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puppy gratitude

sophie on the deck

I started this on Sunday, but didn’t finish — so here we go!

Good morning good morning. How are you morning-ing so far this day?

Right next to me, sprawled out on the carpet, the puppy is gnawing on a rubber ball, sending a wet squeakiness into my morning quiet. It’s pretty great. She’s got her face right near the heater vent, maybe unintentionally — but as soon as it kicks on, she’ll get the first warmth.

According to the dates on the paperwork from the vet, Sophie was a year old this past Saturday, on Dec 10. A year! Happy birthday, Sophie Star Cross White!

I haven’t done a puppy post in awhile. Two things happened recently that reminded me to reflect on how far we’ve come, this little family that Sophie found.

First, the other day, the Mr came home to find Sophie was right there, all waggy and excited, to greet him at the door — now, when he left earlier that day, she was safely ensconced in her crate, just where I’d put her for her breakfast, with the door locked. So it was a bit of a surprise for him that she was both not in the crate and that the crate door was still locked. That morning, I’d only locked the bottom of the two slide-locks on the crate door, not knowing that the Mr was heading out right away. Sophie has Houdini-ed out of the crate before when only the bottom lock was closed — I don’t know how she does it — so this wasn’t without precedent.  Still, she’d been alone for quite a few hours — the longest, in fact, that she’d been alone in the house not in the crate.

And she’d done no damage anywhere.

I couldn’t stop celebrating. Our girl is big, now, and can stay by herself out of the crate. So on Sunday we left her for a couple of hours alone in the office, which attaches to a deck, the deck that gets the most sunshine. We left the deck door open, so she could go in and out. She scratched a little at the door as we were leaving, but then she came out to the deck and watched us go. I scrunched my hands up against my mouth, watching her back, and felt proud and sad and worried — would she cry or bark? She just watched. Then when we returned she was right there, heard the car, her whole body wagging at the sight of us.

(Now Sophie wants to play with the puppy in the mirror. She paws at the mirror, gives a little cry. Why won’t you play?)

graffiti of a yellow star containing a fist and a dog pawThe second thing that happened is that our neighbors recently adopted a new puppy from a shelter — she’s just under a year, fluffy and adorable, maybe a lab-golden mix. My neighbors are good and gentle with her, and they’re terribly worried. The puppy does some submissive urination (which is, of course, no concern much at all, at least to outsider-me, and at least when I meet the puppy in the driveway and not in the neighbors’ front hall) and she’s chewing on their leash sometimes and she’s still getting her bearings. What I see when I meet this dog is a very happy pup, scared some, figuring out where she’s come to — and, too, I see her parents who care very much about her, walking her in the frosted early quiet, teaching her a sit-stay over by the sheltered side of the building (where all the plants have been tramped away by dogs), keeping her protected until she has the all-clear from the vet to meet other dogs. What they mention, when we talk about how she’s doing, though, is what’s going wrong, how she needs to improve.

And I remember feeling that way after Sophie came home with us — someone would tell us that she was doing great, and I’d think, Oh, really? Have you seen her lose her mind when she’s near another dog — like she wants to have it for dinner? Or how she eats so fast she throws up? Or how she doesn’t come when called? Or how she chokes herself pulling at the leash? I didn’t have any perspective — how could I? Here was this enormous change that I’d brought into all of our lives — mine, the Mr’s, this little puppy — and all I wanted was not to fuck it up. I desperately wanted not to fuck it up. And now she’s been with us almost 7 months, and I can’t quite remember what it was like before she was here.

My neighbor asked how long it took for me to feel comfortable, or settled, with Sophie, I told her that for the better part of the first month, I hardly slept and was afraid we’d made the worst decision ever. But then it got better. She didn’t look terribly relieved at this — oh, no, a month?? — but as I was saying it, I remembered how bad I felt, how deeply scared, how certain I was that I wasn’t up to this dog-companioning, and from this new perspective, borne of time and work and patience, I was able to see how much more comfortable and pleased I feel now, how much I love this pup, how grateful I am for her and for how we three have been able to work together.

