Tag Archives: morning write

What I did this summer…

a line drawing of a long-haired woman with one eye closed holding closed fists in front of her face - words on her fists read "'cause if it wasn't for all of your torture, I wouldn't know how to be this way now and never back down, so I wanna say thank you"

This is a photo I took in Lisbon; part of the #shitgirlsdo project

… or “Yes, we live in patriarchy, and women have been telling you forever that they’re being assaulted by men from infancy through childhood, into adolescence, all through their working and mothering years and all the way up until they die, thanks for finally listening I suppose now you want us to give you a medal”

(This is very long. All summer I’ve been repeating to myself that I can’t write, I’m blocked, I sit down and nothing comes — but the truth is, I have been writing, getting words on paper, struggling through depression and with a feeling of complete helplessness in the face of this current cultural conversation that has been so innocuously labelled #metoo. So this morning, after waking at 12:30am, once again unable to sleep, I decided to combine the morning writes I’d already typed up, and realized they served as a kind of back-to-school essay: “What I did this summer.”)

 

June 13

Last night I tried to get inside what has felt like enervation around writing. I sit down to write, especially to blog, and all the energy just drains out of my body. I get tired and then I sit back and look through the sheer brown curtain covered with white circles, I look out to the backyard, the brown fence, the ivy climbing the brown fence and the treetops above the fence, the eucalyptus beyond, and then the white that is the sky. I look out and my mind goes blank like the sky, goes white like that, goes empty. I try and think about what point it makes that I’m here doing this. 

white stenciled graffiti: "where is the love?"

Lisbon street art

Type one sentence then stop. Type one sentence then stop. 

Look at the candle, look through the film of the curtain. This room is full of books. Full of possibility, of the material I have surrounded myself with for a lifetime. I try and understand it, this sense of not having anything to say, maybe not being able to get my mouth my words big enough to encompass what needs to be said.

It’s not that there’s nothing to say, but that there’s too much. Do you feel that way sometimes, too?

 It’s not that I don’t want to know these stories of violation, it’s not that I don’t want to hear about the crimes. It’s something about the way they are reported. Every time we’re supposed to react with shocked surprise. The media treat each incident like it’s unique, disconnected from the larger society or anything that happened before. 

The headline reads, “Sexual Assault on School Campuses Has to Stop,” as though 1) that wasn’t obvious, and 2) it only needed to stop on school campuses. 

The headlines are meant to do a job. They are meant to call your attention. So they must use this language this energy this sense of breathless astonishment. Each news story must be about something new. So we are hearing about assaults on college campuses and a culture of sexual violence at workplaces as though they are somehow not wholly related, wholly interwoven with one another. We are hearing about sexual harassment as though it’s somehow separate from the culture of pedophelia in the Catholic Church. We are hearing about the men who excuse the violence of other men in workplaces or on college campuses or in doctor’s offices or in professional kitchens or in Silicon Valley or in philanthropy or in sacristy or a schul or in sex-positive communities or in social change communities as though it’s not wholly related to what it means to be a man in cultures around the world. But those of us who have lived through it know that it’s all of a piece. None of this is unrelated. 

a tangle of brown, spray painted graffiti on a white cement-block wall

Lisbon graffiti

If this were a movie about a renegade virus, about the fear and panic around an outbreak of a disease, the scientists would have a map and they would be coloring in all the different places where outbreaks had already occurred. On the map showing outbreaks of sexual violence, there wouldn’t be any part of any map that wasn’t colored in. But we pretend like each incident reported in the news is a unique and disconnected site of outbreak. But no. They are all sites of the same disease: the sexual assault of women and children, the assumption that women’s bodies and children’s bodies are available for men to take and use as they so desire. Because we as a society have told men that they deserve this access, that they are the strong ones, they are the powerful ones, they are the ones who can keep us safe, and in exchange, we give them our bodies, and our children’s bodies. Is this the exchange we want to keep making? is this the devil’s bargain? Because here’s the heading — they aren’t even keeping us safe. It’s a bad fucking bargain. We have been harmed at their hands, in their homes, under their watch, in their churches, in their workplaces, in their schools, even in the groups that they organize to resist and create change.

If you are a man reading this and you are thinking to yourself, but I haven’t ever hurt anyone, I am delighted if that is true. But the work is on your shoulders now. What an awful thing, to be associated with such violence and harm. Don’t you want to do everything you can to change the story, to change the truth? To uproot this disease that has so taken hold? 

My therapist told me last week about a personality study, which showed that men could admit to feelings or acts of sexual violence and still be deemed sane, still fall within the range of normal, acceptable behavior. (Women, on the other hand, were found insane if they admitted to such thoughts or acts). We don’t find this behavior in men insane. We expect it. We indoctrinate them into it. We tell them it’s their right. 

So the disease metaphor doesn’t really work, does it? It can’t be a disease if it’s utterly enculturated, if it is part of what we call man, in this country and around the world. This behavior — the sexual assault of women and children — is not seen as problematic enough to unseat men from their thrones. You see the rise in nationalisms, fundamentalist communities, right-wing and violent belief systems — these movements are the armies that seek to keep men in their positions of power. 

So what do we do? How do we sustain ourselves? How do we hold on to the ideas, the possibilities, of things changing, in the face of such horror and resistance, especially when we get triggered every time we turn on the fucking news or open any social media site? I’ve been turning off the news. I’ve been avoiding Facebook. I’ve been reading books by women, by women from around the world, I’ve been in the garden, I’ve been baking, and I’ve been eating. I sit in the sun. Every time I try to force myself into some other feeling or state of mind, I end up feeling worse — so I try to let this feeling be, I try to accept this feeling of enervation, which is actually rage turned inward. 

graffiti of hands reaching toward a green origami bird

Lisbon graffiti

She’s just inside me, barely under the surface, that twenty-four year old who was yelling at anyone who would listen about violence against women — I guess I’m surprised that there can still be people in the world who find these “revelations” to be revelatory; haven’t women been saying for generations that we have been under assault from men? But, of course, we were not believed by the men in power, we were ignored or silenced by the women too afraid to reach for change, who sought security in the cave of the monster. 

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the Sunday times, and found rape in every section of the newspaper. It’s everywhere, all the time. But Jeff Sessions doesn’t want to allow women to be granted asylum here just because their husbands beat the shit out of them and their governments refuse to intervene — if we say it’s wrong there, well then by god, we might have to say it’s wrong here, and we don’t want to do that, do we? 

Maybe we should see this backlash as a positive step. If we pull back and look at that larger picture, the map of disease over place and time — I read somewhere recently that if you feel the resistance, you know that you are making change. They are pushing back so hard against us because they believe that we are creating real change in this country and around the world. Of course they are not just going to lay down their power and walk away. Of course they are going to fight and say it’s righteous, say it’s god’s way, say it’s the natural order of things, make whatever frantic ridiculous excuse they can for their need to keep hold of the right to violate the bodies of women and children whenever they want to.

I’ve been thinking about how to step out of the stream of news, the reports of violence, the violence of this language (someone is brought down, a man is brought down by sexual assault scandal — nope, he’s brought down because someone finally, probably after many many years of violating others, spoke out, someone broke their silence; he is brought down by his decisions and his very own behavior). 

The enervation is the other side of rage, maybe the other side of grief, too. The enervation is like depression, but without the tears. 

Firing that one guy won’t make the change that we seek. Because it’s not about that one guy.

 

statue of a man standing on top of a pedestal; below, at the base, is a statue of a woman and child - the woman points, directing her child's attention to the man standing up top -- meanwhile, her ankle is still chained

Lisbon statue; she’s directing her child’s attention to the important man standing up top — meanwhile, her ankle is still chained

June 14

I’m thinking this morning about the struggle involved in pulling oneself out of a closed system, out of a system of thought and control that’s so all pervasive it’s designed to keep you within its grasp, I mean, a system designed to confine you to one way of thought and thinking, so pervasive that it seems impossible to see it for what it is, to examine it from the outside because it seems that there is no outside from which to apprehend it. 

I’ve been trying to make sense of the particular fatigue I feel around writing these days — not all writing, just writing that’s intended to participate in any sort of current cultural conversation, which has been made difficult because I feel repelled by the language being used. I refuse the terms, I don’t agree with how we are talking about things. 

Yesterday it was this: the medical profession is having its own #metoo moment. It’s a phrase meant to connect to a meme, a term that’s been deemed acceptable by mainstream media because #metoo is somehow less frightening or threatening than rape culture or patriarchy. What is a metoo moment? These days, that phrase is intended to convey the idea that a person or a workplace or an industry is (finally) being called (not by victims, but finally by persons with power to impact change — the victims have been speaking out forever, have been silenced or shamed or fired) to admit to and do something to change their historical and present-day culture of systemic sexual violence. A “moment” in popular culture parlance is supposed to evoke a flash in the pan, something that’s been given its fifteen minutes, a little time to shine in the sun of our attention but will disappear underneath the Next Thing soon enough. 

This is the language that gets used these days — some person or place of business or particular industry is having their moment under the spotlight, is undergoing a reckoning, is revealed publicly to be sexually violent, possibly unrepentantly so. 

And we are meant to think, No way, there, too? Him, too? As though sexual violence isn’t everywhere, a part of patriarchal culture, intricately interwoven in the masculinity with which we indoctrinate our sons (and other children)? As though it isn’t absolutely everywhere, all the time?

But, “Yes, we live in patriarchy, and women have been telling you forever that they’re being assaulted by men from infancy through childhood, into adolescence, all through their working and mothering years and all the way up until they die, thanks for finally listening I suppose now you want us to give you a medal” doesn’t really make for a clickbait headline.

I turn off the news for awhile — I started doing so actively since we began hearing the story of Brock Turner’s assault and subsequent trial. Something about that incident in particular, his six-month sentence, the shit both his father and the judge had to say, that kind of knocked me over the edge of hope. I kept working and writing, I kept believing and supporting survivors, but I began to pull in. I couldn’t respond in public writing to that particular story, even though I felt like I should somehow. It happened right here in the Bay Area, it was my backyard, it was a college-educated young man at a progressive school, a young man raised after Antioch, raised, I would have thought, with lessons about consent and respect, raised with the message that real men don’t rape. But it didn’t matter. This progressive education, all our skits and writing classes and rap sessions didn’t do anything in the face of the matterhorn that is male privilege and patriarchal entitlement. He still got the message about who was important and who wasn’t. And his father and the entire judicial system backed him up, when the time came.

So what could we do? What was I doing? What difference had any of my work made? Young men are still being trained to rape as a matter of course, as a part of their passive education. They are still getting the message that It’ll be ok if they “slip”—they’ll be protected, since they’re the ones who matter. Even as we claim to be teaching girls that they have power, they are strong, they have a voice, they get to use that voice. So now we live in a world in which exists a subculture of men who are murderously enraged to recognize that women have agency and might say no.

After awhile I turn the news back on and immediately implode with resentful outrage upon hearing/reading another more story about another more man violating many, many women and/or children that is reported as though I’m supposed to be surprised to learn this information and am supposed to see th

sticker image, line drawing of a woman with cracks running through her torso -- overlaid are the words, "There's a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in."

Lisbon street art; from #shitgirlsdo project

is man as an individual problem (maybe mentally ill) and not another datapoint in a worldwide reality, just another instantiation of patriarchy, another man just doing what he was raised to do (and had been told, directly and indirectly, for years, was perfectly acceptable).

