Tag Archives: radical self care!

December writing retreat! Join us for a day of writing in the East Bay hills…

photo of narrow wooden deck, looking out over trees and mt tamalpais

The view from our writing room!

Meridian Writers
 an all-day writing retreat!
Saturday, December 1, 10:30am-5:30pm.
(Light breakfast from 9:45-10:30am)
Lunch provided.

Open to all writers, regardless of writing experience or previous participation in Meridian Writers.

Location: Private home in the East Bay

Treat yourself to a day of good writing, good food, and good community!

photo of brown dog lying on a wooden deck next to table and chairs, looking out over eucalyptus grove

(Sophie enjoying the deck)

For this day-long writing retreat, we gather for coffee or tea and some home-baked breakfast, and then write through the rest of the morning. After a break for lunch, we dive back into our work through the afternoon, and we close by 5:30pm.

You’ll end the day with:

  • New creative writing,
  • Feedback about what’s strong and powerful in your writing,
  • A strong sense of writing community, and
  • Inspiration to keep on diving into your words

Give yourself a day to immerse yourself in words and supportive community — in a beautiful, quiet space with views overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fee: The fee for day-long retreats is $200; a $100 non-refundable deposit will secure your registration.

Spaces are limited: Please let me know if you’d like more information or would like to register! Write to me at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org; visit writingourselveswhole.org for more info about our workshops or methods.

we don’t have to take all of it in

sticker art of an open mouth with full lips -- in between the teeth are the words, "I'm now ready to get rid of anything that keeps me small" and signed by the artist Blur

Yesterday I shared this message with the writers in a couple of my workshops, and wanted to expand it a bit here:

Last Thursday, I decided to turn off the news.

I had help in this decision — in fact, I needed help to make the decision. In spite of the fact that I was (literally, I think) making myself sick with the constant influx of adrenaline and horror, it took conversations with four different people who are deeply important to me before I felt like it was ok for me to step away from the 24/7 “news” stream. 

All weekend I didn’t read the news. I didn’t listen. I didn’t look at it on the phone. I get the main points — it seems unavoidable (subject headers in emails from mailing lists, conversations with friends) — but I am no longer (at least, for the time being) soaking in grief and terror and rage.

I kept getting triggered, kept imagining I could deal with whatever the latest awfulness was, metabolize it, before the next bit of awfulness, but it just wasn’t possible. The awfulness kept flooding in. More details of assaults, repetitions of those same details, more lies, more white men in power pretending to give a shit about the violence done to women’s bodies and psyches from the day that they’re born … more white men (and women) in power listening to the stories of that pain and grief and just simply not caring about it enough to make a decision that might end up impacting their positions of power and control.

None of it is surprising. None of us are surprised. We are outraged, we are grieving, but we are not surprised.

It’s true that I hoped. Ridiculously, I hoped for a different outcome — just like with the 2016 election, just like with the invasion of Iraq in 2002. In all of these instances, massive outcry and protest did nothing to change the behavior of the white (mostly) men in positions of power.

Is it ridiculous to hope, though? I look at that word up there and see an inner voice that’s not always so kind. Calling myself ridiculous for continuing to imagine that change is possible (given what changes have already occurred in the world for women and others around sexual violence) is an unnecessary violence. It’s doing the work of the abusers for them.

Of course, it’s much harder to sustain that vision, to hold open a place of possibility within myself, when I am continually retraumatizing myself with the “news” and commentary, nearly all of it hostile and negative (because that’s what makes the best clickbait).

Just one day off the news made a difference. Yes, I’m still angry. But I don’t feel flattened. I’m able to remember the power of each survivor’s voice, what we offer each other when we speak, when we shout, when we whisper, and what a difference that makes. And that difference is what matters most to me. That difference is what’s important. That difference is what will change the culture we live in. It can’t not make that change.

Dr. Ford’s testimony made a difference for me, and for thousands of other survivors around the country, millions around the world — as did the testimony, formal and informal, of the innumerable other survivors who have been sharing their stories in person, via social media or blog posts, in classrooms, in small groups, through graffiti or anonymous notes or whispers on the bus.

Every single fucking time we stand up and tell the truth about our lives, we make a difference — in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. Every single time we stand up and shake off someone else’s hands, refuse to keep their secrets any longer — that makes a difference. It makes a difference to someone else who had still been afraid to speak. It shows us what’s possible.

I couldn’t remember any of this when I was binging on horror news stories and so-called commentary. I couldn’t even hold the possibility. I couldn’t write. I was so depressed I could hardly articulate a thought. I couldn’t remember why what I do matters, why any of the work of all the brilliant and powerhouse survivor-activists I know mattered. The catastrophic clickbait news wants me to see the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal machine as unstoppable– and I did see it that way for awhile. And then I turned off its media arm.

We are told that we have to know what’s going on in order to be good citizens. But I’m having to remind myself that there are, for me, ways to stay informed that don’t leave me feeling drained of all energy to take any action in my life.

We don’t have to take all of it in — all of their hostility, all of their rage, all of their fear. We can say no to it. We can turn off those screaming, outraged faces, and turn our attention to the faces that we love.

We already carry our own trauma realities, a 24/7 flow of fear and grief and rage already in our bones and veins. We also carry hope and joy and desire and curiosity. It’s so important to make decisions for ourselves and our lives that leaves room for that second flow as well… because that flow — the tremendous power of our creative genius and delight — is what is changing our lives, our relationships, our communities, and the whole fucking world. I mean it.

At some point, I’ll turn the news on again — I do miss NPR in the mornings. Maybe later this month. I have something pretty important I need to be able to focus on first. I also need to be able to focus on the writers in my workshops, the folks who are contacting me about groups — to be able to focus on my family and love, to be able to feel what else exists in the world besides murderous rage. I am grateful to be able to turn away, and to turn toward possibility, to turn here toward you.

I am so glad you are here. I hope you’re doing whatever you need to do in order to best take care of you today — and I’m grateful for all the ways you are easy with yourself.

Sometimes the grief rides up and knocks you down

red graffiti of the words Crying Is Okay HereGood morning, good morning. I went to bed at quarter to 9, and still it was difficult to get up when the alarm went off at 4;15. I am aching today, still, and heavy and exhausted and sad and overwhelmed.

And how are you doing so far today?

These are the times when I need the hiding places. The big loss is stalking me, and so I curl up on the couch or crawl into bed or wake up as early as I can so that the darkness itself can become a cocoon for me for a while.

