Tag Archives: radical self care!

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?

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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

NaBloPoMo #15: I get clean by writing it

Today’s post comes from the Fearless Words writing group — our prompt came from the group itself: how do we get clean?

How do you get clean? You know — inside? How do you begin to release that sense that you are dirty, soiled, smeared with someone else’s stain?

We took about 8 minutes — and this is what came for me (with only small edits):

I get clean by writing it. I take the stories out of my body and let the page hold them, too. And I get clean by crying. So many buckets and buckets of ears, a sea full. a world full. I cry because crying is what brings the body back to itself. Cry and dance and sweat and move the damp through the body’s pores and the toxins are flooded out. They say that every seven years, every one of the body’s cells has replaced itself. One day I realized that this means that he has never touched the skin I’m in now. I have sloughed and shed the places he put his body against or into mine — I have sloughed him. I get clean by getting messy, by telling the truth, surrounding myself with a love that never thought me dirty in the first place.

sometimes self-care means deep self-parenting

Good morning, good morning. It’s later than I’d like it to be, almost 6am. I couldn’t pull my body out of bed when the alarm went off at 4:30 — even though I know how good the whole rest of my day is when I’ve had two hours awake and writing before anyone else in the house is up. That’s ok — just keep going now.

How are you being easy with yourself where you are this morning?

I have been thinking a lot recently about self care, as you know, and how easy it’s become to give myself permission to be the kid I didn’t get to be. I am thinking about giving myself permission to feel pain, feel anxiety, feel fear, and still move forward anyway. How much space I’ve made inside for the 12, 13, 14, 15 year old I was who was so afraid of doing the wrong thing and getting in trouble and having to deal with my stepfather’s wrath that now a lot of my life is structured around managing her anxiety. How do we teach ourselves the skills of being adult when we were psychically mangled as children, when we developed psychic structures and skill-sets that kept us safe once and now only serve to keep us small and contained? And how long will I be asking myself these questions? Do we ever actually grow up? Or is part of being grown up the asking — the recognition that I am acting in ways that have been shaped by my child self and I don’t want to force/let that kid be the one in charge anymore — I want to let her be a kid, one who gets parented well.

Last week I got to be alone with my nephew for a couple of hours while his parents, my sister and brother-on-law, went out for a date. My sister got to take a long shower and fix her hair for the first time in forever and put on her makeup and was so ready just to be herself again. My sweetheart and I had the pleasure of hanging out with a sleepy 7-month-old who doesn’t like to go to sleep Holding him, I remembered what it was like when I was a teenager allowed to babysit — that was the only job I had outside of the home when I was young, before I went to college. I remembered how honored I felt whenever a baby was comfortable in my arms, would relax enough to put her head on my shoulders, not to mention falling asleep on my body.

I can remember one babysitting gig we had where my sister and I went together to the house across the street from our stepfather’s and we took care of a handful of neighbor kids. The had a new baby, who wouldn’t have been much older than my nephew is now, and I distinctly remember sitting in a rocking chair with him while my sister took care of the other kids in another room. I had to get him to sleep, and I was armed with a bottle and nothing else — he was armed with his determination not to go to sleep. I rocked and held him for what seemed like hours while he cried and fussed. I whispered to him, It’s ok. It’s ok. You won’t miss anything good. It’ll all be here for you tomorrow. You can go to sleep now. We rocked and rocked, and finally he fell asleep on me, and it was all I could do to get up from that rocking chair and put him in his crib. Given the message I got at home — that I was selfish and untrustworthy, that there was something bad in me — having an infant fall asleep on my chest, trusting my hands and shoulders with the weight of his sleeping body, was a kind of innoculant to that messaging: something in me was still safe and kind, even if my parents couldn’t see it anymore.

My nephew cried and cried he got sleepy. My sweetheart and I heated up bottles for him and tried feeding him in his crib so that he could fall asleep there, but he wasn’t having it, so I took him back out into the living room and fed him on the couch. I watched the little face, a beautiful combination of my sister’s and her husband’s, turn wet with frustration. His eyelashes glinted with tears. He ate all he wanted, and then wouldn’t be soothed by a bottle or a binky. He’s stubborn — like his parents — and insistent. So we just rocked and bounced. I understood that nothing was wrong — his diaper was changed, he’d been fed, he wasn’t hurting or sick — this is just his way at bedtime. I wanted to be something steady for him to weep against while he learned to put himself to sleep. One more place, one more adult human who can teach him something about managing his anxiety and doing the difficult thing anyway. In his case, the difficult thing is going to sleep.

Who knows why he’s weeping, what all arises in his tiny new body when fatigue hits him. Don’t you  sometimes still get weepy when you’re over-tired and can’t get to sleep? He’s still learning how to manage all of that — and be a human breathing air at the same time.

