Tag Archives: SAAM

Radical self care as upheaval (part 1) – revealing what’s falling apart, what’s falling open

(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive, how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)

Good morning, beautiful writers. It’s a thick sheet of wet outside my window today. How is the atmosphere percolating where you are? What has the morning brought you so far on this day?

This morning I am all ache and storm. I am exhaustion that has taken root behind my bones and deep inside my eyes. I am thick with all I’m not accomplishing right now, full of how my scattered attentions are disappointing everyone. I cannot do enough. I am not enough for anything that needs me right now. I run from appointment to appointment, keeping my face a mask of Yes, Everything’s Fine — How Can I Help You? A mask of showing up. A mask hiding this question: When will it be time for me to rest? When will it be time for me to fall apart?

This morning I have pushed over to the other side of panic and anxiety into something that looks, and even feels, like a kind of calm, but is actually resignation. Oh right: I only have this many hours in my day. I only have this much attention. I only have this much energy. I am not able to do everything on that to-do list. Maybe I could have when I was 25 — stayed up all night working, then awakened with the birds to write and play with the dog and keep everyone around me feeling tended to and keep all the other plates flying high on their spinning sticks. Sure. But not now. Now the body is asking for something more.

Now the body and soul are asking for something more.

This morning I am thinking about what it means for your life to undergo an upheaval. I am thinking about radical self care, especially for caregivers, especially for those walking close alongside someone else’s struggle who also carry their own struggles.

In a week, I’m supposed to go to a conference in Houston and present about the power and uses of writing in community for caregivers and partners of trauma survivors. And yet, over this last month, I have been so focused on caregiving for those around me (and keeping my own shit together, even marginally) that I haven’t had the time or capacity to even think about how I would talk about that work, not to even mention put a brand-new talk together. I had applied to offer a workshop, and instead the conference organizers decided to offer me a 20-minute presentation, which meant coming up with slides and handouts for a talk I had never given before. Only now, six days before I’m meant to give the talk, have I had any bandwidth at all to give to this thing — I’ve been too busy living the exact experience I’m meant to talk about.

A month ago, my sister had a baby. This, in an of itself, is an upheaval — isn’t it? What about for a woman who thought her body was only made for damage and struggle? What about for a woman who thought her body was only for creating pleasure for others? What about for a woman who thought her body was only about destruction?

I can’t find–yet–the poetry of the miracle that is that woman giving birth to, and now cradling with fierce love, her own child.

Before the baby was born, already I had begun traveling the 1.5-3 hours (round trip) to visit her at least once a week, twice when I could manage it. Toward the end of her pregnancy, it was hard for her to drive, so I drove her to doctor’s visits, then also did some shopping, helped to clean up, and spent time with her at home. We have begun to connect, to regather into each other’s hearts, in ways that neither of us could have predicted or imagined — we didn’t even know it was possible, I think.

I began to slowly relinquish what I need to do to take care of myself, to keep myself well: taking down time alone, exercising, eating regular meals, reading, freewriting. I ate meal-replacement bars in my car while sitting in south bay traffic. I stayed late into the night in the south bay, which meant I would drive home late and go to bed later, which then meant I couldn’t get up early for my morning writing time — that necessary time was traded for sleep. Certainly there was no time for exercise, unless I was walking with my sister. What freetime I had was spent catching up on the work I was neglecting; much correspondence went unanswered, most phone calls went unreturned. I tried to show up for my sweetheart and the struggles she is navigating right now, and of course saw how I was falling short there as well. I felt like the juggler watching all the eggs she had in the air falling — one, two, three, four — splat — right onto the cement.

How do we take care of ourselves when those around us need more care than (we believe) we do? What does it take for you to pull yourself back from triaging everyone else’s needs to attend, again, to your own — to remember that we can’t be of service to another when we are running on empty ourselves?

(In tomorrow’s post: how we make time for what needs us, and how we allow ourselves, too, to create space for what we need.)

What sort of intersection are you?


(all of the intersections in and around Boston are dangerous!)

