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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.

FH-hummingbird-slider

proud that she got us here

graffiti from Gay Youth Galway -- Big rainbow "OUT" with the words "No to homophobic bullying!"Happy Friday! Here where I am, it’s blue & green outside the windows, sunshine pushing into everything, lettuces quietly growing like gangbusters, puppy curled in a fed-n-satisfied-n-sleepy ball. The carpet is in desperate need of vacuuming, and the puppy toys are gathered up and tossed on top of the fire box. What’s it look like where you are?

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Just spent about 25 or 30 minutes typing more of that first journal entry from 1993, and am paying attention to what happens in my body as I do so. I got very cold, and my fingers would go from being able to type quickly & accurately to slipping and stumbling all over the place. But this entry is from right after I broke contact, or rather, right at the beginning. He called me constantly, trying to get me back ‘in.’ It’s hard to just type the words, just be with that voice, that 21-year-old self, who is still stuck in the perpetrator’s language, trying to argue her way out of his boxes with his words and persuasions, still thinking that if she’s able to do so well enough, he’ll let her off the hook. I want to respond to her, clarify as I’m typing, say it out loud: that was all bullshit, Jen! You didn’t have to think that way!

Of course I know it now. The blessing of all these journals is that I get to see, again, when I started to shift in my thinking, when I began to get free in my head. This entry is the beginning of that. It was one of the first times I’d written down (and not destroyed, or sent to him) what he was doing to me, and that it wasn’t ok with me). This entry is a revolution, quietly sitting there in black ink in an unlined Artists Sketch Book. I am proud of us, of then-Jen and me, now, for doing it, for both taking the steps and writing about them. She got me started. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without her. As hard as it is to read her words, and how she/we/I thought then, that ever-present tangle of cognitive dissonance, I won’t change them. They’re ours.

I’m grateful for this record, for the opportunity to be, again, with that voice, that self, this written memory.

I’m going to take a long shower after I post this, and leave more transcribing for another day. It’s heavy work, that reading & typing, moving those words through my body again, from paper to eyes to brain to nerve impulse to fingers: I want to take good care of me as I do this. Take the transcribing in small bites, drink lots of water, stretch, play with the dog, wash it through & clean.

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It’s Pride weekend here in SF.

Today’s the Trans March— are you gonna be there?

Tomorrow’s the Dyke March, and Sunday’s the big Pride festival (which I wish were still called the Gay Freedom Day Parade — I like that so much better).

Have fun, if you’re going to be partying, and stay safe, ok? You deserve it! Keep an eye on your friends, watch one another’s backs — let’s act like we matter, like it matters that we’re safe.

So much going on, for so many of us — and lots of folks still feel overwhelmed, left out, deep loss and shame.

What does pride mean for you? Maybe let that be your write this morning — and you don’t have to be queer-identified to write about Pride, of course! I don’t just mean pride as big gay celebration, but pride as a concept related to your whole self. What does it mean to feel pride? What about yourself/your work/your relationships/your communities brings you pride? What would bring you pride if it were manifested? Take 15 minutes (set a timer), settle in with your notebook and coffee, and dive in. If you’re going out into queer community this weekend, what do you hope for with respect to pride? Let it all down onto the page. “Pride is…” or “I’m/She’s/He’s/Ze’s/We’re proud of…”

I’m proud of you, of him & her, of all of us. I’m proud of how high we fly, how we stay grounded, too, even through all the voices that tell us Never & You Can’t & Forget about it. I’m grateful for how you remember and fly anyway. I’m grateful for your words.

FH-hummingbird-slider

old stories, new readings

stencil graffiti of pink unicorn!
I like that I searched for 'graffiti strength,' and this was one of the results...

Good morning!

I want to tell you about the fog this morning, how the top layer glowed pink in the rising sun, how it seemed to be surrounding us, me & the pup, hugging the shoulders of all the mountains but somehow not covering us. The foghorns have been a thick accompaniment all night, watching over us, watching over something. We walked up the hill, through the trees, by all the morning birds, past the field swallow with her iridescent wings, feeding her babies under the eaves of the neighbor woman’s house, the house with the enormous garden that reminds me of my mother’s garden every single day. The cool is a balm this morning. It’s amazing how quickly we acclimate.

No deer today, but I did find a tiny hawk’s feather, stuck in the grass up by the old church. I picked it up, carried it in the hand that I use to carry Sophie’s treats. It felt like a treat for me, something to pay attention to.

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a quick prompt this morning: give me the view from your kitchen window. If you don’t have a kitchen window, write what you’d like to see if you had one, or give me a window from another place you (or your character) have lived. This is about scene-setting, about landscape, about location. 10 minutes — and include one person, even if you can’t see them as you’re writing.

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I have had a project I wanted to begin for years, that of transcribing material from all of my journals. I started journaling with intent in 1993, right before I broke contact with my mother & stepfather after telling my stepfather I wouldn’t ‘have sex’ with him anymore. I was 21. He and my mother cut me off, financially & emotionally, shunning me from the family, because I was making ‘fear choices.’

I want to get back into this record I’ve created of the transformations of the last 18 years, and am wondering about including bits and pieces here.

The first one I’ve got this morning is from 1993, beginning 11/26. On the inside cover I wrote, ‘Memories for Survival & Living…” I can’t remember if this is before or after I withdrew from school. Maybe there’ll be a record. I couldn’t afford to pay for it anymore. I ended up withdrawing halfway through my senior, and it took me me nearly three years to finish the last two quarters.

Here’s the first couple of pages (a bit of explicit talk about sexual abuse — please be easy with you):

I just bought this book today & I want to fill it with memories of my second father — or maybe with memories of fathers in general — I don’t know what it means to live with a father who is ‘normal.’ Maybe that’s for the best — maybe that’s shaped who I am. That’s certain — I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if I hadn’t had the experiences I’ve had. I have all kinds of self-confidence now, but what about my self-respect? I have none… I have no ability to stand up for who I am and who I want to be.

He has, too many times, talked me out of my concerns and fears and talked me out of saying, ‘No. I’m uncomfortable here.’ He’s told me that I’m just scared, giving in to what Neal wanted me to do, giving into boyfriends, just being resistant or problematic. He has asked me to forget/reconstruct the past with regards to him … but not with regards to Neal. he was the first to point out to me times when I was giving Neal a break in my own mind. He has asked me to have his child, to fuck my own children, to lie to my mother and sister and other lovers and to myself. He tells me to be true to myself, and then he tells me to pie to myself — to reconstruct my own history so that I can be happier with it — perhaps so he can be happier with itis there any question why I feel like I’m going crazy?

(Note: Neal is my biological Dad, the man I refer to as Dad now — at the time, my stepfather was Dad, and my Dad was Neal.)

This morning I have compassion for that girl, that 21-year old sitting in a New Hampshire cafe, hiding from the room with the telephone ringing constantly, the man on the other end trying endlessly to hold on to his control over her. And I’m grateful to her — she got us here. She started us on this road. She made an incredible choice. She stepped away.

Thanks for the ways you’re compassionate with all the layers of your old selves, for the ways you recognize the power of their choices, even if you’d make a different choice now. Thank you for your resilience, your generosity, your words.