I held him and cradled his back and head and whispered  into his ear, not to quiet him, but just to comfort him. He doesn’t quiet to shhhh any more than my puppy does. He would settle down, letting his head drop against my shoulder, and then snap back to attention, as though he’d thought. Wait, what happened? What’d I miss? Where was I? Oh yeah — and he’d start to cry again. My sweetheart said, I can take him if you want. She’s a mama who spent many nights walking the floor with her own son when he was young, so I knew she’d have some good tricks up her sleeve, but I am stubborn, too, and I didn’t want to hand his little body over. Selfish, sure. But selfish isn’t always terrible. She smiled at me when I didn’t even bat an eye at her offer. Eventually his cries got shallower, thinner, quieter. He got heavier in my arms, and started hiccuping. And then he let his head fall to my shoulder and it stayed there. I looked in a nearby mirror and saw that his eyes were open, so I just keep going — hand spread out across his back, rubbing slowly, bouncing a little, and whispering shhhh, that sound that reminds him of the whisper of his mama’s knowing when he was inside her. A few minutes later he was asleep. I didn’t even try to put him into his crib, which I know is a difficult transition even for his parents to accomplish these days. Instead I went over to the couch and sat down, then stretched out so that he was lying flat on my chest, and we listened to Cesaria Evora on Pandora, while he slept.

How do we learn to be the same sort of steady, unyielding, kind presence for the selves in us that are still terrified, still afraid of the dark, still scared to take new leaps?

There was a morning earlier this fall when my sweetheart’s boy had reason not to want to do something at school because of an interaction with a teacher the previous day, and I got to watch my sweetheart stand up into his fury and fear, the way he shouted at her, You don’t know what  it’s like, everything is easy for you! and threw a fantastic tantrum, and still she was a steady, maintaining presence, getting him ready for school, reminding him that she would be with him, but insisting that he go and do this thing even though he was scared. And inside all she wanted to do was let him have his way; she wanted his smile and his comfort. But she knew that wouldn’t help him develop the skills he’d need as an adult — not showing up for him the way she did wouldn’t have been good parenting. I was in awe of her steadiness, her unwillingness to meet his rage with frustration, how she was kind and gentle with him and helped him walk to the place he needed to get. He was unhappy all the way to school, but when they got there, she talked with his teacher, who helped clear up a misunderstanding from the day before, and he got to face his fear and walk through it.

I am not always such a good parent to the parts in me that still need to learn how to be grown up. I tend to let those parts sit on the couch and watch tv instead of insisting that we do the thing that we don’t want to do — make the difficult phone call, get some exercise, sit down and write instead of procrastinating. The small self in me doesn’t even have to throw a tantrum; she just gets tense and anxious and says, No, I don’t want to do it, and the only slightly older self in me, the one who got free at 21, says, You know what, small one? You don’t have to. Let’s just relax today. The tension goes away. We all watch tv and eat popcorn and peanut butter cups for lunch and then we get to the end of the day not having taken care of any business and feeling generally shitty about ourselves.

Sometimes, it’s true, a daylong movie marathon and terrible eating are just what the doctor ordered. I’m not removing those from my self-care toolbox. But I tend to reach for those tried-and-true anxiety-ameliorating practices a little too often, foregoing the necessary work to build up other skills– like holding hands with my fear while I risk submitting my work to a new publisher, or calling on someone who could help me promote the workshops, or following up with folks who owe me money for work I’ve done with them.

The adult me doesn’t have anyone standing in my corner telling me that it’s time to go do the difficult thing; it’s my job as an adult to do that for myself. But it’s also my job to be gentle and generous with the inside selves that were terrorized through adolescence and do deserve some ease.

The transition I’m facing a the moment is shifting the child out of the role of parent/adult — she who didn’t have anyone to take care of her as a young person had to protect herself as best as possible, and that meant shutting down anxiety as soon as it emerged however she could. It also meant that she felt overwhelmed all the time: how could she ever actually manage to be all that was demanded of her — obedient child, obedient sex object, successful and achieving student, and accomplished computer programmer — while carrying on the pretense, in the world and at home, that everything was normal. Of course she’s overwhelmed all the time now that she’s expected to be an actual adult. Of course she just wants to check out. And I’ve let her — us — do a lot of checking out.

(I’m putting the work into practice right now — while finishing this post, my web browser logged me out of wordpress, and I lost about a half-an-hour’s worth of work. My small self began, understandably, to pout and complain — God! Just forget it! Can’t we quit doing this dumb writing and go eat breakfast? — and so I pouted for a few minutes, complained to my sweetheart (who responded, quite satisfyingly, in kind, about how much the whole situation sucks and is the worst ever), and then came back up to my desk and sat down and started rewriting.)

Maybe nothing has to be shut down, no parts of ourselves have to be ignored or shamed like they were when we were being abused. Instead, we can let each part be itself — the 12 year old kid can be exactly her perfect 12 year old self, and does not have to have the responsibilities of an adult, and she can trust that the adult will take care of the tasks needed to accomplish our goals and pay our bills and put food on the table, without putting our lives at risk. I mean to say that the young and still-understandably-scared selves can come to gently learn that feeling fear, feeling anxious, doesn’t have to mean that we’re about to be harmed.