The words we use, the way we talk about a thing, impacts the way we understand that thing, impacts the way we perceive it, the way we can know it. When we say, “Oh, that guy got caught up in the #metoo movement” or “he was felled by a sexual assault scandal,” all responsibility is removed from the hands of the abuser. It wasn’t his actions that brought him down, it was this movement, it was these feminists, it was those women, it was something outside of him. That language matters. It furthers the narrative that we are (already, after about ten seconds) taking things too far, casting too wide a net (because this is about nets and capturing and we’re supposed to see most of the guys complaining as innocent little dolphins caught up in the tuna catch, as opposed to members of a system from which they have benefited since birth, whether or not they have actively raped a classmate or sexually harassed a coworker).

I have been accused now and again of seeing sexual violence everywhere. Surely, folks have said to me, your history and the work you do has primed you to see it everywhere. Are there some of those same folks who might want to return to that conversation now? Can we agree that, actually, I (and other survivors and other activists) see it everywhere because it is, in fact, everywhere. 

How do we step to the side of this overwhelm and rage and despair and continue to function and/or get work done and/or even continue to believe that a better world is possible? I one thing that’s given me any hope in the recent months is the raid on the Chilean Catholic Church the other day — a government entity actually willing to take on the worldwide power of that institution that has caused so much harm and damage around the world for hundreds of years. That news gave me a little twinge, a little flash, inside, of “maybe.”

 

July 16

Oh, it’s morning and I’m home. 

The keyboard is louder than I’d like, but the other one on the computer itself makes it difficult for me to write at all. Maybe another one, another option. What’s this place and possibility? I’m back in my chair at this desk in this basement outside these walls beneath this hill inside this forest of live oaks and scrub after two weeks in Lisbon. 

photo of a tile pasted to a wall, painted with blue lines and the words "it's okay to be"

Lisbon street art

It’s quiet here, and last night, after you left, I had to turn on the sounds just to get to sleep — thought that’s not so unusual when you’re away. We had seventeen hours together — you counted — between you picking me up at SFO and me dropping you off there again. I cried when I watched you go through security and head off to your gate. I wondered, is this what parents feel? What is this thing in me that has these feelings, this need to be with you? Something deeper than hunger and desire — something deeper than sex. Your face appeared from behind a group of travelers when I came out of the gates to the waiting area, not having had to go through customs when getting back here because we’d done it already in Canada, in Toronto. I hurried out, once I realized, I walked faster, almost trotting, not quite running, let’s not be ridiculous. I scanned the place for you, looked int he seating area, looked up the aisles from which you might be approaching — I was getting out so much sooner than either of us had thought I would. But I didn’t see you and I figured you were still parking. I looked then for a place to wait, maybe a place with a cup of tea. I hadn’t slept, I was fragrant with sweat, with plane smells, with travel, with the dust of now three different countries on my face and clothes. And then the group of travelers walked on and there you were, leaning against a railing at the bottom of a flight of stairs,. in your black t-shirt, watching me with your side smile.You didn’t move. You were waiting for me, you were patient. You let me find you with my eyes.

It’s not that I didn’t want to make new friends or meet new people while I was at this writing workshop— it’s that I missed the people who know me in my bones already. Who hear the layers of me when I speak, who know my undersides and curves and nuances. Is this a new feeling? It kind of seems like a new feeling. 

There are other words I’m looking for. Maybe this is a place of what love is, a piece of it — this opening to another’s presence in your life, in your skin. Maybe there aren’t really words for this thing. That’s what poetry is for. Outside the trees are just coming into view. It got to the point that I couldn’t wait to get home. Lisbon was an excellent trip, an astonishing experience, especially getting to go alone — I was hungry for that, too. I became aware, in Lisbon, that I am happy in my life so much of the time now. Could that be true?

Here is the bird awake at 5:30. These mornings in Lisbon were met with voices, people passing by along Rua L. S., still drunk or just awake, maybe hollering at someone inside the building across the way as the construction work got started. Mornings meant cool air, mostly clouds, and the birds, swallows mostly, but pigeons and seagulls, too, calling into daylight, calling the day. I sat for little bits on the terrace, looked over to the Taugus river and the bank beyond, but mostly sat inside, away from the voices, from the wind or the sun. It’s a strange thing not to wish to be back there, not to wish to be away from here, not to wish for something different from what I have and am in my life. 

 

graffiti of a koala hanging onto a cactus

Lisbon graffiti

This is a new thing. All weeks, those two weeks, I felt grateful that I had lived this long to get to this place of possibility — traveling with a desire for home.

I loved being there, being on my own, walking where I wanted whenever I wanted. I loved all the discovery and possibility. But I got tired, too.

I met people in Lisbon, at Disquiet, but spent very little time with others. I had a couple of meals with other people, maybe just one, two, and coffee, and went to workshops and some readings and a couple of the gatherings, but the gatherings at the miradours (and especially, of course, at the bar) were about drinking; there was the open bar at the embassy, the wine receptions — these were about gathering over alcohol, helping to ease the nervousness, something. What happens when I spend time with people who are drinking hard is that I feel farther and farther away from them — like they are at a party I can’t attend anymore, they are going off to their part of the world and I can’t join them.

What are you drinking, they’d say. Tea, I’d show them, And they’d nod and smile and say something about how healthy I was, how smart. 

Of course I feel like I missed out — those are the places where the connecting happens, the deepening, the conversations and openness and curiosity and revelations, the mutual riskiness. 

I took pictures and shared them with the family and made little notes and comments so I could share what I was seeing and experiencing. Now I am home and it’s quiet, there are no shouting-singers, no drunks outside the window, no music from the bar (which was mostly quite nice, in all its variations), no construction noises, no trucks or motorcycles or foghorns or dogs barking (at least not right now). It’s foggy outside. Sophie andI will go to the park and walk, and I will take out a notebook and try and find words for what I want to say next, what I want to do. The novel, the workshops. This was a good transition, this time in Lisbon. 

In Lisbon I moved every day, nearly all day — 6, 8, 11 miles walking. climbing. Last night out with Sophie I felt the impact — sure, we can walk down the trail and then come back up the hill. That will be no problem. But it was late and I was in the wrong shoes so we only went down part way and then came back — but maybe later today. Maybe this evening. I like this office space and this quiet. The house feels enormous after the studio with the slanted roof, ceiling, on which I ith my head so many times I think the bruises are still healing. Our kitchen, the fact of the dishwasher and washing machine, the fact of the space outside, how good it feels to move. 

  

August 14

sicker art, black and white image of a girl holding a frog and leaning in for a kiss

Lisbon street art (don’t do it, girl child — kissing the frog is never worth it)

I’ve been trying to get to the page all day. I’m trying something else now. Now I have the tv on and I’m at the couch and I’m listening, the upper mind occupied. I decide I’m going to go to a cafe, then change my mind. I get set up at the desk downstairs at 6, and get as far as naming this document, and then I start scrolling through the documents from around this time in 2010 and 2011, revisiting who I was. 

I have tea, the notebook and pen. I sit down and all the old addictions scream at me — or do they scream? They whisper. They are simple and comforting. They talk to me like they make sense, they are easy, they are — how do I say this — they are my friends. My long-term companions. They sound so reasonable: You’re going to be fine. Don’t worry about it now, don’t get stressed. You can do that later. You’ve got so much time. So much time. Go ahead and eat something now. Open up Facebook, check out what’s happening in the world.

What is it that keeps me from sitting down at my desk, sitting down with the notebook, pushing in? My throat speaks up now. Let’s eat, it says. There’s food upstairs, right? There’s cereal and the rest of the galette that mom left, there are cookies that Ellen doesn’t want, there’re tortillas, I could make quesadillas, make popcorn. Eat eat eat. watch tv. I come downstairs, shut the doors, keep the light out. It’s grey outside, but the sun is coming — isn’t it? 

I wanted to get started today, I wanted to come back. I wanted to find a way in, to start to explain where I’ve been, why I haven’t been writing here. Why I haven’t been seen, why I’m out of view. How much longer do I have to wait? I read through the morning writes from August, September 2010, and that woman was wanting out, imagining a long road trip, a house in the country, someplace quiet, isolated, someplace small, inexpensive, someplace I could afford — me and Sophie, just us, we would make a space just for ourselves. I read through those old writes, journal entries, longings, and I find that I have so much of what I wanted then. I was asking myself, over and over, if it made sense for me to feel the way I did, if it was normal for people in relationships to dislike each other sometimes, or even often, to have moments (or long stretches) when they didn’t communicate well or at all. Now I’m on the couch, and Sophie is at the other side of the couch, she’s on a warm blanket, she’s folded into herself, we are together. 

What’s coming? The parole letter. Am I afraid that I won’t say enough, that I won’t say it right, that I won’t have the words. Don’t I want everyone to know? How do I say it? 

On August 29, I’ll be in a room at the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, NE, asking the parole board not to grant parole to the man who abused me, my sister, and my mother, and harmed countless other people in the community, 

He’s been given a parole hearing, which means he’s being considered for parole. Which means he’s been deemed — what? — worthy of early release. Rehabilitated. Safe enough to be released into the community.  This man. 

He’s also been moved to a community corrections facility — from which he may be allowed to leave, work in the community, without regular, consistent supervision (though he may have to wear an ankle monitor, which would give us a little peace of mind). 

This isn’t flowing, there’ s no poetry in it. 

graffiti image of a woman holding her hands over her chest; branches are growing out of her

Lisbon street art

When did we learn about the hearing? February? February. My sister found the information online. Thank goodness she was monitoring it herself; the corrections department didn’t get in touch with us until June, I think. If we’d waited, we wouldn’t have found out until very close to the date itself. 

I don’t have much energy for this now, Is that right? It’s not that I don’t have energy. It’s not that I don’t have words, but I have too many. Is it that I get flooded, swamped? 

The popcorn is right upstairs. 

 I’m trying to figure out what to say, how do I know what to say to the parole board that will convince them that he should not be out of jail, he shouldn’t even be in the minimum security prison.

We learned that he had been moved to this minimum security prison while I was in Portugal; I spent several days in a panic, in a fury, in a rage. What do we have to do? What else would he have to have done to us for him to be deemed, to be seen as the threat, the violent predator, that he is? 

I try to remember everything that I wanted to say, that I was feeling, the ways I swirled and fell into grief. What will it take? This man controls, threats, shames, hits, rapes us for a decade, and he’s going to get let out. Men who got arrested a few times for smoking a joint, those guys are in forever. 

I keep thinking I’m going to be able to write about this. And then I get quiet inside, not cold exactly, but blank. Not shut, not stoppered, but like I’m up against the criminal justice system, once again. 

The popcorn is still calling me. It gets louder. It’s not insistent, exactly, but like a presence, like it’s already in my throat. Like what difference does this make? But that’s not it — more like, you can keep going with this after you have me, says the popcorn. Even though I know it doesn’t work that way. If I stop here, I won’t start again today. 

spray painted graffiti: GRL PWR GRL PWR GRL PWR

Lisbon graffiti

August 15

It’s dark outside, and I’m listening for the owls. Yesterday I got started, I was here in the morning, I was ready to write something about the hearing that I would post on facebook or the blog or something, but I stopped. I read old morning writes, I thought about who I was 8, 7 years ago at this time. And who I was was hurting. It’s exhausting to read, draining. Just leave, I want to tell her. Just go. It’s not going to get any better. The longer you stay, the harder it’s going to get to go. 

