselves, the language we use to describe ourselves. In any event, please take care of you — xo, Jen)

Today’s tea is tulsi-anise-nettle-mint. I choose tulsi for the calming, anise for the thick, round taste and the belly comforting, nettle for the cleansing and the bitterness, mint for the sweetness, the quickening sharpness. And, for the first time since moving, the first time this year, likely, I have the window open while I write. 2 candles, the tea-smoke pushing into the light of the flames, and some cool breeze from outside that feels like a good morning.


This is what I thought about this morning, considering the language of incest & trauma: the idea of soul-murder. The language around incest is this language: he killed the child I was, he murdered my soul. It’s the language of death (and rebirth, sometimes). Death is irrecoverable, it’s an end, it’s finished. And sometimes, during the recovery/healing/growing process, incest feels like that, like having been killed, because we see how the trajectory our lives were on was irrevocably changed, and we can never know who we might have been if this person hadn’t decided to take our life path into their own hands, to intervene on our bodies and minds and understandings and beliefs, to seem to forclose our futures, shut them down, close our eyes to tomorrow. That can feel like a killing: I might have been a happy teenager, I might have been someone with close friends, I might have been able to learn some comfort in my body playing sports or in other physical activity — but you (that abuser/the abusers) took that from me.

Recently, I was telling my therapist that I wanted to get to that light, I wanted to feel it flare, I wanted to get underneath all the layers of self-protective mechanisms and inside walls and fear and shame and self-aggrandizement and loss and sorrow and make some windows so that that flame could burn a bit more brightly. In my inside metaphors, that flame is what: soul? will to live? will to survive? that flame is the fingerprint of a little girl who had to take her life into her own hands. that flame is a closed eyelid of a child who decides to see what she needs to see, but not let out what she wants to keep safe. That flame, the small one deep in my chest, is the self-mothering. That flame is the heat of living. That flame is curiosity about tomorrow, the thing that kept me alive. That flame is what fed my understanding that he couldn’t make the clock stop ticking. That flame is what he could not blow out, no matter his 10 years of trying — and what I couldn’t drown in alcohol, self-loathing, deep shame, cloaking, couldn’t choke out with too much food, couldn’t run away from. That flame is this me still alive. He didn’t kill anything. He didn’t have that much power.

The idea of soul murder is a impactful one. It says to the reader,  These people do terrible things from which their victims never recover — because, as we know, murder victims never recover. It conveys a message to policy makers, and others in all our societies, that have condoned the sexual use of children apparently since the beginning of time: we should think differently about this act of child sexual use. We need people to understand that it’s a really bad thing, so that they start taking action to prevent its continued prevalence, to stop being so silent around the great numbers of people being used sexually against their will or desire.

(The birds just woke up outside.)

The words we use to define ourselves shape how we understand ourselves, in how we can see ourselves. If we as people who have experienced child sexual abuse, and/or other undesired/unconsented-to sexual use, learn from the experts and authorities that our souls were murdered, that has an effect on us — that tells us something, it gives a shape to the enormity we carry, the stuff that has so little language for it, and there’s a relief in that: This awful feeling inside, the emptiness, the thick loss? It’s what was killed. It’s a death we carry around inside our skins.

But: What if our souls weren’t murdered, and it was still an awful, inexcusable, unwelcome, inappropriate, not-at-all-ok thing that was done to us?

There have been times that I have felt, psychically, like I was digging out of a grave. I felt that far down, that far away from humans, that distant, that dead. And I have appreciated, needed, the myth of the phoenix, that which is resurrected from the aftermath of the flames, that which rises up anew. But what if I was never dead? What if he didn’t kill my teenage self? What if I survived without being murdered? What if you did, too? What if my psyche did a tremendous, un-willed job of keeping my inside-light protected and lit? What if yours did to?

I don’t want to take this language from anyone for whom it’s working/necessary/important. I do want expand the way we think about ourselves, about anyone who has experienced sexual violation. The metaphors we use predominantly in our society put shape around our thinking — which means they also put boundaries around that thought. (I first learned about this idea from reading Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson — a profoundly important book.) First looking at, becoming aware of, and then (if we choose to) changing the metaphors we use for our situations, our understanding of ourselves, can intensely resituate us in our understanding of our world — resituate what we understand our possibilities to be.