On Sunday, Sophie and I went to a field near the dog park in Sausalito. It was in the 40s, we were bundled up (no, only I was bundled — she was licking and slipping on the grass, still learning about this frost stuff) and she bounded off to play with another dog who wanted to get her ball. I talked with a couple of other owners, who were impressed with Sophie’s training, and were also able to give me some good advice about the fact that she barked at a dog who wanted to get her ball (“it’s good she barks,” they said — “better for her to warn than to just lash out!”) and I could relax just a little bit more. She started playing too rough with another dog, and then came easy when I called her. Another dog got her ball, and she just looked kind of confused — like, where’d it go? Oh, there! Wait, didn’t I have a ball? — but didn’t get crazy or upset. She was happier, though, when the other dog’s owner got her ball back for her. She made friends, and I felt proud of her, of us. I hope she feels her version of proud or comfortable with me, with us, too.

It reminds me of how much work just happens with and over time, and how infrequently I stop and reflect — and how important that reflection and gratitude is. See how far we’ve come? It used to feel like this — and now it’s shifted. Even if only slightly sometimes, it’s shifted.

An idea for a prompt for today might be to look back on this year and write about something you (or your character/s) have been doing or learning, work you’ve been engaged in, maybe personal transformative work, maybe craft, maybe you’re building something new — maybe you (or they, those characters) have found yourself plunged into something, and haven’t been sure how to swim. Think back in your writing — how was this process for you when you began? How did you feel when you began the process? What were you afraid of, or certain would never come to pass? How does that compare to how you feel/work/experience things now?

Thanks for your patience for yourself, for the ways you take deep breaths and wait and trust in time, even when it feels like you’re doing the opposite. Thanks for your care and concern for those parts of yourself that are growing and learning. Thanks, every day, for your words.

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(nablopomo #12) be willing to be

graffiti of a pit bull terrier sitting in the midst of blue and green line drawingsGood morning, good morning –I’m feeling a little off-kilter this morning, not quite full. Maybe something in me is following the moon.

It’s one of those days when I don’t want to write, when I want to do anything but, when I feel overexposed in and to words, and so I want a break from them.

I’ve been up for a little while, wanted to get my blogging in early. I did a bit of journaling, jotted down a couple of dreams that I could remember, and then got distracted by looking up dog training info online.

The puppy and I need to go back to school. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a puppy update here. But nablopomo doesn’t give prompts for the weekends, and my freewriting at the moment is drawing me toward dog love and dog struggle and dog shame.

here we are at graduation from her first puppy class

As of the end of this month, Sophie will have been with us for six months. Six months! Next month she’ll be a year old. You might remember the panic and overwhelm I was in during that first month, how terrified I was, how I wasn’t sleeping enough, how being with her was bringing up feelings about my past dogs, especially the one I had as my sole unconditional companion during high school, during my stepfather’s abuse.

Sophie feels like part of family here, and a part of redefining family, at a time when the Mr and I are re-engaging with what family means. She’s a steady presence and still feels new — I find myself pressing my face into her warm brown puppy smell and thinking, Who are you? How did you get here? She is a part of our everyday-ness, a part of home, now. We’ve been through one dog-training class and now I think we’ve got the funds to do another. And it’s time.

Yesterday, at the end of a great walk in the hills not too far from our home, we were approached by a small pug and his mom. The pug may have been a puppy; he was a fraction of Sophie’s size. Sophie hunched down, like into a prowl, and came toward the dog from that stance. When they got close to each other, the other dog, wagging, bouncy, wanted to play, but Sophie was rough and aggressive. She was growly and wouldn’t leave off the dog when I called to her; finally I got her collar and got her out of the situation. She wanted to play, then, barked, wagged her tail, what’s the problem? The other mom picked up her dog, we exchanged a few words, I said Sophie was obviously still in training, we said that both our dogs were puppies. I knelt there on the ground with Sophie for a bit, wanting her to stay calm, while the other two walked away. I felt awful, sick, ashamed, frustrated and scared.

This is why we have to go to school, why I need more training — in those moments, sick and ashamed aren’t useful feelings. They’re triggers, or, really, reactions to feeling triggered. At times like that, I’m more worried about doing what someone else will think is right. How can I explain this? I’m back under my stepfather’s gaze, being watched and judged, and get reacty and panicked. I’m not thinking clearly any more than Sophie is.

