Tag Archives: transformation

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.

how do you know you’ve committed?

graffiti of big, multicolored flower mandala with eye at the centerHello & good Monday — how is your Monday-ing so far?

(No post this morning ‘cuz we me and the pup took too much time practicing ‘heel’ on our walk — or at least practicing, ‘Don’t yank mama’s arm out of the socket, please.” )

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Have I mentioned how much I’m liking the online Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop? Though the workshop itself is different from the in-person version, the engagement/connection among writers is still strong, and the writing is still absolutely rocking my socks. Wow.

I hope to get to offer another online writing group soon.

I feel wildly fortunate about the amazing writers I’ve been able to work with over the last 9 years, and, too, for the stories/poems/tellings/rants/scenes/fantasies/revelations that have found their way to words — some of which have also found their way to print, into the world in various publishing formats.

We, together, make this creation possible for one another, y’all. Thank you for that.

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How do you know you’ve committed?

How do you know you’re doing what you said you were meant to do?

When you feel sick and terrified. When you take a step bigger than you think your legs, your body, can handle. When you are awake nights, wondering how to make it through, regretting that you gave up the safe, normal life, and

hearing yourself voice that regret, it’s when you take a deep breath and say to yourself:

I asked for this. This is what I wanted.

It’s feeling the anxiety begin to dissipate, molecularity, glacially.

It’s when you notice that you’ve been able to sleep, and that the nausea has slipped from your belly, when you look forward to your day and find that the new normal has come to take its shape around you.

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Thank you for all the space you make for others to change, and how you gently hold a little of that space open for yourself, sometimes, too. Thank you for your presence, your desire, your words.

where we’re from

a body sitting crosslegged, wearing headphones, presented in rainbow silhouette -- over the heart is a triangle, pointed down, containing the words, 'You are here'Change sometimes feels like catastrophe, doesn’t it? Even if my conscious mind understands that what we’re going through is just transition, learning curve, new growth, my body/psyche/other parts are battening down the hatches and armoring up, trying to hold their ground, ready for battle. If change provokes anxiety, if we’ve got something at stake in this new learning, the inside selves run around in circles, worry the underside of my eyes til we’re blue with bags there, send out the old voices: why are you so weak? why are you so tired all the time? why aren’t you working harder?

I understand that those voices, once upon a time, just wanted to keep me safe — to get me to start questioning myself before anyone else started to question me. Didn’t that give me a sense of safety, or rather, a sense of control?

So I breathe into the questions now, and check in with my friends a lot: what’s the matter with me? nothing’s the matter with you — you’re just doing some new learning.

Stepping up to our passions, our authentic desire, can be terrifying. Is this also true for folks who aren’t trauma survivors? I need a poll. But normal for me is trauma, and so I believe that this fear is true for most people: what if what I always wanted was wrong? what if I’ve been pursuing the wrong goal all these years? what if I can’t do it after all? what if my dreams are too big for me?

Do any of these fears sound or feel familiar? What do yours sound like?

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Yesterday was the first meeting of our third go-round for the MedEd writers at the UCSF Office of Medical Education, where I have my day job. We’ll get together for an hour a week over the next 8 weeks and use creative writing as a way to get more comfortable with all writing, as a way to take a break and refresh ourselves for our regular work, as a way to connect as team members. I love this group, not least because I get to meet other sides of my coworkers through their creativity, their writing.

For our first exercise, we wrote to Where I’m From — you might be familiar with this poem/prompt; have I talked about it here before? When I give the prompt, I read the George Ella Lyon poem first, and then invite folks to start with the same title/first line: This is where I’m from…

A bit later today, I’ll update this post with my own write in response to the prompt. But let this be your write for today, if you want — and let the writing take you anywhere it seems to want you to go.

Edit, 6:17: Here’s my response to that prompt:

She’s from lost angels, from words nobody can pronounce the way they were originally spoken in Sioux: Niobrara, Nebraska, Ogalalla, Omaha; she’s from flat As and wait, where is that, exactly? She’s from the sort of place that people on the East Coast get mixed up with other places — you were from Oklahoma, NE, right? She laughs at them, strikes up bravado in the face of their ignorance, their lack of caring, their phrases like Flyover Country.