We lived. The flame within us lived.


A writing idea, for when you have some safe and uninterrupted time — this is one of the few prompts in which I’ll specifically invite you to use the word ‘incest’ or ‘rape’ (as it works best for you), and so please take care of yourself around this one (as with any writing prompt). If you want, check in with someone before starting this write, or think about who you can call/talk to after, if things come up that are triggering or upsetting.

‘Soul murder’ is one way we think about incest/sexual violation. I’m going to invite us to create some other metaphors. let’s take 10 or 15 minutes for this one, after we create the list: number a sheet of paper from 1-7 (you don’t have to do this; I just always liked the numbering part of the spelling test at school.) Write down a list of 7 everyday-type actions: “going to the store” “tying my shoes” (or his shoes, or her shoes). Don’t think too much about each item, just put them down as they come to mind. Then let the phase “Incest is like” or “Rape is like” or “Sexual harassment is like” or “Molestation is like…” go in front of each phrase — say it out loud. It’s ok if they don’t make any immediate sense. Choose one that sounds interesting to you, that catches your writer’s creative attention, that you feel especially curious about, and let that be your starting point: for instance, Sexual harassment is like tying his shoes — ok: what does that mean? Write down your prompt, whichever one you chose, and write it at the top of a new page (or below your list) and start there — it’s ok if your writing isn’t logical, is filled with images and ideas; that’s just right! Write for your 10 or 15 minutes, as fast as you can, as much as possible without editing. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.


Thank you for all your knowings and reknowings and deep, unlanguaged understandings, and your survival. Thank you for the creative ways you have found to heal and hold you and be present with others. Thank you for your words.

interweaving (&) metaphor

street art of a nude woman, folded into a tight crouch, looking up and holding an umbrella above herWhew — be safe out there today, Bay Area-ers. That wind is crazy, fickle like dice, snapping back in your face just when you thought you had the umbrella situated right and held tight, flipping the metal framing inside out, leaving your safety shield as a cup for the moon and wet.


We had a lovely Erotic Reading Circle last night, the first one at the Center for Sex and Culture‘s new space at 1349 Mission St! (Will you join with me here in a moment of good wishes that the CSC has found a good and solid home for awhile? Hooray!)

There were stories and blog posts, and fantasy worlds galore (some of our world, some of parallel universes or future times: fantastic) — and once again, as happens every time, I felt such gratitude for these readers, these folks willing to bring their words out into the world in front of strangers (who maybe don’t feel like strangers for long), folks willing to be present and engaged with others’ writing, folks willing to discuss erotic writing like it matters — because it does matter.


Thinking about many things this morning: writing as liberatory practice, grad school, oatmeal with quinoa, Access databases, green tea with mint, rain, relaxation, the ways our muscles and organs hold and store our histories, haircuts, deep breathing, the Real, metaphor as finding language for the unspeakable. None of these things is not like the other. What’s interweaving itself through your thoughts this morning?

An idea for a prompt: Write for 5-7 minutes about umbrellas as objects, as real things. Then write for 5-7 minutes about umbrellas as metaphors (for whatever springs to mind for you as you write). Write for 5-7 minutes about how rain feels falling on your body. Write for 5-7 minutes about rain as a metaphor (for whatever springs to mind for you as you write). Read back through what you’ve written, and circle lines you like, that pop out to you. It could be fun/productive, too, to interweave the ‘real’ and ‘metaphorical’ writing, like in the prompt described in this post.


Stay as warm as you can today, prefearbly as warm and dry as you want to. And if you want to go walking with your body up against the power of the wind and rain, I hope you have a good warm regathering place to return to, with blankets, hot tea with honey, maybe even a terrible movie that you love way in your bones.

Thank you for your generosity, the ways you have found to describe what they meant to be indescribably, for your words.

“a raid on the inarticulate”

(I googled "graffiti inarticulate" images labeled for reuse, and this image was the sole result returned -- love it!)

My tea is steeping and I want to step down from the panic, the sense that I should be doing something different, that I have to be doing something different. How can I keep breathing, how can I relax?