Did I want to say something about Portugal, about the workshops, about what I do and why? Why is it that I’m so tired when I think about writing these days? I get exhausted, overwhelmed — why would I spell it out? Who cares?

I get so sick when I use Facebook — literally sick to my stomach. Is there another way to do it? I manage to spend time there in ways that are harmful to me. These days, when I go to Facebook, I search out controversy — not to engage in it, just to read, to immerse myself in, to bathe. These are situations in which I have some marginal connection (community, friends of friends, or old friends. people I once knew), writing vitriolically about situations or issues that matter a great deal to me generally, even though I don’t have any involvement in the specific situation. In one case, the writing all had to do about an altercation at this year’s dyke march; in another case, it has to do with a student of an old friend writing about how she felt emotionally and psychically harmed by my friend’s actions when he was her teacher. In both cases, voices are utterly polarized.. There’s a clear line down the middle between two camps, two opposing opinions, two visions of reality, two interpretations of reality — both camps/groups feel wholly in the right, certain of their point of view and interpretation of events and memories; everyone is righteous and clear. Each side is fighting the good fight, trying to make the world a better place, only speaking up the way that they are to help others who might find themselves in similar situations. Incident reports, letters to the editor, callings in, callings out: these are all intended in each of these cases, to make visible what (those speaking believe) has been kept invisible, hidden, ignored by their communities, or media, or the public at large. In both cases, there’s actual violence that’s occurred — humans have been harmed in meatspace (as we used to call it), offline; one person used their body to physically harm or threaten another body, in one case absolutely intentionally.  And yet what I’m drawn into is the violence online—our language, the way we talk to each other when we know we are right, when we have a message we want to teach, when we are experts and others need educating, when we have been silenced or ignored or shamed maybe by mainstream society and we know where to go to land some punches: we look around us, to the people who were supposed to be protecting or standing beside us, to our allies (and what does this word mean today, especially in an online context?), to our communities. This used to be called horizontal hostility, punching sideways at those standing with you because you can’t or don’t seem to be having any impact at those who are standing on your head and shoulders, directing your anger about oppression at those who are suffering similar oppression to you, rather than at those who are causing the oppression. 

I know what it’s like to feel so righteous, to feel so certain of my answers, of my anger. 

I was thinking, while I was in Maine, about the time I spend online these days. There was an article in the NYT one morning, “The Trolls have Won,” which made it sound as if the author believed that the trolls won just recently. But I think it’s social media that did it, that gave the trolls their final bridge into the mainstream (well, that and the comments sections on every site these days). So, thank you, Facebook, thank you Twitter. 

Sticker art, black and white image of a naked woman wearing mickey mouse ears

Lisbon street art

I’ve been online since 1990— nearly 30 fucking years. Once I loved it — I loved what seemed possible: the sharing of information around the world, the ability to connect with those you might never be able to meet in person, the ability to find support and resources around things you couldn’t talk about in meatspace — when I was first coming out as in incest survivor, I was terrified to go to police or therapist, I was afraid to check out books or buy them in a real store, but I could go to purely text-based newsgroups and talk with strangers about what I was going through; this was a time when it was still a sane thing to do to be anonymous online, is that how I want to say it, when being anonymous didn’t necessarily mean you were a hacker or a troll. It just meant you weren’t ready to give your name, you were afraid for your safety or your job, so you visited alt.sex.motss undercover of pseudonym, handle, just to be safe. 

It doesn’t even make sense to say things are different now. It’s not even apples and oranges; this thing that’s available to me through web browser or email or app bears almost no resemblance to the place I spent so much time in the 90s – though of course this world existed then. There were trolls and what we used to call flame wars (and now call calling out or having a conversation on twitter); there were codes of conduct in every community — folks, those who’d been around longer, reminded the newbies: don’t feed the trolls. Don’t engage them. Don’t give them what they want: attention, energy, time. There have always been trolls, those folks who, in any situation, online or off, will make a comment just to get a rise out of someone, to piss people off; this is the guy who always has to play devil’s advocate in any discussion, or the woman who just needs to point out every slip up of language or terminology — I can’t take you seriously if you describe your feelings as dark, or some such. 

At this point, mostly, going online feels like (I forget where I read this) walking into a public square where everyone is yelling at the top of their voice. 

What is it in me now that goes to Facebook for this sort of indulgence, this sort of sticky so-called pleasure: here are people arguing righteously, shouting at people they used to call friends, allies; here we are, standing up for our people, showing off how educated, how woke we are, using the right (and right now) words to put others down, to reveal their ignorance, their backwards thinking.

The way I spend time online is taking me back to those days when I laid on the couch and watched talk shows all day, too depressed and frightened to get up, to leave the house, I watched Jerry Springer, Sally Jesse Raphael, Rikki Lake — these shows fostered the idea that we’d watch real people talk about their troubles, that they hosted brave folks who are exposing difficulties that are shameful or scary in order to help us, the audience, so that we don’t have to go through whatever it was alone.  Maury — right. There was Maury, too. But after watching these shows, I usually felt gross, like I’d just participated in a public shaming or humiliation. Here were folks who’d likely been paid some small (comparatively) amount of money to let people berate them in front of an audience of thousands, at least. who revealed terrible things about themselves, who leveled accusations, who screamed at family, at loved ones, who got more and more entrenched in whatever view or opinion they’d been called on to television to defend or change. The host asked personal, leading questions, and the guests cried or grew angry, the audience grew angry or scandalized, shouted, booed, cheered — 

Go back further: the stocks. The public hearings. The coliseum. Football. Rugby. We gather to bear witness to the suffering of others, not to ease their suffering, but for our own entertainment, to pass the time. To pass the time. 

 

August 16

red spray-painted graffiti, "poesia não basta"

Lisbon street art; poetry is not enough

It never really gets dark here, there’s always light in the clouds from the city; on clear nights, it’s a little bit darker, but when do we have clear nights? Yesterday I took BART into Oakland, to the office. The office was quiet (mostly) and it felt good to be there. I spent hours in front of the tv yesterday; that’s going to be the name of my biography: she spent hours in front of the tv. Always the same sitcoms. The same stories, I know these shows by heart. What is it that I’m getting from them?

Why am I so quiet inside? Why aren’t the words pushing up, bubbling, now that I’m back home? In Maine, I was ready to write — I left the beach, went in to the bookstore to get work done, to sit with the notebook. But now I just feel quiet and empty. Yesterday I was writing about how terrible the internet is. A couple of days ago, I posted something about the hearing on the 29th, and I’ve had an enormous response — people from all parts of my life showing up, sharing words of concern and support, asking what they can do, telling me I can do it. I go to FB for things like this — to reach out for love and concern — and then I tend not to offer it back much, because I spend such little time there. 

Two weeks in Lisbon, then three weeks in Maine. So little time in front of any screens. In Portugal, I walked — I left the tiny studio and moved my body through the city, miles every day. It was like when I first got to San Francisco, and felt too cheap to pay for the bus or subway, so I just walked, wanted to see everything, find my way by foot. If I were in Maine alone, there would be days I didn’t drive, days I didn’t leave the beach. We get in the car to drive to ice cream, some days that’s it. I drive in to a cafe for writing when everyone else is around — how would it be if I had the place to myself? Something about getting in the car, having to drive, having to surround myself that way, inflict traffic on myself, launch my body into that fray. Is it agoraphobia or something else, something broader, or smaller — wanting to be home, wanting to be able to walk to what I need, hasn’t that always been my desire? And yet I’ve never really made it for myself — maybe at Madison, that was the closest.

spray-painted image of an octopus with her tentacles tangled around a red heart

Lisbon street art

In Lisboa I walked. I put a book in my bag, a bottle of water, and took myself to little outdoor cafes, In Maine, when we were alone I read everyday, 10, 11, books in a week.

Am I feeling left out, left behind? Or like I’m intentionally stepping off the racetrack. I’m just not interested in keeping up with every podcast, every new show, every stream of content, Content is king, you say when I’m astonished that a network has decided to make not a movie but a tv show from one of the books we read in Maine, Sharp Objects by Gillian something — not Anderson, that’s the woman from the X-Files, a show I also didn’t watch? After we got home, we started watching the latest season of Orange is the New Black, but it was all violence immediately — guards beating the women indiscriminately, sadistically, forcing them to have sex with each other, the women tearing at each other over old injuries. Nope. We turned it off after the first episode and didn’t go back.

In the newspaper I can read about the Catholic Church and the latest revelations about their covering up priests’ abuses, violations of children. I can read about a man who shot his wife and children after a several-month-long struggle over custody. I can read about men blowing up a bus full of children, about white women calling the cops on black kids selling water, about the world’s atrocities. It’s not a thing that ends, or that’s going to end. Men are trained by other men to seek power, influence. If you are not a man that seeks power and influence, you’re not really a man. The sexual assault of women and children goes along with this, like a side car, like a carnival prize. It’s one way to display your power, to show the world that you’re a real man.

 

spray-painted graffiti of an owl, eyes closed, resting on a perch

Lisbon graffiti

September 20

 I was hoping for owls at this hour, but nothing yet.

I don’t know — how are you doing with this whole Brett Kavanaugh thing? Of course I’m not surprised that we, as a society, are having the same conversations about men’s violence or predatory or threatening or aggressive behavior that we had when Dr. Hill came forward about Clarence Thomas’ behavior toward her. What’s astonishing to me is that the Senate delayed the process for a single week, and are at least pretending to take this new information seriously. Take this in contrast with the response to every new revelation of shitty or sexist or predatory or violent behavior on the part of our President. (I can’t look up links to the stories right now because I will get distracted from the writing and so angry and more deeply depressed that I won’t be able to write anymore. That’s what’s happened so often over the last few weeks when I sit down and try to write something for the blog.)

What’s crazy-making are the public conversations, the constant repetition in the press of the details of his actions toward her (yes, please, say it again — there might be a couple of folks in your listening audience who aren’t triggered yet). What’s crazy-making is this sense that we’re shouting into the wind. That there can still, and it seems there always will be, be more weight given to a man than to a woman — I mean, a man’s word will be given more weight and credibility if he’s responding to a single woman (I keep saying, if you’re going to be raped or assaulted or harassed, make sure that your assailant assaults others, too, so that you’ll have others to back you up if you ever decide to go to some authority to hold him accountable for his actions). The woman is still the one portrayed as tattling, as the little girl pointing on the schoolyard and whining, It’s not fair!

What’s crazy-making is hearing folks say, over and over, I don’t know, he’s a really great guy, it’s hard to believe he could do something like this. (The subtext is, “I never saw him rape anybody; how can I believe you if I didn’t see it with my own eyes?” How many millions of people have had this thought about priests who were actively (or are now) harming children?) 

Yes, the actions one commits as a young person, a young adult, matter. This is someone being considered for a lifetime appointment to a court where he will be making decisions that affect the lives of all women in the country. 

