Tag Archives: radical self acceptance

being without a soundtrack

Good morning, good morning. It’s a Saturday and I let myself rise without an alarm. In my dreams — I can’t remember my dreams, actually. Maybe they will come back as I write. My hands are dry and rough from gardening last night, and my body is a good kind of sore, the sort of sore that says I’ve been working in it. Yesterday I found pea and clover sprouts when I went down to water the garden — and the zucchini’s already putting out flowers — things are happening down in that good dark. I dug up a patch of hard-packed yard out in front of the house, added some planting soil to the clods that I broke up by hand, and then planted poppies, zinnia, and the native gardenia that I got from my friend Alex and have moved now three or four times. I clipped some pieces of salvia, lavender, and mint from the backyard and have put them in jars in the kitchen window to see if they will sprout. Once they’re ready, I’ll add them to this little garden coming together out front.

When I fell asleep last night, the house smelled of actually-sour sourdough bread — I made a couple of whole-wheat oat loaves yesterday, and though they didn’t rise as much as the white-flour loaves have (and are still nothing close to the chewy, holey sourdough that I get in restaurants or from the market), they have a tight crumb and taste fantastic. I will admit that when I opened the oven door to peek at them toward the end of the baking time, my heart fell — they looked like the sad, dense (and inedible) loaves I always got when I tried to bake sourdough in Maine. But these turned out to be actually tasty — they just weren’t terribly fluffy. I guess that’s not surprising with whole wheat.

So there’s the garden and bread update.

This morning I woke up thinking about presence. I’ve had a few days of quiet alone time, and have spent these days mostly un-accompanied by a soundtrack. This is unusual for me. I’m the sort of girl who likes to have the radio on — all the time. I got a my first portable walkman when I was twelve or thirteen, and I’ve been walking around with music plugging up my ears ever since. The music has been a part of my survival, helping me to get away from the spinning, crowded voices in my head, to get away from my difficult and immediate present. But it seems that something has changed.

I’ve used music consistently when I write — both out at cafes and alone at home, listening to something while I’m writing helps me to ignore the distractions around me and focus in more fully on the words. Having some sort of sound on helped, too, with my overly-developed startle response; when there was some sort of noise filling the gap between my imaginings and the outside world around me, then I was less alarmed when I got surprised by the dog’s bark or someone entering the room – I’ve used the music, the voices and stories, to help cloak me, to help me be able at all to move around in the world. I was so overly sensitive and easily startled that the music could provide a buffer. The sound was like a cocoon I stepped into — a private room out in the world; underneath and inside the sound, I could think and imagine and survive.

Plus, you know, I like listening to music — it’s not all trauma aftermath. Who doesn’t like to push a trowel into some freshly-churned soil while Janet Jackson promises anytime, anyplace?

The last couple of days, I’ve gone running around my sweetheart’s neighborhood in the afternoon. I have a new phone for which I haven’t yet acquired a protective case — I can drop it while just standing still, so I certainly don’t want to take it with me when I go out to run, trying to keep a hold on it while my hands get all sweaty. So I ran without music or voices — no Harry Shearer’s Le Show, no “Dog Days Are Over,” my usual go-to jogging soundtracks. Instead, I’ve been accompanied by the sound of my breath and feet, and the sounds of the neighborhood. I’m able (and even willing) to be inside my body without distraction, noticing what’s aching, what’s loose, what’s feeling good. I notice the gardens I’m running past (there’s lots of time to notice them, as I’m not running all that fast), I notice the animals, I say hello to neighbors. The other day, I saw a stellar’s jay and a salamander in mortal combat — the jay was trying to catch the salamander for lunch, but the salamander wasn’t having any of it, and kept snapping back. The bird hopped up, tried to snatch the reptile in his beak, then got scared away. I stopped to watch, but the jay flew some feet away from his retreating prey — he didn’t want to be observed. I get it: I’m like that, too. So I ran on, no music to distract me, feeling the warm sun, the cool breeze, the douse of my sweat and the spread of warmth across and through my back as all those tight muscles got jogged loose.

