Tag Archives: sister

sometimes professional isn’t what you need

I dreamed my sister had a black dog, like the one we had when we were younger, Katja.  I dreamed someone was getting married, a thin blonde white woman, she was in a stunning, cinched dress, material clinging and then cascading, her hair up in long tight ringlets, she was frustrated with how tight they still were, she wanted them to loosen, she bounded up to the window, the  mirror, she bounded up and then kept flipping her head over and back up,  over and back up, then she would shake her head in the mirror, she wanted the curls to come loose, not look so tight and obvious.  All the women around her wanted to help, but she was a whirlwind of energy all alone in the middle.  There was more to the dream.  Sarah wanted the dog to come sit with her — mom was there, too.  We were all staying someplace, like guests at a hotel or a rented house or someplace not our home.

I dreamed of a gathering of transfolks, like a community center sort of meeting, and Fresh and I were rushing through for something, we stopped to get water, during the meeting, and maybe Fresh had to check in with someone, and I was alone, the only cis person with there I think, during the drop in casual support space, and I was talking about how going to wedding is so frustrating because it’s broken down, split into genders, just 2, and I wanted that to change, to open.

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My sister goes to the gym three days a week.  I think, for me, there would be something about having the motivating of the presence of other people — it’s a reason that people come to the writing workshops.  Someone said on Saturday, I’m a lazy writer. She needed to be around other people to motivate her.  Is it laziness, though? Or is it just the way one works best?  I’m not motivated to exercise unless I do it in the service of some other task — my exercise is walking.  I walk the almost-a-mile from the bus to work, and always take the 5 flights of stairs once I get there — only taking the elevator when I’m with someone else who needs to. It’s not enough, and by enough I just mean wanting to figure out how to feel fully fine in my skin.  I understand that’s not just exercise, it’s deeper work, too, but there’s the way that I want to know that my body and me are in sync, we speak the same language, we’re wrangling with aches and losses, we stretch loose what’s clotting us, we find a way through in sweat  and soreness to a looser, softer other side.

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I had the second Writing the Flood workshop on Saturday, and have a Write Whole workshop tonight, then the first MedEd writers meeting on Thursday (for Medical Education staff at UCSF — very excited about this one!  We’re working with writing practice as professional development).

What can I say about the Saturday workshop? It was gorgeous — we had nine writers, all different (of course!), each powerful and strong. A couple of the exercises:

  • write about an animal you had a strong (whether positive or negative) relationship with (thanks to Chris DeLorenzo for that one);
  • pull a quote and write in response. We had quotes like, “Long ago I was wounded” (Louise Glück);  “If I had no memory / I would say this is perfect” (Jane Rohrer); and “You were the gentle one (Pat Schneider).

This is what I wrote in response to that last exercise,  my quote was “half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you” (Kahlil Gibran)”

Push down hard into the body and lift up.  Take an angry weight and sink whole into it, lift the trauma into morning.  This is  record of tomorrow.  This is a weighing for yesterday’s distance.  This is a stripping down the bed, burning the sheets, taking flight.  This is a single percolation, the bubble hollow and brown, rising shallow to the surface and turning.  This is singing what used to be forgotten. This is baking the small brownies.  This is feathering the wait with your anger.  This is my long walk from the bank, $15 in my back pocket, feet hard on the cement sidewalk, backpack too heavy on my sunburnt shoulder. This is why you should never have answered. This is all of your questions.  This is the cramps making bloodstains of my hours. This is telling the phone to go quiet.  This is one more inkstained Saturday. This is what I do with all my time.

Outside, the birds are all still quiet, it’s that early, dark staining still the new day’s sky. You are snoring as I lift myself up into the day.  Our house is so old it doesn’t even creak –it sits quiet around my skin, gone cold now to gooseflesh as I move from bedsheets to hallway to kitchen, where I set the coffee going.  I light a candle, and open my notebook, I put myself in front of the page.  These are the only answers I have, pen moving across the paper, these questions, these dreams and resiliencies.  When the whole world is quiet around me, outside cats even sleeping, then I can crumble apart. I can break open, then in that hour. I can see what I am made of.