The triggered feeling is so old, and I want to move with and past it. I want to trust the parts in me that invite me to do something different, but that I often ignore — trust, that is, the connection between me and my dog. I want to know how to interact with Sophie in those moments, before we get to the dog, to the situation that’s freaking her out. There were many different things I could have done in that moment, well before she got into a fight, but I ignored them, hoping that she’d be all right, even though she was showing me signs that she was in an odd mood with respect to that dog.

The shame that blossoms in me, it takes over everything, is a bright wash of red-orange, isn’t any help at all. It coats the inside of my mouth and all over my skin, tingles me unapproachable. We will go out again today and try something different (treats, leash, redirection, practice, practice, practice).

I have a note that reads be willing to be uncomfortable stuck to  my computer monitor. I have it there because I need reminding, encouragement, sometimes a push, to do the things that are important to me — and getting there often means moving through discomfort, often, deep, thick, bodily discomfort. I’m reminded of the thinking I do about safety, and about safe space — that I can be safe in the midst of change, in the midst of reaching beyond my comfort zones, in the midst of doing something that pushes all my buttons. Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong. Sometimes it does. I’m learning to listen differently, learning to tell the difference.

There’s more to this, but now it’s 12 hours since I began this post, and I need to get it out. The puppy and I had a good and uneventful walk today — I brought more treats, did more training practice, she got to chase the ball and eat hot dog treats. I’m scared, reaching, and grateful.

Thanks for your practice, for the ways you hold your own growth. Thanks for your patience and presence with others’ discomfort, how you allow others, sometimes, to be present with yours. And your words, too. Thanks for your words.

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what we attend to shapes us

Labyrinth Habitat mural by Johanna Poehig;  I wake up from layered and complicated dreams. There are things I want to tell you about, but it’s not time for them yet. The alarm goes off at 4, and I think, I could just snooze for a little bit, and then I forget to press snooze, and now it’s after 5.

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The Fall writing workshop series begins next week — Write Whole: Survivors Write starts on Monday, and we do still have a couple of spaces left! Friday is the last day to register — if you have been thinking about joining us and giving yourself and your stories a regular, weekly writing time, please do contact me.

Tonight’s the Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture; a good time for me to go through recent notebooks and find a story that I want to work more with. Have you seen the  call for submissions for Sex Still Spoken Here, the Erotic Reading Circle anthology? If you’ve participated in this latest round of the erotic reading circle (since about 2006), we want your stories and poems!

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We’ve started leaving the door to the puppy’s kennel open at night, so she can get up and come out when she’s ready in the morning. So far, she seems to stay in there all night, only getting out after I’ve been up and at the computer working for awhile. Right now she’s here with me in the office, digging behind the office door for something. All I hear is snuffling and claws scraping carpet, not hard, but persistent. I say her name, and she stops. She’s ready to go outside, but it’s still dark out. When she first came home with us, it was light at 4 or 4:30, and we could go out then. The earth’s rotation is thwarting our early morning walk.

There’s something about putting the work we believe in the most at a centered place in our day. How does that work for you? For me, it means writing first — whether that’s journaling, morning pages, blogging, freewriting on a story. Not editing, but generating new words, first thing in my day.

A message I heard this weekend talked about this idea that what we pay attention to, what we attend to, reveals what we love, and shapes who we’re about to be:

Attention is a tangible measure of love. Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of our life. This is what we do with what we love: We allow it to become our center.

What is the center of your life? Carefully examine where you spend your attention, your time. Look at your appointment book, your daily schedule. These things – these meetings, errands, responsibilities – this is where you dedicate your precious days, hours, and moments. This is what receives your care and attention – and, by definition, your love.

We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, this is the kind of person you will eventually become. Is this what you want?