It’s still new — this ability to write without music playing, to run without distractions (to run, period, let’s be honest), to fall asleep alone without music on, to be in the world without constantly needing soundtrack or noise to keep me from hearing the things I’m afraid of hearing — that I’m surprised by it, surprised that I want to be in the quiet, surprised that I can concentrate without the noise. It wasn’t, as I often told people, that I simply preferred to write in a noisy cafe with the music pushing into my ears over and above the sounds of the cafe sound system and all the conversations; it was that I couldn’t focus when I was in silence — I was too scared to be alone and quiet in my own head.

Now, as coping mechanisms go, listening to music isn’t all that terrible — and I’ve certainly not stopped listening to music at all while I do other things in my life. But what I’m finding is my instinct telling me one more time, it‘s ok to let this go for now; you’re safe enough now to loosen your hold on this way of protecting yourself — like it did with smoking and drinking and butchness and workaholism and too much tv and overeating, all those different ways I’ve found to put space between my consciousness and the world around me, all those ways I found to armor up and keep myself alive. I am grateful to each of these practices, and just as grateful when one more starts to loosen its hold, giving me one more opportunity to just be in and a part of the world I’m inhabiting, grateful to have lived and healed enough to be here now.

femmelove: you can only carry yourself with your own fierce grace

medium_MissTic3One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
The owl, calling in the setting of the sun
and the deer path, all erased.
– from “One Day,” by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Good morning good morning. I’ve been up since 4, seeing my sweetheart and her boy off on an adventure. The song sparrows found the sun long before the light crested the edges of the hills. I woke up tender this morning, struggling with old resentments, struggling with how long it can take to release myself from blame, shame, and guilt, struggling with how easy it is for me to get called back into shaming myself for old ways of being, for not growing or healing faster than I could.

I got a communication from my ex last night and it’s got my hackles all up. Never mind that it’s a straightforward question, nothing overtly hostile or shitty. He never was overtly hostile or shitty — just passive aggressive and ostensibly clueless. We rarely communicate because he asked that we have no contact, and then proceeds to contact me whenever he feels he needs to. So it is that I continue to erupt with feeling whenever I see his name in my inbox or on my text messages: old resentment, directed toward him, sure, but more directed toward me and the self I was when we got together, the self I was throughout most of our relationship. I want to have done things differently from the beginning. I want not to have needed as much time as I needed in order to finally stand up for myself and walk away.

What do we do with big anger, with the old resentments, with the heat of disappointment and shame that still sits in the body? What to do with the who I was when I was with him, who I allowed myself to delove — I mean, devolve — into? How it is that I came to the place in my life that I could say: He promised to change; I should give him another chance. How did I become a person who’d use language like that? How do we tend to the wounds of those we love without becoming wounds ourself, without believing that we are saviors, without capitulating to the lover’s siren song, the one that says, Please fix me. You’re the only one who can.

Never trust that song. It is a lie. It is the song of a wounded animal, the song of a wounded child who only wants someone to pick them up and love them well and treat them like a beloved thing in the eyes of the sun. It is a powerful thing to have someone turn the sun’s eyes on you, to have someone tell you that you are the only and one best thing that can save them — you are the only one who understands — you are the only one who can kiss it and make it better. But you are not their parent. I was not his mother. My job was never to be his mother. My job was never to contort myself so that someone else be more comfortable in the world. And still I put that task on my shoulders because I wanted to be a good femme.

I tried to reach for comfort inside the context of his disassembly: he could have have put the pillows and a blanket on the floor and said to me, If you want to be a good ally to me, you’ll sleep there. I would have. I wanted him to know that I was a safe space, that I got it. I knew that he had suffered, and I could make it better. Wasn’t that what I’d learned from Stone Butch Blues? A femme’s job is to stand by her man, hold all the secrets, and suffer in silence.

So, when the old rage and resentments flare, I rant a little, and then I check in with myself: What’d I need to learn from this relationship?

How to hold my own boundaries as sacrosanct. How to listen to the no that rises up in me like wildfire. How to trust that every other person has their own higher power, their own resources and capacity to take care of themselves, to trust that I was not put on the earth to make sure that any other adult is reparented well or gendered appropriately.