She’s from fried potatoes and bacon and hot coffee and griddle cakes, from turkey and pheasant hunts that even the liberal dads go on, from criks and blufs and fireflies and late May lilacs, she’s from a place no one can put their finger on, from those amber waves of grain that always just looked green or tan-brown when she rode across the tate in the back of Dad’s old orange VW bus.

She’s from Swedish holiday festivals and Indians in the museums with the wolly mammoth fossils and no one talking in Social Studies class about Wounded Knee. We thought Custer was a martyr. She’s from the town Malcolm X was born in, though nobody there ever mentioned it — she didn’t learn his name til she left for college.

She’s from: rhubarb-strawberry pie, cantelope-peach salad, homemade jham with wax sealing the Bell jar top, she’s from light up the faeries and wishing every day for an ocean vista and now every time she sees the water, she thinks how much it looks like the grasses undulating on the prairie, the ones Laura Ingalls ran through. She’s from day dream and Electric Company, homemade yogurt and lunchmeat platters, she’s from people gather in the church basement after a funeral and the same three ladies serve all the food and clean everything up, from bad coffee with lunch, flags waving everywhere, we love our troops, peace vigils at the Catholic church, she’s from long stretches of emptiness inside her parents’ marriage that eventually pulled wide enough to break, so she’s from that shatter, carries fragments in her bones, knows something always about being incomplete.

Thanks for your roots, for your tenderness to them, to the ways you let them hold you as you grow. Thank you for your words.

re-training power

graffiti of the outline of a woman's face, eyes closed, with the word Power above her -- the O is a woman's symbolGood good morning — it’s Memorial Day. Who are you remembering today? How are you remembering them?

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I had so much fun in Sacramento on Saturday at the second Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop! Thanks so much to John Crandall and the Sutterwriters for organizing a beautiful write — we writers all got to do so much laughing together, and got deep into powerful, important, erotic/body/sensual story. I continue to hold images and lines from each writer’s work with me, and I’m so grateful.

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This morning in Puppy Land we are thinking about power and control: the leader of the pack. Sophie is showing some dominant tendencies, especially with other dogs, and this is making me look at how I’m treating her, whether or not she sees me as the alpha or leader.

I have a lot of resistance to this Alpha/Leader of the Pack thing, because I have a lot of issues with control. I feel like crying this morning, because I’m afraid that being Leader of the Pack means that I can’t be affectionate with my dog anymore. This is not true, and my head knows this, but my heart is resistant to change. I want to be the friend, the good mommy, the one who says Good Dog! and gives out treats. I don’t want to ignore her when she acts inappropriately or have to start setting and holding strict guidelines, even though I absolutely understand that this is best for her. I told the Mr this morning, I don’t want to break her puppy energy.

Let’s be honest: This is my own stuff. She’s not a child, she’s a puppy. When she has boundaries and guidelines and is clear about her place in the pack, she will be a happier puppy.

It’s long work, recalibrating my relationship with power.

My old issues with the misuse of power and control don’t have a place here — or rather, my old coping mechanisms don’t: this is when we step up into the triggers and move around and through them. My whole body is tense this morning, my neck and shoulders aching, with this movement, this change. Is it power and control to set boundaries? Is having power and control in a situation necessarily or always a bad thing, or an abusive thing? Intellectually, don’t we know that the answer is “Of course not”? — and still, here’s me, struggling with taking and holding power conscientiously, clearly, unabusively. So I take deep breaths, read over and over about why it’s a good idea to be a leader of your pack, and set my own boundaries (no alpha rolls, no choke collars). I remind myself that it’s ok that I don’t know how to do all of this yet — it’s ok that I don’t already know how to train my dog. We haven’t had to do this before; it’s ok to have to look to experts.

Here’s this voice inside me: I want to do this all correctly — I want her to be ok. I want us to be ok. It’s these moments when I’m working with the pup in the now, and with the teenage girl in me from Then, from when we didn’t have any say in pet training. It takes work to be the adult, and that’s my job. Deep breaths, step forward anyway into this unknown. It’s ok to ask questions, and, too, it’s ok to be in charge.

We’re both, all, training and being trained through this process, about where we fit in our systems, and how to step up into that place.

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What’s your, or your character’s, relationship with power and control, both positive/generative and negative/abusive? Let yourself write about that a bit. You could begin with, “When I’m in charge, I…” or some variation. Notice what situations or feelings arise just when you read that line, and let that inform where your writing starts. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go — let yourself learn more about how you think and feel about power.

