Tag Archives: questions

keep the problem open, she said

Street art image of a young white woman holding a stenciled poster which reads “As long as I have questions and no answers, I’ll keep writing” – Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star (Benjamin Moser, trans.)

What can I tell you about what’s happening right now? The alarm goes off at 4:30 and I’m up, even though I couldn’t get to sleep for what felt like hours last night, my heart racing racing: we thought it was a good idea to watch the first episode of the latest season of Orange is the New Black just before bed. Not really the best idea. My heart is pounding again just thinking about it  — with rage, with anticipation, with fear, with hope, with adrenaline. Mostly with adrenaline Most tv these days seems designed to fill us with as much adrenaline as possible for as long as possible. I said, my head under the pillow, from the sleep-not-sleep-if-I-don’t-sleep-how-am-I-gonna-get-up-at-4:30 place, I said, Let’s not watch this right before bed anymore. And she said, from under her pillow, Right.

But I managed to get to sleep at some point because then the birds were waking me up upaand they were on my phone. I have the candle now, the tea the quiet place in the basement with the ticking clock. No birds outside yet. Yesterday evening Sophie and I stood at attention as something awful-sounding happened with the turkeys up the hill. First there was a loud vocal noise — of fear? of anger? of consternation or seduction? — and then a great deal of rustling in the dry leaves. We stood at attention and stared. At one point we could see (I assume she could also see) a few big birds, wings out and spread, in silhouette through a break in the trees, the setting sun illuminating the glossy green live oak leaves and the dusky brown of the hillside but not the birds themselves, but then they hustled back into the forest itself, and the rest of the noise was obscured by trees. Overhead a handful of crows played upside-down-in-the-air touch football or something, and a couple hummingbirds dive-bombed the bottlebrush tree at the edge of our yard. This is a bird place for sure. The chickadees and titmice were noisy in the nighttime the evening trees, oaks, and I looked around for deer but couldn’t see any hidden in the thoroughfare just beneath our yard, the fat row of trees and space between us and the backside of the condo complex below.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. What feels good is writing here, is being at this quiet desk, is letting my fingers remember themselves onto the keys, is remembering how to just keep writing, keep typing, forget about spelling write right or going back to fix typos or make sense of anything that the words are trying to do with your hands here. I do sun salutations while waiting for the water to boil – my body tight, not used to stretching, I let my arms hang slack and then twist from side to side, hands hit the sides of my body, hit at kidney and butt, the way Alex showed me. The other day we stopped by the old neighborhood and I stole a couple of branches from two of the plants I’d started there — the native geranium and the copper creek marigold, which the latter of which had flushed out beautifully. Right now the cuttings are in a Ball jar in the kitchen, and I run my fingers along their different leaves, the thick fuzz of the geranium, the fluttery thin filagree of the marigold, and bring their different and combined scents on my fingers up to smell, then rub behind my ears with the idea that I’m giving myself a little good perfume. Recently I bought some rose geranium soap, to have a little aromatherapy in the shower — what was it they said about geranium scent? I’ll have to look it up. Either way, it makes me feel better to smell it, to bring that aroma into my body.

There are the birds waking up here’s me been awake for an hour already and the sun hasn’t yet brought any bright to the sky yet. The fog will be thick between here and the golden gate bridge. At some point, once the sun’s up, you can look out and see a fait faint separation between ground and sky, the fog coating the mountains and bridge and the fog filling the air above, the marine layer they call it, right, thats the one above, but at first it’s just all a single mass of grey and cloud and thick and wet that clots the bay and dusts everything with seasalt and morning.

That quote from Clarice Lispector, that’s what I wanted to write into this morning: As long as I have questions and no answers, I’ll keep writing. Is that what stopped me up a year or more ago? Filled up with answers and all the answers were no – no hope, no change, no possibility. I thought about the way I’ve been thinking about men recently, about masculinity and manhood. it’s true that after I got out of my last relationship I had a dim view of masculinity, the way masculinity and the acquisition of such has taken up so much space in our various queer community/-ies — the way the search for masculinity gets to be the excuse for all sorts of bad behavior, and for treating the feminine like a rag with which to wipe off a shoe or clean up come, you know. And then there’s the rest of the men. Cisgendered millennial men wish, it seems, to recreate the world of Mad Men and Wolves of Wall Street for themselves (lest they be left out of the full promise of patriarchy, god forbid).