The thing I want to talk about is wounded butches and rescuer femmes. I kneel down into the bed of my psyche, push in tender fingers and pull at that woven bed of matted, invasive root structures: I do not exist to ensure that anyone else’s life is worth living. I cannot not be the mother you did not have. You could not be the father I did not have. I am not your perfect femme, the one who turns herself out to make sure the world sees you as you wish to be seen. Of course, he would say he did not ask for this — and he didn’t. I asked it of myself. This is the mire I get stuck within. My job was to fold myself in such a way that he could rise up and over. Do you see? Let me be the visible dizzy girl when we are out in the world together, so that the world will see you as that girl’s man. The world is looking for that girl to have a man. Never mind that I didn’t want a hero. Never mind that I didn’t want a man. I wanted a lover and compatriot. I wanted a friend and companion. And oh, I wanted to be the best ally. I wanted to be the hero. Yes, of course. A big sister who has failed her little sister wants to hero something successfully, and I tried to hero my ex-wife (when I wasn’t asking that she hero me), and then I tried to be the best hero femme for your tender angry scared wounded butch.

Where is the conversation about how we hold each other up and also demand that each of us gets the support we need outside the relationship? That’s not the question I want to ask. Where was the femme community telling me I didn’t have to be the good femme, I didn’t have to be the Leslie Feinberg tragic heroine suffering in silence at the kitchen table with a tumbler of whisky while my lover recuperated in the other room after yet another tortured encounter with the heterosexist, transphobic, racist, classist outside world?

If you are a femme asking these questions yourself, I want to tell you that you don’t have to be that silent sufferer. You don’t have to be the carrier of all the secrets. You are more than just the body that displays someone else’s masculinity and manhood. You are more than the quiet and slight that someone else can be big and loud in opposition to. You are more than her femme or his femme or their femme: You are more than a possessive or a thing possessed. You are more than your guilt or shame or sorrow. You cannot fix someone else’s woundings by making yourself small. You cannot fix someone else’s woundings at all. You can only carry yourself with your own fierce grace. You can only follow the tender violet callings of your own broken open heart. Yes, if you are a lover of butches, you will watch them get hurt in the world — but it is not their right to demand that you make everything better (even if they are not aware that they are making that demand). Your love will not change the world. Your love will not change them. Only they can change themselves. Listen to them tell you they will change — once. After that, pay attention to what they do, rather than what they say. Find femme support and listen to the innerest voice of your heart and your gut. Your instincts don’t lie to you, even when you don’t want to hear what they have to say. It took that relationship to teach me that I could trust my instincts. I wish I could have learned that lesson differently, and yet I am grateful that I learned it as soon as I did.

A life that has new languages in it

the swallowed grain
takes you through the dreams
of another night,
the deer meat becomes hands
strong enough to work.
– from “Inside,” by Linda Hogan

Outside the birds are already waking up, even though the sun isn’t up yet. My body is sore from a weekend working in the garden — we  got ourselves connected and grounded and rooted over these long, warm days.

Write in the notebook, take care of the dog, get the day’s bread ready, work in the garden, be with the child. How is this not the work we’re supposed to be doing? All the rest is about making money to pay rent. All the rest is about living under capitalism.

When I work in the garden, I think about writing. I dig in this Oakland dirt and listen to the neighborhood kids play. I listen to the neighbor’s radios, their laughter and shouts. I listen to the dogs at other houses barking and playing. I listen to the birds playing deep in the middle of the trees. I watch the neighborhood squirrel as she peeks up over the top of the fence, waggling body and tail, waiting to see if the puppy’s going to run after her. I listen for bees, to see if they’re coming back. I listen for hummingbirds and hawks. I churn up the soil with the pitchfork and then I kneel down into the garden beds and dig my hands into ever clod of turned dirt, shaking out the roots of weeds before I toss the weeds into the compost bin. I make a rhythm out of it: push forward, hands under the cover of a blanket of earth, finger into the netting of weeds, pull back, break up the soil, shake loose the root system, clear out the bed. Back and forth.

On the porch, my sweetheart rests her eyes while listening to the Giants game on the radio, and I remember my father ‘watching’ baseball while he stretched out on the couch, taking a nap. Everything comes around again.