Yesterday was so difficult I could barely crawl through it. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, still grieving from Tuesday night. We had watched a particularly intense (and long-awaited) episode of a fairy-tale show we’ve been following (This is Us), which, again, shows a father being protective and standing up and Doing The Scary Things and then paying a price for it; this is a father that the adult children can hold on to, look up to, have as a role model. We watch the family at different points in their lives, and as I watch, I remember the time when I had a much more open-hearted, longing love for my own father, when I wanted to impress him, when I wanted him to see me and be proud of me (I also felt that way about five minutes ago – it never goes away); I heard the adult children talking to and about their dad, and then there was something else, too, and I’m trying to put my finger on just what it was…

I could have had an easier time of this writing, finding the words for It All, yesterday morning, maybe, but I was so exhausted and emotionally hungover and literally in pain when I woke up that when I went to the writing place, all I could do was sit in the dark in my little office and listen to the owls call to each other in the eucalyptus trees down the hill, and listen, too, to the little clock in my office, the one that I bought for my space in the Flood Building and that I keep not because it tells the time (the mechanism bent or broke some years ago and now the hands don’t really move right anymore) but because of the sound it makes, the steady soft solid tick-tock that evokes a place of peace in me, the place built by the grandmother clock on my father’s wall, the one that’s been in my life since I was a child, an infant. That clock meant the place with no rape in it. That clock meant the place with my father. That sound has been an underground accompaniment my whole life.

Something bad happens in the episode we watched on Tuesday night. It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming. I did. But what I didn’t expect was the enormous grief that welled up and filled me until I broke open.

Sometimes the grief is too big to move.

I cried because something awful happens, and a parent has to show up for their kids, put their kids first, put their kids’ needs and feelings first, their safety first – and I wondered what that was like. I cried for a different, loss, too, that old thing with my father, the way I loved him and needed him and admired him and needed him to save me but couldn’t tell him what was going on and even today I couldn’t say why I couldn’t tell him – because I was ashamed? afraid? because I needed him to know me well enough to see that something terrible had happened, something significant had changed, but neither he nor my mother did know me that well, it seems, because they couldn’t see. And maybe that’s asking too much of any parent, that they know their child well enough to notice that a shift in energy or tone or apparent anger or  desire not to spend time alone with an adult (see: every single young person who ever had to be alone with that fucking gymnastics doctor) isn’t just teenage angst or something to be ignored or dismissed or downplayed or actively shut down.

(I call the show a fairy tale because in this show, parents notice their kids, every time: Something is wrong, something is off, let me go ask her what’s going on, hey, what’s the matter, and then she tells her parent, and then she can say it, and then something gets better.)

Underneath the grief that makes sense and had words and some kind of clear and obvious connection to the thing we were watching was a huge wave of grief that didn’t have any words at all, and once the show was done and we turned off the tv and wiped away the wet streaks on our cheeks and my sweetheart went up to check on her own son, I went back downstairs, walked into my office which was a safe dark place to crawl into, a kind of hug, and there I started to really cry. The big old grief filled my lungs and throat and bent me forward and then pushed me all the way to the ground and I knelt there and sobbed hard, I lost my breath, coughed and kept sobbing.

It’s not a place with words or explanation. It’s not a place that has sense in it – I might as well tell someone, I just remembered my sister and I were raped through our whole adolescence and no one could do anything about it or stop it and we lost connection with absolutely everyone we loved, even each other – and that just doesn’t make sense, because of course I never forgot that, I never forget, it doesn’t ever go away for me, but some days it’s more present, more available — or maybe this was one of those moments when one more layer of the old buried pain rises to the surface and reaches the air, and, unfortunately, has to take me down to the ground in order to move through me and out into the world.

This is the long work.

After it was over, and the sobbing was done, I was wrung out and exhausted and sore. I had a headache. I didn’t want to stay down there very long because I didn’t want anyone to discover me and then want to know why I was hiding or what’s wrong. How can I explain what’s wrong? How can I unzip my belly or bones to show what still lives in me, to just show the picture of what’s wrong, because trying to say it in that moment is far too difficult? I managed to avoid having to find the words. I went back upstairs and got into bed almost immediately, my head throbbing, my heart pounding, my eyes still leaking.

And then yesterday I had the hangover. I’d thought I’d wake up and write about what came up for me – sit down at the notebook, let the words find me. But I couldn’t even bring myself to light the candle. I sat in the dark, hurting and tight and exhausted. I just sat for a little bit, then I took my cup of tea upstairs and sat in the living room, looking out at the bridge and the bay, but no words were in me. I was empty. My neck hurt where I’d hunched it up while I cried, my eyes hurt, my head hurt. I had to bake for my Wednesday morning writing group, I had to show up and be a facilitator. There was so much to do, actually. I had to check in about an office space I’m trying to rent, I had to make a webpage to announce upcoming events and stops on the Fierce Hunger Writing Ourselves Whole book tour (every tour has to have a name, right?), I had to follow up with venues about details of the event, I had to pitch other places about possible events, I had to advertise, I had to prep for this week’s Dive Deep meeting, finishing up my notes and didn’t I want to find a short essay for us to read together?; I had email to respond to, books to mail, I really needed to take the dog for a long walk, I had to go pick up prescriptions at the drug store that would help me have more energy, for gods’ sake, if I could just get the energy to get in the car and drive down the fucking hill to the walgreen’s, I should really make a dentist appointment or, you know, find a dentist who will take my fucking insurance, I needed to respond to work posted by writers in my online group, and what else? Make deposits, submit forms to Intersection, bake, write up responses to interview requests, write a short essay for SFSU, read all 95 pages of my thesis-so-far so that I have something useful to contribute to my meeting with my advisor today, and anything else?

All of this would be a lot to try to get done on the days when I have All The Energy, but it all felt completely impossible yesterday. I did manage to bake, and get to Meridian, and work with seven brilliant writers, and that felt like a lot. Then I came home and just about completely disassembled. I sort of moved from room to room, with tea and, usually, something to eat, because if there’s anything that still works, if there’s a coping mechanism that I still get to have now that drinking myself into oblivion is off the table, there’ s food…

I managed to get little bits of work done. I showed up for my online office hours, though no one generally takes advantage of them. I read and responded to Dive Deep manuscripts. I replied to a few text messages, eventually, and a couple of emails, I think. All of that felt like a lot when I had to reach out of the tarpit of grief to reach the keyboard, when I had to unbunch the knot in my shoulders and articulate words when my head was still pounding. Otherwise, I sort of drifted. I tried to read, sat in the sun, watered plants. I laid down in the sun on the porch, and then later, I took a book into the bedroom and thought maybe I’d sleep there. Naps are nearly impossible for me on a good day, though, to say nothing of the days when the past is haunting all around me, extra visible, like a shroud, or an entourage.

(Of course, the news of the day was exceptionally helpful in getting me through my grief and loss and hopelessness and despair. The president wants to mount a military parade (probably literally). Men in Congress protest the resignation of a wife beater, saying, well, he never hit me, he was always perfectly nice to me, I think those women are liars; she could have gotten that black eye anywhere – but, sure, we’re in the middle of A Reckoning.)

