Tag Archives: self care

WW: we are all learning radical self care

Igraffiti -- "thank you" inside a heart, drawn on the metal of a bridge t’s a Tuesday; I did my morning write in my notebook this morning, which felt very good — me, the candle, the pen, the blank pages filling up (just three to start, and then I ran over to four). No music, but the sound of snoring from the next room, which was good and soothing. As I do more of my morning writes directly into the computer, sometimes I forget how good it feels just to be on the page with no direction.  Being in that space–just writing, no other goal–is good self-care for me.


Here’s a prompt from last night’s last Summer ’10 Write Whole workshop:

First, take a couple of minutes and write down the things you do to take care of yourself (or the things that your character would do to take care of him/her/hirself, if you’re working with fiction) — include the things you do every day and the things you do only sometimes.

Then, take another couple of minutes and add to your list the things you wish you did to take care of yourself: are there self-care practices you wish you could afford more often, or had more time for, or…? Write those down, too.

Now let yourself choose a few of these — at least three — and describe the day in which you or your character get to do all of these things for and with yourself (and in the workshop, we each wrote a couple of our own ideas onto 3×5 cards, and then each picked one without knowing what it was, so we got to add a surprise-practice to our write) . Let yourself imagine, and then write out, the day when you (or your character) do several things that are really good for you (or them).

Here’s my response to this write:

We are all learning radical self care. I don’t mean just in this room. I mean all through our communities — we apologize over and over and then we radicalize fiercely, we claim space and silly television shows and bad food, we claim thick sweaters and soup-making with friends and laughing on our backs in Dolores Park grass —

This is what my self care looks like: writing every day, taking the stairs at work, turning the computer off on the weekends.  That’s the bare bones. But that’s not this self-care day I’m thinking of.

I want a writing retreat at the oceanside, with private cabins and communal kitchens with morning writing prompts and then yoga and then time to write and hen time to swim. I want to feel the water move over my body after the words have moved through it. I want other people there only sometimes.

I want a couple of massages (this is my self-care week!) and I want to let the tears come while the pressure is on and I want that to be ok, for the masseuse to be comfortable working with traumatized bodies; I want for hir not to shut down or encourage the tears but just let us both be present with great sorrow and release.

What about a full day of quiet: silent writing, reading-on-the-beach time (reading some excellent or excellently-trashy novel I pick up off the cottage’s shelves), then time to prepare a delicious meal just for myself, alone in the kitchen, listening to some public radio, familiar and surprising. I saute onions and garlic and spices, I stir in rice and red lentils and water, bring the water to boil then cover and simmer while I chop tomatoes, jalapenos, what else, maybe cooked sweet potatoes — mix all that into the lentils with a tablespoonful of fresh berbere — then dish my meal into a handthrown pottery bowl, take up my stained wood chopsticks, pour a glass of water, open my book again, and fill up lush and ripe with time and emergency, read and eat and look out a quiet evening window — hear humans somewhere, hear the ocean throb in its consistency, hear my own heartbeat, and let myself feel drawn toward bed only and yet exactly when I am tired and ready to go, knowing I can get up tomorrow in quiet and reckless solitude and breathe in exactly the right sort of day again

Here’s an invitation to you to do one thing today (at least one!) that’s just about self-care– what would that be for you?

Thank you for your words and your work in this world. You make a big difference; you’ll maybe never know how bit, but you do.

I (eventually) remember that I’m human

Art makes us human (stencil graffiti)Today I am thinking about how to move forward.  I get up, less nauseous, make my coffee, come into the quiet office, light a candle, write in my notebook for awhile.  The pen moving across the page makes different things happen than fingers moving against keyboard.  my candle’s still lit.  How do I move forward.  One small step: one thing, every day, that reminds me I’m human, while I move amid all this inhuman infrastructure. Water the plants, listen to music made with fingers and breath instead of keystrokes. Rinse the mung beans just sprouting in their small plastic jar. Take one more step. Cover up the bags under my eyes and move out into the world.  Let some of the dark seep through, because it’s thorough: not for pity, but because I am honest.  Right?