I listen to Erykah Badu, Raphael Saadiq, India.Arie while I plant the first part of this year’s garden: red onions, lettuce, zucchini, bush beans, snap peas, tomatoes, basil, eggplant, jalapeno, yarrow, gerber daises, dahlia, delphinium, calendula, butterfly weed — one bed I seeded only with red clover, to help the soil (and for the lovely flowers); we’ll turn that over later in the season if we want to plant more. I put in creeping thyme and a couple of other groundcovers around the stone path in the yard. Still to get in are a couple more flowers, watermelon and blueberries — I need to go collect some pine leaf mould to fold into the planting mixture for that last. I read this weekend about making our own fertilizer teas from grass clippings or seaweed, and thought about how to use what we already have to tend what we are growing.

And then, too, I baked: two more sourdoughs, and I’ve got the starter back out of the fridge now and working on the counter so that I can try and get it going with more local wild yeasts. The sourdough bread I’m making is tasty — round boules with a good crust and tight crumb, perfect for sandwiches and french toast — but not sour, so I’m playing around more with it. I talk with a man at my church who spent eight years baking at Esalen; he tells me about volume, and about practice.

What do I want to say about all of this?  I feel so grateful to get to do different work with my hands. This weekend, that work looked like gardening and breadwork and holding a child and holding my love. My hands remember that they are capable of sacred work. Then, this typing can begin again to feel sacred, too — less like a chore and more like pleasure. There’s something I’m trying to figure out how to explain, how to articulate — what it feels like in me to give over to the rhythm of an intimate togetherness that includes children, even if those children aren’t “mine.” A life that has words in it but isn’t only words. A life that also has room for other rhythms, other ways of being that aren’t just thinking about what it means to survive.

Gardening doesn’t force me into my body — gardening allows my body to be a part of a larger body, allows me to engage with a larger rhythm. Baking with wild yeasts allows me to accommodate another form of life: I learn to read new signs and languages — what do big vs. small bubbles in the starter mean? What will happen if we let the bread rise very slowly in the refrigerator? How will the bread work if we add different grains? In all this, too, my body learns to speak an older language again — the language of play and hard physical labor. The language of curiosity and delight: look at those bugs here; hey, what are those pigeons doing over on the neighbor’s roof; wait, why are there earthworms over in that part of the yard but not on this side? The language of stained fingers and dry skin that comes of digging hands deep into dirt over and over again. The language of recuperation. The language of tenderness.

The garden, the sourdough starter — these are live things, not unlike pets. They require attention, tending, awareness. Like an animal, they speak to me in a language I have to learn to understand — we build a relationship with one another. They teach me about other ways of living. They ask for water or food, and in return, they bubble and swell with bright and quiet beauty. They remind me that I need to get dirty if I really want to be in the full body of this life. And, too, like the puppy does, they pull me out of my head, out of this ever-churning wash of recriminations and worries. Just stop, the garden says. Come down here and pull out some weeds. Think bigger than your small worries. Think longer. Think months away, or years, Think about what will come of this little action, one seed in soil, add water and sun. Think about the cumulative effects of one small step, little bits of effort in the direction of beauty and joy, every day. Think about the aftermath of positive labor. Think about how far you have been allowed to come away from the girl who lived inside a too-white, too-quiet house in the middle of this country, how clean and painted she was, how plastic and silent. Think about the language the dirt speaks. Think about the soil under your fingernails. Think about what it means to be in ongoing communion with all sorts of life.

“as alive as any animal”

Yesterday, the poem asked: What do I do with my body if it’s not a secret? Today, the poem says:

This soup is alive as any animal,
and the yeast and cream and rye
will sing inside you after eating
for a long time.

– from “Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe” by Bill Holm

Today, I am anxious to get off the computer. I want to be in the garden. I want to read about sourdough starter, about cool vs. warm rises, I want to bring my second attempt at san francisco sourdough bread back up to temperature (it rose in the fridge overnight) so that I can put it in the oven and get breakfast going. I want to learn about soil textures and compositions, learn how to tell what nutrients the soil’s abundant in based on what weeds are growing there. I want to learn about soil amendments and natural fertilizers. I want to figure out the best way to grow watermelons here in Oakland so that a certain young man isn’t disappointed again this growing season. I want to go to the local organic nursery and pick out native plants and organic varietals that will thrive during this coming thirsty summer. Then I want to go to an urban recycling center to find a big bucket to catch shower water (while the water’s heating up, say) to help water the garden. And a bird feeder. And a top for the bird bath.