I lay on the bed in the sun with a book and couldn’t keep my eyes open. The book was World Enough and Time, and I read about the kind of slowing down we do when we are grieving, or at least the author did when she was in the immediate aftermath of a big break up, how she moved slowly, spent years, in fact, just working enough to pay the bills but then reading, resting, walking, moving very slow. Meanwhile, I listened to my sweetheart in the other room, so competent and functional, making phone call after phone call while simultaneously responding to emails and posting interesting, useful, funny things to facebook. Comparison is the thief of joy, I try to remind myself, but then I just went to another part of the house, so I couldn’t hear her, and it would be easier not to beat myself up for not being more like her.

On Tuesday, before the show, before the crying, before the eruption of grief, I’d met my mother for lunch. She moved to the area last year, but I don’t see her all that often because she moved about two hours away (two hours when there’s no traffic, that is, which means never). We met in the middle (though she had to drive farther) and ate Indochinese noodles while talking about graduation ceremonies. I’m finally going to walk; when I graduate with my MFA, it will be the first time I’ve ever participated in a graduation ceremony or walked for a degree, I said. I meant for any of my higher-education degrees – I didn’t walk for my undergraduate degree, and my first MA was at an alternative program that is so small that the graduation ceremony was more like a barn dance (it was held in a barn, and, in fact, I think there was a dance after, right?). Anyway, my mom said, well, except for your high school graduation, and I realized in that moment that I had absolutely no memory of my high school graduation. I remember the tassel hanging on a corkboard in my room, but not the ceremony itself, which would have been enormous, because there were hundreds of students in my graduating class. My mother described how she felt like something was wrong, something was off, that day – it just seemed like I should have been celebrating with my friends, that it shouldn’t have been just the four of us – her, me, my sister, and my stepfather – at the Neon Goose for dinner after the ceremony.

I didn’t ask her why she didn’t ask me that day if anything was the matter, because I already knew the answer. I didn’t say, I didn’t have any friends by that point, because it wouldn’t really have contributed anything to the conversation. Then she said, And maybe I was just remembering my own graduation, how it wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, I couldn’t go out with my friends because we had to leave that night to go visit my brother in another state – which was how my stepfather manipulated her for so long: making her second-guess her instincts, her reactions, her parenting, insisting that she was too controlling, too overbearing, as a result of unfinished business from her own childhood. Even now, all these years later, knowing exactly what was going on that night at dinner after my high school graduation, and remembering how things felt weird for her, she doesn’t connect it to what she didn’t see or name, but the idea that she was just projecting onto me her own teenage disappointment. Even now she held open the possibility that I was having a really good time, everything was just fine, and the problem was all in her own mind.

I couldn’t say any of this, because it touches on the other enormous thing living in me, the vast continent of my anger, and I was just trying to make it through lunch and eat and make conversation and have some kind of relationship with my mom.

Later, on the phone while I was driving home, my sweetheart asked, How was lunch? The void opened up in me, and I couldn’t answer. What answer is there for that question, for all that lies beneath it? It was-, I said, and then I was quiet. It was-, I tried again. What words are there, what words exist for this thing that just happened, that I tried to do, what words signify when I go to lunch with her, when my sister has her over, when we are still in her life, when she is still in ours, even though – even though, even now, she seems not to be able to come out from under the weight of his brainwashing into the breadth and vastness of all that was lost. (And let me just lean on the passive voice there, please. I can’t be more direct than that today).

It was – good, I answer, finally. And then I try to explain how this happens whenever my sister and I talk about time with mom, how things are with mom. We fall into this void, I say. it happens to us both. It was – she is – we were – and then nothing. Our mouths go quiet, our throats empty, there’s nothing to say, there’re no words – maybe no words big enough, or clear enough, or specific enough for us enough to name this reality that exists among us whenever we share any sort of space in any way, all the history that enters the room with us that no one else can see or even seems to be conscious of, and so much of it is still unspoken, unspeakable. Whenever we try to just simply say how our visit was with our mom, all that stuff we couldn’t say, can’t say, all he told us never to speak, it clogs our throat, even still, twenty-five, thirty years later.

So I guess, of course it makes sense I was tired yesterday and I couldn’t get to that phone call or that email or write another pitch email or get excited about all the events I have coming up in Portland and Denver and Boulder that I need to let people know about. Right? I try to do the thing I invite others to do all the time — be easy with you. Be easy with you, Jen. Be easy with you out there. Sometimes the grief rides up and knocks you down and all you can do is feel it. Somedays you can’t just power through the way Americans are supposed to. Sometimes you’re more human than American. So be easy with you. Sit in the sun (or by the fire) with your tea and read a book if you can manage, and if you can’t, just watch the flames or the birds flicker around. Breathe in and out. Remember that crying is ok here, that you are ok here, no matter what you write or don’t write, no matter the emails you can’t respond to or the work you have to set aside for the moment. You are still ok, just being you. You get to feel this and know you are alive and made it through. You will get to the other side of this. But today there are tears, and that is ok, too.

It’s all practice — life,  I mean. Course correction. One more chance to get it right. Be easy with you, all right? And I will (try and) do the same. 

all violence is domestic violence

stencil graffiti showing a spray-painted fist with leaves, flowers, and roots going out of it, surrounded by the words (There’s language of domestic and racially-motivated violence in this post. Just be easy with you, ok?)

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sky like where you are today? Here it’s still grey with night fog. The sun’s coming though, I think. The sun’s coming.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness month, and just this week another man killed a lot of people out of what looks like domestic-vioence-related rage. That’s got me thinking about the larger systems at work in our country right now.  I’m trying to work something out in this post today, something that feels complicated, that has to do with what’s happening in our country to support the escalation in extreme violence that we’re seeing. Here goes:

Whenever an abuser thinks they’re beginning to lose control, they will often escalate their violence in an effort to keep their victim or victims in line. I don’t say last-ditch effort, because the abuser never believes it’s last-ditch — they don’t think the victim will ever get away from them, will ever leave. They believe they have the victim or victims so far under their control, so terrified, so manipulated, so brainwashed, so gaslit, so unable to think clearly or make decisions, and so isolated — and on top of that, so afraid of the physical manifestations of the abuse, the physical and sexual violences enacted on themselves and/or those they love — that the victim will never be able to go. The abuser will sometimes call this love or dependence. They could never leave — they need me too much. They love me too much. They’re mine. I own them. I control them. They’re mine.

And when the victim begins to show signs of slipping this grasp in spite of all the forms of violence marshaled around them, the noose will often tighten — by which I mean, to avoid using the passive voice, the abuser will often tighten the noose. Make scarier threats. Assault more violently, more brutally. Threaten to kill or actually kill. Most folks know (right?) that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they leave the relationship — move out, or otherwise escape. This is the time when most victims who are murdered by abusers are killed.

The abuser feels well within his (and sometimes her, and sometimes their) rights to do whatever he wants with what he believes is his to control, his property. He feels entitled. 