(Can’t wait for the August Writing the Flood meeting, 8/21, 1;4:30!)

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I want to say something about being with my sister, about how simple and straightforward the weekend seemed and how tired we both were after.  I mean it was a weekend of late nights, of being up all of us talking, and so of course we were tired.  but there’s more there.  Whenever we are together we have more present, a world of history there in its invisibility, how do I want to say this?

When you’re around us you’re in the presence of something enormous.  It’s not just being in the presence of survival, it’s something fiercer, something more carnivorous, or more feral.  Feral.  Something wild.  Something neither of us can control. On the surface we look like normal, middleclass white women, we look like we have good teeth and know how to smile and be polite and kind and gentle, we look like you might be safe with us.  You don’t know what’s about to implode every moment when we are together, near each other, in the same physical space.  You don’t know what’s alive and writhing beneath the surface.  You can’t see it.  Maybe you can feel something throbby and angry and awake, something chaotic, some energy that nags at your quiet places, something that keeps your third eye open and wary, something that starts looking for escape routes.  When I started thinking about this writing, what I wanted to get across was how much of an honor it should be for anyone, you should now what an honor it is to be around us, you should know how much we were never supposed to be together and safe together again, you should know what we have had to crawl through and emerge bleeding from just to sit in the same room together and look normal.  And look normal. This is not a professional blog post, but sometimes professional isn’t what you need.

far away from where we started

Good damn morning, San Rafael – thank you for the incredibly loud noise, the jackhammering, the slamming doors.  Now, yes, I get it: wake up early, Jen, and you will be able to focus before all this starts.

San Francisco graffiti - circle dance. (mpujals' photostream)My sister and her sweetie are here and we were up talking until 1:30, about relationships and friends, about addiction and getting help of all kinds and more.  I set my alarm for 6:30, hopefully, but of course completely ignored it. And had dreams that were sort of about crime again, about being a part of a crew who were escaping, or helping a group of folks escape. Or maybe I was pat of the group that was gathering to bring those folks back in, but they were friends of mine, the folks who had escaped, maybe I was sort of a traitor but they didn’t know.  At the end of the dream, I’m trying to dance up the stairs like/with a teenage boy who’s just sort of learning to pose and preen, and he and I are posewalking. We’re strutting up the stairs to The Miami Sound Machine’s “Do the Conga.”  I can’t really dance, can’t make my body do what it feels, it’s like I’m constricted.  Which frustrates me because I really start feeling the music, or maybe what I start feeling is the dancing.  There was stuff in the dream about getting taken in, caught – somehow I knew that the authorities were coming, and I was a part of the group getting caught.  We some of us went and folded down when the authorities came.  Is that right?  The one authority person who came in first was a tall lanky dyke, and our friend gave herself up, she went and bent down for her, and when she bent over her dress fell over her body, and she was skinner than toothpicks, she had no fat anywhere and hardly any muscle, she was barely sticks, emaciated, starved, gone.

Last night I was looking at my sister while she talked and she sounded like she always has, like my little sister. As though her voice hasn’t changed since we were small.  It’s her forever voice, the one that lives in my body, and I get to have that pleasure because I was already here when she was born, and so I have known her voice since it came to be in the breathing world. So there’s this sense that we’re still small, we’re still young, we still have time – and then I look at her face, and see these small crinkles around her eyes.  This isn’t about calling out age: this is about realizing that small girls don’t have those particular crinkles.  Those are a woman’s crinkles.  We are aging.  I thought, we’re running out of time.  What if we don’t make it before….?

But what does it mean to make it?  We got out, we got help, we have survived new.  But still: I want something else for us, for her.  Extraordinary, untethered, unbounded, unbroken joy.  Places where she’s free of her/our history, moments when we know we did more than survive or get beyond what was done to us – moments when none of that matters anymore.  Days when we go unaffected, when we don’t think about it, that history, that past.

I’m not saying we don’t live joy-containing lives, lives with curiosity and wonder, lives with big smiles and gut-splitting laughter.