There’s a lot I want to do these days that doesn’t involve sitting in front of the computer — or even a notebook. The work I want right now is a different sort of bodily work. It’s whole body work. Kneading, digging, bending, planting, pulling work. It’s listening to longer rhythms than the immediate insistence of twitter of facebook will ever allow. It’s thinking ahead: ok, if I want this bread for dinner, tomorrow, then I have to start it now. Or : Ok, if I want to plant this weekend, then I better spend these weekday afternoons weeding and preparing the beds– and that means spending time outside working in the sun rather than hunched here over this little computer.

That is to say, the thinking these days looks less like, What do I need to do to grow my business?, and more like, What can I do today to grow a life?

This is a fairly significant shift in my thinking, needless to say.

There’s a book I love that I discovered while I was a Hedgebrook a couple of years ago — World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwen. (Sneak a peek up there at Amazon, and then buy a copy directly from the publisher here.) I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately (I’d flip through it again, but my copy has walked away from the Writing Ourselves Whole library — that happens sometimes) — McEwen describes how necessary it is for creative folks to slow down, feel our rhythms, be all the way in our lives. Through personal anecdotes and examples from hundreds of creative folks, McEwen makes the case for a slower — rather than fast and multitasky — creative life: she describes the artist’s need to wander (literally and figuratively), to have space for silence and dreams, to do one thing at a time, to have space for deep connection with others and room in our lives for alone time Not everyone will resonate with her arguments. I myself bought a copy of her book as soon as I returned from Hedgebrook and dipped into its pages whenever I needed to counter the voices in my head (not to mention all those business-coach types out there on the interwebs) clamoring at me to do more and go faster and do it all now now now now now.

So I am listening to that part of me that wants to do other work: the building a life work. And what I notice–as I give my attention to the people I love and the garden and tend to a puppy’s hurt foot and dig up oxalis out of the raised beds and make lists of plants I absolutely must get into the ground this year (so many more than will fit in this small yard, mind you)–is that I don’t have to force myself to write when I sit down to the notebook or this little computer: the words begin to percolate around the edges. They are fermenting in the deep and bready parts of me. They are finding their own slow rise back to into my fingers. They come again to be as alive as all these other animal parts of me. I feed the words in this slowing down, even as it looks, on the surface, like I am turning away from them. This is a good kind of creative parenting. This is making a life I can live in.

come back

Angel breaking through the wallGood morning. The music is going, the coffee is percolating, and the rose blooms wide open, like my body. I am surrounded by the books that I love and the home I have made for myself.

I want to tell you that I never believed I could get here, to this place, of possibility and celebration. I reach back into the years of despair, if only to remember again what it felt like to wake up hopeless, if only to remember what it felt like to not ache, not believe. I hoped and longed for and wanted but did not believe I deserved. I did not ever see myself getting here, to the place I wanted: a body that was certain of and curious about itself, hands filled with words and joy, a little apartment in the city that was a haven for language and resilience. But that is what I have.

Today’s post is brought to you by this quote from a poem by Kallie Falandays:
“I want to give you your history back.
Your fingers back. I want to tell you yes.”

and by this quote from Carl Jung:

“In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential that we embody. If we do not embody that, life is wasted.”

This morning I want to say yes. I am afraid, and I am resolved. These are the things that I can do. I can write sex, I can adore poetry, I can wonder at the mystery of the world. I can find words for the tenderest absurdities that occur in the erotic body, I can be a woman who clawed her way back into her own skin. I can remember what it was like to feel outside of my own bones. I can laugh at what wants to dissuade me. I can long for your yes. I can find words for this now of our recovery. I can be the girl with the birds in the back of her throat.

I may never be the safe and clean thing you’d hoped to birth. I may be always sharing words of danger with the strangers who hover around your shoulders.

The poet says, “I want to give you your history back. I want to give you your fingers back. I want to tell you yes.” I want you to know your essences, I want you to feel the importance of your presence on this earth surging through every one of your cells. I want yes to sing through your every syllable. I am speaking to the hardened and to the lost. I am speaking to you who is stuck in her bed. I am speaking to the old me, to the me I’ll be again: despairing and certain she will be forgotten. I am speaking to the one who knows for sure she will never desire again. I am speaking to the broken, to you who do not believe you will ever be welcome to to unfurl.