What I’m starting to confront is that “be easy with myself” doesn’t always mean just walk away from anything hard and crawl into a cave. Sometimes it has to mean doing this other work of self-parenting: sitting with the tantruming and fearful child inside, breathing with her panic and loss, while not giving in to her demand that we read books and eat cereal all day, every day, in order to avoid feeling any anxiety. I’ve never been a fan of the language of parenting the inner child — it creeped me out, I think because it hits so close to home. But today I am meeting this language differently, thinking about how to take small, straightforward and sometimes scary steps into a more healed life — one in which the adult gets to be the adult, and the kid gets to be the kid.

Thank you for all the ways you are being easy with yourself today. Thank you for your deep kindness with yourself and others, and, of course, thank you for your good words.


what survivors are hungry for

(Hummingbirds are luminous and ravenous survivors — they eat 1-3 times their body weight daily, which means they must have intimate connection with hundreds of flowers each and every day. Go ahead, lovelies.)

Tonight at Lit Crawl, Writing Ourselves Whole writers will share their take on the fierce hunger of sexual trauma survivors.

(You can join us: 6pm at the Women’s Building, Room B, in San Francisco!)

Tonight, our brilliant writers — Manish Vaidya, Eanlai Cronin, Renee Garcia, Blyth Barnow, and Seeley Quest — will articulate some of what it looks like when survivors tangle with hunger: what it’s like to feel it, what it’s like not to feel it, not to allow ourselves to feel it, to think we don’t deserve it — and to finally allow ourselves consider the possibility that we do.

I am thinking this morning about how ferociously hungry are the survivor writers I’ve worked with over the last ten-plus years — writers who desperately long for something different: for an end to rape and rape culture, for an end to all forms of oppression and violence that dehumanize some in order to give others satiation and power — yes, of course, this. But then there are the individual hungers:  for connection, understanding, knowing, recognition; folks are hungry to be seen. We’re hungry for work that satisfies and challenges us, hungry to be nourished — physically and psychically, and to feel worthy of nourishment. We are hungry for intimacy, hungry for a touch that doesn’t take anything from us but instead meets and feeds us. We are hungry for change, for knowledge, for beauty, for the pen or the brush or the song or the dance, for the dark and for the light. We are hungry and struggle to feel ourselves worthy of feeding. We have been starved and often we have starved ourselves.

Radical self care means allowing ourselves to experience what we are hungry for — or, even before that, to be aware of our appetites, and to know that having an appetite isn’t what caused our violation. This is slow learning and can take years. Simply having human and animal appetites — wanting, hungering — isn’t what caused someone to harm us. They may have told us that it did, that their actions were our fault, that we were also partly to blame, because, look, we said we wanted — something. We wanted to see the puppy or taste the candy. We wanted to be touched or held, in ways that were loving or safe. We wanted to feel special and important. Sometimes our bodies wanted the sexual touch, which confused us, because we didn’t want it from this person, in this way. We wanted the toy or the special treat that we were promised, or we wanted to be able to keep safe the people or pets who were threatened. Our desires were manipulated, used against us, and so we tried to keep ourselves from wanting. If we didn’t want anything, no one could manipulate us like that again. We slid our big and small hungers into drawers and locked them up inside ourselves. We said, What, me? No, I don’t need anything. I’m fine. What do you want?

What do you want?

Our hungers don’t go away. They gnaw on the insides of those drawers, they chew through the locks and bars, they are insatiable, they do not abandon us. I am not talking about addictions here, but what the addictions are trying to keep us from feeling, to help us run from, help us ignore. We might spend years running as fast as we can to get away from the desires that have been with us all our lives: the desire to create, the desire to connect, the desire to feel, the desire to be witnessed, nourished, appreciated, make a difference, matter.

When we stop running, the hunger that catches up with us can be overwhelming. I have used lots of different things to drown it out — wine, food, television, relationship drama, too much work. All of these at the same time, some weeks. All of this to keep from having to hear that quiet and persistent voice in me that says, I am hungry to be loved for exactly who I am. I am hungry to write books that some people will read and love. I am hungry for a solid sense of home. I am hungry for playful and understanding friendships. I am hungry for family that feels safe. I am hungry to experience my body’s full and free sexual and erotic capacity — in fact, to know the full capacity of my body’s strength and speed and wisdom overall. I am hungry for a world that doesn’t organize every organism and object into a hierarchy of use to white supremacist capitalism, hungry for a world in which children aren’t treated like items on a menu, hungry for a society in which all people’s innate creative genius is recognized, valued, and nourished. I starve or overfeed myself to avoid feeling the rage and sorrow and hope that accompanies these longings, but they don’t go away.