Good morning, writers! Outside my window right now, construction workers are jackhammering pavement. The birds have all gone silent, with or some other, more difficult emotion, maybe. The city is all city sounds right now.

How is WriOursWhoMo treating you so far? How are you honoring the intersections within you: the intersections of trauma and song, the intersections of longing and loss, the intersections of aftermath and resilience?

Here is a prompt for this day, to get you thinking about the intersections you inhabit, you manifest, you are:

…One thing is certain: I am

not one of those stop signs you speed through! I am a dangerous
intersection; you should use caution when approaching me!

The jittery hummingbirds of extreme hopefulness shake
their wings right off. My wings have long since shaken off.

(Nate Pritts, from “Dangerous Intersection,” in Big Bright Sun, BlazeVOX, 2010)

What sort of intersection are you? What about your character? Give yourself 10 minutes at least, or 20, and let yourself be inspired by that poem fragment above… what rises in you to be written? Let those words onto the page. Thank you for your words today.



“May we reveal our abundance without shame.”

Good morning, good morning, writers.

Today I am hectic and rushing around. I want to give you something thoughtful and deep, but the puppy is calling for my attention, and the more I try to type, the more she bumps my elbow trying to get me to get up and take her out into the rain and play ball. So what I have for this second day of WriOursWhoMo is a poem and a prompt:

Lisa Colt

May we reveal our abundance without shame.
may we peel back our sleeping wintry layers…
like snakeskins, like the silk chrysalis,
like clothing cast off during love.
May we unravel with abandon like lover’s knots
before knitting ourselves back to the heart.
May we settle into our own rhythms as tides do—
within the borders of the moon’s calling.
May the music of our souls
be accompanied by grand gestures
and the persistent clapping of hummingbirds wings.
May the milky fingers of the moon
reach down nightly to cherish and unveil us.
May we turn our bodies generously in its light
like tranquil fish glinting underwater,
like precious stones.
When we open our mouths to sing
may the seasons pause in their long journey
to listen and applaud.

(From Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry, edited by Marilyn Sewell.)

What abundance in your or in your character is ready to be revealed? What prayers do you or your characters whisper in the dark, or in the light, if any? What would it look like to settle into your own rhythms?

(Set the timers for 10 minutes, open your notebooks, let the words flow out without editing or censorship. Thank you for those good good words today.)

Day 1: It’s Writing Ourselves Whole Month…

Assata's Affirmation

Oakland graffiti of Assata’s Affirmation

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.

I believe in life.

from “Affirmation,” by Assata Shakur

~~ ~~ ~~

April 1 marks the beginning of both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Poetry Month, and so is also the beginning of what I think of as Writing Ourselves Whole month. (What should our Twitter hashtag be? I like #WriOursWhoMo, but #WOWM might be a little easier to remember.) My intention for this month is to blog every day, to find my way back into a morning writing practice, and to begin to find some words for what I’ve been experiencing since the birth of my nephew three weeks ago.

I have written some, here on the blog, about my relationship with my sisterabout our past, and about our struggle to get to a new and more-healed place now.

I am without words for the transition we find ourselves going through. I need poetry –the practice and the manifestation — now more than ever.

I have no words, yet — I mean, I am trying to find my way back into the place where I could possibly find words for the fact that my sister allowed/wanted/asked me to be in the room with her while she brought her son from the place inside her body to the place outside her body. I don’t have words for that yet. I don’t have words for how grateful I am that our bodies can safely inhabit the same space these days. I don’t have words for how in awe of her I am, having watched her labor around and deliver this child, and watching her unfold gorgeously into her mother-self.

Maybe WriOursWhoMo can help me find these words. This is a month for the poetry of what hasn’t yet been spoken, what we’re not supposed to say, what pieces of our experiences are ready to find themselves into language. This is a month to tap into the language of poetry — our own and others’ — in order to express what has, up to now, been unexpressible.

Audre Lorde, in her essay “Poetry is not a Luxury,” writes, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

So this will be a month of poems and invitations. This will be a month of tangling with the power of writing for those of us navigating long-term (as well as brand-new) survival. This will be a month of exploring and naming the intersection of poetry and trauma, a month of engaging poetry as an intervention in the trauma we still carry within us.