Thanks for your bravery, for how you step up to what scares you. Thanks, every day, for your words.

let it wash through

graffiti of dog with wings, by the words "Orasul e al nostru" (Romanian for "the city is ours")

she says, "the city is ours!"

Good Monday morning to you! Right now, I’m in my living room, and just to my left, at my feet, is a 5-month old, hound-lab-mutt mix puppy called Sophie. We found her in the animal shelter up in Mendocino County (a great road trip for us, a less fun road trip for her) on Friday and brought her home to live with us on Saturday — today is our second full day together, this new pack of ours, momma & poppa & Sophie Star. She curls up into a small ball when she’s sleeping, then stretches out wide and long, and is a fireball of energy when she’s awake. She’s quick, smart, and has been making this huge change very easy on us.

What do I want to tell you? I’m exhausted from not sleeping, really, for two nights — there’s a new life in the house, one I’m responsible for now. What sounds will she make? How will she take to her crate? Will she let me know if she needs something? This morning she let me get up and do my morning pages before I opened her kennel and we went out for our walk, just as the sun was about to lighten the sky. It’s 6:42 now — I stayed in bed as long as I could, and got up at 4:23, listened to some tail-thumping coming from the crate, but no whining. We are learning how to be with each other, how to flow with each other’s movements, how to accommodate each other’s needs. Yesterday we went on 5 walks together — in the past, I could go days not taking one walk. The past is finished now. (That, of course, is a tautology, but still…)

And this is the other thing I want to talk about: how scared I am.  Sometimes it’s terrifying to get what you want. I’ve been wanting this–a dog in my life, this addition to our home–for several years. It’s been an ache, a place of real sorrow: I’ve always been a dog girl, checked out dog books from the elementary school library and fantasized about the dogs I would have. It’s been 7 years since I last lived with a dog, and so bringing a dog into the family was something the Mr. and I have talked about and planned for. Once we decided it was time, we moved fast, maybe too fast, but we moved, and now here we are: transformed. Transformation means change, means what was has to end, means growth. And you know: with growth come pains.

What was a quiet, two-of-us house now has another life filling it, watching herself in the mirrors, watching and following us. She requires lots of attention, attention we used to give to other things. For awhile, we won’t be just running out to the farmer’s market, the movies, a friend’s nighttime party — at least, not together. Will we lose each other in this? What will happen to the family that was? How do I learn everything I need to know? What if I’m not a good dog-mom?

And so I’ve been feeling the fear, let it wash through me, paying attention, talking back to it: Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean it’s not the right decision, Jen. Just because it’s work doesn’t mean you made a bad choice. Trusting our instincts is hard work, ever, isn’t it? And then here, in the moments where it looks like maybe everything is going wrong, it’s so easy to listen to the counter-instinctual voices, the ‘editors,’ the saboteurs, who don’t want us to trust our instincts: they don’t want us to have to stretch or risk or be scared.

Here’s the metaphor, for me, to take out into the larger work of life practice: just because I’m scared doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. Isn’t this an ongoing re-membering during the process of relearning to trust our own instincts and judgments? This is a radical self-care thing: listening, paying attention, choosing, and then walking through the internal fire in the aftermath, the firestorm of questioning, of blame, shame and guilt. Keep listening, paying attention, recalibrating, moving forward — that’s the work.

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Anyway, I guess there are a couple of prompts for today; give yourself 15 or 20 minutes, and write about (for you or your character):

1) The first days at home with an animal you loved (what experiences, what smells, what change?), and/or

2) the fear that can arise after you welcome into your life something you’ve been wanting, waiting and working for — what do those fear voices sound like? What do they say? How do you respond?

Thanks for your ferocity in the face of those self-doubts, and the many ways that ferocity manifests. Thanks for your presence. Thanks for your words.

prejudice and rethinking

mural of young woman bunching up huge numbers of calla lilies for marketToday I woke up from a dream about us living in a house here in town, one we haven’t been able to see inside of yet: in the dream, I could see the big, fat calla lily in the front yard. I’ve been having a hard time getting enough sleep, and somehow managed to wake up, get out of bed, when my 2nd alarm went off just after 6. I spend most of the morning spinning about my to-do list, which I am best able to tackle early in the morning. With this day job, I spend the bulk of my best and most creative working hours either getting ready for work or in commute — by the time I get to the office, the yoke of the day has set in.