So I’ve been seeing this in our country for a while now when it comes to male supremacy and white supremacy: systems that experience themselves as losing control, and escalating their tactics in order to rein in those they would subjugate. When a perpetrator believes he is about to lose control of his victim, he will nearly always escalate; so what does male supremacy do when it feels its losing control of its victims, losing its rank at the top of the heap, losing access to what it was promised in the form of bodies and control? It escalates: it makes, let’s say, weapons of mass destruction of various forms available to those who would use them to kill, whether indiscriminately or targetedly.

There is nothing coincidental about the way our lawmakers, lobbyists, manufacturers, and citizenry are working together to desperately keep a hold on this male supremacist system. (I’m not speaking only of gun manufacturers; I’m also speaking of tech/online-systems developers, among others).

The system has been under attack for decades — women are working outside the home, women have more control over their reproductive systems than ever before in history, there are laws against most forms of rape (even if those laws don’t deter most rapists and would-be rapists, given the systems still in place to produce, encourage, protect, and replace them); women have access to some positions of power in this country, more women than men are receiving college educations, women are controlling some percentage of wealth and resources; there are powerful female leaders of governments and countries…

And so, at least in the US, what do we see? A steady increase in mass shootings; a nostalgia for the “good old days”; the development of online systems in which women are consistently harassed  or perceive the threat of harassment; among other escalations of violences toward women.

Many, many people who benefit from and support the ideas of white supremacy, whether intentionally or subconsciously, are doing the same thing. White folks feel that their control is slipping. And so what happens? How does white supremacy reassert its power and control, in a desperate attempt to keep its subjects under control? It fosters racial animus around the country, taps into the same old bullshit fear-mongering it’s used (and used effectively) since Reconstruction (or before) to whip up fear and hatred among white folks. Legislators work with manufacturers work with lobbyists to make their weapons of mass disruption and destruction available to a citizenry that will wield them in such a way as to terrorize and harass and threaten and even kill. To say that the escalation of murders of Black folks by the American police force isn’t a manifestation of white supremacy trying desperately to hold on to power is to be naive and willfully ignorant of the systems of control we live (and struggle) within. 

So where am I going with all of this? Folks called and continue to call Trump an abuser. And he is, of course, But he is also, further, a tool wielded by the larger structures of power and control, a form of violence thrust upon us, a threat made good — you think you’re going to get free? Just wait and see what I do to you next.

Male supremacy and white supremacy, in a frenzied and desperate attempt to hold on to control, play their constituencies like marionettes, creating frenzy, fomenting violence and assaults, increasing the violence among those meant to protect and serve, currying fear, depression, and hopelessness, fostering the conditions in which an obvious abuser like DT could be installed as president. DT is not the ultimate abuser; those who wield him are.

***

When you are working as a advocate with victims of domestic violence, you are trained to help folks develop safety plans, particularly when they are getting ready to leave, to escape their relationships. Do they know where their keys are, can they keep a bag of clothes in their car, make sure their car is tuned up and that the tank is always full, talk with a trusted friend to ask if you can come to their house to stay for a while, keep some of your kids’ things in the car, too, hidden, ready; have money there, your kids’ birth certificates, whatever documents you need, listen to your gut, because your gut will tell you when it’s time to go. 

So this morning I am wondering how we safety plan when living inside a country, a society, that is abusive and controlling? The vast majority of us aren’t planning to escape to another country. We plan to stay. (There are those in other countries who will look at us with astonishment — why are they staying? Don’t they know the danger they’re in? What’s wrong with them? How can they say they love that country? don’t they know that’s not what love is supposed to look like? Love is not supposed to be fearful or extracted with threats of violence…but remember that to shame the victim for staying is only to drive her further into the arms of the abuse, and there are many many victims who are simply unable to leave for financial reasons, or because they would lose access to family and other loved ones, or because they fear harm coming to those they’d leave, or because they don’t believe they deserve anything better–they have been brainwashed to believe that what they’re living in and through is the best possible option (no one will ever love you as much as I do, the country says) —  or they truly believe that things can change.

All violence is domestic violence. At a time when so many of us are triggered constantly by the news, are reminded of our own experiences of physical or sexual assault, harassment, the times we feared for our safety or the safety of those we loved at the hands of those who held some position of power or control over us — we remember that the seeds of violence are planted at home. Home is the place in which each citizen is trained into the systems we live within,  where we are trained into silence or self-protection. Home is where many of us are trained to understand that there is no safety if we do not follow the rules, and that those who harm and cause pain are lauded by others, and not expected to account for the harm they cause.

And we who stay resist in the ways we feel safe resisting. We mount small and large insurgencies, we speak up, we show that the emperor has no clothes, we hope that others are looking. We seek out large and small ways to protect ourselves and those we love. We cultivate strength and trust in our intuition, in our creativity, and we encourage those we love to do the same. We tell our true stories and listen to the true stories of others. We learn to hear what is painful to hear. We learn to hold and support one another on a battlefield, in the midst of a war that is not likely to end in our lifetimes — but we act anyway, to stand up for those who live now, and to plant new seeds, to create the possibility for new conditions for the next generation, or the next. We teach our children history, teach them how to navigate the maze of hostilities and violences out in the world, we teach our children how to stay safe and we teach our children how to resist. We create art, we write, we spray paint walls, we feed the hungry, we seek nourishment of our own hungers, physical and emotional and spiritual. We seek restorative justice, well-being for all, a fundamental change in the systems we live within and in which we participate. 

Be easy with yourselves today. Thank you for the safe space you help to hold for others; thanks for allowing others to help hold open safe space for you. Thank you for your stories today, your creative genius — thank you for your words.

 

 

in the aftermath of more mass violence, how do we grieve?

Not again.

I’m sending you love and gratitude on this Monday morning after yet another mass shooting in America. These are difficult days in this country and around the world. It seems that every day we are confronted with another — often more than one — report of atrocity, violence, or hatred. We witness hostility in our own communities, both online and off. Somehow, we are expected to just keep going — go to work, go to school, keep appointments with friends, get together for beers, act like everything is normal.

Yet, many of us insist that this is not what we want our normal to look like. We don’t believe that violence should be normal. We don’t think we should be able to just pick up where we left off in our conversation when we hear the news that twenty-six people were shot at church. We believe something should come to a halt, there should be a moment or more of silence, we as a people should acknowledge the tragedy, acknowledge what it does to us as loving human beings  to live in a place where such actions are considered acceptable.

(Because, of course, if they were not acceptable, more would be done — both by those who are ostensibly in power and we the people — to undermine the conditions necessary for such violence. We would demand that our legislators make changes in our gun laws. We would rise up as a country seeking to keep our neighbors and children safe. We would shout down those who insist that automatic weapons are necessary safeguards for the average citizen. We would vote out of office any legislator who had refused to vote for even the most basic restrictions on gun access. We would insist that all men and boys in our country be taught, over and over again, how to deal with their anger and shame, how to grieve, that violence toward others doesn’t make them a man, that other men will no longer celebrate their “accomplishments” when they attack, brutalize, murder, harass, or otherwise violate the lives of others. It would be men who drove this struggle to change the definition of American masculinity, American manhood. It would be men who, so ashamed at what they’d become, would stand up and finally say, “No more. We don’t want to be this. We don’t want to do this to others. We are ready to stop.”