~~ ~~ ~~

One of the ways we’re encouraged to celebrate National Poetry Month is to carry in your pocket a poem you love, and, whenever you get the opportunity, share it with people you love. What are the poems you keep in your psychic pockets — the poems you turn to for sustenance, joy, hope, understanding?  This is one of mine:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks

(Don’t go back to sleep. Keep writing. Your poetry will feed you, and will become the lifeline that someone else carries in their pocket, too. Thank you.)

what a writing community can do

These are the alone days. Did you hear the wind last night? Rumi says the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; don’t go back to sleep. But what do the poets say about the tempest at night?

You must ask for what you really want… Rumi says this, too, in the same poem. This means knowing what you really want — and then asking, even when you know with all of your heart that you don’t deserve it. Ask anyway. Write it down in your notebook, put it in the hands of those who love you, share your becoming with the world.

~~ ~~ ~~

Today I’m thinking of writing community, about how we shape a community that can hold us when we are struggling — more than that, about how to allow ourselves to be held, to believe that we deserve that. Today I’m thinking about desire and creative emergence and the aftermath of trauma — how trauma keeps on taking from us, years and years after those hands are removed from our bodies. Continue reading

after awareness, then what?

Good morning — can you feel the hard grey wash outside your window? Is it revealed, or hidden under the blue? I refilled the feeder, and the birds have returned — mostly house finches, a black-capped chickadee or two. The weather’s coming in and I just want to snuggle up on the couch with the puppy, a cup of tea, and Jane Vandenburgh’s The Architecture of the Novel instead of sitting up here at the keyboard, banging against my own book.

So let me blog instead.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Do you feel unaware of sexual assault? I would like a different tagline. I understand the need for X Awareness Months, so that organizations and government entities can rally around a particular cause, so that issues we would otherwise prefer to ignore get a bit more of the attention, resources and airtime that they deserve.

Yesterday, either online or on the radio, I was confronted with plenty of stories about sexual assault– not because it’s April, or because the media I was engaging with had any heightened coverage of sexual violence, but because people perpetrate sexually violent acts on a daily basis. Continue reading

books and dreams

graffit of a person's half-smiling face, next to the words ""graffiti of a person's half-smiling face, next to the words "nimm deine träume für wirklichkeit", all of which is surrounded by small birds

"take your dreams for reality"

in my dream I was trying to describe the book Special Topics in Calamity Physics to someone, but I couldn’t remember the title, and I turned into something very long, that ended in, “the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” Someone was trying to remember along with me, someone else, and we said that second title at the same time, delighted that we’d been able to remember — then I said, but it isn’t that book, the Oscar Wao, it’s a different story.


I just finished putting together the chapbook for this year’s Body Heat tour, which begins Saturday in Atlanta! This one is entitled “what they didn’t teach us.” I’ll check the proof at the printers today and then pick up the books later today or tomorrow. This is the third chapbook I’ve self-produced, and the tone of the pieces in this one is different from the earlier chapbooks, more essay-ish, and maybe more serious. Not that the other ones weren’t serious, but there’s more creative nonfiction than fiction this time around. I pulled several of the pieces from the blog, actually, and so I want to thank you for that, for being out there, for reading, for responding. I haven’t been writing a lot of erotic fiction, and so when the time came to gather up material for my chapbook, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have anything, that I’d have to recycle old stuff, or put in pieces that I’d rejected in earlier years. Then I went back through the blog, and found “what they didn’t teach us” and “pretty” and “under a genderqueering microscope” and realized/rememebred that I had been working with material here. Often, after workshops, if there’s a piece that especially resonated for me, I know that one way I can bring it out of the notebook and into the world is here on the blog, and so thank you.