What would it be like if this were my priority, the workshops, writing about the workshops? Have I told this story already? The person who controlled and sexually abused me/my family from 1982 until 1996, when he went to prison, my mother’s second husband, was a therapist — both he and my mom worked with kids who had been sexually abused. This has meant that I have been suspicious of all therapists — all therapists. Even my sister, now, I ask myself — yes, maybe even her. And this is why, named just this week by my former employer: because of my prejudice. I myself have felt it to be a fully-justified prejudice, but it’s a prejudice nonetheless, a preconceived opinion about every therapist I meet, at least momentarily, that isn’t based in any knowledge about that person. Yes, there are lots of shitty and manipulative therapists — and there are lots of shitty and manipulative and abusive teachers and clerks and computer programmers and… abusers aren’t limited to the realm of the transformative/healing arts.

Let me be gentle with it: this prejudice, like an armor, kept me safe — I needed to question and work to trust anyone who called themselves a therapist; I didn’t want just anyone thinking they could get at my brain. I still don’t. I know what they can do — ok, what some people who call themselves therapists can do with the skills and knowledge they have been entrusted with.

Given this prejudice, what does it mean, then, if I am successful as someone who walks with and witnesses folks through their own transformational processes? You’ll notice I am careful not to use the word therapeutic (which, yes, has medical connotations at the root, but also means, in our current idiom, that which is healing  or helps maintain health): this deep desire not to be one of them. Not to be him.

What does it mean, suddenly, that I can envision myself doing one-with-one work with people around their struggles to find language for their stories, to find words for what wasn’t allowed words, to access their own, individual, brilliantly creative languagings and tellings for the unsayable? Is that part of what feels like it’s crumbling inside?

What does it mean to release a prejudice?

These are the questions that I want to take to school: how is it that we humans are shaped by/created by language — how does that occur? What happens to that languaged self (and how does this happen for people differently in different situations at different ages) when we are traumatized? What happens, neuro-linguistically or psycho-linguistically or socio-linguistically, during an expressive and witnessed/communal writing practice, for folks who have experienced trauma? What’s the connection between our being language and our embodiment? What’s the erotics of a languaged self, an ability to express our desire? I’m desperate to get Lacan and Pennebaker talking, Foucault and Pat Schneider, Carol Queen and Audre Lorde and Saussure and Kristeva and Califia and more.

What about a prompt: A prejudice is any preconcieved notion, positive or negative, formed about a person, place, thing or idea without experiencing them/it directly. What are your character’s prejudices — what does she believe about certain people or places without needing to meet them or go there? Does she know that all liberals are kind to animals, that all people who drive Priuses care about the ocean, that all 7-11 clerks are slackers? What prejudices has she released over the course of her lifetime? How did she come to understand that she had a prejudice, and then decide to let those go? Let yourself meet those inside places that shape her vision, shape how she interacts with the world, even without conscious knowledge.

Thank you for your wisdom, the way you have allowed your experiences to guide you to this now, and the ways you have been resilient around questioning your beliefs and letting new information in, growing and stretching and holding on. Thank you for your dense and thick creativity, for your amazing words.

uprooted

photo of uprooted tree, facing the light brown soil and roots

I want to give you something hopeful today, but I am not feeling hopeful at this moment. Sometimes it’s ok, isn’t it, not to paste on the mask and pretend like everything’s fine. Sometimes we’re not fine, we who have been through hard shit, we who work too much for too little, we who are aching and frightened and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are days like that. Yes, there’s a light there, maybe we’ve lived long enough to know it must be somewhere down there, but right now we’re in the dank middle, and it sucks.

I am at a low point — there are low points that happen every month, low energy points when I am bleeding and releasing, and I find it frustrating that I have to keep on going like everything’s normal during this time in my months, like I’m not releasing a part of my body back to the earth.

And what else am I releasing? A home and a workspace — these spaces, watered, I’ll tell you, with blood and tears and laughter, and now I’m yanking up what tenuous roots had started feeling their way down through the rough calloused edges of me, had started to set, had started just barely to take up home. We’re taking them up again. God forbid there should be a solid grounded home. I don’t sit still long enough to let anything grow, pull up my roots again and again, up from everywhere. My dirt is dangling again and I am tired of always moving around, always running, always carrying my roots over one arm, saying that the next place will be somewhere I can set them to the soil, then running off again before we can truly find out.