Do we really need to hear the question, why didn’t she come forward earlier, over and over again? Do we need to say Clarance Thomas over and over again? *We do, actually — because his isn’t the name that I’m hearing. The name that I’m hearing on every reporter’s and commentator’s lips is Anita Hill. She is the one who carries the weight of his actions, because she’s the one who named them publicly. He gets to just be a supreme court justice. She — though she is a respected and successful law professor — gets to be the one who said those things about a man in front of Congress. When someone says, Anita Hill in the media, it’s a kind of short-hand for the whole situation: the fact that he behaved abominably towards her, he was elevated in his career, she believed that his actions in the workplace revealed a great deal about his feelings towards women, his respect for them, which would, necessarily, impact his professional judgement, and so she chose to bring this information to light. When we hear Clarence Thomas, we think, supreme court. 

spray painted graffiti: "You sexist me, I feminist you"

Lisbon graffiti

It’s absolutely not fair.

I’m still walking around in the aftermath of the parole hearing. Last month, my sister and mother and father and I all travelled to Lincoln, NE, where we spoke in front of the parole board, making the arguments that the man who had abused my sister and me should not be released on parole. It seems pretty straightforward, right? But the in-practice, the whole thing was not straightforward at all. 

Sometimes you go through something very big, and life goes on as usual after it’s finished, and on the outside you look like your normal, functional adult self, but on the inside, you know that you’re not ok, and sometimes it’s all you can do to take the most basic care of yourself. Maybe you return to your life and have others to care for, a busy job, a great deal to keep your mind occupied. Maybe you don’t. I don’t. It’s been very hard for me to concentrate on much since I got back from Nebraska. There have been a couple of health crises, and of course workshops to attend to, and during those I can show up, of course. But then the workshop ends or the crisis is concluded (thank goodness), and everyone leaves and goes out into their lives and I am back in this place of stasis. It looks and feels like depression — very tired but unable to sleep well, aching body, unable to concentrate, unable to see the point in almost anything I do. It’s a deeper depression than I’ve been through in awhile, and I keep beating myself up for not being more functional, not getting more writing done, not Doing More Things. It’s all so heavy and full; everything feels like it takes twice or five times as much energy to complete. 

So I make tea. I watch familiar and friendly old shows. I eat too much. I avoid email and phone calls. If I were back in school, I’d be developing or nurturing some new sexual obsession in order to take my mind off my grief and rage. I’d take myself out dancing a bunch of times — or I’d just drink too much with my friends. 

I’ll write about it here eventually; the news keeps derailing me. 

 

sticker art: "livres habitamos a substancia do tempo, Sophia de Mello Breyner"

Lisbon street art; Google translates as “free we inhabit the substance of time”

September 25

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

I don’t know how to build this story, or make it pretty. I can’t sleep these days. I wake up in the middle of the night, try to sleep again, turn over, shift, try to go back to sleep, cant. Tonight I woke up at 12:30, and finally got out of bed an hour later. I make tea, come to the desk, light my candles, and sit down not feeling especially hopeful, just resigned. Something deeper and sadder than resigned. Something older and much angrier.

Are you taking care of yourself these days? Are you getting enough sleep, eating well, staying connected with friends, those who love you, writing or painting or otherwise doing creative work that brings you joy and opens you to permeability? 

Me, either.

Last night, listening to the radio about this third — what do we call it — this third description of B. K.’s deeply respectful behavior toward women — let me give a link here, I’m not going to recite the details right now, as they are awful — I wanted to throw all the chairs off the deck. I wanted to break something big and heavy, toss it in the air and watch it smash on the concrete below. I wanted to do something irreparable. I wanted to know how it felt. 

Yesterday I kept the news on while I was working — it’s been so hard to get motivated to work, and I was feeling good that I had the energy — and during the few hours those few hours, I heard, repeatedly, the details of B.K.;s assault on Dr. Ford’s and his assault on his classmate at Yale. Then there was the opportunity to listen to a detailed description of the rape of a high school girl at the hands of at least two male classmates. I declined, turned the channel, turned it off. I got to hear news anchors describe only cursorily Bill Cosby’s assaults on the one woman whose case made it to trial, but they did remind us that he has been accused by 60 women of doing exactly the same thing to them. (SIXTY.)

If I were to read the paper, maybe I would see something about the “scandal” in the Catholic Church — it’s a scandal now because people are paying attention, some handful of priests are being held to account, the church is paying some small amount of reparations, our progressive pope is having to face his own actions and inactions around the sustained and systemic abuse of children under the auspices of church and god. 

The other day, I said to my sweetheart, we use the phrase “war on women” like it’s a metaphor, but it’s a fact.

We live amid men — family members and coaches,  religious “leaders,” classmates, people we may have known since childhood, doctors, mentors — haven’t I written this all already? — who will, it seems, if given what they consider to be the opportunity, unhinge us from our wild and precious lives for their own momentary amusement, and then go on with their own lives like nothing happened, like they didn’t do anything wrong, like they didn’t violate the autonomy, the bodily integrity, the sovereign integrity of another human being. This begins as young as very early childhood and can continue through a man’s whole life (hello Bill Cosby), He has a system of laws and societal mores and social rules/restrictions that protect him. He has a community of men — teachers, coaches, school administrators, police, courts, classmates, teammates, accomplices, presidents — who will hold his secrets for him, support and sustain him, treat him with respect, remind him that he’s a good guy, a giving guy, remind him how much good he’s done in his community/school/workplace, who will pat him on the back and say good man, who will rally around him, who will — if she breaks his silence and tells about his violation of her— reframe the problem as hers alone. (think Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky — their names precede the word “scandal;” Clarance Thomas’ name precedes the phrase “supreme court justice; Bill Clinton’s name preceded “president” — why don’t these men get to evoke “scandal” whenever their names are uttered, too?)

And to protect us, we women? We have a system of laws (which work very well to inhibit sexual violence, as we can see from the news.) We have rules and mores that teach us who we can talk to, what we can wear, where we can go, what we should act like if we don’t want to draw the wrong kind of attention — that is, we are trained to police ourselves, each other. We have “chivalry” ostensibly on our side, which, as we can see, has not worked to keep us safe in any way. 

What have I done with my one wild and precious life? I have spent it recovering from the violence that my once-stepfather decided, over and over, daily, over the course of a decade, to inflict on me and my family. I am still in that work. My task has been to clean up the mess that he made of me. I want not to think of it, of myself, that way. I want to say that he didn’t succeed, I am unbroken, I am a survivor. And I am. But I am also irreparably harmed; his actions impact every day of my life. they have impacted where I lived, my work as a writer, my work off the page, my sense of myself and my capacity.

I have been reading recently about the uses of rape as a war crime in Bosnia during the wars in the early 90s, and the abduction and sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in Iraq. I read about the rape of Chinese women in Nanking by Japanese soldiers, and their keeping of Korean “comfort women.” Women are systematically raped in conflicts in the Congo, Sierra Leone, girls are abducted and kept as sexual chattel in Nigeria. Women are being raped as a part of the effort on the part of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority to ethnically cleanse their country of Rohingya. There is an epidemic of violence against Native women across North America, women sexually assaulted, women disappeared. Men still, in the US and around the world, even after a century of efforts to raise awareness of and criminalize the behavior (with the idea that, I guess, if it’s against the law, maybe at some point men will understand that it’s unacceptable—though, again, as we see, that hasn’t worked with rape) beat, rape, and kill the women they say they love, they tell others that they love, they pretend to love but really just seek to control (I can’t look up links to news stories about domestic violence right now, I just can’t).

words drawn into concrete: "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? - M. Oliver"

Oakland sidewalk art

What about our wild and precious lives? What else had we planned to do? Does it matter to the men around us? 

I am preaching to the choir, I know. I am yelling this out to the home team. We know all these things to be true. Here’s what else is true: What we are hearing about this man, this judge, this man who has been instrumental in the creation of legal precedent, who has been allowed to rise almost to the top of his field and participate in legal decisions that will get woven into the fabric of our country and history—his actions are part and parcel of this war against women. The description of the actions he and his friends are to have engaged in in Washington dc sound remarkably like the actions of Serbian soldiers in 1992.

This isn’t about a few bad apples. This isn’t about a couple of priests gone rogue, it isn’t about individual ethnic conflicts. Pull back, look at the planet from a different vantage point — I mean, consider the actions of men in all environments and cultures across the planet: men create conditions in which they can systematically make use of and then destroy the women around them. If they are not actively harming the bodies of women, then they are keeping the silences of the men in their communities who have.

On the news last night, I heard reporting of a conversation with a male classmate of BK’s — I think it was from Yale — who said he had heard the story about his actions toward the second woman who has come forward; this classmate said that the story had stayed with him; he never forgot it. News for this “friend” of hers:

1) neither did she ever forget it,

2) but you did a great job of helping BK hold his silence for all these years.

It’s that simple.

I am tired of thinking about us having to break our silences about the harm done to our bodies and our lives. Last night I said, these men walk around in our silences. They count on our silence in order to continue living their happy lives. These crimes, this shame, these silences all belong to the perpetrator. 

What will happen when men begin coming forward about the actions of their colleagues, classmates, coaches, parents, friends, frat brothers, priests, mentors, and brothers? Not out of some idea of chivalry, not out of some sense of protection, but out of a sense of human decency? What will happen when those men — those men who read this and say to themselves, Hey, ti’s not all men! Hey, I’m not like that — those men who want to change what it means to be a man (look at the history of the world; rapist is what it means to be a man) — what will happen when those men begin standing up and fighting back? Whey they refuse to hold the silences, to collude with the violence, to laugh along, to keep watch at the front door for the cops or some other authority, even if they’re not actually in the room where those men are raping that drunk girl? 

it used to feel cathartic to write these things. It doesn’t right now. I feel sick and still wide awake — what is sustaining me right now is the new writing I get to be surrounded with in workshops and writing groups, plus ridiculous sitcom reruns and many many cups of green tea. 

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

7:00 am

I’m grateful that you’re out there. I know I am not alone in these feelings, in this overwhelm, in this ongoing triggeredness, in this sense of being so enraged that some days it’s all I can do just to keep putting one foot in front of the other without smashing all the furniture or windowpanes or dishes in my immediate vicinity. “Be easy with you” is, for me, difficult work these days — but I do keep saying the words to myself, a little like a mantra, and trying to let myself feel it when others say it to me — I mean, feel and trust their care and concern. I offer that in your direction, too — care and concern from my corner to yours.

Be easy with you. Your life, your living, is wild and precious. Find your way to your words however it works best for you. Please keep going — we need your stories, in all the forms in which they come into the world. 

poems can blossom truth inside our hearts

Stencil of a woman in a dress, dancing, head thrown back, hair hanging down, next to the words

(Poetry is an extreme sport – Miss Tic)

Good morning, good morning.

Outside, it’s traffic and crickets. I’m waiting to hear whether the owl will be back this morning – she was here on Friday, and instead of writing a post I got distracted by her.

Well, by her and some old morning writes. I went looking for what I was saying here–to myself, to you–five years ago, or seven. That’s one thing about regular journaling–getting to look back, see what you were saying before, what you felt like before, what you’re struggling with that’s the same  and what is new — you get to see how far you’ve come.