Just imagine if that were true.)

But as a country, as a people, we don’t make this kind of time for grieving or even deep acknowledgement of each tragedy anymore. There are so few moments of silence in the classroom or workplace. Newscasters are don’t break down as they read reports of children killed, folks of all ages and genders sexually-assaulted at work and at home, people of color murdered by police… they cannot break down. They have to keep it together, to report the next bit of terrible news.

So how do we take care of ourselves? How do we speak of what’s unspeakable? How do we create the space around ourselves and those we love to honor loss, to create room for horror and grief to move through our bodies, to take the time to even understand how we feel? How do we create the space to remove the armor we must wear just to walk out into the world (again, both online and off) and come home again relatively unscathed?

One of the ways I create this kind of space is to freewrite about it. I sit down in the dark morning hours, light a candle, open the notebook, and find room on the page for all that sorrow and rage and horror. I allow myself not to make sense, not to censor or edit as I write. I allow myself to be more vulnerable than my country seems to want me to be these days. I let the words fall out the mouth of my pen, messily or gently, and I do not judge — not my words, not my feelings. (This is the intention, anyway.)

If I am part of a community of writers, I can take the risk to write what I am feeling and struggling with and share it with the room, knowing that they will respond to my words, my creativity, and bear witness to what the words communicate with tenderness and gratitude.

See if you can give yourself ten minutes, even fifteen, to write however you are feeling, whatever you are thinking on this first Monday of November. What if you gave yourself that sort of time, to be more vulnerable, more real, more free? What if you held open room for those you love to do the same?

Thank you for your words today, and everyday.

they love it that we’re distracted

 

stencil graffiti of a person bending down in front of a tv screen -- their head is inside the screen. Around the image are the words Good morning, good morning.

there was a cat out on the porch just now, a shadow that smoothed across the morning deck, and stopped at Sophie’s water bowl. I watched her there, looking for bits of food. Then I turned to catch the kettle before it boiled, and when I looked back, the shadow had disappeared.

The morning is a quiet candle and a peaceful place. In two days we’ll get on a plane. In three days we;ll be in Dublin. Just now the temperature in Dublin is… I make myself not pick up the phone to check, not open a safari screen to check. It’s all I can do to remember how to do one thing at a time. The urge to look is a tightness in my belly and throat. Why do I just have to be sitting here typing? I could be reading a book and checking news and listening to news and have bread rising and doing all kinds of other things at the same time. I could be getting information right now — why that need? What’s the urgency about?

 

On Sunday, my sweetheart and I went for mani-pedis, which still feel like an incredible luxury to me. For twenty or thirty bucks, I get to sit in a chair that will knead my back and shoulder muscles, and a person will work at the hard callouses that all of my bare-footing makes, then massage my feet and calves with sugar scrub and oil and lotion and then paint my toes pretty colors. It’s an astonishing thing, so much offering, and all I can do is sit there and say thank you. At one point I looked around; besides my sweetheart and me, there were three other women sitting in these fat chairs and they were all looking at their phones while, at their feet, someone scrubbed or tended or massaged. At their feet, I mean, someone was touching each of these women in a way that was meant to bring some joy, some ease, some relaxation. I wondered whether the phone women were even aware of the sensation, or if they were made so uncomfortable by this act of intimacy that they couldn’t engage, couldn’t acknowledge. They couldn’t put the phones down. I’m not saying that anyone was unkind — everyone was friendly, everyone said please and thank you, everyone tipped, all that. I’m trying to get into a deeper dive here. Is it just about distraction?

We heard on the radio this weekend that people are feeling so oppressed by the number of podcasts they have to listen to that they are listening to them at twice the speed: hurrying through the storytelling, the artistry, so that they can get through it and get to the next one.

There’s something about all this entertainment we have at our fingertips these days, the sheer amount of it at the ready, and how we feel pressured to consume it all, lest we are unable to participate in the cultural conversation. There are whole newsfeeds in my apple news app about Game of Thrones — the show, the actors, the controversies, whether or not its feminist — and I don’t know what they’re talking about, nor do I especially feel a need to know. It it’s taking up room in the place where actual news could live. There’s a feeling of pressure that I am not participating if I haven’t watched The Wire or 13 Things about a Serial or whatever — I don’t even want to try to remember all the shows I’m supposed to be watching or people have told me I have to watch or listen to or that are getting all the press (even though if I tried, I know a lot of those show titles are lodged in my brain, taking up space where the phrasing for “Do you have custard tarts” in Portuguese would like to be).

I mean, there’s something about the amount of entertainment we’re expected to avail ourselves of, and what happens to a culture, to a people, that is over-entertained, that is forever entertained, that is continually distracted and even flooded with entertainment.  The government and planet are falling apart but we’re making sure that we’re home in time for GoT and (“home in time” — what does that even mean anymore? We don’t even get the myth of sharing this consumption of story and celebrity simultaneously, like we used to, everyone watching JR get shot or Mindy marry Mork or the folks getting airlifted from MASH 4077 or whatever — of course, now we can livestream rapes and car-crash deaths, and folks can participate in those at the same time, so maybe we’re coming back around. It’s like the Colosseum, and we’ve become those spectators again, or maybe (let’s be honest) we always were).

How do we remember how to focus on one thing at a time, to be in this now, and to create ourselves? We actually don’t have to watch these shows or listen to these podcasts or watch the now movies or the It youtube channels or continually scroll through the important Instagram feeds. We can turn it off. We can say no. But it can be hard to. Saying no also means saying no to our own distraction, our own desire to be out of our skin, our life our reality. How often have I said recently, Can we just go see a stupid movie and forget about what’s going on out there? We have a celebrity entertainer in the white house who knows exactly what he’s doing: driving the people to their screens — whether to watch him or escape him, it’s all the same result.

Turning all of it off is a different decision entirely. Turning it off and watching bird tv or cat tv or cow tv or street-outside-the-window tv, or reading a real book (one off a screen, one with pages you turn, I mean) uses your brain differently. I feel less scattered, less neurally fragmented, and less frantic, when I put the phone down.

I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess I’m recommending the slowing down, as I always do. there’s a frantic in me right now that I’m talking to, and it’s not a media-consumption frantic, it’s a too-much-to-do-before-we-leave frantic, but frantic is frantic, and if I don’t know how to settle, how to get present, how to focus on one thing at a time, then the frantic just continues. step up into what wants to be.