Looking at here, for a split-second, I felt like we were running against the clock (still). Like we’re still racing, trying to get out from under him, that past, our separation.

But look at where we were: in F!’s & my home in northern California, eating ice cream and popcorn, me and my sister, here with our loves, together, far away from where we started, and talking honestly about our lives. With no sense that the world would shatter if we told our true stories. With no fear of honesty (or, ok, less fear — maybe different fear).

Look at where we were: 15 years since we both got out, embracing one another at the airport without shame.

Look at where we were: telling our true stories in the dark with our sweethearts at our elbows and nobody was afraid of dying in that moment.

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Don’t forget: tomorrow, Saturday, July 17th, is this month’s Writing the Flood. 1-4:30, downtown San Francisco.  Let me know if you want to join us – there are still a few open spaces.  This is a fun and open space where you can do the writing that you want to do, even if you don’t know what that writing is, exactly, when you step into the room.  If all you know is that you really want to get some words on the page, and (even more) you’d kind of like to be surprised by those words: come on down.

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Here’s what I wrote, several weeks ago, at the last Art for Recovery workshop meeting for the Summer session.  The prompt was a small round mirror that fits in your hand:

She can’t help looking in the mirror, watching the age come.  She knows she should look more toward imporant-er things–the state of the union, the state of her community, the state of her laundry–but instead she peers into the magnifying mirror, peers at hairs that have appeared, peers at new lines and smudges beneath her eyes that makeup doesn’t erase.  And so, in seeing the age and the history, she lets herself see the beauty, filters through into the child face that used to appear in that bathroom glance, the teenagers tearstained smear, the young woman’s rage, the complexifying sadness. She recollects hairstyles and reasons for looking, putting on makeup or using a set of clippers to square off her hairline – her memory of mirror is her memory of herselves.  This is what she sees when she looks in the mirror: the same eyes that have always been there, the same dented nose, the same too-big grin, the legacy of scars that life has left her with, and the possibility and rapture of change

This is what I want to say about mirrors – they can never be fact, because we always experience them through our eye’s interpretation – and vision, as we know is not what, is not a sure thing, not objective or clean, and yet always and momentarily there.  How can we live with these contradictions of self, how can we see in the mirror the legacy of our change and the stunning beauty of our right now bodies, these fragile tender knotty knobby wrinkling cascades of nerve endings that we walk around in, that carry us to our doom, which is every glorious minute of life, and we can accept the flash in any reflecting surface because that sight reassures us: we are here, now. We have to see it to believe it, to believe in self as well as other, believe in now as well as yesterday, believe in the fierce and necessary beauty of our present selves as reflected very clearly and every day in that terrible and terrific friend, the bathroom mirror.

sheep in the wolf

It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, memory, or maybe it’s the other way around: how the devil slinks up into the backs of my brain, flashes of what’s lost or what used to be; what could have been. This is where we are now, stuck in a new reality. I’ll start over when I turn the page. I’ll start over.

It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, memory is, or maybe it’s the other way around, a sheep in wolf’s skin, the history that pushes up my spine into awareness some nights brings bared fangs and glisten, brings those eyes with the yellowing whites, brings that battered, matted fur and the thin possibility of escape from steamy breath in chilly summer fog evenings.

But what’s on the underside of that cartilage, that exoskeleton, that drape over the shoulders is the sneaky inside shape of dingy grey curls and lambs wool, the sweet breath of how we used to wish on falling stars and clap fireflies into jelly jars and sickle the summer afternoon air with our swinging pumping legs.