Let me tell you more about this: Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an amazing book, the kind you sink your teeth and body into. It’s multi-genre (part mystery, part straight literary fiction, part encyclopedia, part textbook, part college course), which  I always appreciate, it has a girl at the center and fully embodies that time, high school, for a very smart girl who’s trying to understand herself, her family and her life. There are visual aids, a difficult relationship with a father, stunningly dense prose that emerges from the mouth of a young woman; it’s a dense book, over 500 pages, and one I could hardly stop reading.

Speaking, though, of National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault and Prevention Month, do you know Sapphire’s American Dreams? You’ve heard of PUSH, by now, I’m sure, whether you’ve read it or now (which you should) — that’s the one that the movie Precious was based on. Before PUSH, she published American Dreams, a collection of poetry and prose that was absolutely stunning for me as a reader. She writes vividly about sexual violence, she writes persona pieces that get into the heads of both victims and perpetrators (there are pieces about the Central Park jogger who, it had been widely reported, had been gang raped by a group of young boys, and a piece about Tawana Brawley), she writes intensely about race and violence as an interconnected thing, and then there are the pieces about sex, about desire and difficulty, and what I felt when I read this book was that there was a place for that kind of writing — what I so appreciate about American Dreams (which is a painful read, and powerful at the same time) is the room she makes for complexity, for naming all the layers of an experience: the love for father, for instance, and understanding of the brutality he suffers in the world while also clearly describing, naming, his violence and sexual assault. toward his children.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is another book that I want to be able to tell you about — I read it, I think, one year after tour, when we ended in LA and I went to stay with my sister, who had the book on her bookshelf. It’s written in a series of letters, like The Color Purple, only these letters, instead of being written to god, are written to someone the character knows only a little bit, a friend of a friend, someone they maybe met once, so there’s some thread of real-life connection between the people, but not enough to inhibit the character/letter-writer out of saying what they need to say. It’s a slim book (I read it in nearly one sitting) about a young teenage boy wrangling for connection and self-understanding, who has stories to tell and no one to tell them to, who has secrets, there are things revealed that I didn’t expect and that made a kind of sense of his isolation but then also hadn’t defined it, and for that I was so grateful. He has friends and connections, though his best friend recently committed suicide — there’s something really heart-wrenching for me, and familiar, about a character who does have some people to talk to, but needs this other venue to really spill his heart out in, a different sort of interlocutor, someone who won’t cut him off or judge. It’s a beautiful exploration of depression, written for a young adult audience — and it was that latter fact that opened me to the book. How many books out there (maybe more than I know!) deal so matter-of-factly with the issues tackled in this book: sexuality, drugs, relationships, suicide, sexual assault — at least when I was a teenager, I didn’t find books like this, and I wish that I could have. I’m grateful for it now.


What are the books, the stories, the poems,  that have stayed with you, that have been as necessary for you (or for your character) as meals? Could you write about one of those books for 10 or 15 minutes today, tell me about that relationship?

Thank you for your healing, for your reaching out, even imperceptibly, thank you for the writing you do that effects change even if it never comes out of your notebook or computer. Thank you for your words.

the poetry of your body

graffiti poem:

(click on the image to check out Jo Bell's other photos)

It’s the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and National Poetry Month. How are you marking this time?

Today I got up and did my morning pages, and now I’m going to go do some stretches and yoga before I have to get ready to catch the bus.

Check out this poem — I love those first lines: Like a flower, your beauty / is wild and untamed.

I’m grateful to this poet for sharing their work, grateful to the photographer for putting this image up online. So many , many ways to publish our work these days!

Here’s the prompt: What is the poetry of your body today? Take 10 minutes, “This is the poetry of my (his, her, your) body…” and write. (If you find yourself getting stuck, begin again with the phrase, or change it to “this _isn’t_ the poetry…” or grab a line or word or phrase from the poem in the image.)

(Thank you for your poetries, your creativities, your words!)

stubborn and curious and brave

stencil graffiti of a person next to a huge balloon bubble that says, You Are Beautiful!

I love graffiti like this

Good morning! Up late last night means I slept in today — Two hours for one means a little less sleep than I’ve been getting recently, and so this blog feels a little sleepy.