In the book World Enough and Time, Christian McEwen speaks not just to our oversaturated media landscape, not just to how hard it is to focus on something as ridiculed as poetry when we’re overtaxed in every part of our lives, but also on how necessary slowing down and focusing is for any creative person. The experience of reading her book models the slowing down, the slipping from lily pad to lily pad, the meandering brook and the meandering thought, invites me to remember what it felt like when I was a younger person and I could leave the house with nothing on my mind but meeting the day exactly as it was, letting the day find me, letting myself follow whatever wanted to happen. I didn’t think about it that way when I was little, though. Often it looked like being bored — I’m bored! there’s nothing to do! and our parents let us be bored, or they had too much adulting to do to worry about our boredom, and out of our boredom grew something new, a new game or an investigation of the back area behind the garage and what all was living under those rocks or a book you made yourself out of crayons and paper you folded in half and punched with a hole punch and threaded together with that fat cottony string.

Boredom creates space for creativity. We don’t call it boredom so much now that we’re adults. We call it leaving room open for something to happen. We call it just breathing, or taking a walk, or going for a run or a bike ride or a swim or just sitting in the living room and watching out the window. We even call it, some of us call it, going to our jobs.

Of course, if we have a device in our hands that can deliver entertainment directly to our brains every second of our lives, of course, boredom never ever has to be a problem anymore. And that’s something that those in power are counting on, I think. revolutions are creative practices, after all.

(never mind what it is we’re “entertaining” ourselves with — the violence, the rapes, the racism, the terror.. this has become what we choose to watch. We willingly inflict it on ourselves. We take it into our bodies and brains and call it entertaining, we call it edifying, we say it matters somehow. There’s a reason we can listen to news reports about hundreds of people dying in a suicide bombing without breaking down in extraordinary grief, without recoiling in terror, and can just go on about our day. There’s a reason, and that reason is serving somebody not us.)

Calvin was talking about this twenty years ago. and his critiques were old even then.

It’s not so much that I’m anti-technology or anti-entertainment or anti I-just-need-to-get-out-of-my-head-for-awhile (god knows)  — it’s more that I want us to allow for space for those threads of curiosity and wonder to emerge. We need room for day dreaming as well as night dreaming, we healing, creative beings. We need room for our attention to be drawn to the hummingbird at the feeder, which is much less likely to happen if there’s a jump-cut car chase on the screen.

They design these shows to capture us, you know. You know this, to knot us in, to keep us watching. It’s their job. That’s fine, they can do their job. We don’t have to always say yes. Sometimes it’s an act of radical self care to set the entertainment down and let ourselves be in the world, even for the space of ten deep, fierce breaths.

It comes as no surprise that those people who choose to pause at regular intervals report almost immediate effects in therms of personal well-being. William James is especially eloquent on this. “The transition from tenseness, self-responsibility and worry, to equanimity, receptivity, and peace, is the most wonderful of all those shiftings of inner equilibrium…and the chief wonder of it is that it so often comes about, not by doing, but by simply relaxing and throwing the burden down.” Rhythmic creatures that we are, it makes sense that we should choose to do this in a predictable way, whether in the form of feasts or holy festivals, or at regular secular intervals. The pause is delicious in and of itself. But repeated, rhythmic pauses, like our contemporary weekend, pauses that can be anticipated and relied upon, are ten thousand times more precious. – World Enough and Time, Christian McEwen.

Be easy with yourselves today, ok? Thank you for the space you make for your dreamself, your curious self, your wondering self. Thank you for the words in you.

uprooting and untangling the binds of rape culture

Squash seedlings, damp, spreading out in morning sunlight

Squash seedlings almost ready for transplant!

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sun doing where you are right now? How is it feeding your heart?

Even though it’s possible, here in California, to garden year-round, I still live with the rhythms I learned growing up in zone 5 out in the midwest, where one had to take a break in gardening overwinter because, you know, snow. But every late February, something about the quality of light changes, and I get called back out into the garden. We moved last fall, so I have a new garden to build here. I’ve put in some carrot and radish seeds, have peas and chard and onions and herbs and nasturtium and sweet pea growing, and I can just barely see the tips of gai lan seedlings. It’s hard not to want to do it all right now, to have the garden bursting with color and fruit and flower that we left behind in Oakland. I’m re-learning the slow work of cultivation.

I had to dig out some kind of tenacious weed yesterday — California burclover, I discovered — and, while I dug my fingers around a particularly obstinate stem, I got to thinking about the work of uprooting rape culture.

The burclover, right now, is lovely, tender, with clover-like leaves and small yellow flowers. You can just barely see the buds of the fruit next to those flowers; the green pods are covered with a fine fringe that, when they get brown and dry, will turn into spines that dig into any bare feet or paws that go walking through the lawn. I know from past experience how difficult it is to get rid of these plants once they’re established in a garden, so I started pulling them out of this new yard as soon as I realized they were what was matting the area around my garden bed. But they don’t come up easy — though each plant just has one white taproot (like a dandelion) holding it in place, aboveground it sends out suckers and vines that also put down little roots in the soil as they spread. If you can get the whole rosette in hand and twist up, often you can pull up the taproot, too, but the sucker branches twist into those of other plants, growing over and under, through and around. Untangling those as best as possible, trying to save other small plants caught in between, becomes the slowest part of the weeding process.

I spent more than an hour on this yesterday, and still only managed to clean out a couple of square feet, barely noticeable if you’re not paying close attention. The ground I’m working with is clay-y and hardening — often, instead of getting the taproot out, I just tore off the surface greenery, leaving the slick greenbrown stems. I got out tools, used the hand cultivator and trowel, spent several minutes on each one of these plants, trying to dig out the root.

It was good and patient work, centering, calming.

While I was at this, I thought, This is what the struggle against rape is like — this is what it takes to end or change a cultural mindset that says that some people (mostly men) should get to have sexual access to the bodies of the people (mostly women and children) whenever they want. This mindset has deep roots, is well-established, can look harmless at first, in certain lights or seasons or when young or early in relationships, say, and gets twisted into and through the rest of society, choking the life from other things — both wild and cultivated — that need air and light and room to grow.

A bucketful of burweed

I can’t pull out one plant and be done with it. I have to try and get them all. But I can’t do it all at one time, nor can I do it all alone, as burweed certainly has a presence in every neighbor’s garden and in the wildlands back behind the house. I have to be vigilant, return to the same spots that I worked over yesterday to pull up the plants that I missed or whose roots kept hold. And during the time that I live here, I won’t eradicate all the California burclover. But I’m also choosing not to lean on the easy solution of poison, which will damage the soil I’m trying to reclaim and make it less hospitable for other life, will kill other plants also deemed weeds by a certain type of gardener and the gardening industrial complex, but that I want to nurture and save.

So I keep going in with my bare hands, now, when the fruits are still young — before they dry into hard burrs that are intended to dig into feet and feathers and fur, get carried away to establish new colonies elsewhere — and root out what I can.

The work of change is like this — slow, persistent, requiring patience and tenacity and vigilance. And with as many people as there are tangled up in the binds of rape culture, uprooting it is going to take time, as we try and help untangle the thoughts and beliefs and behaviors and entitlements and shames from the other stuff inside that needs room to breathe but has been choked of light and air — kindness, creativity, vulnerability, humility, grief, tenderness. The work is slow. It may take our combined lifetimes.