During the first months I was offering erotic writing groups, I came to understand right away that they were about more than just sex for the writers — they were about finding and creating safe space in which to hunger, in which to openly long, a space in which that longing wouldn’t be used against us in any way, in which, in fact, we would be celebrated for that desire. Toward the end of those early groups, writers came to be aware of not simply the specificities of their erotic desires (as though that’s ever simple!), but also of desire to reconnect with their music, with their art, to find work that truly fed them. We wanted the whole of our sex back, yes, and we wanted so much more than that, too.

It is in our nature to hunger. When we try to shut those primal urges down, we implode. This starvation is a way of slowly killing ourselves. It is a way of continuing to do our violators’ work for them. Eventually, little by little, we can begin to put down that particular labor, beating up and shaming the small self within that has mouth open and hands out. We can begin to listen to that self, treat it (us, him, hir, her, them) with kindness and generosity, as we ought always to have been listened to ourselves. We can remember that that small self deserved those desires, just as we do — and did not deserve to be shamed or harmed for wanting, just as we do not. We can begin to feel what we have always been hungry for, and then, as we choose, start to feed ourselves — even start allowing ourselves to be fed.

Here’s to your gorgeous and tender hungers. Thank you for all the ways that you are allowing yourself to feel, to appreciate, and to feed your good, good self.

the difficult and beautiful struggle around self care

I’d like to say my usual good morning, good morning, but it’s taken me all day to get to this post. Refinding my way into my writing after a long break can go like this. Bear with me, ok?

As the light shifts and we find ourselves fully into autumn (whether it feels like it or not where you are), I hope this finds you brimming with words and readying to write. I certainly know I am.

This month’s newsletter comes to you with 4-leaf clovers and migrating monarchs – see below!) out of the midwest. I found the gift up there the day before I was to give a presentation at the Power of Words conference about self-care for transformative language artists (that is, anyone who uses language in a healing or transformative way: writers, poets, workshop facilitators, storytellers, songwriters, therapists, teachers, and so on). I needed a little good luck…I had arrived at the conference (at Lake Doniphan, just outside of Kansas City) quite depleted after a month full of family, workshops, and preparations to finally complete our new book, Sex Still Spoken here: the Erotic Reading Circle Anthology. The further I got into the month, the more self-care practices dropped away: I stopped running, ate poorly, spent no time in the garden, and even told myself that I didn’t have time or energy to write in the mornings. Despite the fact that that last is always a flashing neon red flag, announcing loudly that I need to make some changes (I am not much fun to be around when I’m not writing regularly), still I kept going, kept doing more, kept depleting myself further. I began to feel like the bottom of a used cookpot — burnt and scoured, and still I kept on scraping at the remnants, expecting to be able to nourish myself and others on charred tailings rather than taking the time to step back, slow down, and replenish.

Do you have months like this? Years like this, maybe?

Now here I was at a conference of my transformative language arts peers, and I barely had any energy to connect with the beautiful, brilliant folks around me. How could I present a talk/workshop about self-care when I had been doing such a poor job of taking care of myself?

monarch butterflies migrating through a Nebraska gardenAfter taking some time to get quiet with the natural world (thank you, monarchs and cicadas), I walked into my workshop with my whole self — I told the gathered participants exactly where I was coming from, and honored how very difficult it can be to take care of ourselves, even when we are working to help others take care of themselves. I described my own experiences of burnout and how I sometimes had to get clear to rock bottom before I believed I deserved to take care of this instrument that is myself. I described how grateful I felt in 2008 when I discovered Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s Trauma Stewardship book and program — and how called out I was by her assertion that we who called ourselves trauma stewards could not possibly do ethical (not to mention sustainable!) work with others if we were not also taking care of ourselves. That one hit home in a big way for me, and yet I am still struggling, six years later, to believe that I am worth taking care of.

We are so many of us trained, early and often, to take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves. Those lessons are repeated continuously: There is so much need, so much trauma, so many around us who need help. Who do we think we are to take time out of our social change efforts to “replenish the well” (as Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way)? I don’t know about you, but when I’m not taking care of myself, I get into this mindset that says, “If I just do these last few things for them, then I’ll be able to take some time for me.” The trouble is, there’s no end to what I (tell myself I) need to do for other people. There’s no way to finish that to-do list, and I drive myself into the ground trying to “get it all done.”

There’s no such thing as getting it all done — especially not when we’re talking about trauma and its aftermath.

I have to change the paradigm, and put self-care right up at the top of every day’s tasks. This is difficult work, especially when I’ve already slipped back into my codependent-hero costume (complete with Wonder Woman cape, thank you): I am putting everyone else first! Look at how great I am! Never mind that after not very long I’m going to disappear under a rock and quit responding to email messages and phone calls because I’m so overwhelmed — the pendulum swings over to the selfish-shame side of things.

Have you been on this ride? The Wonder Woman side feels great for a little while, but the crash is kind of a drag.