I want your myriad, cacophonous voices. I want your heavy stories. I want the words that lodge at the back of your throat. I want your mysteries and countenances. I want the history that you have not been allowed to share. I want to hear why you’re sure it’s your fault. I want to listen to you. I want the room to listen to you. I want you to take up all the airtime you need. I want you to talk for hours. I want your words to fill the world. I want the lenses to focus in I want everything to center on you. I want you to tell us. I want you to say it. I want you to put them into words, all those hauntings that shred the edges of your consciousness, your everyday walk to work, your now.

Come back to us. Don’t keep all your songs to yourself. Allow yourself to offer the generosity of the horror that lives in your bones. Do you understand me? Your history is not your burden to carry alone. You are not meant to do this work alone. You are meant to have other hands help you in the carrying, other ears and lungs and legs; it is not meant to be that the deepest intimacy in your life is between you and your violator. Do you understand me? You are meant to settle into the circle of darkness and light that we all share. You are meant to be a part of this humanity, this collection of desecrations and holy knowings, this confabulation of traumas and resiliences. You are not alone. No one will know your story if you do not share it with us. No one will know what you saw and felt and know if you do not release those ephemera and terrors into language.

We need all the wordings you can wonder yourself into. We need them to know you, and to know ourselves. Get lost in the sorrow if you have to — of course, sometimes we all have to — but come back soon. We need what you have to tell us. The essence of you is a necessary part of this earthly existence. Tell us what you have seen.

Thank you.

letting life in around the words

Trees
~Bishal Karna
 
About life

I started writing a book.

Writing the book

Became my life.
 
About writing a book
I started writing a book.
Writing about writing the book
Became my life.
 
Meanwhile,
The mango plants in my garden
Bear delicious fruits.

~~ ~~ ~~

This poem fits today: I’ve spent so many years tangling with how to write the story of my life that I can get pulled right out of actually living it. This morning I spent a little time in my garden, after four or five days being away from it. I was frustrated with myself because I hadn’t gotten out of bed early to do my morning pages.

I was awake at five, but my body was achy, I’d only gotten about five hours of sleep, blah blah blah: all the usual excuses rose up in me when I thought about swinging my legs over the side of the bed and slipping out from under the covers — only this morning, I listened to them. I let them win. I fluffed my pillow, curled into a new and more comfortable position, and went back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 5:30, I proceeded to play the snooze game for another half an hour, until my sweetheart came in to (sweetly) inquire as to whether I ever planned to join the day.

Meanwhile, in my only-sort-of-sleeping-inbetween-the-snooze-going-off-every-nine-minutes state of mind, I was deep into the self-recrimination: you say you want to write but you don’t even have the discipline to get yourself out of bed.

Do you ever get tired of writing (about) your excuses?

Today, the page didn’t feel like a friend. I imagined pulling myself from under the covers, thumping down the stairs to the kitchen, lighting the candle and opening the notebook, only to be confronted with the leer of all those empty, blue lines: now do you have something worthwhile to say? Just for today, I couldn’t bear it. Please, don’t give me more room for rumination that I’m supposed to pretend is art. Please, don’t force me to be of use this early in the day.

So much inner critic, which gets louder and louder the more often I hit snooze. Then I fell back asleep and dreamt about my stepfather, who’s been visiting me in my dreams lately. He doesn’t say much — he’s a presence and an energy, something that lives in me now as one of the layers of my psychic majesty. Today he wanted some protocol followed that I didn’t want to participate in but finally capitulated to. I called him sir, in the dream (which never was the case in real life), when I gave in to his instruction. A half-swallowed sir, something he didn’t require but that I’d added reflexively. Some layers here.

Then I woke up again and it was seven and I’d missed all the good of the day because the sun was already up. You ruined another one, Jen, said the inner critic. (So easy to do so much wrong and be asleep for most of it!) There was much commotion in the house, readying for school and work, so there was no way I could focus now on my morning pages. I just had to forget about writing and hope that maybe tomorrow I do it better. This is the morning bargain with the inner critic, who would like me to either have conditions be perfect (which they never are) or forgo writing altogether: tomorrow I’ll be perfect, I promise.