In my case, I got to look back on a relationship that felt unfixable at the time I was writing, that felt like kudzu or like I was in the ocean at a rising tide stuck in seaweed. I spent so many years trying to communicate with someone who literally could not understand the things I was saying — and, let’s be honest, in the converse, I also couldn’t, it seems, understand the things he was saying. I could never quite understand what he wanted. And  I kept trying, kept getting smaller, tightening myself up until I was knotted into a ball at the bottom of a bookbag, just a sticky thing with dust and hair and old gum wrappers stuck all over me.

And then I got the idea that maybe , that maybe, I didn’t have to stay there. Maybe my job wasn’t to stay in this relationship until the end of my (or his) life. Maybe I didn’t have to walk a hundred miles on my knees, repenting. I only had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loved. And then poetry started to sneak in to the sides and corners and crevices of my skin, my psyche, touched the parched places inside me, the places that told me I had to stay, I had to keep working, I had to keep trying to be the right thing for this person. 

(The chimes sing a little in the early breeze.)

Slowly, so so slowly, it came to me that I didn’t have to keep beating my head against a brick wall. Neither one of us deserved to be this unhappy all the time. He deserved someone who didn’t have to turn herself inside out in order to be right, feel right, be what he said he wanted. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to deny fundamental parts of herself in order to stay with him. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to swallow her tongue most days, or risk getting into yet another fight.  

There were poems that opened my eyes , the eyes inside my heart, or that turned my eyes back away from looking into a future that felt bleak. There was a Rilke poem that shifted things in me. John O’Donohue. And Mary Oliver, of course, Poems can do things that regular prose can’t. Poems sing in through the side door. They tell all the truth but tell it slant. They don’t hit us straight on, but blossom truth inside our hearts, our bellies, anyway. 

What I’m trying to get to is the fact that something that feels so entrenched, unchangeable, a situation you feel so utterly stuck in — that situation can change. And what’s true, at least for me, is that the first part of changing the situation was changing my mindset, my lenses. I had to allow myself to shift how I was seeing myself, and that relationship. Just very gently, I began to ask myself, What if I’m not wrong or bad or crazy or broken here? And what if he isn’t either? What if we’re just two very different people with very different needs and it’s ok to stop trying — after 8 years, to stop trying — to force ourselves to be something that didn’t fit?

(and then I feel myself wanting to say, hey, out here, if you’re having to tuck important and tender parts of yourself away in order to fit into a relationship, maybe that relationship isn’t the right one for you.)

I look back in those old journals, those old writes in the mornings from San Rafael or Tiburon, and I want to tell that woman, You’re ok. He’s ok. You’re just not ok together. Don’t worry about waking up tomorrow and picking up the threads of the same old fight you’ve been having since you first got together. Just set down those threads, pack your bag, and leave. I urge my hands in her direction, gesturing. Just go. But she won’t go. She’ll stay for another three years, another two. She’ll take small steps as she builds the muscles she needs to be able to leave. She — I — had to build the muscles I needed to be able to trust myself, to trust my own perceptions, my own vision, my own view of the world.

So much old stuff got triggered in that relationship. Old stuff about trusting myself, really — isn’t that at the core of it. Letting my needs be even a fraction as important as the other person’s? At some point you have to set down the old ghosts, step out of the maelstrom of voices yelling selfish, mean, thoughtless — bend your head down, duck underneath, and step out to the other side. It’s like taking off a pair of sunglasses and noticing that the world looks really different than you’d come to be used to. It’s allowing yourself to step outside of somebody else’s narrative and notice, sometimes for the first time, that you don’t fit anymore, that the story they’re telling you about you doesn’t match who you know you are. And that small voice inside you, your instinct, your intuition — becomes something you can hear again, you can attend to, you give some weight to.

The shift for me was allowing myself to imagine a reality outside of my ex’s worldview, he worldview he wanted me to live within. There were poems that helped me look at the world, and myself, anew. And writing practice helped me imagine new ways of being.

(Some animal is rushing around in the woods. At first I thought it was the wind, but the chimes are silent.)

You should never have to make yourself small in order to keep your partner happy (or your boss, or your parents, or…) And though I went into the relationship knowing that was true, intellectually, I still had to learn it in my body.

I still had to learn to trust it, trust myself.

I still had to learn to face a very old fear, one I got from my home as a young person — that If I stand up for myself, I’m going to get in trouble, and then I’m going to get hurt. And I did get in trouble in that relationship, let’s be honest. But I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I could walk away. I could say no to his demand that I see the world in such a way that minimized me, or that left me feeling crazy and literally unable to communicate effectively much of the time. I could step out, take a deep breath, and take off the glasses he said I looked so good in, in order to see the world in a different way.

We get indoctrinated, as children in abusive homes — we get trained into particular ways of seeing and understanding ourselves. So it takes a lot of work, in our adult relationships, to not listen to the old voices, especially when/if our partners say things that echo what our abusers used to say, in some form or another. They may not be intending to do so, they may not be abusive at all, but still those old messages, and those old survival strategies, are triggered within us. and so we just continue the long work of trying to dislodge that old learning, that old way of thinking that said I have to let you define reality for me because if I don’t I’ll get hurt

It took the time it took for me to move through that learning in my second marriage. I’m working to be easier with that woman I was then. The other thing that happens, over time, is that I can read these old notebook entries and not beat myself up, I can feel more compassion for the self I was then, the things I was struggling with, the complaints I kept echoing.

(And I believe, too, there are some relationships we can’t settle into until we have done deep work to heal some of these old wounds. These are mature adult relationships, people we wouldn’t be able to stand up next to until we have done the work to know and trust and like who we are–otherwise how can we love someone else who knows and trusts and likes us? They’re not going to stick around if we just spend all the time telling them how stupid they are for loving us, for liking us, for finding us smart or funny or clever or creative or kind … )

So today I’m grateful — for time, for poems, for writing, for that small quiet voice within that never stops whispering You deserve joy in this lifetime, that small voice that keeps whispering, even through days, months, years, when I can’t hear it singing inside me.

And I am grateful for you, today, too, for all the ways you make room for those around you to grow and change, and the ways you are easy with yourself in your own growing, too. And for your words, of course — I’m always grateful for your words.

it all stays (es bleibt alles)

Poster on a stick, pink background behind a line drawing of a house; inside the house are the words Good morning, good morning. Upstairs, the bread dough is resting on the breadboard. I wake up to a room smelling of wild yeast, dough rising. I think a house should always smell like freshly baked bread, or about-to-be-baked-bread, don’t you?

Sometimes you make a decision and you feel something land in you, a place of possibility opens, a thing of yes hollows out all the no you’ve swallowed, and makes itself at home. You become a place where yes can live. Where future can live. Where tomorrow can live. Where hope can live. Some days you are all outshine and coffee grounds, you are the flicker of the flame and you are the flame, you are the waft of steam rising from the green tea and the hum of the wing of the hummingbird hovering over the blossom’s throat, you are the feet finding a new path, you are the fingers welcoming an old stone. You are the gist of a sentence, you are the stamen’s statement, you are the ripening peach, you are the lengthening glisten on a growing beach, you are the bean. Some days you are more than yesterday’s ache, yesterdays no, yesterday’s grief and loss, you are more than garbage, you are more than what was thrown out or ignored, you are more than the book left on the shelf for years, unread, unheralded, unblessed. Some days you are the cool chill on the neck of a sleeping deer, nestled in a place safe beneath a copse of trees, some days you are the copse of trees, you are the safety, some days you, even you, are the safe place. Your body is the safe place, your hands are the safe place, your mouth is the safe place, and your heart, as you know your heart, has always been the safe place.

Some days you are echo and dance, you are willpower and dive, you are forget and forgive, you are revenge, you are remember, you are never forget, you are anger and you are yes and you are power. You are the child curled up on the couch and the youth hiding in the closet and the young man walking down the street with a strut he thinks he doesn’t deserve but doesn’t know how to live without. You are the without. You are the strut. You are the do until die, you are the fake it until you make it, you know how to make it because you have made it here. Some days you are more than the account balance, you are more than the hours of life traded for money, you are more than the receipt, more than the transcript, more than the record, the data, the bits of information floating around in the world about you, you are their aggregation, and then you are more. You are the flicker of the squirrel tail, you are the faint hoot of the owl in the woods, you are the place of promise, you are the finger of regret and then you are the finger that scrapes through cake frosting and brings sweet to your mouth.

Some days you are learn and some days you are unlearn, you are forget, you are unwanting. You are the eyes looking across the water at distant islands, you are the eyes examining the feet of a newborn child, you are the hands that can safely hold a newborn child. Some days you are more than the loss, even though you might also still be the loss. You are the cup that holds the tea, you are the nurturance, you are the truth-telling, you are the sharpened pencil, you are the dance of pollen.

Sometimes you are more than electronic motes across a virtual dust screen, you are not the butterfly caught on the car grille, you are not the emptied rubbish can, you are not the messily erased chalkboard. Some days you are yawn and whisper and you rise from your bed like you deserve to be living. Some days the words come to you in the middle of the night and you meet them, on the page or in dreams. Some days you are the art that lives you. Some days you are the twist of the plot. Some days you are what hopes for escape and you are escape. Some days you are more than what begs in you to die, what begs in you to stop and please can’t we just stop and rest, some days you stop and rest. Some days you welcome the flow of your life, the rises and falls, the swells and thins, the ebbs and purls, the rhythms of you, the rhythms you are, the blood that follows the moon, the shallow dance, the circles, the spirals, the contours, the glisten, the blossom. You are the seed in the ground and the fingers that cover it with dirt with soil and the water that drenches and feeds.

Some days you cannot stop to think about the right word, you are the right word at the right time. Some days you know that you have always been the right word at the right time, even if someone couldn’t hear it, even if you were ignored or silenced, even if you couldn’t say the word out loud, you have always been the right word at the right time. Some days you are more than what enough holds in your belly. Some days you want what lives inside enough, the rest there, the nest, the promise, the comfort, the cradle in lap, the safe place, the knowing that you don’t have to hustle at the center of you, that you have earned the right to love yourself, that you have always been the love you deserve. That you are so far beyond ok that you can’t even see ok in your rear view mirror anymore, that you are the wind through your hair on the highway, convertible top down, sun shining on everything like a wish, you are the breeze through fingers stuck out of car windows and the ears of dogs flapping in joy. You are that joy. You are the small wishes, the littles delights that are the best ones, the bag of candy, the silly laughter, the eyes watching a dog sleep in a safe bed.

Some days you can trust that you are where you need to be, even if you know that you can’t stay there, even if there’s something in you that has to change or get out. And some days there is nothing in you that wants to escape your life anymore. Some days you have found a place where love is a blossom you can believe in, where kindness lives like breath, where your voice is a song written on the walls, written on the inside of every wrist and thigh, where your body is a delight of strength and comfort, where yours can be the body that someone wants to live in, some days that someone – can you believe it? – is you.

I woke up early, before the alarm, to lines of poemish things flowing in my head and I repeated the lines to myself like I do, thinking that I will remember even though I think I’ve never once remembered lines that came to me in the middle of the night that I don’t write down. but I woke up remembering anyway, not the lines themselves but the fact of them, the possibility of meeting the page this morning with imagination and flow, with something hopeful — San Francisco may not care but still I meet her at the corner and buy a batch of fresh Thai chilis at the farmer’s market, and the man with the light eyes didn’t remember my name, which made me happy for reasons I can’t quite explain. The man with the long hair and the question mark body was not around on Mission Street yesterday.