In A Feminist Ethic of Risk, Sharon Welch reminds her readers that we can’t approach social change work with the sort of individualist mindset that many of us (especially white middle class Americans) are trained into — not only must we work in community and collaboration, we must prepare ourselves for small victories and do our work in such a way that we are building a scaffolding for those who will come after us — who will pick up our work after we have gone. If we expect to get it all done today (To do list: buy dish detergent, get flea medicine for cat, take out trash, end rape culture) even in our lifetimes, we are sure to burn out. We have to slow down, breathe deep, work steady and consistently, and remember that we are not alone in our struggles.

I forget this a lot. As a survivor who was, like so many, intensely isolated — and also as an introvert who needs time to myself to process and replenish — I tend to do a lot of my work alone. I live in a community that is both wildly creative and also frantically busy and consistently overwhelmed; we are all trying to figure out how to do our art, create change in collaboration with others, and also pay our rent. I, like so many cultural workers in the Bay Area, find myself taking on too much, trying to Do It All, before depleting my resources and needing to retreat into a bit of quiet until I feel a tiny trickle of water start to flow into the parched desert of my creative soul. Then I dive back into work again full bore, expecting that trickle to do the work of the sea. Working from a place of overwhelm is like having blinders on — all I can see is the road ahead. I forget why I’m doing what I’m doing. I forget why I loved this work. I stop being able to see the impact of my efforts, and begin to despair — why am I working so hard when nothing ever seems to change? What good is this work, anyway? Am I really making any sort of difference?

I showed up at the conference deeply depleted. Thankfully, The Power of Words conference is a space that values authentic presence, and I was able to show up exactly as I was. I talked a little bit about the need for transformative language arts workers to take care of our good and necessary selves, and then we broke into small groups and folks wrote together (this was our prompt) and held one another’s words. It was a gorgeous group of writers, and I found myself — even from the edge of despair on which I was teetering — grateful all over again for what happens when folks write openly and honestly, then share their words with each other and allow themselves to be received with kindness and generosity.

Then I went to Arby’s and got potato cakes by way of celebration — hey, I was home, and only wanted to eat the things my 10 year old self would have wanted to eat.

Since getting back from the conference, I helped launch a book into the world and celebrated its authors, have two new survivors groups beginning, and am preparing for Writing Ourselves Whole’s inaugural reading at San Francisco’s Lit Crawl.  I am also slowing down, not making plans, leaving hours open for daydreaming and reading. The more space I have, the more the words begin to return — and the more able I feel to sit down with them and let them flow onto the page.

Self-care is a difficult practice for any of us, and trauma survivors have our own challenges. I have to remind myself over and over again of Audre Lorde’s words: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

We deserve to preserve ourselves. We deserve to be in our chosen work for the long haul. We deserve to be well inside our skins. I say it to you in order to remind myself as much as to remind you. Thank you for all the ways you are tender with your psyche, body, and soul. Thank you for your spaciousness with others when they are needing to retreat in order to take care of themselves. And, as ever, thank you for your words.

I don’t have to earn this life

Good morning, good morning, writers. Have you already pushed into your words this morning? Did you make some time in these precious wee hours for the voice of weirdness and magic to find its way to you?

I’m sorry to have been absent from this space for so long — the last weeks have been overly filled with work that leaves me without time for any morning writing that’s not dashed off in the notebook. There’s been this beautiful book we are getting ready to send off to the printers and all of the necessary, last-minute edits of stories, formatting and reformatting, and gathering the various bits and pieces together that make a collection like this one come together — the other day I worked through the night on “final” copyedits (though it seems like copyediting is never actually finished), awake until 4am, which is when I usually would prefer to rise! There’ve been many writing groups, including two at Pacific School of Religion engaging the idea of writing as a spiritual practice for the new (and returning) seminarians there. Our online Write Whole writing group is coming to a close, and I’ve been writing up responses to last-minute writes and chatting with participants one-on-one. I worked on a book review, began working on a new editing project, and I even (gasp!) spent some time with friends and family (though that’s really more of a testament to my sweetheart’s scheduling abilities; left to my own devices, this is a time when I’d put my head down and see almost no one — thank goodness she helps keep me sane.)

All this means I’m spending very little time online. When I have a little downtime, I spend it outside in the garden, or playing with the pup, or reading a book in a quiet corner. I’m doing some writing, sure, in workshops and in the notebook

Life has been fully outside my ideal routine during this time: little downtime, little reflective space, and even less time alone to replenish the creative well. I keep plugging forward because I know the crunch is finite — it feels rather like finals back at school: you do what you have to do, you work hard, you have minor or major meltdowns and then you get back to work, you push through it and then when it’s all done you go home for the break and succumb to some small virus and sleep for three days and nourish yourself with ramen noodles and daytime talk shows.

Right now, I can’t do the usual work required of a small businessperson/solopreneur — I can’t do a lot of promo for the upcoming fall workshops, and am not able to return calls or connect with folks about possible new business. I get frustrated and overwhelmed and then I remember that it is what it is: this one body has a finite amount of resources and energy, and right now we’re expending all of them just moving through the projects already on our plate. This is hard remembering for me to do: it takes practice. I am forever more easily able to listen to the voice in my head that tells me I am not doing enough, I am lazy and a slacker, I will never amount to anything worthwhile. Perhaps you have some similar sort of voice in your head, too. I’m sorry, if that’s the case. This is an ongoing struggle for most people, and maybe a bit moreso for those of us who are survivors of family violence, who heard early and often how selfish and hateful we were for wanting agency and bodily integrity and to be the determiners of our own futures (not to mention love and security and safety — my goodness).

