Tag Archives: storytelling

claim our own complicated truths

graffiti - calligraphy outline of a candleGood morning good morning — it’s a tired morning over here. The puppy, who has been sick, is curled up in the middle of three pillows, sighing. I’ve got Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “First Fig” churning and dancing through me this morning: My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— / It gives a lovely light. Today I am feeling these lines especially poignantly.

I would like to share with you everything that is happening around these parts, this side of the street, around Jen & writing ourselves whole both, but there aren’t words for all of it. At least not words I’ve found yet. I’m in a place of invention just now, though, so maybe new words can arrive, alliterate and at the ready.

There was something I wanted to tell you this morning, but the red lentil hummus is calling to me, wanting me to make sure it doesn’t burn, and there’s writing to offer feedback to, and a candle flame to watch dancing. In total this week I have four workshops and one performance — plus a day job and a personal life. That’s my burning at both ends. I keep breathing. I hug the puppy, do some situps, some pushups, I listen to what my body wants to eat, and try to feed it that. I can’t always manage to meet the exact craving, but I’m coming closer most days. How about that?

(Plus, of course, it’s the bleeding time, which means that everything is especially poignant just now. Hallmark ad over on evite? We are go for tears, thank you very much.)

There’s writing I want to share with you from last night’s Write Whole session, but it’s some difficult writing about my mother, who I know reads this blog sometimes (though not often), and so I am feeling worried about how she will meet the words. I’ll post this write eventually, maybe even soon, but for now I want to write about the work that can be involved in writing and sharing our true story. We’ve been beginning to talk about this question/struggle in the Dive Deep workshop — how do we claim what’s true for us and also honor those we love or care about who we fear will be hurt by our words (or, too, sometimes, without incurring a lawsuit)? This is about learning to trust our writing voices, and gut instincts, and so this is important.

As much as possible, I write my own truth in my journals and in first drafts, if nowhere else. It is true, however, that there have been stretches when even there I don’t claim my own honesty — when I am afraid that just letting the truth out anywhere outside my body, allowing any of my cells to lay claim to it, will be too apocalyptic. Those are not generally good times for me, but they happen, and what I have learned is that I just have to go through the difficult and necessary work of rewriting myself back toward my gut instincts, my complicated truths, my own stories, the ones that live outside the mouths of other people, that live behind the damp teeth of all my own inside mouths.

But mostly — mostly — notebook-writing and first drafts (and even workshop writes) are for the messy and honest story-telling, a place where I train myself to follow the thread of whatever I’m writing, even into places that other people might have trouble with (and for folks with even a shred of codependency, this can be a struggle. I myself have slightly more than a thread — more like one of those thick steamboat ropes-worth — and so this takes work and practice). When I let myself honor my true stories, then I learn more about the writing, I can go deeper, I can unearth and shove onto the page more difficult, complicated, layered tellings. This, in my experience, makes for better writing. I have, often often often, stopped my pen mid-sentence, afraid of what my stepfather, partner, father, mother, sister, friend would think or have to say about my side of the story, my understanding, my experience. I would argue with them in my head, struggle, go get more coffee, pick up the pen again. I began to just let myself write whatever it was I thought they might say to me — he would say that I was selfish and a tease, but that’s not what happened, and here’s why. Sometimes, letting those other arguments down onto the page just led me down deeper into the work.

In her book Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider writes:

As a young writer I talked to author Elizabeth O’Connor about my
work. There were things about which I could not write. I would “hurt”
my mother. My husband “might not like it.” She replied gently, “It sounds to me like there are a lot of absentee landlords of your soul.”

This is crucial: If you are to write, you must move out of “rented
rooms” in your mind, rooms that you have allowed to belong to someone
else. It will (usually) not happen overnight. But you can begin at any time
to be free. You must own yourself, have no “absentee landlords.”
This does not mean you run roughshod over other people’s feelings or
other people’s privacy. There are ways to protect others and still be free[…]. Remember that your first draft—which is absolutely essential—
is private. You can write anything that comes and “fix it” later.

Once you have the free flow of a full first draft on the page, you can do
the necessary editing to protect others, to protect yourself. But if you
worry about other people as you write a first draft, you will not be able to
free your unconscious mind to give up its treasures. It will be bound by
the great dogs of your fear, by “ought” and “should” and the internalized
voices of those whose lives intersect your own.

For first-draft writing, claim everything as your own. (pp. 11-12)

This is the only prompt I have for today: Just for today, let yourself write your own true story, no matter what anyone else might think about it. Take 10 minutes. What truth feels difficult today? Can you let it breathe between your fingers and the pen, let it rest on the page in all it’s complexity?

Thanks for that, and for this. Thanks for your being right where you are. Thanks for your words.

As a young writer I talked to author Elizabeth O’Connor about my

work. There were things about which I could not write. I would “hurt”

my mother. My husband “might not like it.” She replied gently, “It sounds

to me like there are a lot of absentee landlords of your soul.”