But I’ll tell you that yesterday, when I took a break, I noticed how good my body and mind felt, being at this labor, how grateful I was to be outside, my hands embedded with dirt, back sore, the work begun—incomplete, sure, but begun.

milkweed seedlings

My mother taught me the rhythm out of weeding, which, inadvertently taught me the rhythm of change work. She cleared out her huge garden a little bit every day, pulled a few weeds, tended the loosed soil, planted something new – until eventually she had the messy gorgeous beauty that is her sprawling wildflower-herb-vegetable garden. It’s a rhythm, a daily practice, something that can sustain us as we engage in the work of uprooting ideas and mindsets (of say, patriarchy and white supremacy) that have overtaken much more than their fair share of the earth, digging out space for more beauty, more birds and butterflies and bees, more sustenance, more space where it safe to walk on a spring morning in your bare feet.

Is there something in your life that needs some room to grow, to breathe? What would you be cultivating right now, if you gave yourself permission? Take 10 minutes with a notebook, open to a new page, and just write whatever comes when you think about these questions. Try not to edit or think too much about it, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Be easy with you today, ok? And thank you for your good words.

trusting that moment of release

Relax_harderWe push ourselves hard to relax right. We give ourselves too little time after too long working too much for too many days in a row, and then we expect ourselves to relax at the drop of a hat. Relax, damnit! There’s only these two days of weekend before we have to get back to work! Hurry up and unwind! The pressure to unclench just adds more stress, when we’re supposed to do it both correctly and on a timeline. We tighten more, knot up a little harder, and can’t understand what people mean when they talk about self-care. Who has time to relax? we want to know. There’s just so much to do. And what does relax mean, anyway, for those of us who tensed up as a way of protecting ourselves from the violence that forced its way into our bodies? Don’t those “Just Relax” people know that, for us, being clenched was our radical self care?

What can relax mean for us, then, when being curled into a tight ball was the safest position? What does it take for us to unfurl what has been bound and rigid within ourselves, to trust that we can be safe when we are exposed?

~~ ~~ ~~

We’ve had two floating-wave days, two too-hot-to-walk-on-the-sand-let’s-get-back-in-the-water days. Days where I’ve been in the water enough that the sea’s rhythm finally entered my blood. Last night I sat on shore, at dinner, lay in bed, and something in me was still swaying, pushing out and sucking back in. Just now I feel it in my shoulders, around and through the deep part of my chest.

This morning I was out in the water at 9am, the beach still relatively empty; the only other people in the water were the surfers, seal-slick in their wetsuits, and a lone paddleboarder who lay prostrate on his board like he was a reverent welcoming the sun. I stretched my body out in the buoyant salt water and did the same, offering myself to sun and undulance, offering myself to morning-soft air so thick it clings to the skin in droplets, offered myself to the tiny minnows flashing around my ankles in their flickering schools. Offering myself to tern screams and sea gull cries and the waft of plover wings as the body of their flock drifted low over the nearby shore. A few minutes later, some neighbor kids came out and took their place in the water, four of them, at first with nothing to arm themselves against the waves but their bodies — the boogie boards came later.

Here is where I lean again into learning to trust being present and relaxed at the same time. My head dropped down below the surface, ears filling just so and what I hear is not the cheers of the surfers catching a swell or the screams of the kids in the midst of their morning ablutions, but the swish of undercurrent waves, my own breath, the roll of water all around me. I close my eyes, just for a moment (I know better than to keep my eyes closed on mother sea) and just let myself float. Just let myself be bouyed up. For a moment, I imagine two hands, I imagine the body of the sea as mother — of course I do. I imagine this as a place where I can relax, a place I can trust. Just for a moment, I lean all the way in. I relax my arms, legs, quit treading water, I just float. Just for a moment.

That one moment, that deep relax, makes all the difference to me, is what I search for during these days at the water. It’s akin to that moment when I’m on the dance floor — you know that moment, when everything is in sync: the music and the gathered dancers, the bass is perfect and I am in flow, my body sweating hard, I am grinning, I am nearly panting, it’s maybe the better part of the way through the night but the dj has been on a roll and every song is good, every song is so good that I can’t bring myself to step off the floor for a second, I don’t want to miss a moment of it, and the energy of everyone is charged and joyful, and I feel my whole body, my whole self, engage. The rest of everything else falls away. Anything else falls away. Nothing else matters but these beats this circle of muscle and sweat and joy this urgency this well-oiled press forward. Something clicks into gear, we are just in the right now, and in this right now, everything is all right. Everything is better than all right: we are safe enough to be all right, we are alive and alive and alive.

That moment of unfurling into the water’s hold is like that, that moment where everything else falls away, and for a second, you don’t have to worry about the to-do list, you don’t have to worry about taking care of anyone else, you don’t have to worry about everything that’s wrong with you or all that you regret or all you haven’t yet accomplished in  your life. In that moment, you are sheer delight, sheer pleasure, sheer gratitude, sheer presence.

You know — of course you know — what it means to allow ourselves to trust anything or anyone enough to lean in and let down our guard, put away the Watcher that hangs out over our shoulder or at the backside of our consciousness and worries the bones of us with its panics and reminders of all that is still wrong, all that is not safe, all that is not healed, all that is still broken — what it means to give ourselves that moment of peace and ease.

That good moment — I got to soak into that today. And it sunk all the way down into my bones.

retreating anyway

Good morning this morning. It’s still cool out there so far, still blessedly grey. I was just out for an early-morning walk with the puppy, and it was such a pleasure to be out in the neighborhood with the city birds: the night herons hustle overhead toward the lake, and crows gather in their cackling pods, up in the tops of the palm trees, rustling fronds and wings, then dispersing, one by one, to perch on the top of the apartment building nearest ours and watch us as we pass underneath. We walked past the man who I think of as the preacher. He is older, dark-skinned, looks strong, something about him is muscular despite the hunch in his back and the paunch under his t-shirt. He walks the neighborhoods all around the lake, preaching to a flock I can’t see. Morning, he said to me.  Good morning, Sir, I said.

We come back inside and Sophie gets a little breakfast, then perches herself at the window, to watch the morning neighborhood wake up, to watch the men unloading cargo from a trailer in the parking lot next door, to watch the commuters, the other dogs about whom she whines and carries on — Mom, it’s a dog, though! she seems to be telling me, making me think of Buster in Arrested Development. The birds are all gathered at the feeder this morning — they have forgiven me for leaving the feeder  empty for so long, and returned in force. Last night there was a hummingbird at the flower garden I’m slowly building in the window box just outside the kitchen. Maybe she was drawn by  the gladiolus, which are now in their full summer glory, tall, strong stalks of pale yellow throats open to the morning. But she wasn’t in the glads, she was in the nasturtium, pushing her beak into their orange mouths, and then into the alyssum, both of which I brough over from the much bigger garden I tend at my sweetheart’s place, my other home.  I couldn’t move while the hummingbird was hovering there. She glinted bright green iridescent in the waning sunlight, and she took off when she became aware of movement on the other side of the glass — he glass means nothing to her. She came back, though, tasting the nasturtium, tasting the alyssum with flowers so tiny I was amazed she could needle her beak into them. And then she was gone.