— Wayne Muller

When I was listening to this message, I was thinking about how I shoved what I loved most to the far edges of my life, for years, in order to protect those things: writing, femininity, deep connection with other people. What I actually paid attention to was my stepfather’s desires, how he wanted me to be in the world, the work he expected me to do. That, plus I paid attention to his moods and emotions — I did these things, attended to these things, for my own survival. So, what did this reveal about what I loved? That I loved him more than writing? That I loved his moods more than my mother’s or my sister’s? I certainly gave his more attention —

I understand the core of this message, this idea: what we focus on shapes our days, shapes what will come for us. If I spend three hours writing today, I have that writing to work with tomorrow, and I am closer to having something to submit to an anthology next week. If I spend five minutes today attending to the state of my own body, I may be beginning a pattern that will let my body know that its states of being matter to me — what does that mean? I mean, if I pay attention to my body today, by next week, I might be sitting or moving differently because I paid attention to what my body needed. Every small action toward or in service of what we love builds up that place in us. Think about a ball of rubber bands: begin with one tiny band, add one more and one more, do this over a period of months, and you end up with a baseball-sized collection. Small actions, small attentions, add up to big ones.

Let this be a write for today: what aren’t you or your character attending to that you want to be? Take 10 minutes for that part of yourself today, and write about it. Or write about how you make space for what you love by attending to it. Just turn your attention to a part of yourself (or apart of your character) that you want to grow, and let the writing flow from there. (This could be a good morning for a love letter to the body, if it’s the body that needs some attention.)

Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. And be easy with you, ok? One small step, every day, that’s all. That’s powerful beginning.

Thank you for your attentiveness, your witness, your awareness, your tender ferocity. Thank you for your words!

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singing and sleep away

graffiti fromm Istanbul: two yellow hands holding the strings of balloon eyesgood morning good morning good morning.

It’s hard to be chipper in the grey, isn’t it? At least, that’s true for me this morning.

I’m having a longing for true (i.e., Midwestern) summer. Someone brought deliciously deviled eggs to our Write Whole: Survivors Write potluck last night (we have a potluck on the last night of each workshop, a wonderful chance to share food and a bit more of ourselves as well) and I almost got teary with missing cookouts, family reunions, home food. Maybe this weekend I’ll make some ambrosia salad, of course it won’t be even remotely the same, eating it without all my cousins, my sister, my grandma there.

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Today we’re working on the pup being able to be in her kennel and alone; she seemed like she’d gotten accustomed to this, and pretty easily, too. Then the Mr went away for awhile and I had to leave her a couple of times, and she started having some separation anxiety. It’s not remedial work, though, is it? It’s different work this time around. She doesn’t want to play or eat in the kennel, though I haven’t yet found her a toy that would only live in the crate. That’s the next thing to try.

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Today is a rest day, a transcription day (meaning a day for typing up workshop writes), a walking-with-the-pup day. It’s a day to be present, again, with this homesickness that’s settled into my chest. Maybe I’ll take 20 minutes and look at the cost of tickets to NE, or CO, or both.

And so today, too, I’m thinking (again) about what homesickness means when one doesn’t have a solid or clear sense of where (or what) home is.

The first time I remember feeling homesick was when I went to sleep away camp for the last time (well, at least until band camp when I was starting high school, and where I met my first love — you know about those loves that start at band camp). This was after my mom moved in with the man who would be my stepfather. This was early on in their relationship — I can’t for the life of me remember now why I would have been allowed to go. It was surely a YMCA camp, located somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha. I’d been to sleep-away camp before, back when we’d lived in Lincoln — we would go to day camp for a week or something, and then the last day of camp included an overnight trip (It was at those earlier YMCA camps where I learned to sing “Proud to be an American” whenever I pledged allegiance to the flag. I still have that song memorized. Talk about indoctrination). This time, now that we were in Omaha and now that my parents were divorced, it felt different. This must have been early in their relationship, maybe even before they were married. I wanted so much to get away from the house and then, once I got to the camp with its cabins and bunk beds and strangers, I wanted to be back home with mom and my sister and even with him. I remember feeling confused by this — why did I want to go back there? I felt like it said something good about me, that I was homesick — I wasn’t the bad kid he told me I was. See, I missed them and it hurt! I remember telling them about it (or did I write a letter? How long was I gone for?) after I got home, how I had that feeling — did they name it homesick for me? I think he was glad, proud, that I missed them (him), and that I was safe from his persecution for a little bit after I got home. I don’t remember anything else about that camping trip, just that I was scared to be alone.