This is what I imagined — finding words, letting myself be in the place that feels bigger than my identities, than what I’ve decided for myself, letting myself live, for awhile, in that flat open space of humanness, the place where I’ve rarely felt that I belonged, the place of mistakes and love, the place of connectedness, connection.

What do I want to tell you about it. There’s something warm that lives there, a feeling I have that’s beyond this bodily achyness, I could feel it yesterday, I don’t have time to stop and think about it, or try and remember. I just want it to push down through my fingers.

How do we get outside the identities that we’ve talked ourselves into (gay, woman, queer, survivor, what other ones) — but not just those, I mean the specifics about them (new school queer femme dyke, strong, isolated, lonely incest survivor who talks openly and brazenly about sex), what happens when if we want or are something outside of those specifics, what happens when our lives bring us to a place that we have no words for? I read a line about this yesterday, in the book about reflective writing that it’s taking me forever to read (in spite of the fact that it’s fantastic!), so I have to keep checking out from the UCSF library, something from Eliot about every new experience being a battle with the inchoate or the inarticulate.

here’s the quote from Eliot (in “Burnt Norton“) :

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate …

And this is where I’m living now (always living): finding new words for the new thing, this new place, and again I’m in the struggle (and why isn’t it a gift, a blessing, why am I not grateful to be in the struggle?) with the inarticulate, with the feeling that there aren’t words for this experience. This is what we do.

The struggle now is in finding the words for what the body knows, what the body is remembering and offering back to me, and of course, the body knows without words. The body knows in the feeling that was indescribable, had no need of words, the body holds the remembering that was without words, wasn’t allowed words. And so I try to find nuanced language for the dread that can lace through me upon waking — what dread is it this morning? The I stayed up too late kind? The monstrous kind? How do I find words for this thicket, this morass, this molassysludge that lives in my belly and lower intestines and callows the rest of me with numb? And why would I want to? What does it mean? That’s the interesting part (interesting?) — finding words for what I don’t have meaning for (yet).

These are the things I’m wanting to find a way to bring together — expressive writing (including the almost elemental power of metaphor), embodiment (does that mean generative somatics work? embodied expressive writing?), the Lacanian/Foucault-ian engagement with language (and how we are constructed, shaped, how we become what and how we have words for), and the re-welcoming processes for those who have experienced trauma (I mean, those communal rituals that bring a trauma survivor back into community, back into relationship, back into humanness). And one of the ways I learn a thing is to do it, is to experience it, or attempt it. Thanks for being with me in this process/practice.


Is there a feeling in your body (or your character’s body) that you want to understand better? Maybe begin by just describing it, and let yourself describe it, write it, in as much or as little detail as you want, depending on how far you want to go into the feeling. Feel welcome not to describe what it means, or where it’s coming from, or why you’re (or your character is) experiencing this feeling, this sensation. Just focus on describing the sensation itself, so that someone else reading might also be able to embody that feeling — but remember, you don’t have to show the description to anyone else, if you don’t want to!

Thank you for the ways you hold true to the fullness of you, even the bits of you that flush and push past the community-dictated guidelines for particular identities, the ways you are so much more grand than the sum of your gorgeous individual parts. Thank you for that creativity, and for this, here: for your words.

shifting wholeness

graphic of the movement of the continents from Pangea to the present daytoday’s tea is anise – nettle- dandelion – mint. Wake up and ease the belly and lungs.


A gorgeous Erotic Reading Circle last night — stories read from cell phones and paper, blog posts and s/m and sex in long-term relationships and more! Carol and I both read our stories from her book, More 5 Minute Erotica. Next month’s Reading Circle meets on the fourth and last Wed, Feb 23!


This is what came to me last night, or this morning, really, when all of our alarms started going off — and bear with me, because this might end up being something that seemed really profound in the dark of early morning, but in the (closer to) light of day, is really not that interesting, kind of like when you’re stoned and every connection and link between you and the universe is suddenly made visible, or, no, you realize that no links are necessary because you are the universe and the universe is you — and it seems utterly profound until you wake up the next day, lungs clogged and smoky and thick and head pounding, looking at the notes you scrawled–“Universe-me! Us! No bus lines needed!”– and trying to reconnect with the sense of wonder that had flooded through you the night before.

