Tag Archives: workshop write

She held out the song of the long view

Good morning! How is the sun peeling through the night’s succor where you are? Did you celebrate the Summer Solstice this weekend? Have you noticed that the days are shorter now?

This weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in A Festival of Writing, sponsored by AWA West and the Pacific School of Religion (Pat and Peter Schneider’s alma mater). I facilitated two writing sessions (one focused on writing about sex, and the other a general topic writing session, like Writing the Flood). What a gift it was to spend a day connecting with new writers and my AWA community here in the greater Bay Area. At the end of the day, we got to gather with Pat (via the wonders of technology), who shared with us about the seasons of a writer’s life and read from her new book How the Light Gets In: Writing As A Spiritual Practice.

In the second writing session, I started us off with a collection of images that I scattered over the table; we each chose an image or two, and wrote from those. The image that spoke to me was one that showed a bird flying over barbed wire, and this was the writing that came from the prompt:

She was the bird who called to us. She was the hoarse angel, she was the chemical peel,she was the undeviled thing, the pickling spice, the debonair lounge of legs. She wrote us around the corner and asked us to find names for all our calipers and rusted bolts, the parts jostling and broken. For the places where we had come undone, she strung twine through the body of a needle and knitted our wounds while we ached into the absence of memory. She untaped our memory from its hiding places. She tapped around our bodies, listening for the hollow places, and it was there that she began to puncture and crease, pushing her nails into the thin membrane of our security, waiting for the sorrow in us to be revealed. She strung us over, called to us from beyond the points of the barbed wire that kept us hemmed in, that we had strung around ourselves, that we tightened and reknotted every year, weeping and weeping about our confinement. She hovered above us, she called in sharp songs and pierced anguish, she fed us back what we had practiced ignoring.

We thought our lives were complete, that recovery had an end date, that locked jaws and noses to the grindstone were the same as serenity, that slivers of joy were all we could hope to have shiver our bodies awake, and those only to surprise us every so often. She held out the song of the long view — she whisked her wings before us and revealed plains of cavernous pleasure, faces pumaced with laughter, days, weeks, even, in which our spirits would not be pockmarked by history, stretches of time in which we would not only live within the carapace of loss. And when we reached for those possibilities, she trapped our wrists in sharp taloned grasp, she favored us with her ashen gaze, she said: There is no easy way to this place I have shown you — my beautiful, you have to go through.

And in her broad brown wings, we saw the years of rage and sorrow, we saw the tears crease down our cheeks, we saw ourselves remembering what we had trained ourselves to forget. Our bodies went limp with terror, or our bodies stiffened, every tendon taught: we did not want to walk this way. We had survived; wasn’t that enough? But her body clothed itself in the finery of joy before us, and though we didn’t know enough to say, We want what you have, still we felt something enter our bones: the only way through the history is to remember and move forward anyway.

So we went through, and little by little, one tender and broken and strong step at a time, we felt the pinfeathers pierce our shoulders, we felt our own wings begin to reemerge.

Let your hunger take its own path

The second prompt I offered to last night’s Write Whole writers was to scatter over the carpet a selection of images that were erotic, sensual, sensuous — and while the writers examined them, I shared the following two quotes:

I believe in the erotic and I believe in it as an enlightening force within our lives as women. I have become clearer about the distinctions between the erotic and other apparently similar forces. We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change.Audre Lorde

Truly, we know that we cannot really subsist on little sips of life. The wild force in a woman’s soul demands that she have access to it all. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

This was my response to the prompt:

There is a dog barking in another room. The sun is setting and the birds have abandoned the body of her longing. She feels around in the places where hunger careened through her and she hears echoes of old want like a faint and remembered percolation. She knows desire will blossom her body again, burst her forward, fill her with power. Today she is fitted with a different direction for those energies. She sits in an empty field, surrounded by cowsong, and the scent of the sea settles in her pores. She lives into the endbloom of the sun, the rustle of live oak leaves, the butterfly making its yellow way from wildflower to wildflower. Someone said, Let your hunger take its own path. She doesn’t need distance but she does need space. She unfolds her sex in a red handkerchief, lays it brown on the new grass, she examines the old scars and the places that never healed right. She touches with gentle fingers, offers this extravagant plainness up to the breeze. She is surrounded by farm animals: cow, sheep, goat — each one puffs her with the heat of its forgiveness. Each one walks away slow and indifferent, leaving her just another creature. She takes toll, she whispers and weeps, she wants more. She doesn’t see what might have been — that doesn’t live in her anymore.