So it’s not like I can’t understand where Sophie’s coming from with her separation anxiety.

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Here’s something I noticed last night, though, speaking of senses of home — I felt very much ‘at home’ during the writing workshop. There wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be, nothing else I wanted to be doing. That was tremendously reassuring and settled something in me that had been afraid.

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As our first prompt last night, I read Martin Jude Farawell’s poem “If I sing” — then we wrote for 20 minutes. Can you give yourself 20 minutes with this prompt today? Notice if there are particular phrases from the poem that stay with you, that spark your writer’s imagination (John Fox also suggests, as a prompt from this poem, filling in the phrase: “If I ___, then I___” as a beginning place.)

I’ve used this poem as a prompt several times in the last year since John Fox first offered it at last summer’s Healing Art of Writing conference, and each time my own response has been different; it’s something to keep in mind, when I’m afraid of offering folks a prompt that they might have had in a previous workshop with me — every time we meet a prompt, we meet it fresh and new; we get to go someplace different from the first time we used the prompt.

Here’s my write from last night:

I sing in the car — it’s about the only place I feel free enough, when I’m behind the wheel, when I’m alone. I put on the country music station or push in one of  my sister’s mix tapes, and I sing, and if I am very lucky — I think it’s about whether or not I’m lucky — I will cry. That hard lump rises, the ache spreads it’s webby fingers from throat full into my chest, my arms, my eyes fill and I catch my breath. Everything gets warbly and thick and then I am not just me now, it’s me and my sister in the back seat of the VW bus or in the old red Mercury Monarch or even later in the black Jetta. we are singing along to the radio, our voices tinny and high, climbing over each other, twinning together. We were showing off; I wanted to know every song better than her, than anyone. We sang Pat Benatar, the Pointer Sisters, Hall and Oates, we sang along to the old folk records at Grandma’s house, we sang with the Beatles and Jody Collins on dad’s old reel-to-reel. We wouldn’t stop, our voices were everywhere, there was nothing we couldn’t capture, emulate, no curve or strain of voice, no fold of tremolo, no tottering pop crescendo, no predictable chord change that we didn’t want to hold in our own mouths. We sang dad’s made-up songs, every Christmas carol, even along with Steve Martin being a wild-and-crazy guy. We mimicked and imitated and even started making up our own songs.

Isn’t it true that once upon a time, you couldn’t shut us up? Who taught us to tuck our sings away? She went on, my baby sister, sang choir in school, then studied opera. She was the designated singer, the one whose voice had a way to go, a frame, a structure, a harness. Neither of us were freefalling through words or melody anymore — one day we were singing along with the cassette tape recording of the Broadway musical they brought home with them from New York City, and the next day the car rides were full only of horror and implausibility; the radio was turned off. There was too much noise already just with him in the car, just with all we weren’t saying. How could it e that, with all we had sung, with all the notes and possibility we learned to turn our throats, our tongues, our voices around, we hadn’t learned to say thing — even just say the one thing — that should have been able to save us?

Thanks to you, today, for your songs. All of them: the ones sung and the ones unsung. Thank you for your writing, too, for your words.

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honor it

graffiti flower girl

(meant to be posted several hours ago! 🙂

My body is still waking up — I wanted to be up this morning at 4 or 4:30, but 5:30 was early enough to begin this week with. My early-morning-self got a talking to from the self that has to be awake and functional for the last Write Whole workshop tonight, and they came to a compromise.

The pup and I are working on a new schedule, one where I get up first and write before she and I go out for our walk — when she first came to live with us, I could get up at 4-something, then 5, and the sun was just peeking up over the hill, just lightening the sky; we could walk and I still had time to blog. Now the sun’s not up til after 6, and this one here typing has to be at the bus stop by 7:15, so we have to switch some things around.

She graduated from puppy school yesterday — at least her first class. We finished up Family Dog I at the Marin Humane Society! Then she came home and barked her head off at the neighbor’s friend’s dog (much to my frustration and embarrassment). So, we have some more work to do, of course. Graduating from kindergarten means it’s time to move up to first grade, time to keep learning and practicing.