I’ve had a couple of days’ repeat in my little apartment, this space which has been so dedicated to writing ourselves whole workshops for the last three years, ever since I moved in. I came over on Tuesday, and have spent three nights in a row, two days. My plan was to have days wide open in which I could just dive into my nonfiction book project (this is how I described it in an email yesterday: a collection of essays about and dedicated to the desiring, creative survivor body — drawn out of these ten-plus years leading writing groups about sex and with survivors and more). I have several hundred pages of text, the barest of a first draft, and I’ve needed space in which to immerse myself in the whole damn thing — not just fifteen minutes here and there to enter edits, but time to spread out the pages, look at them all at once, what I’ve got and what needs filling in, what’s redundant, and how these chapters should start to flow into each other.

When was the last time you gave yourself a retreat for your creative work? It’s not necessary to book a hotel half-way across the country, or apply to and get accepted to a month-long residency somewhere remote and isolated. Those sorts of retreats are good, too, of course, but at least for me, they don’t happen very often at all. Much easier for me to put together a retreat at home, like a staycation for my writing. I set aside a couple of days, blocking them off in the calendar so I don’t schedule meetings or coffee dates). I let my beloveds know what I’m doing, don’t answer the phone, try to stay off of email. And then all that’s left is for me not to derail myself, not to let the inner censors and other creative hobgoblins convince me that really I should be doing something for someone else.

So I spent some hours, here on my retreat, reading, again, about codependence. I’ve been noticing lately how consistently I tell myself I have to take care of everyone else first, all other needs and demands, before I can really do my work. It’s an ongoing battle, uprooting those old learnings, instilled by our particular misogynist culture and reinforced by a stepfather who demanded that all attention be devoted to serving his needs at every minute. Even after all this time as a writer, as someone who can easily passionately encourage the folks in my writing groups to put themselves and their creative work first, I still struggle to do just that.

I spent hours of this mini-treatreat dealing with non-book-related tasks for other people — the newsletter has to get out, I have to respond to them, oh god, I have to mail that thing, this form really needs my attention immediately, if I don’t print out all fifty of these calls for submissions, I’m going to forget them. Whew. The stuff that can — legitimately, honestly — get inbetween us and our creative work is never-ending. At some point, I have to just turn off the computer, take a deep breath, swallow the guilt, and dive in.

It was hard to take these two days and three nights of retreat — I’d originally planned for it to be a week of stay-cation retreat, and then felt bad/guilty/selfish, and so shrunk it down to these couple of days. And even then I was ready to give over one of the days. Fortunately, my sweetheart said to me, I know how important this time is to you. You should really take it. I miss you, but I want you to have this. That’s pretty extraordinary, in my experience.  We all need someone in our corner when we can’t be strong enough to advocate for ourselves — and none of us are strong enough to advocate for ourselves and our desires every minute.

So I stayed and made small meals at my little table and worked into the evening, managing to get into that book work I wanted to do, finally.

The second night here, I ran into a neighbor man while Sophie and I were out for our evening constitutional. This neighbor man is dark-skinned with long dreaded hair and an infectious grin. He likes to talk to me and Sophie. The night we talked, he was kind. He spoke about my energy and power, wanting to touch palms. You’re special, he said. You’re one of the few girls who smiles and says hi. I didn’t get into why most female/feminine folks tend not to make eye contact while they’re just trying to walk home. Sophie sat with us, watching the night street, unbothered and unhurried. Me, I wanted to get back inside and go to bed. The man kept smiling, talking about how people with power, when they share that power with each other, keep it going around the world, influencing more and more positive change. I have talked with this man a few times around the neighborhood. He said, You’re the one I tell I like your haircut, because it reminds me of Mary Martin. I said I don’t know who that is, and he said, The original Peter Pan! Then he told me about how he was famous, but he didn’t get into it directly like that. He said, you know Dire Straits? I said yes. He said, You know that song, “Walk of Life?” and I do, but he sang some of it and none of what he sang sounded familiar. He said, Mark Knopfler, you know Mark Knopfler? I said yes. He said, In the video for “Walk of Life,” when Mark Knopfler comes out and he’s barefoot, comes out into Boston Gardens — and then my neighbor asks me if I’ve heard of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan — he said, Right there, I’m in that video, you go watch, you’ll see me spinning two basketballs and dancing and you’ll say, Hey! That’s Wayne from the neighborhood! You didn’t even know how close you were to greatness!  He was smiling, serous and enjoying this. I said I’d watch it — he said, You google it or so something. I crossed the street then, shook his hand before I left, wanting to believe what he was telling me. I like him and still am a but nervous around him, the way I am be with any man I don’t know well who wants to stop and talk at 11 at night. He said, You go watch it! and I said I’d tell him about it the next time I saw him. We waved good night and smiled at each other. Sophie went to sleep as soon as we got back inside and while I got ready for bed, I looked up the video for “Walk of Life,” which I surely haven’t seen since the 80s on MTV, and sure enough, right near the beginning, before all the sports guys start fumbling and crashing into each other, there’s my neighbor, a younger man, his hair short and cropped tight his head, grinning big, standing in the aisle near the court, spinning two basketballs and dancing. There he is, I said to Sophie, waking her up. That’s Wayne from the neighborhood. Sophie groaned at me and I smiled, too, grateful for this place that and this time, grateful for the space and energy to connect.

Here’s hoping you have some time to retreat into your creative self, for an hour this weekend, or an afternoon, or even, god forbid, a whole weekend sometime soon.

Guest post: Practicing the love for our bodies

Good morning, good morning! It’s a beautiful, quiet February morning here, and I’ve just taken about an hour for reading and quiet and morning pages. How are the words finding you these days?

We have a guest post today from a good friend of Writing Ourselves Whole, Danielle Ragan, personal trainer, health coach, fitness instructor, teacher as well as writer and all-around generous being. She shares with us today her thoughts about body love in the aftermath of trauma, and offers from her practice an exercise that anyone can use to enter into a month of deeper self-acceptance and radical, embodied self love.

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A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.

~Eckhart Tolle

Greetings! Who is this random guest blogger that Jen has writing in this week’s post, you may ask? I am but that stranger guiding you to look inside…inside yourself. I may be that stranger for you now, but the beauty about strangers is that all strangers are only companions whom we have not yet met.

My name is Danielle Ragan. And if work were to determine my being, by profession I am a personal trainer, health coach, fitness instructor, teacher, but in my true being I am simply a liver of life! Continue reading