Overhead, the sky is dark blue, the clouds wisp hazy into fog. Hers is a longing of emergence. Her hunger is utilitarian: scratched at the ankles and mosquito-bitten. Her desire fits folded into your back pocket, wipes sweat from your forehead, eats its fill at dinner, sits quiet with a book and candle once the supper’s been cleared. Yes, there will be eruptions, that grasping that pulls now out of a lover’s mouth — but she rests easy with patience when the urgency isn’t singeing her throat: It’s ok, the body says. Replenishment takes its own time. Need will push you to full-lipped and grunting again soon enough. For now, sit back in your rocking chair. Open up the space that will get filled up between you. Allow an absence that can tether itself to want. Practice holding Yes in your mouth again: you don’t have to say it or swallow — you can just let it rest on your tongue. This patience is an old road. The hollows are the trust where your skin begins. The old names can slough away along with your carapace of fear. You can let your soft belly be its own embrace. You can encompass a stronger beauty. You can believe in the ache that sorrows at the corners of your eyes, and you can weep for this strange dance you tango with your sex.

The body rubs itself into a ball, bears its back to the world, creates a shallow where plenty can begin to pool again. She reads poems and the oldest stories while she waits for the body’s rebuilding. She drinks tea and feeds herself slices of morning. She holds tight to the nourishing quiet within her, trusting the nebula in formation, trusting all that she’s learned about the regeneration of her own swollen stars.

our own definition of enough

Last night I offered Monica McIntyre’s song “Like A Lover” as a prompt to the Write Whole writers — if you haven’t met this woman’s amazing music, I invite you to do so now. Anyway, after rambling a bit in the notebook, this is what I dropped down into:

The singer says, “like a lover” – how would we talk to, treat ourselves, if we acted like our own lovers? What would it look like if we attended so deeply and gently and assiduously to our needs and desires? Drop in – I say into my own heart: I need space and deep quiet for my morning writing time. I say into my own heart: I am gladdest when I have spent some time every day with my fingers in soil, and in the preparation of food. I say into my heart: my body is all right. She is whole and strong, round just where she needs, and with a true a tremendous capacity for delight. I say into my own skin: you are whole. I say into my belly: you deserve to unknot. I say into my arms: you deserve to hold what keeps you whole. I say in-between my ears: you deserve space to unravel and meander. You deserve to weep and sing. You deserve the exhaustion of deep release. You deserve to come to conclusions, re-think, reconsider, change, unknow, decide for sure, and then do it all over again. You deserve to turn off the noise. You deserve poems that sing you awake. You deserve not to keep up with the Joneses. You deserve your own definition of enough.

I say into my self: You deserve to trust what you know about your own heart. You deserve the exact sort of pleasure your body prefers. You deserve to know what it’s like to be surprised by orgasm. You deserve as many orgasms as you want, no matter how long they take. You deserve to own the life you’ve crafted for yourself. You deserve to have survived. You deserve to treat yourself with the generosity and spaciousness you offer others. You deserve to know peace. You deserve to sleep well. You deserve to ask for what you want most even when you can’t figure away all by yourself to make it happen – you deserve to release that ask into a space where someone or something has resources greater than your single strong will and your single curious mind, and can come up with ideas you never could have imagined. You deserve to live in a state of curiosity and wonder. You deserve to live unafraid. You deserve to trust that he will never come after you. You deserve to know how to protect yourself. You deserve to trust that your beloved’s admiration is not clean enough for a demand, but simply a clarity of feeling: a delight and wonder at your precise you-ness.

You deserve to hold onto a thread of belief that this world can change, that one day all children will sleep safe in their beds, secure and well-fed and loved and treated with clean kindness and good boundaries that they can trust every day of their lives. You are not naive for believing this. Your belief – along with others’ – holds open the space and possibility for this transformation, even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Especially in the face of all this evidence. You deserve to believe that we can all be free –

always more possible like this

list photo 051314At last night’s Write Whole meeting, I invited the gathered writers to create two lists, one titled, “This is what my body knew,” and the other titled “This is what my body didn’t know.”