What does it mean to be a human? During these intense-triggered times, I sometimes forget: I remember, instead, what it feels like to be outside the human experience, that disconnected, untethered. I talk with my sister and she tells me about energy, about connections among people, about that most unexplainable magic.  When I talk with my sister I (eventually) remember that I’m human.  I remember I have  a heartbeat and blood.  I remember what saved me.

I’ve been reading Andrew Vachss’ last Burke book*, Another Life. Someone asks Burke what saved him, and he says it was his family: not his blood family, of course, since he doesn’t know them, and not the ‘family’ that raised him, as that was the State, as abusive as it wants to be, but his chosen family.

I think about how humans get to choose our family, even our blood, eventually — we get to choose who we let in, who we will grow with and against. We don’t get to choose all that shapes us. We do get to choose who we will acknowledge as family.

Of course, writing helps me move forward, too.  When I thought that question to myself, “what saved you?” — I thought about my sister, and I thought about writing, I thought about curiosity.  How I love so much just to sit with the pen against the paper, getting to see what emerges. And I thought, too, about not being saved.

How to move forward? This poem is helping me with some steps today.  Use it as a prompt: read the poem (aloud, if possible), and then write exactly as you’re drawn to write.  What comes up for you as you read/listen?


by Connie Wanek

First you’ll come to the end of the freeway.
Then it’s not so much north on Woodland Avenue
as it is a feeling that the pines are taller and weigh more,
and the road, you’ll notice,
is older with faded lines and unmown shoulders.
You’ll see a cemetery on your right
and another later on your left.
Sobered, drive on.
Drive on for miles
if the fields are full of hawkweed and daises.
Sometimes a spotted horse
will gallop along the fence. Sometimes you’ll see
a hawk circling, sometimes a vulture.
You’ll cross the river many times
over smaller and smaller bridges.
You’ll know when you’re close;
people always say they have a sudden sensation
that the horizon, which was always far ahead,
is now directly behind them.
At this point you may want to park
and proceed on foot, or even
on your knees.

*If you don’t know about VachssBurke series, I highly recommend that you check them out — plot-driven crime novels that focus on bad things happening to people who do bad things to kids. Quick, intense reads, wildly satisfying revenge fantasies, engaging if also sometimes aggravating characters…

no wonder everything hurts right now: birth is painful

image of new stars being born

"Massive Young Stars Trigger Stellar Birth," Spitzer/Chandra telescope images

When something major is falling apart around you (or/and inside), sometimes you have to let go of the reins for a little while.  At least, that’s true for me.

I’d set up a practice of writing in the blog every weekday — then, Thursday and Friday of this week, I just couldn’t do it.  What I wanted to write about I don’t have words for, and if I did have the words, I wouldn’t yet be ready to share them with the world.  So I took a break.  I slept a little bit more.  I did my Thursday workshop with the MedEd folks, worked on administrative tasks (finally got the August writing ourselves whole newsletter out), got my hair cut (again, finally), watched movies. I’m thinking I should re-read Trauma Stewardship. I’m making space to cry, to curl up into a ball. Space, too, to laugh. Yesterday afternoon I went to Bolinas and talked to the sea.  That’s an important part of my self-care routine, and I just don’t do it enough.  I wanted to swim, but forgot my bathing suit or a change of clothes (the last time we came to Bolinas, I had a different pair of jeans in the car, so I went ahead and got all the way in the water in my shorts and tshirt, and it was perfect) — so I just kept rolling up my jeans, and sister ocean kept on splashing me big enough that they got wet no matter how far up my legs they were.  It was a good talk.  I watched the little black dog-heads of sea lions peeking and poking up now and again, far from the little boys running and screaming and throwing logs to their shaggy, soaked dogs. I scoured my feet in the sand and found excellent shells.