Change is in the works: I am beginning to see the glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. I take breaks and turn off the news. This morning I rose early so that I could make maple-bacon scones for a certain new 6th grader, and will head to the dog park with the pup after I drop that same particular someone off at school for the day. Then I’ll head down south to visit with another small boy (this one just about to hit his six month mark!) and a sister and a mother, and we will spend the day doing no “work” but the practice of real love and being, which I have to keep reminding myself is a worthwhile way to “spend” my time. I don’t have to work all the time in order to deserve the air I breathe. I don’t have to earn this life. I can be in it, too.

Big love and gratitude today, for you and your words and all the ways of your being-ness.

Jen’s ten rules for writers (for today)

Sometimes things conspire to keep the body from pulling itself out of bed at 4:50am. Sometimes the dog has been awake at irregular intervals all night, snapping off sharp, surprising barks at the neighbors who had the audacity to have a gathering on their summer-vacation Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Sometimes she’s up at 1:48am, shaking and scratching and agitating so that her collar rings like poorly-tuned chimes, needing to go outside. Sometimes the body stands at the back door, falling back asleep while upright, waiting for the dog to finish exploring the night yard and ask to be let back in. Sometimes the work went late into the night and rest didn’t come early enough. Sometimes the leg spasms, dancing all by itself, and the rest of the body doesn’t want to stretch it — that road leads directly to charlie horse.

So sleep, such as it is, blows right through the 4:50 alarm, through the many snoozes, and continues on until almost 7. Sometimes the sweetheart’s arms are just too sweet to slip away from, and so it’s a whole lot better to cuddle back in under the covers after every snooze. And those precious early morning writing hours are spent in dreams. But the dreams will make their way into some character’s head, someday. That’s the hope.

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Today is a self-care day: body work, therapy, CoDA — not in that order. There’s much work to do — we have a beautiful group gathered for our summer online write whole session, and folks have already begun to share strong and gorgeous work there; our fundraising campaign for Sex Still Spoken Here (the Erotic Reading Circle anthology) is in the homestretch and needs a lot of attention in order to make our $5000 goal; Dive Deep‘s SummerFall 2014 Cohort is underway and manuscripts are arriving for response; Write Whole‘s in-person session begins next week, and I’ve got to prepare our syllabus and get the word out to any last-minute registrants — I’ve also got a syllabus to prepare for a master class for the National Poetry Slam at the beginning of next month and start getting the word out to local colleges about our 2014-2015 workshop offerings… so today’s practice will be to relax during the self-care time, and trust that the work will get done as it needs to get done. Whew.

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Last Thursday, In the first meeting of our Dive Deep SummerFall cohort, I asked us to write (in 10 minutes) our 10 rules for writers (I got the idea from Advice to Writers, which shares various writers’ lists of 10 rules now and again…). We got some great lists, and some interesting overlap among many of our lists. What would get included on your list of 10 “rules” for writers? What would you leave off your list of “rules”?

Here’s what my list looked like:

1) Start now.

2) Open a notebook. Get a fast-moving pen. Sit down at a corner table in a bustling cafe, next to a window, wearing headphones connected to a tape player blaring music you’ve listened to often enough that the sound simply permeates your brain, creating a barrier between the loud voices around you, the even louder and more hostile voices within you, and the words you can barely even allow yourself to know you want to write. Put the pen to the page. Write one word, then another, as fast as you can, faster than the eyes of your inner editors and censors can read. Keep going for 20 minutes, take a breath, then keep going for another 20 years.

3) Understand that anyone’s rules for writing are useless to you.

4) Move your body in ways that feel excellent to you and make you sweat at least as often as, and for as long as, you write.

5) Be around animals — they being you into the present moment better than anything else.

6) Read books you love. Read books you don’t love. Read in and out of the genre you want to write.

7) Write what you love — not what you think you ought to write. Forgive yourself for not always loving what you “ought” to write.

8) Remember that writing needs room to breathe — loafing, wandering, and lazing aimlessly are often deeply creative acts.

9) Take paid work that has nothing to do with writing, leaves you energy to write, and provides material for your writing.

10). Be easy with you. And keep going.

not just a piece of broken and damaged baggage

And what about this morning — I wake up from snooze-dreams in which I’m at a health food store where they’re playing loud German industrial music over the sound system. There’s a video playing on a tv mounted high up on the wall in one of the rooms (this is a health food store I’ve visited in other dreams, a part of my dream home, I guess), and there’s the lead singer, a high-glam, big-haired femme man that someone calls Headwig — I realize this is who the play was based on. He’s wearing yellow leather tight-fitting pants and jacket, with long, thin, dyed blonde hair. The video is shot from the base of the front of the stage, looking up at him, as though the camera person is in the audience, and so Headwig is enormously towering and imposing as he stalks around the stage between verses. I don’t remember what I was buying at the store, or why I was there, but now I have in my head the 90’s German industrial song Du Hast, which I think I’ll have to listen to later.