Something is growing inside me, something that wants answering.

I was thinking yesterday about how I used to memorize poems in German, back when I was in high school — excerpts from Goethe’s Faust — for competitions. (These were my earliest poetry recitals.) Sometimes I try to think of a way to say something, to communicate a thought, and the phrase pops up in German — unbidden, as the saying goes, like all that learning is still in me somewhere, the language, the vocabulary, the words, like they belong here, this language I loved all through junior high and high school, into college. I thought for sure I’d visit Germany, spend time there, maybe study. But then life took a different turn.

Maybe the trajectory we thought we’d take got bent and twisted into other directions. We grieve where we thought we’d get to, and by when; we grieve all that we thought we were supposed to be and do — but if I step back and look at what life has unfurled around me, there are days that I can take pleasure in what was and is. The anchor of me is still floating somewhere, not tethered, still free. There is still time to do so much of what the younger me wanted.

Some days there’s peace to be had in releasing the old dreams, even if we grieve as we let them fall from our hands — and some days we can pick them back up again, dust them off, look at them from a different angle. Yes, this fragment of life can still be mine. It’s not too late and you are not too old, Rilke said (in German it’s “Noch bist du nicht kalt, und es ist nicht zu spät”). It’s true — I want a lot (du seihst, ich will viel) — perhaps I want everything.

Some days we get to want everything, with the ache that longing brings, and the joy.

Du siehst, ich will viel
Rainer Maria Rilke

Du siehst, ich will viel.
Vielleicht will ich Alles:
das Dunkel jedes unendlichen Falles
und jedes Steigens lichtzitterndes Spiel.

Es leben so viele und wollen nichts,
und sind durch ihres leichten Gerichts
glatte Gefühle gefürstet.

Aber du freust dich jedes Gesichts,
das dient und dürstet.

Du freust dich Aller, die dich gebrauchen
wie ein Gerät.

Noch bist du nicht kalt, und es ist nicht zu spät,
in deine werdenden Tiefen zu tauchen,
wo sich das Leben ruhig verrät.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.

You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

from The Book of the Hours
(translated by Robert Bly)

Thanks for all you’ve carried forward into today, all the wanting, all the hope, all the dreams. Thanks for allowing yourself to set some of it down. And thanks for picking some of it back up, giving yourself bits and swells of something you always wanted. Thanks for your words today. I mean it.

sometimes it takes the heart of a dragon

graffiti of a red heart with veins emerging; inside are the words Good morning, good morning. How’s this day where you are?

I manage to get up when the alarm first goes off before 5. I hit snooze, set the phone back down on the table, put my head back down on the pillow, but I was awake. These words pushing through me every waking: The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you — when did I stop listening?

Outside it’s still dark, the birds are still asleep.

Do I remember how to type this early, type to make my fingers work at just 5am? I’m working myself back toward this early morning schedule, this no one moving anywhere this schedule, this I am alone, free to let whatever words flow that want to, schedule.

The sound of the clock thick in my ears, the one I bought for my little office in the Flood building, the one that kept the pace for me there. That was 10 years ago. In ten years, I rose and fell and disappeared. That’s what it feels like.

I feel outside the thing that time makes of me.

I’ve been reading books in translation — Mexican, French, Brazilian, German — books written in in the 30s, 70s, 80s. What am I looking for except some distance from my own situation, the possibility that other kinds of writing can be acceptable, the possibility that my writing will be wanted somewhere. I’ve had a lot of rejection recently. Since before starting school, I wanted to crack the literary journal market, to try and figure it out. So I send the work out, into the ether, I send it via submittible or email, I study the submission guidelines, write up my brief cover letters, use the same mode and method that served me so well when I was mainly submitting to anthologies, but no one is biting. Rejection after rejection, all form letters, all impersonal, all no.

It’s part of the game, the business. It’s part of what you have to get good at as a so-called professional writer, Jen, is being rejected. I tell myself this over and over, the good parent in my head, the business woman or whatever, the thing that has to sing the song of making sense, but I still get stung, feel less-than, thought that the book being accepted by a publisher meant that something had changed. And of course it does mean that. But I’m still playing by he same rules as everybody else — the rules of subjectivity and vice.

I fill the teacup, I move the candle to obscure the growing light, to keep the room darker longer, I don’t want the morning to rise yet. I just now found the dark I’ve been looking for.

Outside the garden is blossoming, and I am learning its fertility and dead zones, its quiet places, the stuff it hides and how it dazzles. The birds find their way to our feeders and we are getting to know each other. Sophie plays chicken with the wild turkeys, with the jays and crows that want to steal her kibble, with the California towhees that hop around like enormous mice.

I read Helene Cixous’s Coming to Writing, I read Clarice Lispector, I read books originally conceived of in languages I cannot speak. The idea that different possibility erupts that way, the idea that the language creates room for the thought, that there are ways of expressing and thinking and conceiving of the world that I cannot even imagine because I am in only this one language, this solid English brain, and of course even in translation I miss so much.

The depression lifts, moves around, resettles itself within me differently, but while it’s standing up to shake itself off, I can dance a little, I can breathe, I can see things better. I have a little more energy, strength, and manage to send off another submission. Tell myself it will probably be rejected — sour grapes do their work for us sometimes, protecting us from hurt we expect is on the way. The Sun says no; brand-new, just-launching journals say no; Modern Love says no. Fiction, poems, essays get rejected. I send them out again. Sometimes right away, but rarely. Usually I have to tuck in and lick my wounds for awhile. Soak in the self-pity, in the sense that everyone else can get published, just not me, I am doing something wrong. I don’t have the right voice, the right message, the right whatever all the editors are looking for. I know it’s subjective, but seriously: if all the readers who look at a thing say no, is the universe trying to give you a larger objective message?

So then you tell yourself the stories about the impossibly successful books that had to be submitted 10, 20, 80 times. Take a deep breath, just keep going, send it out again.

I take the essays to workshop and am told, Send it out. This is done. I think, it’s been rejected so much, it must need more work. But the feedback is something else. Puffed up, I send it out to a new journal, the one that liked lyric work, experimental stuff, wants to see something new and exciting.  Then the pin in the balloon: No, thanks, we got so many exciting and interesting submissions, can’t give personal responses to them all, please don’t take this as a reflection on your work, good luck to you, la la la. I send the work out to anthologies, contests, judged by women writers I admire, whose work has inspired me, thinking that they will be able to see the thing in my work that those other (straight, white, male) editors have missed. That’s the ticket. More rejection. No, no, no.

I suppose the thing that’s in me right now is that rejection is fucking hard and disappointing and hurts. Every time it’s something personal, it’s something in me, that’s been denied or rejected, it’s something of me being turned back, that’s not worthy of appreciation.

Yes, I know that’s not true. Yes, I remember the rules: We are not our writing, the writing is a separate thing, we are worthy and loveable and good even when an editor says no to our work.

And even as my adult brain tells my writing brain all these truths, still I nurse the ache, and it takes time for the ache to abate enough that I’m ready to send this piece of writing out again.

Some people are able to do it differently. Some people are able to separate themselves from the work, from the writing, their worth from whether or not their words are accepted by anyone else. They have their systems, their lists of venues and publications, their stacks of addressed envelopes (or did, once upon a time, now it’s just an excel spreadsheet with editor’s names and email addresses), and when a piece is returned rejected, they turn right around, open the spreadsheet, make a note of the rejection, highlight the next line on the list, open a new email message and cop in and update the cove r letter, and send it out again. don’t’ let it lie on the desk, literally or metaphorically, gathering dust. Send it send it send it. let it find its way into the right hands.

When you are raised or spend any significant part of your life being groomed and trained to believe that others’ opinions of you are more important than your own, are the most important thing, this rejection part of the writing job is maybe a little more difficult.

It takes the heart of a dragon to do it–to be a writer. Fortunately, we trauma survivors are the epitome of dragon-hearted, we fire-breathing, scale-adorned and jewel-bedecked beings, and when I remember that, I snort a laugh that incinerates the most recent rejection note, then unfurl my wings and take off again. Sit down at the notebook, the keyboard again, write some more, send it off, one more try.

Thank you for those dragon’s wings you wear, for the words you sing as you soar above or whisper as you nestle in your cave. For all the words within you, I am grateful. 

“render, render”

Good morning good morning. It’s grey here today, the clouds soaking across the hills, coating everything in an impenetrable foggy frost that I am deeply grateful for. How has the day begun for you? Where is your sun just now?

Sophie has gone after a squirrel this morning, who is now stuck up on top of the neighbor’s garage and is letting forth a stream of chitters that I can only assume is squirrel for lots and lots of expletives. Sophie stands guard, ball in her mouth (thus rendering her fully incapable of catching anything else between her teeth, but the squirrel doesn’t know that) — she and the squirrel have this sort of antagonistic relationship when he gets close to where she can catch him, but I’ve seen her watching him in the garden for long stretches, those times he risks coming down from the walnut tree to grab one of the fallen green walnuts or takes to examining the garden to see if there’s anything there he might like, and Sophie will stand up at the top of the garden, on the patio, watching and watching, still and quiet, not wanting to disturb him, waiting for him to get close? Or maybe she just wants to see what he’ll do? Maybe she wants to be friends?

He’s made it now, from the garage roof, across the top of the backyard fence and back to the trees where he lives — Sophie chases him along the fence, every time he comes down far enough that she’s aware of him, and he chitters his curses the whole time, though now I think maybe it’s more like, go ahead and try it, you land-bound thing! Perhaps something better, more vitriolic.

I’m sitting on the back deck, a good place for quiet when the whole house is up (save for the chasing, barking dog and the teasing, chattering squirrel). The squirrel makes it across our back yard, from tree to tree, and I can’t hear his old-man chattering anymore. Sophie goes to the side fence, next to the other neighbor’s yard, where the squirrel sometimes hides down at ground-level,and she stands up to peek over the fence, using her front paws to grab at the fence and pull herself up and forward to get a better look. The squirrel suddenly appears on the top of the neighbor’s house.

It’s a serious drama here in the backyard this morning.

This morning I woke up thinking about the word render, which means things like: provide or give (as in a service); cause to be; represent or show artistically; melt down (fat); and comes from old French meaning “give back” or “yield.”

This brought to mind a poem that I hand out in the workshops sometimes:

Render, Render
-Thomas Lux

Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
it down, skim, and boil
again, dreams, history, add them and boil
again, boil and skim
in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
by the pencil sharpener
who looked at you, looked away,
boil that for hours, render it
down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
and sperm, and a bead
of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
the fire, boil and skim, boil
some more, add a fever
and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time
to add guilt and fear, throw
logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render
it down and distill,
concentrate
that for which there is no
other use at all, boil it down, down,
then stir it with rosewater, that
which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
which you smear on your lips
and go forth
to plant as many kisses upon the world
as the world can bear!

I lay in bed long after the alarm went off, hitting snooze, turning back over to cuddle into the blankets, writing this post in my head: render is what we do with the material we live through when we decide to offer it down oto the page. When we write out our joys and struggles, we render the experience from something we lived through, from a vast and uncoordinated series of memories and neuronal interweavings, into story.