Anyway –

This is what came to me: pangea. Pangea is the way all the continents fit together, before they drifted over the last 200 million years to create the continent arrangement on our planet today. Pangea was the parts all together, before various traumas and tectonic plate shifts caused them to break apart and rearrange.

This is what I thought: we’re pangea when we’re born. And then we break apart. Life breaks us apart. And when we say we want to come together again, is it that we want to reach that Permian state, regain it, reshape ourselves into a single whole? Or is there a way of understanding this new arrangement as also a whole — these parts and the liquid/loss/longing/sorrow/ache/joy flowing in between and amid them: this is what makes us up now.  This is us, undivided.

When I think about all the different parts and selves, I think about wanting unification — and then I think about my language and my metaphors. Must there be a pangeal unification in order for me to feel ‘whole,’ or is there a way to understand myself/selves as already unified within this one me — or as potentially already unified, in communication with one another, if not actively, then psychically, washed over by the same fluid stuff of history and desire?

So, what do you think? This could be the prompt: What is the tectonic arrangement of all of your different selves? I’m not talking only to people who identify as multiples (I don’t identify as such): all of us have different aspects or parts of ourselves: work self, parent, friend, child, student, girl/boyfriend or spouse … do these selves know each other? How do they relate to one another? What does each think of the others? If you are a multiple, how do your different parts relate to the various social selves in you?

Thank you for all the parts and interconnections that have held you together, and that you carry so tenderly. Thank you for your deep and persistent creativity, and for your words.

not back to the grind

graffiti of bright big orange orchid over a woman's faceBack at the day job today — but not back to the grind at all. Instead, I’m un-grinding, gently moving into a new rhythm.

Like most creative folks I know, I’ve got a day job that helps pay the bills; I had a week and a half off between the Xmas and NYE holidays. I had big plans for that time off: I wrote up a schedule that involved going to bed every night at 9 so I could wake up at 4 and do my morning pages, then a blog post, then spend a couple hours on one of the many writing projects that I have indefinitely on hold.Then, I’d take a break for lunch, and afterwards maybe I’d spend some time typing up the writing I did in the morning.  I’d blog! Organize my office! Get all my projects into very useful timelines!

Guess what happened? Of course! I got sick.

Not horribly sick — but the kind of sick that brings fatigue and aches. The kind of sick that doesn’t respond at all well to schedules. Rather than moving snappily through all my plans, checking items off my to-do lists — I slept. I took long hot baths and then climbed into bed for a nap. I spent hours reading Rob Brezny’s Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia (which I highly recommend to everyone. Like, right now.) and Women Who Run With the Wolves (which I’m finally finishing).  I curled up under the deep red shrug/shawl that my mom knitted and sent for Xmas and watched many, many movies (some terrible, natch) and cried and laughed. And when I was hungry, I baked. With wheat. Over the course of the last couple weeks, I made lots of cookies, several batches of biscuits, a couple batches of my french bread (which I got to share mostly with friends) and some soda bread. I made lots of soup from scratch. I hung out in the kitchen and remembered my own rhythms, outside of anyone’s schedule (including the Super Achieving Person in my own head).

I wrote a little, in my journal. Mostly, though, I didn’t write. I caught up on much, much needed sleep. I bathed myself in possibility and rest. When I’m sick, this doesn’t feel like indulgence.

Does anyone else out there recognize that voice? I’ll rest when I’m sick (or, the much more popular, I’ll sleep when I’m dead!). How do you respond to that voice? Or do you? I know, I’ve been proud of my ability to run myself into the ground — like it’s a skill! I find that when I’m at my most over-run (run-over), still, I often require sickness before I’ll slow down: like, I have to be forced to stop, sleep, eat well, replenish.