Still, I’m so proud of her, and of us.

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What else is there for a Monday morning? Today my body is slipping into and out of tenseness, a slight sense of sick. Is it over-extension? How do you celebrate while also having to move on to the next thing? I’ve forgotten how to mark important events, how to honor accomplishments. I just run on to the next thing. We have to mark what works, though — positive reinforcement, remember? It’s easy only to focus on how much there is still to do, and not want to ‘waste time’ on marking how far we’ve come, how much amazingness has been achieved.

This kind of honoring is major self-care work, isn’t it?

The puppy is starting to fuss.

How do you mark, celebrate, honor, that something good and important has happened? How do your characters? Do you celebrate when you achieve something important, or do you just keep striving on for the next thing, waiting until the job is all done before you rest and celebrate?

If someone were to honor you for a recent accomplishment, what would that look like? (I would like a glass of wine and a song, for instance, for having done my laundry last night — sometimes, that is a major achievement.)

Write your own celebration — give yourself, that honoring, 10 minutes today. Begin with, “This is what we’re celebrating” or “This is how the celebration begins”, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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fear & curiosity

graffiti of a butterfly hovering a branch that contains two nests of heartsGood morning!

(too nervous for much else)

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My pup was brave this morning on our walk. She hates storm grates, goes out of her way to avoid them. She’ll run in to me, stop walking, pull at the leash to keep away from whatever’s down there.

This morning, there was a lemon sitting on the storm grate that we pass at the beginning of our neighborhood walk. She stopped, intrigued, then planted her feet and pressed her body forward, both hesitant and driven. She wanted to see what that thing was, but it was hanging out in the scary place! She spent several moments, inched closer, danced around a little bit, managed to get closer to the storm grate than she has yet in our walks together so that she could satisfy her curiosity.

Her bravery helped her push past the fear. It’s not a metaphor, that story, but it could be.

I’m off to take the GRE today, a test I’ve been terrified to take. I took it once, back in the early 90s, after I’d been forced to withdraw from school, but it’d been too late to get a refund on the test so I just went ahead with it. I can’t tell you anything about that test; it’s gone from memory now. When I looked at MA programs, I selected only those that didn’t require the GRE — who needed it.

Turns out I do. I am curious about some things, and want to study/write about/talk about/learn about them more deeply. In order to do that in a way that works for me, I need to pass through this fire. This morning I am taking Sophie’s energy, her spirit, that moving in with purpose and awareness, in spite of fear, with me.

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A quick prompt — maybe you saw this one coming: write about a situation you or your character moved through, driven by curiosity, in spite of (but along with) fear.

Thanks for how resilient you are, the way you hold your fear by the hand and show it what you both can accomplish when you just keep going. Thank you for your words.

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all there is

graffiti from Haight Street -- big-smiling sun!Good morning. Right?

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At least, when waking up in a panic at 4am, there are foghorns to keep us company. That’s a blessing.

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This morning, Sophie and I are doing some training. She’s learned (because she’s smart) that usually when she gets fed in her crate, it means that she’s going to get left there for awhile. Now she doesn’t want to eat in her crate, because she doesn’t want to get left. This means that she won’t go in even when I’m going to be sticking around (because how does she know the difference?). So we’re practicing — I put the food in the crate and leave the grate open, then leave the room. She’s not yet convinced.

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Last night I got to be with several of my teachers — Renee Garcia, Pat Schneider, Peggy Simmons, Joan Marie Wood, and Mary Tuchscherer. We watched Pat’s film about her workshops with women in Chicopee, MA — Tell me something I can’t forget — and then talked about the Amherst Writers and Artists method, and different ways in which writing can be used as a life-changing, liberatory, transformative practice for folks (for communities!) whose voices, whose stories, have been silenced. Again, I got to be at a seminary and talk about the power of erotic writing. What a gift, the whole night.

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Off to shower. Taking the pup to the dentist (what?) then heading to the day job.

Thinking about a prompt for today. What about the title of that film: Tell me something I can’t forget. Pat says it’s a line from a Tess Gallagher poem. Either just begin with that line, or go read the poem, and write as you’re inspired by those lines. Give yourself 10 minutes, 15. Tell me something I can’t forget.