Rendering a story takes work. We decide what details to include, what to leave out. We create a structure: a beginning, middle, and end — even when telling just one piece of our day, we tend to create an arc. We build tension, we use sensory detail, we develop characters, we use foreshadowing and backstory — we aren’t intending to do any of this: humans are storytelling creatures. We learn how to do story early, just by listening to the other people around us. We play make believe, we dream, we gossip, we remember aloud to friends, we write poems and fictions and journal entries — we render the constant influx of sensory experience and data down to the stuff of deep human communication: story. And there are so many ways to tell the same experience — every time, the story will be a little different — we’ll remember some detail or forget another, we’ll add a twist, we’ll include something we weren’t ready to say the first time. Every rendering has a different flavor. And why do we do this? To make sense of our lives. To feel witnessed. To be part of the tribe. To set some order to the overwhelm, to have some sense of control over the experience: this is my material, and I’ll do what I want with it, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the life-and-death squirrel-dog drama, the house finches are quietly chewing seeds off of the hawthorn tree, tenaciously avoiding the thorns while they breakfast. I’m noticing my allegiance with them these days — is there really any reason to be running around crazy, barking at everything that feels like a threat? Don’t we have some songs to sing? There’s a juvenile finch in with the adults, just learning to fly, and though she’s joined the grown folks for the meal, she still needs help serving herself, and flaps her wings at one of the adults, chirping, until they feed her. Meanwhile, Sophie stands vigilant, just in case the intruder should return. There have been years I lived the way she is standing right now: muscles tense, every nerve at attention, unable to focus for long on anything but the chance that someone or something might cross the boundary into her space and already ready to fight it off. The thing about Sophie is that she’s able to walk away after a little while. She discharges her tension (shaking her body and stretching long and hard), ridding her muscles of the adrenaline and anxiety — then she moves on to the next thing. It’s usually not so easy for people — we hold tension and hyperalertness in our bodies long, long after the trauma is past.

One of the ways I discharge the old trauma, rendering it into something of use, is through writing. What about you? What happens when you story your knowings, your experiences? What happens when you don’t?

“know it while you have it”

256px-Charles_Bukowski_916Good morning good morning. It’s hot here, and the sun is already high in the sky, coating everything in yikes. How’s the body of the earth where you are?

Here’s your tired writer, two mornings in a row getting a late start because I had a late night because… well, two nights ago I was out late at the Erotic Reading Circle, listening to powerful writers share their gorgeously hot work. Last night I was up late reading Martha Beck’s Leaving The Saints. If you find the through-line that ties those things together, let me know.

I’ve got two workshops this weekend I need to prepare for (Dirty Words on Saturday (join us if you’d like!), and Dive Deep on Sunday); also, I’m performing tomorrow night at a long-running reading series called Perverts Put Out, and I’ve got to write something for that show, so I don’t have much of a blog for you today. (I’m hanging out at the Peet’s near my place, the one in the shadow of the new and fancy Catholic Church they built at the edge of Lake Merritt — maybe that will provide some inspiration. Wish me luck.)

But I’ve got this poem I want to share with you. Be easy with yourselves today, ok? And I will try to do the same.

the laughing heart

– Charles Bukowski

your life is your life.
don’t let it be clubbed into dank
submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the
darkness
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you
chances.
know them, take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death
in life,
sometimes.
and the more often you
learn to do it,
the more light there will
be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have
it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in
you.

reconnoitering with the body’s old injuries

There were lots of friends in my dreams last night, but I don’t remember anything else. I have things to think about: my cup of water with lemon, a candle, and the typewriter that I’ve covered my eyes from being able to see — my chiropractor gave me a hard time about my ergonomic setup, and now here I am typing away at a kitchen table. So I lower the monitor, type with just my hands illuminated, and look straight ahead, hoping that I’m striking the right keys. Trust that old learning, the typing lessons you got when you were 12 years old, or something close — and trust that you won’t lift the screen in twenty minutes and find only gibberish.

Today my body is better. What a thing to be able to say. There are places that are sore still, inflamed, along my spine, in my knee, in my ribs, after years of being out of alignment and now adjusted, corrected. But my body is better. Yesterday I went to see a structural bodyworker, who talked with me a little bit about what is going on for me — the spasm I had two years ago, old injuries that might be manifesting now, the sort of trauma I might hold in my body — before starting to work on my body.

I explained that most of my pain was on the right side of my body. He’s been a long time in this work — almost 30 years — and had some ideas about what might be going on even before we got on his adjusting table. He worked with his hands, feeling along my spine for places that are out of alignment and then making the adjustments by hand, too, using a table that drops out from underneath me when he pushes down for the adjustments. Mostly, it didn’t feel like anything was happening. I heard the loud ring of the table, felt him pressing on my back, but most of the adjustments were slight and small, I think — gentle corrections that will help energy and blood flow more smoothly through the contours inside me.

He talked to me all the way through the process, explaining when and where he felt something stuck, and when he felt things start to move and loosen again. He found major obstructions in my neck and in the ribs closest to my shoulder, in my lumbar spine, and then had some adjustment to do on my knee (which he said I’d hyperexended). My lumbar spine is the place that’s most inflamed now, after a long time  of being out of whack. This morning I am not sure what I feel. I kept waiting for some major release of emotional energy, and though I did tear up once or twice, I also laughed a lot, in surprise and curiosity — what’s going on here (especially when he cracked my neck manually, the way you see chiropractors doing on tv). The changes are mostly subtle — I still have some residual pain in the places that have been hurting, but I also think things are better there.

And what’s most astonishing is that the place in my butt under the glute muscle where I thought for sure that something was spasmed and held tight (this is the trouble with self-diagnosing when you don’t know anything about the problem), that tension is gone — it wast the torquing of my lumbar spine causing all of that trouble, that tight muscle. None of the stretches that I was doing would have ever helped “pop” or ease or relax that muscle out of spasm, because that wasn’t the problem.

Today I mostly feel peaceful, quiet inside, and grateful.

He was able to help me know what bones are connected where, and to start to explain what happens when they’re out of alignment. He was not rushed with me, and was willing to answer questions throughout. He asked me about old injuries and I described: the weekend before the spasm back in November 2012 (leaving day job, hard dancing in high heels, helping my sweetheart on her moving day); the time I fell hard right onto my back when I was up in the Tiburon hills with Sophie and she was running around with another dog, playing chase and keep away, and she ran straight for me, hit me at full speed, knocking my legs out from under me and dropping me to the ground; and my stepfather’s assaults. He found evidence of all of these (and more, likely) while he worked on my body. Later, at the end of the session, I mentioned something about my dad. He clarified — Your biological dad? I said, Yeah — my stepfather is in jail. This was the second time in a week I’d made that particular clarification in that way for somebody. He was delighted to hear this news, after feeling in my body and bones some of the aftermath of my stepfather’s violence. That’s a great end to that story! He cheered. And I thought so, too.

He was kind and direct, confident in a way that could have come off as cocky but didn’t — or at least didn’t bother me. I think I know what I’m going to find when I get there, he’d say after listening to me explain what I was feeling. Ok, I thought. I hope that’s true. And I hope you know how to fix it. And then he did. I feel like I have found another someone who may be able to help me understand my body. What a gift.

At one point I stood, transitioning from the adjustment table to the massage table. How does that feel, he wanted to know. But I didn’t really have words for it yet. Better–maybe. Can you relax your shoulders, he asked? But I thought I was relaxing my shoulders. No, he said, not yet. And then after he did some work on my ribs, he said, There — now you’ll be able to relax them. Not, now you’re relaxed, but: now you’ll be able to relax there — now the muscles have he opportunity to remember what relax looks like, after they shift out of this reactive posture, tightening up and around in response to a torqued spine and bone structure.

Now I’m trying to sit upright in my chair, look straight ahead (instead of down at the keyboard), keep my body in alignment as much as possible. I feel fortunate today, and grateful that I stumbled on a therapist I like, who then has been able to give me some ideas about steps to take with other practitioners to help me with my body. And I feel quiet and kind of heavy, like something deep is going on in me — and it probably is. My body is recovering from a chronic issue — it makes sense that I wouldn’t have an acute emotional response. The response will come slowly, I think. Everything in me feels a little tender, a little looser. I walk around gently, looking with my inside eyes: does this still hurt? What do I need to do differently here? My bodyworker wants me to wait for a few days before I start really exercising again, to let the swelling in my lower back heal, let that part of my spine get better before I go compressing it again like what happens when you jog.

I had made a lot of assumptions about what was going on in my body, based on how I felt — it must be spasms, muscle knots, tightnesses — but these were all reactions to something more structural, deeper.

Are there metaphors in that for writing? Sometimes the trouble isn’t in the symptoms — it’s in the structure; change your framework, the bones of your book and your story, and suddenly everything flows a little better, things get a little looser, more agile, more interesting, more limber.

Also: sometimes we can’t fix the problem ourselves — in our books or in our bodies — sometimes we have to get some damn help from someone who knows more than we do. And that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means we’re smart; we know what we know and what we don’t know, and know we can use guidance and suggestions around what we don’t yet know.

Anyway, today I am grateful for this skin and bones, these fingers on the keyboard, and your eyes out there — I am grateful for the generous response I got to my posts about what was going on with my body and how scared I was of dealing with it. Kindness goes a long way. Thank you for that. Big love right back at you today.

 

Jen’s ten rules for writers (for today)

Sometimes things conspire to keep the body from pulling itself out of bed at 4:50am. Sometimes the dog has been awake at irregular intervals all night, snapping off sharp, surprising barks at the neighbors who had the audacity to have a gathering on their summer-vacation Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Sometimes she’s up at 1:48am, shaking and scratching and agitating so that her collar rings like poorly-tuned chimes, needing to go outside. Sometimes the body stands at the back door, falling back asleep while upright, waiting for the dog to finish exploring the night yard and ask to be let back in. Sometimes the work went late into the night and rest didn’t come early enough. Sometimes the leg spasms, dancing all by itself, and the rest of the body doesn’t want to stretch it — that road leads directly to charlie horse.

So sleep, such as it is, blows right through the 4:50 alarm, through the many snoozes, and continues on until almost 7. Sometimes the sweetheart’s arms are just too sweet to slip away from, and so it’s a whole lot better to cuddle back in under the covers after every snooze. And those precious early morning writing hours are spent in dreams. But the dreams will make their way into some character’s head, someday. That’s the hope.

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Today is a self-care day: body work, therapy, CoDA — not in that order. There’s much work to do — we have a beautiful group gathered for our summer online write whole session, and folks have already begun to share strong and gorgeous work there; our fundraising campaign for Sex Still Spoken Here (the Erotic Reading Circle anthology) is in the homestretch and needs a lot of attention in order to make our $5000 goal; Dive Deep‘s SummerFall 2014 Cohort is underway and manuscripts are arriving for response; Write Whole‘s in-person session begins next week, and I’ve got to prepare our syllabus and get the word out to any last-minute registrants — I’ve also got a syllabus to prepare for a master class for the National Poetry Slam at the beginning of next month and start getting the word out to local colleges about our 2014-2015 workshop offerings… so today’s practice will be to relax during the self-care time, and trust that the work will get done as it needs to get done. Whew.

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Last Thursday, In the first meeting of our Dive Deep SummerFall cohort, I asked us to write (in 10 minutes) our 10 rules for writers (I got the idea from Advice to Writers, which shares various writers’ lists of 10 rules now and again…). We got some great lists, and some interesting overlap among many of our lists. What would get included on your list of 10 “rules” for writers? What would you leave off your list of “rules”?