This is crucial: If you are to write, you must move out of “rented

rooms” in your mind, rooms that you have allowed to belong to someone

else. It will (usually) not happen overnight. But you can begin at any time

to be free. You must own yourself, have no “absentee landlords.”

This does not mean you run roughshod over other people’s feelings or

other people’s privacy. There are ways to protect others and still be free

(see chapter 9). Remember that your first draft—which is absolutely essential—

is private. You can write anything that comes and “fix it” later.

Once you have the free flow of a full first draft on the page, you can do

the necessary editing to protect others, to protect yourself. But if you

worry about other people as you write a first draft, you will not be able to

free your unconscious mind to give up its treasures. It will be bound by

the great dogs of your fear, by “ought” and “should” and the internalized

voices of those whose lives intersect your own.

For first-draft writing, claim everything as your own.

everybody is a story

image of women standing around ironing tables, working and talkingThis is one of the quotes I think of when I consider what the Writing Ourselves Whole tagline (restorying our lives) can mean:

“Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way wisdom gets passed along, the stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology, many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories once again.”

– Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, from Kitchen Table Wisdom

red and blue?

orange clouds at sunset; Wyoming Plains...Hello Monday!

A very quiet weekend — what about for you? Some baking and vegetable roasting (all the better to warm the house when the heater’s pilot light is turned off and the rains have begin), some movies and tv, some snuggling with books and with sweeties. And sleeping: good lord, we slept at least 10 hours on Friday night. The rain plus the extra-long dark made staying undercovers a whole lot easier (plus, you know, when it’s bleeding time, all I want to do is rest).

This weekend I also got to witness some of the Laramie Project — Fresh! got to share some of his experience as a part of a training that the SF JCC was doing with local youth leaders (F! was there with the LGBT Speaker’s Bureau — and I will say that my Mr. was brilliant and honest and human with the folks in that room, and I was sure honored to be with him); the idea was to get the young folks talking about LGBTQQI issues. I was grateful to get to be there, with this group of young folks who were doing important organizing work to raise awareness and the capacity to talk about LGBTQQI struggles, whether or not they themselves identified as queer or straight or anything.

Then we all got to see the Laramie Project’s Epilogue —  the theater team who went out to Laramie in 1998, a month after Matthew Shepard was killed, returned to Laramie in 2008 to see how or if Laramie had changed in the decade since a young white gay man was tied to a fence post and beaten to death, and the ensuing media storm. Not having seen The Laramie Project, I was drawn in by the bare-bones-ness of the production, the way characters are called out as they’re assumed by an actor, the way actors move through different characters and back into themselves, into their own voices, throughout the production. It’s beautiful, sparse, layered and layering.

It wasn’t until the lights went down and I saw the theater company begin to assume the bodies and voices of Wyoming-ans, began to show us the interactions between New Yorkers and Mid/Westerners,  that I began to get really really angry: who are these people to come to the Mid/West and demand/expect change that hasn’t come to New York or San Francisco?

It’s something, to watch one’s people portrayed on stage — folks in the audience at the JCC cracked up when one of the characters calls Heineken an expensive beer; I thought, Yup.

I’m certain others must have come up with critiques around this: the way that folks on the coasts look at gay bashings in the midwest and call it endemic  to the virulent homophobia of those damn red-state homophobia — whereas, when queerfolks are murdered in New York or California, what’s the excuse then? Where’s the theater company coming in to ostensibly-blue-state New York from Kansas City or Chicago or Lincoln in the aftermath of the recent gay bashing at the Stonewall Inn, or of the young man tortured by members of a gang because they thought he was gay, and asking residents: how could this happen in your town? What are you doing to create a culture where this could happen? How are you going to change?

What would that theater piece look like, do you think? What would be the class/regional politics around that work?

I’m not against the Laramie Project — I haven’t even seen the original piece, and I want to. I’m maybe finally ready to. I remember all the organizing that went on after Matthew was murdered, and I remember the critiques: why all the attention, the outpouring of love by the mainstream media and the mainstream gay-lesbian movement, for this one murdered gay youth — when, at the same time, queer youth (queer young women) of color were also killed and received almost no press?

The Laramie Project was a part of that outpouring, and so I haven’t been able to watch it with a clear head, without a remembering of the context in which it was created — like I’m still trying to be able to be objective, which just makes no sense. I want to be more clear-headed with this write, and maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. I appreciate what the Tectonic Theater Project does, and F! said, They were called to make this theater piece; if others are called to make a response, create different art, then we’ll support that, too.

And so there’s much more I want to say about this, about these layerings, about the idea of solidarity with a part of the country that holds and rejects me, about regional prejudices, about who’s telling our stories, about what stories are told…

And thank you, today and every day, for the way you tell your own stories, for the way you listen, too, to others’ stories.