I am tired of running. I have been running and running for almost 20 years, and I can’t even tell you exactly what I have been running from, just that something in me is holding its sides now and bent down and crawling, too exhausted to keep going.

What does it mean when that happens? When whatever circles we’ve been running in suddenly close up tight and we run smack into ourselves?

(In finding the image, I can push gently into the hopeful part, looking at that rich soil and humus around the tree’s roots: what life needs to be unearthed in order to have room to breathe and what new growth can emerge from the stuff we’ve been composting, the rich, fecund parts of ourselves we’ve tended even unconsciously?)

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An idea for a write: What do your (or your character’s) roots look like? Can you imagine them eminating from part of your body? Are they long or shallow, slender or thick, many or singular? Do they live in a particular place? Do you want them to live some particular place? How do they feed you? What do they feed you? Give yourself 10 minutes (or more, if you get going) to follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for being here and for reading Thank you for feeling and tending to the roots that are feeding you in preparation for the next part. Thank you for your words.

a loss of familiar and yes to change

one of the small altars in the workshop space, with an image of ganesha, sea shells and stones, dried flowers... and lots of hope

I wanted to talk about transition, how it’s exciting and difficult, simultaneously, in the same brea(d)th. But today the writing is coming hard. There are some times when you know that something big is happening for you underneath all of your surfaces and terrors, under your day-to-day-nesses and the funk of old drama that sits on your shoulders. I am getting ready to move out of two places that have held me and my work and those I love, and that doesn’t necessarily even feel like the biggest transition that this self is undergoing — I mean, I have the sense that more is working it way out from under where I’ve hidden it, where I hid it a long time ago.

Still, all transitions, no matter how small, deserve to be honored; and, too, I think about how I often feel sad during times of change, even if the change is of my calling, even if the change is exactly what I wanted. There’s loss in change, a moving away from what has been, a moving into new. There’s a loss of familiar, a release and a relenquishing.

So I’m thinking right now about what it’s been like to have an office space in downtown San Francisco for the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops. In the summer of 2007, I finally got tired of having to schlep all the workshop materials, all the bits and pieces I’d use to create the space and set the tone for the workshop, all over town to the different spaces I was renting by the hour. I wanted a place that would be devoted to our work, where I could leave all of my materials and where, too, the chairs would stay in the same place: no having to rearrange the room every workshop night. I could set up a small altar space, I could have bookshelves and a small lending library, we could have pictures on the walls. We could have quiet and a solid space to hold our laughter, our rage, our words.

I did not believe that I would be able to afford an office in downtown San Francisco when I first went and looked at spaces there, but we found something that worked — a 350+-sq. ft. office with a partition down the middle, so that there was workshop space on one side and office/snack space on the other, with a sink and great storage space for lots of books. Over the last several years, Fresh! and the workshop participants have helped me to shape the space into something just for Writing Ourselves Whole writers: we found a couch and rug at Ikea, chairs at Uhuru in Oakland, tables at yard sales — now and again I had an excuse to head over to the Ross just across the street, to look for small office things: a tea caddy, for example, was the most recent. Peggy donated an electric teapot to the space, and from a man in the building who was moving to a different space, I got a big desk, coat hanger, cork board, and laser printer. Slowly, organically, the space took on its own shape, felt welcoming and comfortable, and kept within it all the writer’s words — the only groups that ever met in the space have been writing or reading groups.

I decorated with all the postcards that I’d been carrying around with me from space to space — now they could be permanent fixtures. Now they had a home.

In the first year, or just into the second, the space was robbed — when I walked in that night, I saw that the recycling had been overturned, there were papers all over, and little by little, I became aware of what was missing, what had been dug through. I lost a bunch of small items and a lot of confidence; no one could tell me what happened — did I leave the space unlocked? Did someone from maintenance? Whoever it was who ‘broke in’ was likely just walking down the floor, trying all the doors to see which one opened — suite 423 just happened to be the one that night. They took small things that they could sell (that’s become my story), leaving printers behind in favor of a load of small rocks, speakers, the radio-cd player, more…It was supposed to be a workshop night the night that I found that we’d been robbed, and I had to call all the writers and tell them. I felt like all of our space had been violated! One of the writers came on over to the office anyway, to hang out with me, and I’m still so grateful for that. I wasn’t much help to the officer that came down; it had been about a week since I’d been in the space, so I had no idea when the robbery might have occurred.