Here’s what my list looked like:

1) Start now.

2) Open a notebook. Get a fast-moving pen. Sit down at a corner table in a bustling cafe, next to a window, wearing headphones connected to a tape player blaring music you’ve listened to often enough that the sound simply permeates your brain, creating a barrier between the loud voices around you, the even louder and more hostile voices within you, and the words you can barely even allow yourself to know you want to write. Put the pen to the page. Write one word, then another, as fast as you can, faster than the eyes of your inner editors and censors can read. Keep going for 20 minutes, take a breath, then keep going for another 20 years.

3) Understand that anyone’s rules for writing are useless to you.

4) Move your body in ways that feel excellent to you and make you sweat at least as often as, and for as long as, you write.

5) Be around animals — they being you into the present moment better than anything else.

6) Read books you love. Read books you don’t love. Read in and out of the genre you want to write.

7) Write what you love — not what you think you ought to write. Forgive yourself for not always loving what you “ought” to write.

8) Remember that writing needs room to breathe — loafing, wandering, and lazing aimlessly are often deeply creative acts.

9) Take paid work that has nothing to do with writing, leaves you energy to write, and provides material for your writing.

10). Be easy with you. And keep going.

morning fragments

Good morning good morning. I like these dark hours, reaching for the keyboard when my eyes are still half-closed and I am yawning, my body and mind not quite yet awake. Everything is drowsy yet, still percolating. What do I want to say? I’m drinking some nettle tea to help with the allergies that have flared since I got back to CA. It’s darker now than it was at this time of day just a month ago — the light has already changed, the sun shifting backwards in her cycle (of course that’s only how it looks to those of us stuck here on earth, where we believe we are the center of everything), and coming up later and later in the morning.

My right knee is aching this morning, something popped while we were running yesterday afternoon, and now it hurts. the muscles in my right calf are fluttering, like just after a spasm, chattering, and my right shoulder is tense, too. Time to finally find a doctor. The pop happened just halfway, or not even quite, through my run around the lake yesterday, and I had to walk the rest of the way. I felt frustrated and disappointed with myself, my body: really, body? We finally found our way back into a desire to exercise, to move and sweat and feel and inhabit this physical container, and now we’re going to start falling apart? Can’t we have just a few years of joy and adoration in the movement, touching back into how we felt when we were small, in the time of Before? Is it really already too late?

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I have been thinking about the fact that it’s been 21 years since the last time my stepfather had his hands on me, when I was 21 years old. I have lived a lifetime, as long again as I’d been alive up to that point, and still I am blaming him for how my life has turned out, for the fact that I didn’t graduate on time and didn’t have any confidence in myself and took a left turn away from the road of success because I was afraid of money, of having something I cared about that could be taken away from me, could be used against me. And here I am still battling with that demon, still afraid to live fully, still he has won all of these years later.

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“Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed-and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.”
― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

These are the morning thoughts. Take a deep breath. Focus. Let the words come. Turn to the novel and get some work done there before the sun has quite yet opened her eyes. Everything wants to get in the way of this one simple goal. I am finding this morning momentum again.

back to the place I could have once said I was from

Good morning good morning — the birds are not awake yet. Are you? It’s 5am and I am back in the saddle. We are returned from vacation, the coffee is brewing, the dog is asleep in her chair, the garden is still quiet. Everything is at my back. Backside. Support. Lumbar. Supine. Behind. There. Before. Past.

I went back to the place I could have once said I was from, the place that was once home to me and still lives in my body. We spent two weeks away from home, away from Sophie, away from work. I took all kinds of work with me, of course, with the idea that now I would be able to Get Things Done, but once we got to the coast of Maine, I didn’t want to do any of it. Instead, I sat and read books for fourteen says. Not quite so consistently — we had a stretch of just-two-of-us together vacation and then 5 days of here’s-all-the-family vacation with my sweetheart’s son there, too.

I am thinking this morning of the pleasure — and the struggle, for me — of a long vacation, taking two full weeks of time “off.” Time to fall apart, get panicked, feel guilty and unworthy, and then actually drop all the way away from work. I didn’t even get much writing done during this vacation — I did morning pages the first week, but the second week, when the boys were awake early and draped across their computers in the living room, I didn’t worry about trying to hunt down private space for my writing time Instead, I walked with my sweetheart. We read and read and read. We let the sun bake us to relaxation. We slept. We learned the beach’s varying contours. We made routines and then broke them. We didn’t watch tv, and I stayed off the computer. We biked around the beachside communities and I swam in the ocean, diving through wave after wave until I felt the tides moving in me even after I came back to shore. Slowly but surely, the vacation opened up in me, and I was able to unwind there on this beautiful beach.

I don’t remember the last time I had this many days away in a row — time to actually let the work stress fall away. It didn’t happen at all during the first week we were away. I still work up every day afraid about what I had forgotten to get done, panicked about somebody needing to hear from me, harassed about the thought of the email that would be waiting for me when I got back from this time away. I was sure that everything would be ruined — my business would fall apart — if I didn’t get back to email right away and respond to everyone now. Would they understand I was on vacation, and wait patiently for an answer from me? Who did I think I was to believe I got to truly go on vacation? For goodness’ sake, the editors of the ERC anthology, Sex Still Spoken Here, (of which I am one!)  had launched a fundraising campaign and I wasn’t even participating! But I knew that once I opened my email, it would be all over — I’d see what needed doing, and feel like I had to do all of it now. So, for the most part, I kept my email turned off. I stayed of of facebook. On two occasions, I gave in to the anxiety and let myself send messages that were ricocheting around in my head, needing outlet, not letting me be present at the beach or with the people we were visiting: it’s ok not to be perfect on vacation, too. Sometimes work gets in.

I wrestled with the idea of taking time like this away from my life — I was certain that I did not deserve it. Who am I to take a vacation? To really let myself be in my body, to walk on a beach almost every single day? This was my struggle in the first week — all those defenses, those muscles, those parts of myself that work so hard to stay vigilant, keep me focused, keep me on task — they didn’t want to let me go: If you stop worrying about this, how can we trust that you will pick it up again after your break? And those voices are right to worry about that — because I haven’t picked up some of those worries yet.

In the middle of these two weeks, I headed up for a 36-hour solo trip to Monhegan Island — and that’s where I felt my vacation fully begin. On the island, there was no cell service, no data reception (at least for me, given my at&t coverage, which can generally assure me that I will have little coverage outside of major cities, and poor service in them), which meant that I couldn’t even text back to my sweetheart to let her know where I was or what I was doing at that minute. For those hours, that overnight on an island 10 miles off the coat of Maine, I wasn’t doing anything for anybody else. I was fully on my own. I wandered around the island, takings short hikes punctuated with opportunities to sit on shale that tucked itself into the broad ocean waves and write in my notebook, as had been one of my favorite pastimes when I lived in Maine back 10 years ago. I made up some new stories. I walked and examined all the patches of clover, looking for that one with 4 leaves. I immersed myself in the Maine seaside scent: salt, brine, rosa rugosa, pine, and something else that I have never been able to describe— woodsy and sweet that tells me I am back on that coast. I kept my own company for those hours, reading and writing and walking as I was drawn. I wandered around the western coast of the island to Lobster Cove, sat on the rocks and wrote awhile, watched the tide and  family of small ducks. I watched the people passing on their hikes around the whole island, trying to get it all done before they had to be back on their ferry back to the mainland. I settled my muscles more deeply into the rockside. I listened to the pound of water around me everywhere, the unceasingness of it, the not restlessness but persistence. The sea was in my whole body. I didn’t swim while I was on Monhegan, but I got into the ocean almost every day of vacation otherwise, braving the cold morning waves sometimes, more often waiting until the sea and my body had warmed up some and taking longer swims in the afternoon. So the salt was everywhere on me, my hairs stood straight up in stiff peaks. I listened to the chickadees, the blue jays, the birsdsong weather of the western shore of the us. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it or perform my experience for anyone using social media. I just had to be there and feel it.

Why is it so difficult to let ourselves be fully on vacation? Why do we think the world will fall apart if we’re not there to manage everything?

I remembered who I was when I lived in this part of the country — a seeker, terrified and hopeful. I remembered the kind of pace I prefer to keep: early to bed, early to rise. On my one morning on the island, I set the timer for 3:45 so I could go out and meet the sunrise, but when I woke, not even the birds were awake yet. I dozed another half an hour, then walked across town in my pajamas — not meeting another soul on the way there or the way back — to climb the wooded path to the lighthouse and watch the clouds at the horizon turn a deep and unctious orange-pink. It was me and the seagulls out there, and one bright goldfinch who joined me as I did a sun salutation on the rocks behind the one-room schoolhouse. Then I walked back to my room, with its view of the ocean pounding into the tail of Manana Island, wrote some more of my letter home, and then got so sleepy that I climbed back into bed to sleep until breakfast time.

While I was on Monhegan, I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a book about the strengths of introverts and how we can take care of ourselves in a culture that valorizes extroversion — those who prefer time alone are often looked on as suspect. I thought about how ashamed I have felt that I don’t have a community of friends that looks like my sweetheart’s: she will get together with friends for coffee or dinner dates or breakfast or other gatherings many times a week, sometimes connecting with many folks a single day. This exhausts me just to hear about — but it brings her alive. The friend I am closest to is someone who lives across the country from me— we talk by phone about weekly (ideally, at least!) and then it’s to leave messages, not even to have a direct conversation one-on-one — that happens much less frequently. Reading this book helped me to feel less guilty about the way I am: I didn’t organize many opportunities to see my east coast friends while I was on vacation because I knew I needed as much open space as possible to really let the vacation take root in me. It reminded me that I am — we are, each of us — ok in our own temperaments. It is ok for you to want to be with people every hour of the day if that’s what feeds you; and it’s ok for me to take the time alone that feeds me.

I remembered that my preference is to have wide open space in my days, where the writing can come in. I had forgotten about that — or made myself feel bad about it — even though I have created a life in which this is available to me. I simply forget, or succumb to the extrovert-demand of the culture, thinking that I should fill my non-family, non-workshop hours with meetings and coffees and networking opportunities — and being online, on social media, is the same experience for me as going to a party — I get overwhelmed and fragmented really fast, losing my focus.

For me, living a writing life means cultivating focus, nurturing time to let ideas and stories percolate, open, and expand. When I am living this way, I blossom. It’s not that I don’t want to see people, or have close friendships. It’s that I tend to be closest to people who can go for months without hearing from me, and then fall into a real conversation about what’s actually going on for us when we do get together. If you struggle with the sense that there’s something wrong with you because you don’t want to be with people every minute of every day (as our culture tends to encourage), I’d invite you to check out Quiet (or another that I read often and appreciate: Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto).

Maybe that’s all I want to say about this for now. I am slowly returning to my non-vacation life. I’ve decided to come back to this daily morning writing practice for the blog, to reclaim those morning thoughts for this place. and to work on my books. It’s time to visit the garden, move with the dog. Later this morning I will get into all that email that’s waiting for me — and then maybe the dog and I will go to the beach. How will you take care of your deepest needs this day? How will you hold open space for your words to come? Be easy with you, ok? And please keep writing.