Over there to the left is what my list looked like.

And down here below is what I wrote (all the way at the bottom is what it sounded like):

You do not teach a body this thing, the ability to uncouple itself from its own awareness, the capacity to wrench apart from knowing like a rusty bolt tears away from a wall, following the pull of gravity. This ability can only be discovered. He puts her beside him on an afternoon bed and he has already insisted that she shape her teenage mouth around words that look like Yes.

This is the spoken sentence you would diagram the next day in class: Yes, we can go upstairs.

This is the underlying meaning you would tease out in your essay: Yes, you can remove my clothes and make my body respond to your actions.

This is the meaning so deeply encoded in the sentence, so clogged and clotted in the throat, so wholly without meaning, that any analysis of the spoken sentence would miss it altogether: No, don’t touch me. No, I hate you. No, please leave me alone. I let you do this yesterday why won’t you leave me alone? If I let you do it today you’ll stop bothering me. No I don’t want to No I don’t want to No I want you to die –

These words bubble in the throat and under the skin          these words become the wings of small tree birds caught in a windstorm          these unspoken sentences clog around the throat          tear up through the brain          lift off the top of the head          rise up to the ceiling          these words escape from their locked dungeon          these words make themselves palpable          they latch their claws into consciousness and pull hard as they fly          they rend the singularity he expects her to pretend she is made of          but as soon as he ignores her shaking her head or her tensed muscles or held-together thighs or flailing arms or whispered no or shouted no or wept no or invisible no          she splinters          she erupts into at least two selves          the belly of her sinks deep into midbrain          dives into the holy darkness          goes supernova          explodes          she is lit with new terrain          she was always more possible like this          she lies fingers down beneath fragments of his body          she peels him apart to discover what pieces of his strata still hold the words she was forced to say          where in his nebulae does her unwilling yes still appear?          where in the dust of his destruction exists the shapes of her pretense?          she is not the only animal with the capacity for unsolvability          when he reached into the pockets of his being and pulled out the self that was willing to bend her backward into unselfness, how could he be anything but an empty star, a dead planet, a rock floating          dense and heavy           at the center of her universe? What light left his eyes when he put his fingers in her mouth? What consciousness willingly takes itself apart, hangs its soul on a hook, so its catatonic body can go wilding? What warmth does his body gain my wringing no out of her tongue and painting that good muscle false yellow with yes?

She erupts nuclear beneath his malevolence          she becomes the unreckonable force          no and yes are forever intertwined in the explosion          there is no distance her innumerable consciousness cannot contain now           he will never be able to hold her again

no one else can understand why you’re crying

At yesterday’s Write Whole meeting, I offered this Sarah Kay poem as one of our prompts (the video is 18 minutes long, but we just used the poem she performed at the very beginning to spark our writing). Then, after the group left last night, I sat down and made a short recording of my response to this poem — this is what it sounds like in the writing group after we’ve written together: we read our words to one another straight out of our notebooks, and then allow others to witness our words, sharing what they heard us say, what stayed with them about our writing. Here is what I wrote:

(Consider using either video as your own prompts today — what stays with you? What sparks a response in your body? Where do your own words want to begin?)

the responsibility of the writer to say yes

Monday was our first meeting of this spring’s Write Whole: Survivors Write group. For the second of our writes that night, I offered a series of three sentences/fragments — the idea is to choose one (or let one choose you), and let your writing flow in response. Here were the prompts:

When was the last time I told my story?
It is the responsibility of the writer to…
I don’t want to write about…

I used the second of those for my own writing; that fragment was inspired by Grace Paley’s poem “Responsibility.” Here’s what I wrote:

It is the responsibility of the writer to tell it like it is, to tell truths that make no sense, to make poetry out of contradiction, to find the laughter in what cut us to the bone. It is the responsibility of the writer to name the bone and the knife, to put a name to every finger and give the voice of the blood released, it is the responsibility of the writer to talk in metaphor and juxtaposition, to define the bumblebee curl for the masses, to tell about what lies beneath the pretty stones and responsible stories of our history. It is the responsibility of the writer to turn up the stones, to peel back the painted-over walls, to unlock the closets, to look beneath the bed, to translate the unwritten rules, to describe how silence feels when it gets wrapped around you at night, to ask “what happened then?” It’s the responsibility of the writer to follow her own words, to write what wants to be written — even if it’s not what someone else wants her to write: family or community or lovers or friends or comrades in the struggle: what happens if she lets no one dictate the direction of her pen?