And that was the ongoing issue: not the robbery or the risk, but the fact that, in between workshops, I wasn’t able to be in the office. I’d created a space that I loved to work in and that was centrally-located and accessible, I couldn’t afford not to have another job in order to keep it — which meant that, over the last several years, I’ve spent remarkably little time there. That’s not what I wanted: I imagined that, eventually, I’d be in the space, working on/with writing ourselves whole full time. I could picture the phone line, more plants, maybe even daytime workshops or one-on-one editing/writing meetings with folks. But that’s not what happened — we’re just not there yet.

Mid-next month, I’ll be officially moving out of this space. I’m not sure where we’ll end up: I’d like something both larger and more economical, with maybe access to a kitchen and bathrooms that don’t require keys. I’m looking forward to the change, to maybe even finding a couple of other workshop facilitators who want to create a space together — and, too, I’m mourning. I’m going to miss that little room, where we’d all be too tight in together during break time if there were more than about five of us in there at a time, bumping elbows, oops, excuse me — and yet, I want to describe for you the miracle of quiet, fierce attention when everyone was writing, and the room filled with taps and scratches, with focus and deep breathing: I’d look up from my own notebook and celebrate what this room, the steel and marble and wood, would continue to hold, even after I cleaned up that night, turned the lights off and checked the lock.

I say thank you to the space every time I leave it — we have created something important together.

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At the beginning of next month, on Feb 5, I’m holding a goodbye worksheet-fundraiser in the space, Writing Transitions. There’s both a morning and an afternoon session — a chance for us to hold gratitude for this space that has held us, and, too, to dive into our own transitions and write into/through some of them. Spaces are beginning to fill, but there are still quite a few openings — I’d love for you to join us!

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A prompt for today: Transition is defined as: passage: the act of passing from one state or place to the next. Sometimes we feel like we’re only supposed to have one sort of feeling about a transition: joy or sorrow. Never both, or more. Jot down some of the transitions you’ve undergone recently (or that your character is moving toward or through) and let yourself choose one to focus on. Take three pages and write into the different feelings you had about that passage. Can you think about what each different emotion tasted or looked like? How is transition similar to transformation? This is just for you — no one else has to see it.

Thank you for your patience with yourself and your processes. Thank you for your powerful words: always.

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.

crime scenes and containers of consciousness

body in gas mask and rubber gloves -- graffitiNote: this morning’s write contains info about my personal sex life, and stuff about incest. Just a heads-up. xox, Jen

I woke up this morning coming.  It keeps repeating in my head, that phrase, those words, over and over. (Maybe I won’t post this, but I still need to write it.  I want to learn to use the computer like I use my notebook, writing without editing, writing just as fast, writing like my heart and life depended on it, writing honest and alongside fear.)

I woke up this morning coming.  I’d been awake not long before that, I think. It was 4:29, realized I could get up if I wanted to, could get up and have even more dark good time here at my writing desk.  But I closed my eyes, also realizing I could sleep more. And what happened then was I woke up with a strange sensation in my body, like something letting lose, something clamping down, something weird.  I didn’t know what it was at first.

I would like to tell you my history with orgasms but it’s an unpleasant one. What I will say is that they’ve grown out of incest, they come up through that soil, even now. Maybe now that earth (and by that I mean my body) is not quite so toxic, orgasms are some levels layers generations removed from the ones I had at 20, those awful tight frantic releases still living inside incest’s –what– its constraints and formations—not like the ones I have now, although still nearly every time I have sex (has there been a time when this hasn’t happened? Do I really get to use that nearly so casually?), I have to wash through some memory, some bodily sense, some understanding of my self, my sexual self, as having been shaped by that time. Maybe I’m reminded by some fantasy that I embedded 20 years ago or more, to save myself. Maybe reminded by an actual memory of him, his physical presence, his face up in my face. Maybe just reminded by my very own smell, the fact of my own body, being, for me, an artifact of incest.  (our bodies being the sites of our trauma, being the crime scenes)

But it’s not like I haven’t had many many (many) consensual orgasms—it’s just that they’re nearly all brought about by my own hand, my agency, my intervention.