There are so many thing I think I ought to write about here during the days — but I don’t make notes about any of them, so when I sit down with my eyes still bleary and my body aching and tired, my head is empty — what am I going to do with this time now that I’ve managed to drag my body out of bed? What I want is for this to be time when I don’t have to rush through my writing, when I can write slowly and without interruption. (Also, I am tired of writing the word ‘writing’ — I don’t want to be so self-conscious about my process anymore. I don’t want to tell you about what I want to be writing, how how I want to be writing, la la la. Let’s just be in the work instead.)

Yesterday I managed to actually make a call to a doctor’s office about what’s going on with my body — the constant tenseness in my piriformis muscle (apparently leftover from the spasm that laid me low for three months two years ago) has now caused the whole right side of my body to tense up and has started impacting my knee. My knee is recovering from whatever happened to make it pop when I was running earlier this week, but still I’m not exercising, and I feel like a failure — here I just finished this book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which left me motivated to dedicate myself more fully to both running/exercise and my writing practice, and now I feel like I’ve been thwarted in that space of inspiration. I’ve spent most of the last couple of days feeling nauseous because of the tenseness in my shoulder and glute and knee; my right calf spasms fairly constantly (it’s like I’ve got a fluttering bird inside my leg) when I’m sitting still, and then aches as though I’ve had a charlie horse. And yet I feel wholly stymied when I go to call someone to ask for help. What am I supposed to say?

In this case, I was calling a sports medicine department at a prominent hospital. I spent ten minutes or so looking at my phone after I entered in the number. Sports medicine? I’m not a sports person — how do I talk to these people? What I imagined is that my call would be answered by some rushed secretary who didn’t have time for me to be blubbering and stammering on, not knowing what I needed — I wanted to get clear about what I was going to say before I called. Well, my body hurts, and I need help. Isn’t that the base of things? I shamed myself for not knowing what to say — what kind of grown woman can’t call the doctor and articulate why she’s calling? And then I started spinning, on down this rabbit hole, embarrassed that I felt so frozen, in pain and in need of some help, desperately  wanting someone to be able to tell me what’s really going on with my body. Shouldn’t I know how to take care of myself by now?

For most people, I imagine in these moments, this would be a straightforward and easy task — you call, you say what’s wrong, you ask your questions, etc etc. But I was already crying by the time I dialed the number. I guess I’ll just do my best, I said to myself. Why was this so hard? Certainly I felt like I’d failed, not taking care of myself, needing to ask for outside help in the first place. But then I felt ashamed for not knowing the language of the body. In calling a sports medicine place, I was suddenly entering into a realm of specialized knowledge where I didn’t know the jargon or lingo and I was going to be found out immediately as a dilettante and loser who doesn’t even know how to talk about her own bones and musculature. I have the idea that real athletes know how to talk about their bodies — they’ve had coaches and trainers, they have been indoctrinated into this world of the body, and the hurt body. Someone else would know what to do for themselves if they got hurt in this way.

(Yes, a voice inside me says, Jen, yes, they would know — they would know to call a doctor right when that spasm first hit them, instead of hobbling around for three months, then two years, trying to take care of it mostly on their own.)

Back when this first happened, I told myself I wanted to figure out what caused the spasm, psychologically — I figured it had something to do with  going out on my own (leaving my day job) to focus solely on my writing groups, and it also had something to do with my trauma history, because of where this muscle is located — it was my sciatic nerve that hurt so much, that made it difficult for me to walk. I thought if I cold just get to the root of things, my body would (magically) heal itself. This is how I was indoctrinated as a teenager: Every ailment is psychosomatic in origin. You don’t need a doctor — you need to get to the psychological root of the problem, and once you do that, everything will get better.

Somehow my sister didn’t internalize this message: she goes to the doctor. She manages to get help for her body when her body needs help. It’s amazing to me. I remember learning that she’d had the same dentist for 7 years or something, that she went regularly, during a period of time when I’d been without dental insurance and had to have emergency dental surgery to take care of a tooth I’d allowed to disintegrate in my mouth and had to take out a loan to get it done because the situation was now so expensive to deal with — how did she have it in her to take care of herself that way? Why were we so different here?