Did you hear about the hail-snow in Northern CA yesterday? It looked and acted like snow — some folks were able to make smallish ‘hailmen’ that looked remarkably like snowmen. A couple we saw on the news last night described the sky before the snow started to fall, that it was all blue to one side of their house, and to the other side, the sky was heavy and cloudy and dark. I thought, That sounds like tornado skies. Where am I living? Didn’t I leave tornado country?


I’m looking forward to Writing the Flood tomorrow — right now, since leaving the steady workshop space in downtown SF, we’re moving the workshops around somewhat, trying out different spaces and feels. This weekend, we’re going to be meeting in a Buddhist Center in SF! I’m looking forward to that energy.

Also: if you’re in the greater Bay Area, go see Sins Invalid. Their fifth annual performance begins tonight in San Francisco and continues through Sunday. Sins “celebrates the power of embodiment & sexuality, stripping taboos off sexuality and disability to offer a vision of beauty that includes all bodies and communities.” It’s paradigm changing, life-changing, mind-blowing, devastating, gorgeous, deeply powerful, necessary — you can get tickets here.


My father is visiting right now, and this morning, I’m thinking about time and change, about the ways that I’ve been able to mark my own healing and transformation. Looking back from now, one of the places I could track the shifts and openings in my psyche was my dreams.

It’s hard to remember back to the early 90s, when every sleep was devastation, when I could barely breathe in my sleep, when I couldn’t run, when I couldn’t get away or walk or move. And I thought it would be forever like that, I thought my stepfather would always be chasing me there, I thought I’d always fall to my feet, my knees, the ground, and have to pull at the grass or the banister to be able to move. I thought there would always be knives and that terror. I thought I would never be free of it.

And slowly it shifted, and I may have written about it, but right now, it’s lost to me, just when that opening happened, the first time I could, in my dream, walk up a flight of stairs without having to physically pull against the thick weight of dream gravity. When did it happen that my dreams changed, when I could run or walk freely, when I stopped having him there to kill me, when I started to act back? Most recently, in my dream, we were on a beach and I shoved his face in sand til he couldn’t breathe, and he ran away because he was afraid of hurting me. I was afraid of repercussions, too, and went someplace to hide, sort of (a public bathroom with open stalls – not a lot of hiding there), but he didn’t come for me.

It takes so much time, this recovery, this life. This life is a recovery, isn’t it? ‘Time heals all things’ is a wicked cliche, and has felt utterly unhelpful to me when I’m in pain and see no light at the end of any tunnel, am not even aware of being on a train anymore. And I don’t know that it’s true, that time is what’s doing the healing, but time is a measure and a manifestation of the breaths we’ve taken, the space we allowed for ourselves to change — and in that space, in breathing into and through the terror, the rage, the sorrow, the loss, the excitements the joys the possibility, our bodies got to keep moving, got to take in new oxygen, our cells got to recreate themselves, our bodies became new, over and over. And yes, like the soil at spring time, suddenly there was new growth in us where before there’d just been something frozen. And maybe it took several seasons for us to notice and maybe we forgot when it started, the greening of our barrenest places, but the greening happened just the same. Because we kept breathing. Because we are stubborn and curious and brave.


What’s on your plate to write about today? Are you doing the 30 poems in 30 days challenge for National Poetry Month? Take the pen and the notebook, give yourself just a little time, think about those greening places in you, in your characters, places you maybe thought would never grow/feel/heal again, but are. You can begin with the phrase, I used to be ___ but now___ (or he/she/we/you/they used to be…)


Thank you for your curiosities, your stubbornnesses, your braveries, all these resiliencies that have lived (in) you. Thank you for breathing into what hurts the most. Thank you, always thank you, for your words.

the body lands on yes

(Photo by Marc P/Flickr)

Last week, she said, At the end of the day, the body always lands on yes.

What if that’s true?


Here is a poem I have for today, for this today, for now. I’ve shared this before, though maybe not on the blog, but it works again today.

Father’s Song

by Gregory Orr

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk.


What if we can trust what our bodies are telling us, even right now?

(Thank you)