Tag Archives: NaPoMo

books and dreams

graffit of a person's half-smiling face, next to the words ""graffiti of a person's half-smiling face, next to the words "nimm deine träume für wirklichkeit", all of which is surrounded by small birds

"take your dreams for reality"

in my dream I was trying to describe the book Special Topics in Calamity Physics to someone, but I couldn’t remember the title, and I turned into something very long, that ended in, “the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” Someone was trying to remember along with me, someone else, and we said that second title at the same time, delighted that we’d been able to remember — then I said, but it isn’t that book, the Oscar Wao, it’s a different story.

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I just finished putting together the chapbook for this year’s Body Heat tour, which begins Saturday in Atlanta! This one is entitled “what they didn’t teach us.” I’ll check the proof at the printers today and then pick up the books later today or tomorrow. This is the third chapbook I’ve self-produced, and the tone of the pieces in this one is different from the earlier chapbooks, more essay-ish, and maybe more serious. Not that the other ones weren’t serious, but there’s more creative nonfiction than fiction this time around. I pulled several of the pieces from the blog, actually, and so I want to thank you for that, for being out there, for reading, for responding. I haven’t been writing a lot of erotic fiction, and so when the time came to gather up material for my chapbook, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have anything, that I’d have to recycle old stuff, or put in pieces that I’d rejected in earlier years. Then I went back through the blog, and found “what they didn’t teach us” and “pretty” and “under a genderqueering microscope” and realized/rememebred that I had been working with material here. Often, after workshops, if there’s a piece that especially resonated for me, I know that one way I can bring it out of the notebook and into the world is here on the blog, and so thank you.

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Let me tell you more about this: Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an amazing book, the kind you sink your teeth and body into. It’s multi-genre (part mystery, part straight literary fiction, part encyclopedia, part textbook, part college course), which  I always appreciate, it has a girl at the center and fully embodies that time, high school, for a very smart girl who’s trying to understand herself, her family and her life. There are visual aids, a difficult relationship with a father, stunningly dense prose that emerges from the mouth of a young woman; it’s a dense book, over 500 pages, and one I could hardly stop reading.

Speaking, though, of National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault and Prevention Month, do you know Sapphire’s American Dreams? You’ve heard of PUSH, by now, I’m sure, whether you’ve read it or now (which you should) — that’s the one that the movie Precious was based on. Before PUSH, she published American Dreams, a collection of poetry and prose that was absolutely stunning for me as a reader. She writes vividly about sexual violence, she writes persona pieces that get into the heads of both victims and perpetrators (there are pieces about the Central Park jogger who, it had been widely reported, had been gang raped by a group of young boys, and a piece about Tawana Brawley), she writes intensely about race and violence as an interconnected thing, and then there are the pieces about sex, about desire and difficulty, and what I felt when I read this book was that there was a place for that kind of writing — what I so appreciate about American Dreams (which is a painful read, and powerful at the same time) is the room she makes for complexity, for naming all the layers of an experience: the love for father, for instance, and understanding of the brutality he suffers in the world while also clearly describing, naming, his violence and sexual assault. toward his children.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is another book that I want to be able to tell you about — I read it, I think, one year after tour, when we ended in LA and I went to stay with my sister, who had the book on her bookshelf. It’s written in a series of letters, like The Color Purple, only these letters, instead of being written to god, are written to someone the character knows only a little bit, a friend of a friend, someone they maybe met once, so there’s some thread of real-life connection between the people, but not enough to inhibit the character/letter-writer out of saying what they need to say. It’s a slim book (I read it in nearly one sitting) about a young teenage boy wrangling for connection and self-understanding, who has stories to tell and no one to tell them to, who has secrets, there are things revealed that I didn’t expect and that made a kind of sense of his isolation but then also hadn’t defined it, and for that I was so grateful. He has friends and connections, though his best friend recently committed suicide — there’s something really heart-wrenching for me, and familiar, about a character who does have some people to talk to, but needs this other venue to really spill his heart out in, a different sort of interlocutor, someone who won’t cut him off or judge. It’s a beautiful exploration of depression, written for a young adult audience — and it was that latter fact that opened me to the book. How many books out there (maybe more than I know!) deal so matter-of-factly with the issues tackled in this book: sexuality, drugs, relationships, suicide, sexual assault — at least when I was a teenager, I didn’t find books like this, and I wish that I could have. I’m grateful for it now.

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What are the books, the stories, the poems,  that have stayed with you, that have been as necessary for you (or for your character) as meals? Could you write about one of those books for 10 or 15 minutes today, tell me about that relationship?

Thank you for your healing, for your reaching out, even imperceptibly, thank you for the writing you do that effects change even if it never comes out of your notebook or computer. Thank you for your words.

the poetry of your body

graffiti poem:

(click on the image to check out Jo Bell's other photos)

It’s the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and National Poetry Month. How are you marking this time?

Today I got up and did my morning pages, and now I’m going to go do some stretches and yoga before I have to get ready to catch the bus.

Check out this poem — I love those first lines: Like a flower, your beauty / is wild and untamed.