I mean the good and lovely hides inside the loss, the way an angry dinnertable altercation hides within it the careful way my sister and I made the evening salad, how we tore the iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes into bright rubies, nettled the carrots into shavings with a grater. The memory of my stepfather’s rage is the overcoat

and underneath was how my sister and I could bear up under that grey weight, learned – what do I want to tell you? – about keeping a straight face while telling lies I mean, we learned ourselves the uses of wearing the wolf or the sheep as needed. The way the memory at first glance is so often a covering for the deeper, quieter memory hidden inside the first the way dreams go: you see one layer and when you’re waiting or telling that one down, another layer emerges, another part of the dream, another figuring

and I am grateful for the way my brain pulls the wool over my eyes, reveals the difficult stuff first because it knows that I am not so trusting of beauty, and it slips the pure stuff in to my consciousness sideways and beneath a red cape it shows me the strengths I carried, my sister carried, even as all I could see at first is the terror: the way we were edged to resilience, the sheep the wolf, the hidden simplicity inside the mask, the way what I think I remember is never, at first, the whole story at all

Blogging our workshop creations #1

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with the raw material that we create in workshops – and often, it’s not necessary to do anything; there’s powerful work done just in the act of writing, in the act of creation. Yet, there are times when I want to return to a piece, and I’m not sure how to pick up where I left off… the first thing I have to do, of course, is transcribe the work from my notebook into the computer. And one of the things I’ve decided I’d like to do is put more of this work up onto my blogs.

From a mid-July meeting of the Monday survivors writing workshop, one of my own exercise responses:

It’s difficult, the things that are known and the things that are unknown, and when I say difficult, I mean shitty and infuriating, and when I say ‘are known’ and ‘are unknown’ in that most passive voice, what I mean is the things I can say for certain and the things that I could possibly have never said for certain because when they were occurring I was without a root in language, my mouth floated out, into an obliterating twisting and carnivorous extermination whenever I tried to find the words, and now, I am without a root in time or place or truth.

And then, even here, I wonder if any of this makes sense.

Sometimes all I want is to speak to other survivors, cause sometimes all that needs to be said is, You know?, and you make a face and your affect says everything and you don’t have to explain and they say Yeah, and hen you both nod and you’re sort of silent, not because now you’re trying to swallow, once again, a desire to tell, to have someone else understand, but because s/he meant it when s/he said Yeah. S/he gets it, whatever the shitty thing is, and there’s no need to wrangle up into the terror of words that can never really speak the truth anyway…

What I want to know is a matter of fact timeline, but what goes beyond the point of contamination to the honest-to-god wreckage that is my memory is the fact that isolation/disconnection/dissociation during an experience means that some things are just not possible to anchor in time. So, of course, these rememberings just float around in my body, my brain, a whole smeared fabric of my adolescence, a thin, dense stain on what was otherwise apparently, to the rest of the world, a perfectly privilegedly normal and cohesing existence.

What I know is what happened – hands on the only budding places of my body, the truth of years spent readying me for his ultimate goal – and what I don’t know now – besides why, because who cares? – is exactly when. Was I fourteen or sixteen? Still in junior high or high school? Was it winter outside? Summer? Were the birds throbbing alive in all the trees or were the outsides silencing in solidarity with my own?

What I don’t know is how to make poetry of this. What I don’t know is how to stop wanting to know – wanting these peculiar answers. What I don’t know is why it matters if I figure out now, twenty years later, that Ok, yes, I must have been fifteen when that part happened, when the body of me came pressing tight to my lips, when I felt all the air escape from what I thought was the secure solidarity, the impenetrable mask, of my thick skin.

I put a period there, but I think I was asking a question, wasn’t I? What I’d really like to know is how to, just once, twist that image of his body and my body on that cheap squeaky brass-framed bed into a work of art that even my ears could find beautiful – no, maybe not beautiful, maybe not honoring, but no more pedantic and not any more pity-worthy – I’d like for these images to begin finally doing service to some other kind of truth.

Really, I’d like to elect them out of their only residence in my brain and push them hard onto the paper, tape them cheaply down with crappy tape that quickly pulls up and dirties at the corners, push those bilious, billowy pictures flat for once, let them be seen in two shallow, sullen dimensions, show them – yes, sure, finally – to my mother and father, let them see what was happening, share these pictures with my sister, like trading cards. We would sit, cross-legged, in the clover park with the summer bees all around and chew our big words of gum while the wind blew the hair all around our faces and we’d finally look at all we could not share or see before, in the vast, thick safety of that warm afternoon.

7/16/07