So this morning there was the contracting, the restricting, the thing just centralized deep down, no radiating emotion or nerves. That localization is what fooled me: what’s going on? I hadn’t been dreaming about sex. In fact, I’d been having pretty intricate dreams about a couple different groups of friends involved in some sort of criminal activity for which we were now going to be hounded by police—righteous criminal activity, I’m sure—in the last one, at first, I’d thought I’d have to walk home, hundreds of miles, maybe more, then I realized I could take a plane.

I want to say more about the dreams, but they’ve faded, fragmented, shredded enough in my consciousness that I can’t grab them—clouds, you know, like clouds, gone rent in the wind, that high up wind you can’t feel, you can just see its aftereffects

And so this strange early morning orgasm – I realized, maybe partway through (and let’s recognize that it went on, what, some 30 seconds?) what was happening: oh. Oh! And I felt glad, surprised but not shocked, and could sort of just experience it.  Thinking back on it now (though I wasn’t aware of this while it was going on), I was somewhat detached: there was the part of me experiencing these contractions, and the part of me trying to figure out what was going on, and I have a real sense of disconnect about them now, a split. Once I figured out what was going on, I kept on observing for a moment, but then sort of reconnected, came back together, felt my own self.  Felt my whole self. And then I think I slept some more.

The thing is, I don’t come un-manually very often (this is maybe too personal to share – but it feels important to me). I didn’t come with lovers at all for a long time, while my stepfather was still abusing me and after – orgasms were things that I had to do with him.  They were a space of deep dissociation, deep split for me.  A place of just awful disconnect, where I had to both be absolutely be in my body (in order to do this thing, in order to come) and where I worked to be as out of my body as possible (through fantasy, being as fully in some imaginary other people’s experience) at the same time. Coming wasn’t something I wanted to do with my lovers, because I wanted to stay in the room with them.  So I didn’t fake it exactly – I just didn’t do what I had to do to come.  It took a lot of years of reorienting myself, and I don’t want to get into all that here, but what I do want to say is that I did have some self-hate for awhile that the only person I ‘came’ with was the man who was raping me – and so I wanted that to change.

I get it that coming is a physiological process: I get it that it’s kind of mechanical, in terms of this bundle of nerves, stimulated enough, sets off this series of contractions.  I also get it that it’s psychological; our minds are heavily involved. I get it that I have the capacity to come under someone’s ministrations, without having to use my own hands, without doing it myself.  I’ve had that experience maybe five times in my life. It always surprises and sort of unnerves me when it happens, whether it’s in/via a dream or during partner sex. And when it’s with a lover that I experience this non-manual orgasm, this orgasm that I didn’t minister to with my own fingers, that I didn’t have to tend and knead to life (along with help, let’s say, from my lover), I feel proud, out of control, ashamed and dirty, and a great deal of pressure to do it again.  If I could just stop at those first two on the list, maybe it’d be easier to have it happen more often – but the out of control thing is a tough one.  It’s just not something I’m all that happy about in sex.  Being out of control in sex scares the hell out of me, to be honest with you.

So, here’s the sort of erotic writing I’m doing these days – some of the writing I needed to read when I was first coming out as an incest survivor, as someone who wanted to have sex still, have a lot of sex, someone who adored sex-positive folks and who also felt altogether crazy in those communities because those folks just seemed to be having such a good goddamn time all the time and never had any issues with sex, didn’t get triggered or scared or upset—or didn’t talk about how they dealt with those triggers, if they did experience them. And here I was, both sex positive and triggered every single time I had sex.  I find community through books, find shared experience, find a decreased solitude through reading others’ experiences – I wanted to read about other survivors, other people who’d had awful things happen to them via sex, folks who’d found a way through, who’d navigated this stunning(ly) awful road of sex, who’d found ways to survive in their erotic bodies, these crimes scenes that trap us inside and are at the same time the sites of the most extraordinary release, this container of consciousness and joy.

The little orgasm didn’t last that long this morning, a handful of contractions, a sense of awareness and awe that my body had this capacity when there was nothing sexual happening to me: no sex dreams, no nothing (at least that I’m conscious of now). I felt grateful toward my strange body, toward this cunt that really only knows its work, doesn’t know about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ orgasms, just knows about stimulation and response, physiological chains of events. It was a little orgasm, as my orgasms go, and was, too, quite percussive, rippling in its impact. I’m still feeling its aftereffects, still a bit electrified, still grateful and here.