I’m grateful for you today, for your practice, your patience, your words and your ears.

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touch(ed)

graffiti of a hand, fingers poised to snapGood Thursday morning! It’s cool here so far today — the tea is skullcap & moroccan mint: relax and wake up, I guess.

Sophie has learned a new game that I adore — we got this at puppy school. I put out my hand flat and say “Touch,” and she puts her nose to my hand. She learned this quick, partly, I think, because I am so excited about it, so we practice a lot. When I first watched our teacher demonstrate this trick with her assistant’s dog, I was underwhelmed — So, she touches your hand with her nose. Big deal. It’s not like she’s really doing anything. But then we learned it on the first day of class, and I learned that she is doing something! I can’t stop asking Sophie to touch — it feels like a real connection between us: I ask, and she reaches her neck forward, or looks around for where my hand is, finds where her nose can go, then presses out, reaches for me. She’ll come back to attention, when she’s distracted by smelling for deer, to give me a touch.

What a wonderful thing to teach your pup to do, to get to ask them for, to get to accept from them. When she’s curled up next to the couch and it’s time for bed, she won’t budge (so far) for come, but she came running last night when I asked her to touch!

Getting to ask for touch from someone else (let me move from pups to persons)– this, right here, is a gift anytime we feel it’s a possibility. The touch itself, too, can be precious, but the asking — isn’t that newer for some of us? Something we thought, at one time, we would not ever want to do? Something still difficult to make our mouths form, something risky to put out to another person?

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This got me thinking about another touch that I’d come across recently, an amazing multimedia piece by Magdalena Donea, Touched, that appeared in the online journal Fray — my friend and colleague Scott Youmans recently introduced me to her work, and I was blown away by the complicated beauty and difficult, deep truth-telling in this layered piece. (Know that this piece deals explicitly with sexual violation, and be easy with you, ok?)

What are the stories we’re not supposed to tell about touch?

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What does touch mean for you this morning? Are there touches you or your character want to ask for, or want to ask to have stop, or have complicated feelings about? Take 10 minutes today — let that touch come out onto the page, follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your bravery, the way you allow yourself to accept touch even when you might have decided, once, that the safest thing to do is not to let anyone ever touch you again. You are deeply resilient. Thank you for your words!

FH-hummingbird-slider

the meeting

graffiti of an outline of a deer with a heart inside, and the words: The stars were shining brightGood morning! How is the morning where you are today?

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My friends, today is the last day that I’m raising money for the Tomales Bay Workshops — I just have a little under $500 left to raise! The final payment is due today, and if you can contribute anything, I would be tremendously grateful. Every bit helps — I’ve watched these donations of $10 and $20 and $50 add up to meaning I can make it to study with Dorothy Allison in October. I’ll be sharing the writing that I do there with everyone who donates.

It’s such a strange thing to ask for help this way, and I’m humbled and so moved that as I’ve done so, I’ve been met with hands reaching back, offering help and encouragement. That’s a Very Big Deal. Thank you so much.

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The last 12 hours around here have been filled up with wildlife (and I’m not just talking about the frantic energy that’s rising up in me the closer I get to gre test day on 8/1): last night, just at dusk, there was a huge owl sitting at the top of the small tree just up the hill outside our kichen window. She looked like a cat sitting there, with her strong round body and pointy ears. The other small birds of the neighborhood weren’t happy to have her around and kept flying at and around her.

This morning, just after I’d liberated Sophie from the stick that’s too big for her to carry around but that she still wanted to prance with while hunting for a place to poop, a hummingbird zoomed in and over the spot where I’d tossed the stick. She hovered for a moment, like she thought there was new sweetness that had moved into the area, but then she flew on.