I am trying to channel her capacity now that I have to make another phone call to another doctor. What if I call the wrong kind of doctor? What I want is a kind of parent, who can listen to me talk about this ailment and who will be able to diagnose me (physically and mentally) on the spot — oh, it sounds like you need this. I would like to find a trauma aware doctor who knows about muscles and spasms and history locked up in skin who can tell me what I need to do now to take care of myself so that I can get back to moving the way I am just now learning to be comfortable with — I don’t want to have to be out of my body again. What I want is a doctor who is kind and understanding, who gets (intuitively!) why it might have been hard for me to call them, who congratulates me for even making the call: I know how hard and scary this must have been. Come on in and we’ll have some tea and you can tell me what’s been going on with your body and then together we can work to figure out what’s wrong and I can work with you to fix things up and get you moving again. Would that be so hard? Maybe if I didn’t need someone who’d also swipe my insurance card and take my paltry co-payment, sure. But we go with what we’ve got.

When I called the sports medicine center yesterday, the receptionist was in fact rushed — she interrupted me to ask if I’d been in to the clinic before, and then took what I’d begun to explain (back spasm — ok, you’re spasming…) and told me she could get me in to see someone that day. But it turned out that they were out of network for my Covered California insurance. After I hung up, I sat down outside in my little office (I mean there in the garden that I’m trying to nurture) and cried hard out of shame and embarrassment. Why is this so difficult for me? Why can’t I take care of myself better? I felt like a failed parent.

How do we learn, as adults, to advocate for the small selves we continue to carry within us? When do we stop being embarrassed for what we don’t know, what we didn’t learn, how we weren’t trained to self-advocate, how unfamiliar or even uncomfortable we are within our own skin , with the language of this body? No one working the phones at a clinic has time to listen to me hem and haw because I’m so astonished to be needing to call a sports medicine clinic in the first place — me, whose only sport for years was self-abuse and drinking, suddenly needs someone to tell me how to stretch right and take care of my body so that I can continue running? What? Also, I want to know the language that my body is speaking — what is she saying to me when my calf muscle is fluttering with little spasms, or when my knee pops like that (not a tear, my sweetheart tells me, but still something that was getting more and more tense that just released suddenly in a sharp way and there on Lakeshore I hopped up and didn’t run anymore — the joggers who passed by me in the immediate aftermath looking at me with worried eyes then glancing away quick, their blonde ponytails swinging behind them).

It is scary to need help and not know how to ask for it, to put myself in the hands of an authority figure knowing how they could mistreat or mishandle me. (I keep reading the missives from my dear friend just in the hospital who has had to learn self advocacy the very hard way after endless horrible encounters with medical professionals who just an her to sit nice and quiet and take her medicine, even when they are trying to give her medicine that would kill her, or when they want to mishandle her body or when they want to dismiss her worries.) I have plenty of reason to be nervous as I enter into the realm of the medical. The only physician I went to see as an adolescent was my stepfather’s doctor, who filled me with shots so they could understand what I was allergic to all of a sudden — no one tested me with his dander, to see if maybe I was allergic to incest. I had to figure that one out on my own.

So today I am thinking about self care, self parenting, and about when self care looks like something other than encouraging myself to rest or play — sometimes it looks like pushing myself to do something hard and scary like picking a doctor out of the blue and hoping that they don’t fuck me up. I wish that it didn’t have to get so bad before I took care of my body. This inner kid has to get pretty sore before the parent in me will look past her own discomfort and dis-ease and take the kid’s hand and say, ok, let’s go take care of this. And mostly that “taking care of” looks like something made up — let’s try out this yoga routine that we pulled from drawings we saw in a book once (was it Our Bodies, Ourselves?) and have never figured out even if were doing the positions right from anyone who actually knows anything about yoga. It’s like we still live in a cage, and the only ones who can help us are ourselves. I have a vision of the characters in Room, Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel, who are held captive, mother and child, so if the child has anything wrong with him the mother has to do with what they have in that room — she has to play games with him to help him get better from ay injury or sickness — there’s no way to go out and get help. And in these cases, it’s usually the child who will be the one who has to break free — it’s the child inside, the one that’s hurting, that will be the one to actually push me to make some change, to take this step, to take care of this body that I’ve acted for so long like is just a piece of broken and damaged baggage I have to carry around with me from place to place, the thing that makes it possible for me to write but just barely, the thing that I value for its ability to keep going with no maintenance, no oil, barely enough fuel to keep it running (and bad fuel, too, low octane, high waste product). I’ve treated my body like a car I never have to get tuned up, and then I’m surprised when the care stops dead by the side of the road one day and just won’t go anymore — what’s the matter, car? I push the gas pedal, I put the clutch into first, but the gears just grind hard against each other (are there even gears in cars anymore?) and the wheels roll off and away in all four directions.

Turns out I can’t figure out everything all my myself from books; I need some expert guidance, someone who knows about cars to come up to me and out their hand on my shoulder and say, kindly and without judgement, Honey, you gotta add some oil once in awhile. Here’s how to do that — and here’s what happens when you don’t. This is what deep self-maintenance looks like, and this is part of what happens when you don’t pay attention to your body for a couple of decades. So today I’ll make another phone call, and take one more step toward being a better parent to this hurting self inside.

Now the song in my head has shifted. Be easy with you today, and I’ll try to do the same here.