I think I’ve been in an answered place for a long time now — and just kept getting hammered down with more answers: The world wasn’t going to change. Men were going to keep on using women and children for their sexual gratification and domination needs, no matter what we did, no matter how we grew and raged and fought back, no matter how much we “educated,” calmly explaining that, no, we didn’t want to be harassed on the street, no, thank you, we didn’t want to be raped today just because we asked for some money to support our growing business or because we were a student in their class or because we were an employee in their company or because we walked past them on the street and smiled or didn’t smile or wore clothes or had legs and breasts and a body or because we were their child or their girlfriend’s child or because we were a child in their parish or because we shared an opinion online (note! initial image at this page is likely triggering) or because or because or because— no, thank you, you know what? we don’t want to be raped today. Are you educated about this yet? Have we held enough classes and trainings?

So I had some answers — or I thought I did — and I got stuck in them.

I turned to the bread, the sourdough starter, the seeds in dirt, the garden, which are all question, all wonder, all what’s going to happen next? People were giving too many answers. I needed to get away from them. Social media, the whole fucking Internet is filled with answers–every post, every tweet, a declarative sentence, a statement, a knowing, a surety, an answer pounded with a fist into a table. There is no room for conversation in a place, within a room or inside a body, that’s all answers and no questions.

Keep the problem open, read a sticky note that I used to keep next to my bed back when I was at Hedgebrook, a piece of advice offered by Priscilla Long one night at dinner. Keep the problem open, she said, challenging the prevailing blogging culture that encourages short posts with pithy answers. Don’t think you have any answer at all. The answer stops the writing.

Questions and curiosity are what drive me to sit down at the page, the notebook, this keyboard, and ease my way into words.  Question is vulnerability and uncertainty. Question is openness, the soft belly of wonder, the tenderness of curiosity, the lack of a hard outer shell that makes fun of everything that isn’t ironic and joking, isn’t seeded with hatred and fear.

With only answers in front and inside of me, I couldn’t write. I didn’t feel drawn to write, I mean. It’s not so much that I was blocked if I sat down at the notebook, but that I didn’t want to spend time with the answers I’d been filed with. These were answers of despair, of hopelessness and depression, of the inability to change, learn, grow, hope, wonder, want. These were the answers of lack and of no. These were the answers of it’s never going to get any better and those in power are never going to give it up and we who haven’t had power aren’t going to take whats rightfully ours or demand that they quit treating us like meat to be fucked at their leisure.

What room is there in such an answer for poetry, for story, for fiction, for imagination, for wondering? Who wants to wonder into such a thing?

Maybe the garden and the bread, the dog and the birds, have helped me back into questions again. Maybe time away from social media has eased me out of the idea that the only way to participate is to Have The Answers, to use a voice that is sure of itself and clear, that doesn’t ask, that gives only a list of ten ways why every ally is an enemy, why you are fucking up your social justice work, why those who don’t think exactly like we do are capital-w Wrong, why this or that or the other group is making a mistake and has to change now, why we are going to fail at anything we try.

The people in power, if course, want us to have these sort of bleak answers, Hopelessness is easier to control than a hope that is reaching for change, that believes in a positive change, that seeks wonder, that is curious and slippery and aching with desire, that sees something new for our children and their children, and even for ourselves and those we love right now. When there are questions there are still possibilities for something new — something heretofore unimagined, something beautiful — to emerge, damp and glistening with seasalt and morning, quivering under our fingers, just ready to take its first breath.

Thank you for all the questions you are still asking, still allowing yourself to ask, still inhaling and exhaling, still writing into. Thank you, today and always, for your words.

take it again

graffiti of a red curlie-que question markYou were in my dreams last night, weren’t you? What were we doing there? I’m so glad we were together.

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

Sophie is eating part of her breakfast from a gourd-shaped Kong; it’s hollow on the inside, with the neck open to dispense and receive treats, and a cut-out on one side and on the bottom. I could watch her with this process all day; she learned quickly that if she up-righted the Kong, food shows up at the bottom, so she pulls it up like a lever. Smart girl.

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

Yesterday, I got to spend some time with Sharon Bray’s Writing as a Healing Ministry class at Pacific School of Religion. These are intrepid folks; they’re spending a week going deep into all the different ways of using writing as a healing or stewarding process for others and/or themselves, and this means, too, that they’re spending a week exploring their own motives, fears, longings, work. Then they’re going to take this learning, this longing and work, back into their communities, and hold spaces for the sort of deep change that a writing process can allow for.