It is the responsibility of the writer to wander and imagine, to daydream and fictionalize, to hold open uninterrupted hours with his dictionary, to make up words and re-visualize details. It is the responsibility of the writer to go deeper, to play dress-up, to go everywhere someone tells them they’re not supposed to go. It is the responsibility of the writer to contradict their own truths, to find a third way, to evangelize and desecrate. It is the responsibility of the writer to tell their own story, and then tell the story underneath that story, and then create poems for the story beneath that — to take all day trying to find just the right way to describe that particular blue, the quiet and specific blue of his eyes or his shirt or the sky on the day, on the first day or the third day or the last.

It is the responsibility of the community to give the writers the space and resources to accomplish this wild and peculiar labor; it is the responsibility of the community to offer bread and notebooks and money, to — well, if not always welcome these words, then at least to welcome their spirit. It is the responsibility of the writer to say yes to their improbable creative vision, to grab hold of its great black mane, and give over to this earthly ride. It’s the responsibility of the writer to feed herself — words and water and protein, all manner of nourishment. It is the responsibility of the writer to deviate from sanity, but to keep hold of a lifeline back into the mind that is her right. It is the responsibility of the writer to sing with brown sparrows and canaries, to climb fences with squirrels, to prowl the night with alley cats, to circle hot and high with hawks, to run roughshod over city streets, to bring asphalt-stained memory to the page and offer that terrible, necessary song out to her world.

dreams and driving and springtime

We are far too busy
to be starkly simple in passion.
We will never dream the intense
wet spring lust of the toads.
– from “Toad dreams,” by Marge Piercy

In my dream, I am preparing for a workshop in an unfamiliar space — I’d been planning to move the group to another place, my office or something, but then I woke up from a nap and the group was meant to begin in under an hour, so I had no choice but to set up where I was — and anyway, that’s where the people were coming to; I’d never mentioned to anyway that I might move to another location; how would they know where to find the group if I moved? So I clean up, set up snacks, and put the poems and other handouts down on the writer’s chairs. Then I go downstairs to wait for folks to arrive — down into a warehouse space, filled with boxes. It’s a small group, only four or five people. One man arrives, and he says he’s changed his mind, thanks anyway, but he doesn’t think he’ll be joining the group. Someone else hears him and tags along out of the warehouse back into the night. I wonder if I’ll have enough people to write with, whether I’ll have to cancel the group after all.

The next Write Whole series begins this evening — I’m not surprised that I’m having this sort of anxiety dream. These are the concerns of facilitators: do we have the space set up right? Are folks going to join us? Will what we offer be enough to keep people in the room?

This morning the sky is a clear pastel baby blue and the birds are shouting their morning songs above and around the kids shouting in the playground a block away and the morning traffic rising like rush of tide. The dog fits herself into the splotches of sun on the deck. I put on a jacket over my pajamas and go out to write on the deck. This morning I am thinking about the choices I have made in my life to bring me to this place — a writing place, a life with space in it for percolation, growth, surprise, creative expansion, a life with room to stretch. I don’t have a career per se — no big paycheck, true, but also no big commitments: I have been told that the latter tends to follow the former pretty swiftly. This morning the garden is bright orange and red beneath me, the garden shoes lined up at the back door, the gloves dirty and cobwebbed (that’s how often I use them) hanging over the railing.