And then I thought this line: sometimes the page doesn’t feel friendly — and something fluttered like a feeling through my body: maybe I’ll go ahead and write anyway.

And then I got out of the damn bed and passed through the morning’s fray directly into the garden, which was in dire need of watering (and weeding, maybe: I can’t decide whether to treat the purple oxalis like a pest or like lush ground cover — or steam it up for lunch). Once I picked up the hose and started talking to the mints and the johnny-jump-ups, something shifted in me. I was in another element, another part of my life: I was letting life be life. Some days don’t have to be perfect. Some days can start off on the wrong foot (or no feet and difficult dreams) and shift easily back into alignment if I listen to my instincts and simply try and take the next right step.

I watered and looked over the damage Sophie had wrought during a weekend mostly unsupervised — some carrot sprouts dug up, one salvia plant in need of serious splinting. While I was engaged in this effort, the closed and self-shamed bits in me began to open up, peek out from behind their hiding places, pointing out other spots that needed water, sections of the garden that need fertilizing, one of the newly-planted rosemary bushes that had just begun to put out tiny blue flowers. There was a shifting in me. The day wasn’t ruined. Just breathe. Everything’s ok. The critic wasn’t as audible anymore.

Now I’m out in the sun, typing up this damn post, and grateful. After I’m done, I’ll go into the garden and do a bit more pruning. The tomatoes have finally given up the ghost — it’s time to pull up the plants and hang them upside down til all the last green tomatoes ripen.

What if you trust your process this morning? What words would come if you imagined writing anyway, for just fifteen minutes, even though everything’s wrong? And then — what if nothing is wrong?

Thanks for your spaciousness today, for your listening heart and wise, writing hands. Thank you for your words.

taking breaks and being selfish

Good morning this beautiful morning — how is the sun singing to you this morning? How are you letting yourself into the sky’s day?

I am back to this blog writing after a bit of a vacation — I’m sorry for the long absence. I went back east for about a week, and got to nestle and swim in the New England summer. During vacation I read a lot, swam in the Pacific, visited with friends and family, sunbathed, walked in the rain — I wrote, too, though not on the computer.

I don’t like to spend much time on the computer while I’m on vacation; I take myself offline, and though I keep my phone close at hand so I can take pictures, I avoid email and my social networking apps. Being away from the (perceived) demands of social media allows me to take a real break, to slow down, to pay a different kind of attention. I feel less scattered when I’m offline — though it can take a day or so for the quality of my awareness to recalibrate from easily distractable and multi-task-oriented toward something more focused and yet with a wider peripheral vision. I begin to walk more slowly. I turn away from the screens, letting my eyes open back to the real world that surrounds me.

I tend to feel guilty for taking these sorts of media-input breaks, like I’m in avoidance mode. This is an old feeling, and comes from the years in college when I would, in fact, avoid the phone and email so that I could tell my stepfather that I honestly hadn’t been aware of his many and varied attempts to contact me. I would turn the phone’s ringer off and turn down the volume on the answering machine. This was before voice mail, though — I wasn’t able to avoid hearing the cassette tape whir into motion once the recorded greeting started to play, and I couldn’t turn down the tape as it recorded his message to me, sometimes sweet and wheedling, sometimes threatening and angry. So I’d leave the apartment, wandering the streets of my small college town for hours, holing up in cafes where I wrote and wrote and wrote, always aware of what I was doing: avoiding the phone, not being where my abuser wanted me to be.

In her book World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, Christian McEwen writes: “The practicing artist is, by definition, someone who is able to build a life around his or her own creative work. Inevitably, such a person will have considered his or her attitude to time. What matters is not how much they actually have, but how best to inhabit it and make it spacious: how to allow room in which attention can take root.”

By necessity, during those years, I learned the power of making time for my generative, creative life — even all these years later, though, the powerful and useful practice of taking space from communicative devices can be, for me, tinged with guilt and shame: I internalized the sense that I’m running away from something or someone, that when I make space for my creative self, I am taking something from someone else.