I want to tell you a bit about some of the questions they asked, and maybe think a bit more about my answers, but right now, Sophie is alarmed by the noises coming from the driveway, and I need to go introduce her to the garbage truck. More about this soon (the questions, not the truck).

Here’s an invitation to write, though: Has someone asked you about something recently that you didn’t have the time you really wanted or needed to respond to in full? Or maybe you answered quickly and honestly, but there’s a lot more to the answer that you gave. Think about that for a seond, jot down one or more questions/situations/conversations that you wish you’d had more time for, and then choose one and give yourself 10 minutes with it. What do you wish you had said? What else was there to offer? Get complicated with it; no one will interrupt you now.

Thanks for your work in this world. Thanks for your generosity and heart. Thanks, yes, for your words.

prejudice and rethinking

mural of young woman bunching up huge numbers of calla lilies for marketToday I woke up from a dream about us living in a house here in town, one we haven’t been able to see inside of yet: in the dream, I could see the big, fat calla lily in the front yard. I’ve been having a hard time getting enough sleep, and somehow managed to wake up, get out of bed, when my 2nd alarm went off just after 6. I spend most of the morning spinning about my to-do list, which I am best able to tackle early in the morning. With this day job, I spend the bulk of my best and most creative working hours either getting ready for work or in commute — by the time I get to the office, the yoke of the day has set in.

What would it be like if this were my priority, the workshops, writing about the workshops? Have I told this story already? The person who controlled and sexually abused me/my family from 1982 until 1996, when he went to prison, my mother’s second husband, was a therapist — both he and my mom worked with kids who had been sexually abused. This has meant that I have been suspicious of all therapists — all therapists. Even my sister, now, I ask myself — yes, maybe even her. And this is why, named just this week by my former employer: because of my prejudice. I myself have felt it to be a fully-justified prejudice, but it’s a prejudice nonetheless, a preconceived opinion about every therapist I meet, at least momentarily, that isn’t based in any knowledge about that person. Yes, there are lots of shitty and manipulative therapists — and there are lots of shitty and manipulative and abusive teachers and clerks and computer programmers and… abusers aren’t limited to the realm of the transformative/healing arts.

Let me be gentle with it: this prejudice, like an armor, kept me safe — I needed to question and work to trust anyone who called themselves a therapist; I didn’t want just anyone thinking they could get at my brain. I still don’t. I know what they can do — ok, what some people who call themselves therapists can do with the skills and knowledge they have been entrusted with.

Given this prejudice, what does it mean, then, if I am successful as someone who walks with and witnesses folks through their own transformational processes? You’ll notice I am careful not to use the word therapeutic (which, yes, has medical connotations at the root, but also means, in our current idiom, that which is healing  or helps maintain health): this deep desire not to be one of them. Not to be him.

What does it mean, suddenly, that I can envision myself doing one-with-one work with people around their struggles to find language for their stories, to find words for what wasn’t allowed words, to access their own, individual, brilliantly creative languagings and tellings for the unsayable? Is that part of what feels like it’s crumbling inside?

What does it mean to release a prejudice?

These are the questions that I want to take to school: how is it that we humans are shaped by/created by language — how does that occur? What happens to that languaged self (and how does this happen for people differently in different situations at different ages) when we are traumatized? What happens, neuro-linguistically or psycho-linguistically or socio-linguistically, during an expressive and witnessed/communal writing practice, for folks who have experienced trauma? What’s the connection between our being language and our embodiment? What’s the erotics of a languaged self, an ability to express our desire? I’m desperate to get Lacan and Pennebaker talking, Foucault and Pat Schneider, Carol Queen and Audre Lorde and Saussure and Kristeva and Califia and more.

What about a prompt: A prejudice is any preconcieved notion, positive or negative, formed about a person, place, thing or idea without experiencing them/it directly. What are your character’s prejudices — what does she believe about certain people or places without needing to meet them or go there? Does she know that all liberals are kind to animals, that all people who drive Priuses care about the ocean, that all 7-11 clerks are slackers? What prejudices has she released over the course of her lifetime? How did she come to understand that she had a prejudice, and then decide to let those go? Let yourself meet those inside places that shape her vision, shape how she interacts with the world, even without conscious knowledge.

Thank you for your wisdom, the way you have allowed your experiences to guide you to this now, and the ways you have been resilient around questioning your beliefs and letting new information in, growing and stretching and holding on. Thank you for your dense and thick creativity, for your amazing words.