I’m trying to slow down enough to hear the change that seems to be emerging.  To listen very very closely, and to stay out of its way, to not muck it up.  To untangle this densely woven nest of trigger points, others’ desires and fears, old stories, family loss, and adult possibility that I’m in the middle of. It’d be nice to have a week at the beach for this time, but that’s not my path right now, so I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got.  And that’s a lot.

It’s always a little befuddling for me, these places without a lot of words.  But here’s what Rob Brezny had to say for us Pisces, at the end of the week of August 5 horoscope: “Life is currently sending you signals that will remain incomprehensible if you insist on interpreting them from the viewpoint of a rational adult. To decipher the encrypted code, you’ll have to get into a mindset that is equal parts child, animal, and angel.”  Here’s what else is interesting:  earlier this week, I wrote a post about, well, about a bunch of things, but it ended with this thinking about human messiness and transformation, how it’s ok to be imperfect and still good, how amazing it is that there are people who love me even though I’m a mess. And in that post, I included an image of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

In this week’s Pisces horoscope, Rob Brezny gives me the same image: a monarch dropping free of her chrysalis. The word associated with the image is rebirth.

No wonder everything hurts right now.  Birth is painful: it’s a process of destruction as well as a process of creation, enaction, emergence. So I’m going to keep on being slow and tender with self, and am practicing being slow and tender with everyone around me, too.  Lemme go make some zucchini-banana-oatmeal pancakes and get into this day.

Thanks for being there and doing all that you do. I’m so grateful for you.

filling up, if not spilling over (and pup-love)

graffiti -- child releasing a red-heart balloonToday I am thinking about all the ways we replenish — or don’t.

Slept a little too much, and that only means that I didn’t get up early enough to do as much writing as I’d like to do.  It definitely doesn’t mean that I slept enough. Still tired, but in that bone-dread way, like I could never sleep enough.  That tells me that I’m empty somewhere, putting too much out and not filling back up enough, not replenishing the stores.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky talks about this in Trauma Stewardship, when we’re thinking about self-care — and remembering that self-care is community-care is care and commitment to the work and the struggle, since, when we burn out, we’re defeating our larger purpose. We can each, always, find even five minutes a day to recenter on wellness, take a break, meditate, breathe deep, laugh hard. These things, even as brief as they have to be sometimes, keep us in our skin.  Let me use I-statements: they keep me in my damn skin, keep me ok with being in here.

So what are the things I’d can do to take care of myself, even without endless time and resources?  Maybe I’ll actually take my lunch break today, take it away from my desk, go over to Borders and read a non-socially-conscious book for an hour.  Maybe I’ll ask for more help — I need it.  What else, Jen?  You can think of things.  Forget that this is a blog post.  What else can you do to save yourself?  You can walk along the water.  You can put your hair up so it doesn’t drive you crazy. You can make a list of everything you need to remember to do so that you don’t have to keep rehearsing what you’re forgetting.  You can write on the bus.  You can look out the window and listen to music on the bus and forget about writing.  You can wear just a little bit of essential oil, just because the scent makes you remember and smile.  You can take more breaks from the computer, from the keyboard. Maybe you can spend the morning at a cafe, with work-work, drafting out what needs to be typed later.  You can step away from Facebook, just for today — Facebook sometimes makes you crazy. You can listen to music that reminds you how much you love to dance.  You can wear clothes that you honestly feel good in. You can get a cup of coffee at the cafe.

Maybe, on the bus home from work, you can write more of this list in the back of your notebook — more easy things you can do to take care of yourself, to fill back up, so you don’t get to where you feel like an empty husk walking around, offering only shadows of smiles.