You don’t have to have an abuser telling you that you’re selfish for not being at their beck and call to have this particular lesson take hold: we get this message from our work, our families, our communities — that we are selfish if we say we need time for our art, particularly when the time we need looks to someone outside our own head like time being wasted on a walk in the woods or reading poetry or daydreaming or otherwise creating the sort of open, woolgathering headspace and heartspace necessary for generating creative work.

How do we unlearn this message, that time not spent doing work that benefits someone else is time wasted? Or that time spent in our creative process is time spent selfishly? Or that being selfish with our time is always a bad thing?

How do you challenge that idea?

After all these years, I still have to breathe deep into the anxiety that when I get done with my writing time, I’m going to have to deal with someone’s fury. I don’t — if someone is going to be angry with me for taking the time I need to write, I gently encourage them not to be in my life anymore. Sometimes I succumb to the fear of selfishness: I stop taking the time I need to write, in favor of spending time with other people. After several days of this, I hit overload. Every. Single. Time. I become cranky, achy, short-tempered, and less able to concentrate on anything or anyone. I end up needing lots of time to myself in order to come back into balance.

It’s kind of like the way I still sometimes binge, when I’m feeling really bad about myself, which then reminds me that my body doesn’t respond well to that kind of overstuffing — that that coping mechanism doesn’t serve me anymore, and I deserve to take care of my body in other ways.

I have to learn and relearn these lessons: when I allow myself the practices that I need in order to be in balance — which includes both “free” time (which is the playtime that my psyche needs in order to keep the words flowing) and writing time — then I am better able to engage in my relationships.  Not everyone works this way, but I do.

What do you need in order to fully inhabit your creative self? Can you write about those conditions and desires for ten minutes or so today? Notice how your body feels when you write about what helps our writing to flow… and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for going as slow as you need to go. Thank you for your words, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

can we trust release?

Good morning. How do you reach for a morning when all you want to do is snuggle up into the weekend? I have books and movies I want to tell you about, a hillside to describe (one covered with cows and wild turkeys and salt air). I want to tell you about tiny new lambs hopping like rabbits through green California pastures.

Today I am back at work after a long weekend up at Tomales Bay. Something happens to my body when I go there, when I am in that landscape, a place that feels like home — there are cows and sheep (though no miles-long corn or wheat fields) and wild green pastures — and then there’s the sea and the bay. I want to tell you everything and it’s hard to settle in on one place to begin. Someone wrote about that at Dive Deep yesterday — how everything wants to get written at the same time, so many voices and characters calling for our writer’s attention. Continue reading

can we heal what family means?

Katie Ward Knutson, Metro II

Good morning on this quiet and sunny Tuesday morning. How is your heart speaking to you in this moment? Are there words or stories that your fingers are ready to unfurl onto the page? Did your dreams bring offerings that you’d like to be able to remember? I’m slowly, reluctantly, moving through my stretches, and feeling the resistance build in my shoulders. I don’t want to have to stretch before I write, and yet that’s the body I inhabit right now. What happens when we let ourselves be exactly as we are? What energy gets released when we stop trying to pretend like we’re already someone or somewhere else?

Today I am full of questions and mourning and loss. Today I am wondering about family, how we learn to exclude ourselves from it, and how we unlearn the lessons about family that came to us when we were children: that family is not safe, is a site of abandonment and/or control, and is better shunned at all costs. Today I don’t know how to participate in family, and am feeling that place of separation and longing. Continue reading

deserving acceptance

And then there was a bit of winter break, which here in northern California looks like a chilly spring break, what with all the green everywhere. We had some rain and some wind, we look out the window into bright blue this morning, we find how to best fit our bodies, glorious with the aches of morning, into our chairs so that we can pick up the pen and write into a new year.

Happy 2013 to you! Do you have an annual reflection and/or intention writing practice? What were the words that best described or shaped 2012 for you? What words do you want to hear more from in 2013? What if we could start this new year by honoring exactly where we are, and moving from there?

This morning I am an ache and a tightness, I am delighted to be able to sit in my chair at my computer. I read poems, avoiding the demands of email for a bit longer. Today is the first day of my new work life, after a two-month surprise detour into the land of pain and recuperation, and as I make plans and set intentions, both macro and micro, I think about how to ease my anxiety and panic with sheer acceptance, breathing deep into exactly what is. Continue reading