Not a terribly sustainable — because what happens is that, the busier and crazier I get, the more sick my body responds with. I don’t want to build that back-and-forth any further. So, that’s why I’m thinking about not getting “back to the grind,” now that I’m back to the day job after holiday break (with all my big visions for the new year, as I described yesterday). Instead, I want to think about not grinding at all — how to mesh all these gears together: artistic time, workshop time, day job time, friend time, love time, self time, dog time (we make the gear and then the dog will come!), enough sleep, good food, attention to finances… I’m hunting for new metaphors. Not balls in the air (I’m not a practiced juggler, so that’s just stressful!), not rats in the maze, but what? New sprouts in the garden, maybe?  I’ll keep thinking about this one. If my life isn’t a grind, then what is it?

Here’s a prompt: What’s the language you use to describe your daily life? Is it full of words and metaphors that invoke images or feelings of being chained, ground, wrenched, tied up? Is there other language you could use to talk about your now as you move into and toward your future? Let’s play with this some. Try this — on a sheet of paper, number the lines 1-10. (I always liked the numbering part of any classroom exercise about the best when I was in school.) Draw three vertical lines down the page, one about halfway across the page, one about an inch to the right from that line, one about an inch from the far right side.

1.                                                       |                   |                                  |             |<- edge of page

2.                                                       |                   |                                  |             |<- edge of page

Now, in the middle column, write a verb in the present tense. Fill in all 10 lines with a verb there; try not to think about this — just write the first one that comes to mind:

1.                                                       |  leaps        |                                  |             |<- edge of page

2.                                                       | crabs        |                                  |             |<- edge of page

Now cover that middle column with something else (your hand, a piece of paper). In the last column, write a noun (could be a common noun, like cow or foot, a proper noun, like Grandma or Las Vegas, or a feeling word (like love or hurt). Again, fill in all 10 lines with a the first noun that comes to mind.

1.                                                       |                  |                                  |  cow       |<- edge of page

2.                                                       |                   |                                  |  orchids |<- edge of page

Lastly! Fill the in-between column with “like” or “like a” and then fill the first column with “My life” (or His/Her/Your life, if that resonates better!). You’ll end up with 10 lines that read something like this:

1.    My life leaps like a  cow

2.    Her life crabs  like orchids

The best part about this exercise, of course, is that you end up with similes that often make little logical sense. Let yourself choose one of these and spend some time with it, writing into what it could mean!

And please feel welcome to share any good prompts and/or responses with other readers here!

Thank you for your patience with yourself, particularly with the parts of yourself that are so sure of themselves and others and then get knocked on their butts now and again. Thank you (thank you!) for your words.

Trauma longs for mystery but can only be its angry white self

This is from today’s Healing through Writing workshop, at the Art for Recovery center (a program of Mt. Zion’s Cancer Resource Center). The prompt was a metaphor making exercise: we created a list seven prompts, each of which contained the name of an illness, a common verb, and a noun, creating a sentence like: “trauma cries like a cow” or “breast cancer bleeds like a pen.” Here’s my write:

Trauma jumps like a star, falling over and across the page, across the sky, across through the brother and sister stars—trauma pushes open the places that weren’t supposed to be open, sheds light where before there was only an arc of black sky.

Trauma rends things, tears me, but what’s true is that after – after – I’m more open.

Here’s where I’m always left, in this reconciliation: how can it be that what was so awful could have left me a person I like now, softened, surprisable?  Something I wish never would have happened, would over and over go back in time and change if I could, and still here and now I am grateful for this one life, just as it is and was.

Trauma walks in like a gun and douses like rainbows, sets down its bags and stays awhile, lives like motion and time, names new histories than the ones you thought you were going to have had.  Trauma moves the goal posts and sings off key and drunkenly at the karaoke machine, trauma eats with its fingers and makes a mess on your clean kitchen floor. Trauma unlocks all the echoes and waits for no trains to come, it takes off at a run for the next moving car and then leaps.

Trauma longs for mystery but can only be its angry white self, trauma separates the white from the yolk and then smears everything together on the backs of your eyes, occluding all clear recollection, stopping the distance, the horizon, from coming up on you fast, stopping tomorrow from being visible at all.  Trauma lessens the possibility of memory by feeding you drinks and shouting in your ear then it’s gone and your sweltering in a cool silent room and the curtains billow in the evening shade breeze and you wonder how you got here and what this sticky stuff is on your hands and you don’t understand yet that your angry beating heart will be the one truest friend that you have for years.