I’m grateful to this poet for sharing their work, grateful to the photographer for putting this image up online. So many , many ways to publish our work these days!

Here’s the prompt: What is the poetry of your body today? Take 10 minutes, “This is the poetry of my (his, her, your) body…” and write. (If you find yourself getting stuck, begin again with the phrase, or change it to “this _isn’t_ the poetry…” or grab a line or word or phrase from the poem in the image.)

(Thank you for your poetries, your creativities, your words!)

stubborn and curious and brave

stencil graffiti of a person next to a huge balloon bubble that says, You Are Beautiful!

I love graffiti like this

Good morning! Up late last night means I slept in today — Two hours for one means a little less sleep than I’ve been getting recently, and so this blog feels a little sleepy.

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Did you hear about the hail-snow in Northern CA yesterday? It looked and acted like snow — some folks were able to make smallish ‘hailmen’ that looked remarkably like snowmen. A couple we saw on the news last night described the sky before the snow started to fall, that it was all blue to one side of their house, and to the other side, the sky was heavy and cloudy and dark. I thought, That sounds like tornado skies. Where am I living? Didn’t I leave tornado country?

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I’m looking forward to Writing the Flood tomorrow — right now, since leaving the steady workshop space in downtown SF, we’re moving the workshops around somewhat, trying out different spaces and feels. This weekend, we’re going to be meeting in a Buddhist Center in SF! I’m looking forward to that energy.

Also: if you’re in the greater Bay Area, go see Sins Invalid. Their fifth annual performance begins tonight in San Francisco and continues through Sunday. Sins “celebrates the power of embodiment & sexuality, stripping taboos off sexuality and disability to offer a vision of beauty that includes all bodies and communities.” It’s paradigm changing, life-changing, mind-blowing, devastating, gorgeous, deeply powerful, necessary — you can get tickets here.

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My father is visiting right now, and this morning, I’m thinking about time and change, about the ways that I’ve been able to mark my own healing and transformation. Looking back from now, one of the places I could track the shifts and openings in my psyche was my dreams.

It’s hard to remember back to the early 90s, when every sleep was devastation, when I could barely breathe in my sleep, when I couldn’t run, when I couldn’t get away or walk or move. And I thought it would be forever like that, I thought my stepfather would always be chasing me there, I thought I’d always fall to my feet, my knees, the ground, and have to pull at the grass or the banister to be able to move. I thought there would always be knives and that terror. I thought I would never be free of it.

And slowly it shifted, and I may have written about it, but right now, it’s lost to me, just when that opening happened, the first time I could, in my dream, walk up a flight of stairs without having to physically pull against the thick weight of dream gravity. When did it happen that my dreams changed, when I could run or walk freely, when I stopped having him there to kill me, when I started to act back? Most recently, in my dream, we were on a beach and I shoved his face in sand til he couldn’t breathe, and he ran away because he was afraid of hurting me. I was afraid of repercussions, too, and went someplace to hide, sort of (a public bathroom with open stalls – not a lot of hiding there), but he didn’t come for me.

It takes so much time, this recovery, this life. This life is a recovery, isn’t it? ‘Time heals all things’ is a wicked cliche, and has felt utterly unhelpful to me when I’m in pain and see no light at the end of any tunnel, am not even aware of being on a train anymore. And I don’t know that it’s true, that time is what’s doing the healing, but time is a measure and a manifestation of the breaths we’ve taken, the space we allowed for ourselves to change — and in that space, in breathing into and through the terror, the rage, the sorrow, the loss, the excitements the joys the possibility, our bodies got to keep moving, got to take in new oxygen, our cells got to recreate themselves, our bodies became new, over and over. And yes, like the soil at spring time, suddenly there was new growth in us where before there’d just been something frozen. And maybe it took several seasons for us to notice and maybe we forgot when it started, the greening of our barrenest places, but the greening happened just the same. Because we kept breathing. Because we are stubborn and curious and brave.

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What’s on your plate to write about today? Are you doing the 30 poems in 30 days challenge for National Poetry Month? Take the pen and the notebook, give yourself just a little time, think about those greening places in you, in your characters, places you maybe thought would never grow/feel/heal again, but are. You can begin with the phrase, I used to be ___ but now___ (or he/she/we/you/they used to be…)

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Thank you for your curiosities, your stubbornnesses, your braveries, all these resiliencies that have lived (in) you. Thank you for breathing into what hurts the most. Thank you, always thank you, for your words.

the body lands on yes

(Photo by Marc P/Flickr)

Last week, she said, At the end of the day, the body always lands on yes.

What if that’s true?

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Here is a poem I have for today, for this today, for now. I’ve shared this before, though maybe not on the blog, but it works again today.

Father’s Song

by Gregory Orr

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk.

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What if we can trust what our bodies are telling us, even right now?