Here’s something that always fills me up (no, really): the Erotic Reading Circle is this Wednesday — tomorrow, 7:30-9:30!  We meet every fourth Wednesday at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission St (between 11th and So Van Ness). Carol Queen and I will be there, with a group of gifted and surprising writers sharing their words for everyone’s enjoyment and feedback. Will you be there? We have memoir, fiction, poetry and sci-fi — whatever erotic work you’re writing, whether explicitly carnal or not, we’d love to hear it.

And I really do feel filled up after: I feel so excited and grateful that folks are willing to gather to share these stories of desire, lust, longing, loss — of body, of fantasy, of remembering —  I’m always so fucking inspired to be more brave.  That’s what it is.


Here’s a prompt for today — I may have offered this one before.  It’s one I use at the beginning of a workshop, as an intro exercise (and thanks to Chris DeLorenzo for offering this one the first time, at least to me): write about an animal you’ve had a strong relationship with, whether positive or negative (doesn’t have to be a pet).

I brought this one to the July Writing the Flood, and of course the writing in response was strong, emotional, inventive.  Here’s what I wrote:

This was the longest escape hatch, walking slow and deliberate out the stony front door with my black dog on a short leather leash (I can’t really remember if the leash was leather or not but I have to move on from here) and every day we jumped into a new step of being away, we ran aground of the sinking ship of home, she and I were the one true pair of escapees, solitary explorers in the wilds of midtown Omaha, quiet and concrete bound, we stalked the lush tree-lined streets looking for echoes of some possible future. She was really just looking for the now, I was looking for a way out, and of course, all roads lead to home, led back to that fat grey house with the fat grey man inside, the one who hunched with anger like a caricature of himself, and me and my dog, twice a day, we were free of all our tenements, the concrete horror bled from our veins,  from our ears, she as my one true way to be free.

Stewardship: a whole new possibility

this is a bit from my Writing Ourselves Whole newsletter for November:

Trauma Stewardship book coverLast month, I attended a day-long training on Trauma Stewardship, with Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (this training was hosted by the Domestic Violence Coalition, CUAV and the Asian Women’s Shelter — thank you so much!). Here’s what I want to tell you: there’s not anyone I know who wouldn’t benefit from the ideas and the possibility that Laura (and her coauthor Connie Burke) offer in this training, and the corresponding book. Although it’s written primarily with those who work with survivors of trauma in mind, what I know is that all of the communities I participate in are traumatized right now, and so nearly all of us are going to experience trauma exposure response — which means we could be doing trauma stewardship.

As someone who has come up with every reason there is not to take care of myself (too busy, too guilty, too tired, not as bad off as others, etc — you know these, don’t you?), I’ve been in need of a change for at least a year (some might say longer), and couldn’t figure out how to make space in my life for self-care. And often, I couldn’t honestly believe that I deserved it.

In her introduction, Laura says this about the book (Trauma Stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others), and about the ideas of trauma Stewardship as a different way to walk with the work we’re doing in this world:

“This book is a navigational tool for remembering that we have choices at every step of our lives; we are choosing our own path. We can make a difference without suffering; we can do meaningful work in a way that works for us and for those we serve. We can enjoy the world and set it straight. Taking care of ourselves while taking care of others allows us to contribute to our societies with such impact that we will leave a legacy informed by our deepest wisdom and greatest gifts instead of burdened with our struggles and despair.”

Laura’s concept of Trauma Stewardship has turned a lot around for me. With deep and loving kindness, and fierce compassion, she called all of us out in that room at the Women’s Building: if your work in the world isn’t including time to replenish, and if you are not coming to the work from a place of powerful and rooted centeredness and choice, then your work is going to be unsustainable, and you’re going to end up not recognizing yourself in the mirror.

I want to write more about what’s happened for me, the changes I have started making in and for my life and work since this training, but for now, I absolutely encourage you to visit her website and buy this book — share it with your organizations and communities and friends. We are all stewards for one another right now, and we need to be as kind and gentle with ourselves as we can be during this strong and gorgeous and difficult life.