On Saturday I wrote with a beautiful group of folks at this month’s Writing the Flood — we gathered with sourdough sweet potato bread for words and sharing and more words. For our first prompt, I offered the poem “Renewal,” by Jeffry Harrison, a poem about the DMV, about driving and freedom, and about connecting with the people around you. Here was my response to the prompt:

I want to give you what I’ve got today. I can’t remember if this happened before or after she kissed me and I’d kissed her back, whether this ride was a part of our courting or the blossoming into desire that we let ourselves into after that, but I remember that it was summer in New Hampshire, so it must have been after. All the car windows were open in her godawful excellent Suburban, that tan and white behemoth she piloted through the streets of our tiny college town like a boat she was navigating through a no-wake zone — once we broke free of the city limits and hit the open back roads, she’d hit the gas like opening the throttle and we were free. The fields were all deep summer corn and queen anne’s lace, the sun that shallow bright, the sky an enormous blue, and I leaned my head out her window like a dog, my long hair flying all around my face.

I wasn’t supposed to be there with the smell of new cut grass and pastureland and musk coating my face. I wasn’t supposed to be with her, to be out of reach of the phone in my tiny single dorm room, be anywhere my stepfather couldn’t reach me. Later, when I went home the following quarter, I would admit to the affair, to my desire, and have it used against me like a knife — but I would tell no one about how we road in that giant truck like we mattered, listening to her worn-out Two Nice Girls tape, me without even my license yet, vibrating with hunger and terror — I can’t remember if I thought it was just a momentary escape from the true webbing of my reality or if I saw a glimmer of what my life could really be like if I could get away from him. But get away from him wasn’t a part of my vocabulary yet then. All car rides ended eventually, and led right back to his front door.


What was it in me that expected and wanted to live?

dancing is the solution

Good morning this Wednesday morning. How is your heart today? What is the light doing with the edge of your teacup, with your mirror, with your windowpane? How are the words finding you? This morning I was up early, 3:30 and the body said, Ready? Let’s go. I had almost two hours with the candle and the notebooks before the light came. That’s some heart-feeding time there.

But don’t I always go back to the same places? The dreary trauma, the swollen girl lost and locked inside? Isn’t there more to that child? Where else can I find in that girl to fall into? What about the endeavorer, the explorer? Talk back to the girl who spent a lifetime listening to birds, harvesting sourgrass to eat, investigating every backyard, gulley and alleyway — what constitutes her humanity now? How did her curiosity survive all that he put her through? The only way I can think is to keep writing. But these bones aren’t mine anymore.

I investigate the shadows, pulling that husk out from under the body of a man who never belonged on top of her. And she had — I would tell you, it would be easy to tell you that she had by then shut her eyes to sweetness, but the truth is harder than that. The truth is she didn’t give up hope, and she eventually released all possibility of a future. How does a person learn to do that at the same time? The flowers that lived insider her had all gone to seed, gone dormant — this is why she was waiting for tomorrow. Someday — not soon, she thought, but someday — there would be a place to plant again.

Rachel Naomi Remen talks about plants forming spores when the conditions aren’t habitable for their nurturance, their growth. She says people do this, too, but we forget to peek out of our shells, our carbon containers, the tight nub our hearts become — we forget to peek out to see if things have gotten better. We remain spored, tightly bound up, protected. Plants know that spore is meant to be temporary.

Who was that girl who turned up the music and danced alone and wild, fully in her body, when she thought her stepfather wasn’t there to see? Who was that girl with so much audacity, so much life? He caught her dancing, shamed her even as he couldn’t hide his arousal. What he took from her body after couldn’t touch what had been dancing.

How frustrated her stepfather must have been with that young woman’s temerity — thinking she deserved joy. What I’m trying to get underneath is this: What was it in me that expected (and wanted) to live?

(Could this be a prompt for today? Give yourself twenty minutes, write all the way in: what was it in her, in him, in you, in me, in us that wants and expects to live? Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.)

All the gratitude today. Thanks for your words.


just once before I die I would like to know I’ve flown free

The prompt I offered at one of our last Write Whole sessions was “things we aren’t supposed to talk about.” (You can make a list of those things, if you want, or simply dive into the first thing that comes up for you when you hear that phrase); we wrote for twenty minutes.

Here’s what I wrote:

I am afraid of dying. I am still afraid of dying. It has been twenty years since last he put his hands on me, he has been in prison for seventeen years, and still something in me remains stalled. 