(Thank you)

still not a luxury

white graffiti on a black painted wall: "graffiti is a poem the city writes to itself"Two quotes for you today from Audre Lorde, in honor of both National Poetry Month & National Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month:

“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

“… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
Audre Lorde

Have you read Lorde’s essay/talk, “Poetry is not a Luxury“? That’s a great possibility for today. And after, give yourself maybe 10 minutes to write about what you’ve read, what you imagined as you read her work, or those quotes from her work above: does creative writing/creative work feel like something we have to do on the side of our lives, something above and beyond the necessities of life? It’s at the very tip top of Maslow’s Hierarchy, after all, far away from food & shelter — a splurge, a luxury.
What if we consider the fact that creation isn’t a luxury — it’s a human condition. And poetry/creative writing has been a transformational human act since we found the capacity for speech — even before written language, the bards/griots, who held (hold) and shared (share) a community’s/society’s collected knowledge and/or news in the form of sung poetry, were (are) held up and revered. In the West, and particularly in the USA, we look down on poets as weak, childish, undriven to succeed materially. In many other parts of the world, even today, poets aren’t seen this way.
Audre Lorde says it: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Without this gift, we stay stagnant in particular ways of thinking, or unthinking. It has been my experience that the most transformative reading in my own healing/growing process has been poetry and other creative work. This experience of finding language for what we had thought was unsayable is deeply transformative: it gives lie to the silencers, it gives lie to what we thought we had to swallow in order to survive. In reading their work, and then through my/our own writing process, the possibilities available for my/our very being are blown open, because the words I/we have access to have changed, expanded, multiplied.
These have been my teachers, because they have opened to me new ways to think, new languages for what up to my reading of their work had been unlanguaged in me: Alice Walker, Pat Califia, Sharon Bridgeforth, Sapphire, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Allison, Chrystos, Linda Smukler/Samuel Ace, Patricia Smith, Essex Hemphill, Pat Parker, Pamela Sneed, Ai, Kim Addonizio, Nikki Giovanni (this is not at all exhaustive; there were many more) — and yes, e.e. cummings, and Shel Silverstein, who was first. These have crafted me, have shown me what poetry, what truth-telling, what revolution can look like, a revolution that is, for me, queer women led (queer woman-of-color led, honestly) a revolution that names names and says what we were told was no one would ever be able to say.
Who have been the poets that blew you open? What poem? When did you read it? Do you remember where you were sitting, or what town you lived in? Spending time with favorite stories or poems can be such a delight — give yourself permission to take 7 or 10 minutes for this write today.
Thank you for the words you offer, that give so much to you yourself in your own transformation, and, too, might become a becon, a shape-shifting possibility for others as well.

“all those things not yet said”

graffiti: mandala in NYCGood Monday morning! I am sleepy today — this morning, it’s hard to stay with the writing; I have to keep typing (like I would write it out in the notebook) that once I’m done here, I can go back to sleep if I really want to. Sometimes, that’s what being easy with myself means: giving in, on paper, at least, and in real life sometimes, too.

When I say, be easy with you, I mean, don’t beat yourself up in your heart. I mean, be patient with yourself and your process. I mean, send yourself a little love when you are feeling very hard and sad. I mean, trust the difficult places, the triggers, the shit that comes up. I mean, trust your own process: it’s nobody’s business but yours.

Yes, sometimes, you won’t do everything the way you thought you were supposed to be able to (this looks like my everyday, btw): Be easy with you means, That’s all right. That’s human.

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This coming Saturday, April 9, we’ll gather again for Writing the Flood! Want to join us? This time around, we should be meeting in San Francisco (getting that settled up today or tomorrow) — there are a few spaces still available!

We meet early this month because the following week I’m headed down South for the latest incarnation of the Body Heat Queer Femme Porn Tour! I get to join up with Kathleen Delaney, Alex Cafarelli, Gigi Frost, and the Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins for their amazing performances around queer femme sexuality, identity and desire. Can’t wait!

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April is both National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. This morning, I thought, That sounds like writing ourselves whole month.

We here reading and writing, we know that these things go together — the power and necessity of poetry to teach, to explain, to give voice to that which has not yet been spoken or listened to. We know how poetry and other forms of creative writing can heal what we didn’t even know was wounded in us, can teach lessons that don’t get learned any other way, can express what we believed there were no words to express. The delicious joy of listening to/witnessing/reading someone else’s indelible words.

Writing poetry or otherwise creatively can be, simultaneously, a tremendous form of self care and a liberatory social change practice.

And writing can be a way of knowing, a way of engaging with what we might know, or could know — and that can be especially useful for trauma survivors, for whom memory can be like a half-rotted film strip, with much of the imagery lost or fragmented, but here and there, a clear sharp sound, that bright flash that means everything.

I found this on twitter this morning: Plato said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” What about that?

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I have these two (other) delightful quotes this morning, from a handout that John Fox gave out at the Healing Art of Writing conference last summer:

“When we are not sure, we are alive.” — Graham Greene

and

“I have faith in all those things that are not yet said.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I wonder about letting those be a writing prompt this morning — just be with each of these statements, and notice what begins to bubble up around them in your writer’s brain. Take out your notebook or open a new document on the screen and let yourself write for 10 minutes: what do these mean for you and/or your characters? (If you find yourself stuck, you might write about what you have faith in, or when you know you’re alive, or what happens when you’re not sure, or what hasn’t yet been said… )

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.