And then — and then and then. On our walk, as we were coming back down the road that takes us up to the houses with the unobstructed views of San Francisco, the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge… we passed a couple of deer up on the hillside. They’d been there on our way up the road, but Sophie hadn’t noticed them. This time, she did, and so, naturally, she started to whine and bark. I encouraged us on, pulling a little at Sophie, who was intent on watching and tallking to the deer. One of the deer followed us. At first, I thought she was just trying to move out of the way, away from us. Then, as she kept being right there to our right, I thought maybe she was headed to her babies, was distracting us from them, wanted to keep them safe. But I didn’t see the fawns anywhere — were they hidden in this brush? No, the deer has passed through the brush and is still keeping pace with us. What’s happening? It’s 6:30 in the morning, my dog has a good strong bark that she’s sharing with all of our fancy neighbors, and the deer that the dog is going crazy over wants to check us out.

She came out into the road, the deer did, and started to follow us on the asphalt.

So, finally, I just stopped. I asked Sophie to sit, rewarded her when she would stop barking and respond to my requests for quiet, and made eye contact with the deer. She moved closer. Her eyes were big and black, and she had slight lashes brushing out just at the outer edges. Her body was full and round; she looked well fed — and she seemed curious about us.

I think I mentioned, a couple days ago, about the ticks that we’d found on Sophie. Have I mentioned my lifelong fear of ticks? First, when I was a child, they carried Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (I was told) and so every time I went anywhere near a forest or copse of trees, I wore a bandana, terrified that one would drop down on my head. Now it’s Lyme Disease we have to be afraid of, and so I put poison on my dog and I wear long pants when we go hiking, and I stay away from the deer that ticks seem to love so much.

Now here’s a deer wanting to come right up and say hello.

I was very tempted to let them get closer, although I was sure that Sophie wouldn’t behave. I was also nervous — what’s going on with this deer that it’s comfortable getting so close to a human and a dog? Is she angry? Is she sick? So I said, No. I stomped my feet a couple of times. She didn’t really back off, but stopped and waited, and we all watched each other for a little bit. Even with Sophie’s barking (although the pup did calm down some, could sit and look at this maybe-friend), the deer didn’t run away. The only thing that got her to move was a car that started to pull out of the driveway she was standing just in front of. The car drove between her and us, and after it passed, she didn’t come back close again.

I’m afraid that I missed an opportunity for some multi-layered cross-species friend-making, that I gave in to my fear of insects and unusual animal behavior. I’m grateful, though, for her bravery and curiosity. I’m carrying her eyes in my chest today, the glinty look, how she raised her small front hoof and set it back down, making a little sharp noise on the asphalt, standing still, watching us.

I hope we see her again.

Be easy with anything unusual that comes your way today, maybe. And don’t forget to write it down. Thanks for your words.

FH-hummingbird-slider

take it again

graffiti of a red curlie-que question markYou were in my dreams last night, weren’t you? What were we doing there? I’m so glad we were together.

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Sophie is eating part of her breakfast from a gourd-shaped Kong; it’s hollow on the inside, with the neck open to dispense and receive treats, and a cut-out on one side and on the bottom. I could watch her with this process all day; she learned quickly that if she up-righted the Kong, food shows up at the bottom, so she pulls it up like a lever. Smart girl.

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Yesterday, I got to spend some time with Sharon Bray’s Writing as a Healing Ministry class at Pacific School of Religion. These are intrepid folks; they’re spending a week going deep into all the different ways of using writing as a healing or stewarding process for others and/or themselves, and this means, too, that they’re spending a week exploring their own motives, fears, longings, work. Then they’re going to take this learning, this longing and work, back into their communities, and hold spaces for the sort of deep change that a writing process can allow for.

I want to tell you a bit about some of the questions they asked, and maybe think a bit more about my answers, but right now, Sophie is alarmed by the noises coming from the driveway, and I need to go introduce her to the garbage truck. More about this soon (the questions, not the truck).

Here’s an invitation to write, though: Has someone asked you about something recently that you didn’t have the time you really wanted or needed to respond to in full? Or maybe you answered quickly and honestly, but there’s a lot more to the answer that you gave. Think about that for a seond, jot down one or more questions/situations/conversations that you wish you’d had more time for, and then choose one and give yourself 10 minutes with it. What do you wish you had said? What else was there to offer? Get complicated with it; no one will interrupt you now.

Thanks for your work in this world. Thanks for your generosity and heart. Thanks, yes, for your words.