I’ve had friends who don’t want to hear that I am still afraid of my stepfather killing me, that I bear the steel-rod terror still along my spine and through my shoulders that one day he will be released or escape from jail, come and find me and do, finally, what he promised so many years ago, when I first tried to get him to stop what he was doing to me, when I tried to stop the “sexual part of our relationship,” as he liked for me to call it. How had we gotten into the conversation, my friend and I? I said I was afraid I would freeze if I ever opened the door to find my stepfather standing there. My friend was aghast – and though he didn’t try to be, was profoundly shaming. He wanted a different response from me, and so I gave him one: I stopped talking about it. His telling me that I should remember that I am not the 19 or 23 or 21 year old I was when he last threatened me didn’t help. His grimace of feminist disappointment didn’t help.

I remembered – this is my fear to carry alone.

And it’s a site of shame – of course I know I should let it go. I know I shouldn’t believe one more of his lies. Where is this going? Last month, a friend dies at 50 with      yes      so much more of his life left to head and yet a gorgeous legacy of work and craft and community – and, at 41, I feel like I am still in limbo, still waiting for this man to die before I can truly open up the spigot of my heart, still sure that anyone I open my heart to will get killed as well, still afraid that any ambitions I pursue or life I build will be precisely what he will take delight in tearing away from me, burning in front of me. Torturing me until I relinquish. This was always his way. Why would twenty years make any different to a sociopath?

And so I try to remember to breathe, how to breathe, try to remember that, if he’s going to kill me, it probably won’t be today – and today I have some of my own beautiful and free life to live. I want to understand how to rid my body, my hard-grasping psyche, of this terror. I want to know how to communicate freedom and safety to my body, I want to know how to love freely into this life, how to stop mourning my inability to heal faster than I have. Maybe it all comes down to breath.

It seems true that I am not supposed to talk about the way this terror still lines my shoes, lives beneath my knees, behind my eyes; no, I no longer wait for him to come through a window. No, the place where this terror lives is inside my bones now. It stops up my reaching, my wingspan. Just once before I die I would like to know I’ve flown free.

tea kettle wisdom

Sometimes when we write into the absolutely ordinary we find some surprises.

One of the prompts I gave at the last Writing the Flood prompt was to make a list of very common household items, and then I read the poem “Towels.” We let an item from our list choose us (my list included: toothbrush, towels, old shoes, coffee cup, pillow, tea kettle, bird feeder…) and then we wrote for about 10 minutes. This is what came for me:

The tea kettle is all stain and whistle, occupying a permanence in the finite space on top of the stove. You bought it years ago, with an old lover, when the relationship was new – then, just out of the box, the kettle was all stainless shine, reflected what was fresh and possible between you wen you set it atop the angled burner in the tiny kitchen of the first apartment you shared.

It did its part – holding a boil, calling the alarm – and over the years that shiny surface got sludged with grease spatters and then began to rust. You waited for the day when the bottom would drop out. You didn’t understand that the kettle was what would come with you to the next apartment, instead of the lover. You took harvest and haven in its stained heft, occupying space on the stove top, steady and volatile. At least the kettle would stop screaming when you removed the flame.

Turn on the gas, put a teabag in the handmade mug, light a candle, and wait – this was your morning ritual. This was your meditation, your centering. No lover or love’s lack could threaten that particular dark serenity, the space that emerged around you in he earliest hours when everything in the world was asleep except for those two flames – even your hand, trying to remember how to hold a pen and make it make words on a blank page, seemed still to be pulling from sleep. The low rise of that whistle called you to your feet, demanded attention. Tea kettle like wailing infant, tea kettle like wise refrain, tea kettle that morning coda: stop the screaming, fold hands over handle, bury the tea in the boil, release that day’s scent into the room.

The kettle isn’t needed – you can boil water in a pot if you have to – so it becomes a small luxury for you who have relinquished your hold on such possibility. You put your hands around what’s too hot, and you wait.

Make your own list of everyday objects, and choose one to write about today. Give yourself at least 10 minutes — 15 if you’re really going — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for all the ways you find beauty in the ordinary and the everyday. Thank you for your words yesterday, this weekend, and today.