Tag Archives: WriOursWhoMo

the gift of a quiet morning

I am outside on a back deck in Oakland, listening to the morning sounds: the suctiony bark of the crow, the meandering and variegated warble of the mockingbird, the the tidal rush of traffic from the highway a few blocks away, the barking dogs, the gas-powered lawn trimmers and leaf blowers — the kids are on spring break this week, so the schoolyard is quiet: no bells to announce when to pass to the next period, no shouts and screams, no corrugated rise and fall counting through sets of exercises. The sun is warm, the breeze cool, the construction finished on the road out front of the house, and I have a little green tea in a “women unlimited” mug, a slice of sourdough banana bread, and an hour before my first appointment. I stayed up late working on an editing project for WritersCorps, and so slept in, am only just getting to the writing now when the sun is  more than a quarter of the way through her day’s arc — I dreamed through all the good fertile dark time.

The first thing I did this morning was to walk through my little garden in my pajamas and my bare feet. What a deep pleasure this is, to have dirt on the toes while still wiping the remnants of dreams from my eyes. I watered a little bit, checked in on all the flowers, patched up a watermelon mound that the puppy had clomped through, and ensured that none of the bush bean seeds were trying to escape from their little hillocks. The puppy fled to the porch so as to avoid getting sprayed by the hose, and from there surveyed her dew-damp kingdom, ensuring that all was well. As I watered, I was draped with the scents of alyssum, blowsy rose, and nasturtium — the jasmine was quiet this morning. I pulled some snails off my nasturtium and strawberries: the snails and I are going to be enemies. Sometimes it’s good to have an enemy you can see, and lift up in one hand, and toss into the compost bin.

What a gift, to have a quiet morning, to let the body rise when it’s ready, to let the words come as they rise, to sit in the middle of this thing that is life and understand that I am not outside of anything — I am welcome.

There’s work to be done: editing and writing, more planting, phone calls and manuscript response. I listen to the deep inside parts of me that want sunshine and birdsong threaded through them. I check the tomato plants to see if they need watering yet. I read again about how to make liquid fertilizer from grass clippings. I sit with the feeling of exposure that rises after I have written and shared something honest after I have had deep and intimate communion with friends. There are bees in the orange blossoms, and I look for them in the apple tree, bright yellow against the blush of pink on white. Gossamer spider web threads reach from the porch out to branches, clothesline. The birds get quiet and I settle, too. This is my meditation. This is my knowing.

The heart doesn’t abide any answers. Yesterday I spent an hour looking through clover patches, searching for one clover with four leaves. I am ready, I think to the clover gods: you can send one to me. I’ve been thinking this at the clover gods for some months, with no response. While searching, the puppy got to play fetch (just a little, as her foot is still healing from a cut she got last week) and got to roll around in the park grass. No matter how much I want to find that good-luck charm, I am never disappointed for the looking — I never feel the time spent fingering through clover is wasted. That’s the only way to find a four-leaf clover, anyway: to look for one. To keep your eyes open, and to believe that they’re out there to find.

femmelove: you can only carry yourself with your own fierce grace

medium_MissTic3One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
The owl, calling in the setting of the sun
and the deer path, all erased.
– from “One Day,” by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Good morning good morning. I’ve been up since 4, seeing my sweetheart and her boy off on an adventure. The song sparrows found the sun long before the light crested the edges of the hills. I woke up tender this morning, struggling with old resentments, struggling with how long it can take to release myself from blame, shame, and guilt, struggling with how easy it is for me to get called back into shaming myself for old ways of being, for not growing or healing faster than I could.

I got a communication from my ex last night and it’s got my hackles all up. Never mind that it’s a straightforward question, nothing overtly hostile or shitty. He never was overtly hostile or shitty — just passive aggressive and ostensibly clueless. We rarely communicate because he asked that we have no contact, and then proceeds to contact me whenever he feels he needs to. So it is that I continue to erupt with feeling whenever I see his name in my inbox or on my text messages: old resentment, directed toward him, sure, but more directed toward me and the self I was when we got together, the self I was throughout most of our relationship. I want to have done things differently from the beginning. I want not to have needed as much time as I needed in order to finally stand up for myself and walk away.

What do we do with big anger, with the old resentments, with the heat of disappointment and shame that still sits in the body? What to do with the who I was when I was with him, who I allowed myself to delove — I mean, devolve — into? How it is that I came to the place in my life that I could say: He promised to change; I should give him another chance. How did I become a person who’d use language like that? How do we tend to the wounds of those we love without becoming wounds ourself, without believing that we are saviors, without capitulating to the lover’s siren song, the one that says, Please fix me. You’re the only one who can.

Never trust that song. It is a lie. It is the song of a wounded animal, the song of a wounded child who only wants someone to pick them up and love them well and treat them like a beloved thing in the eyes of the sun. It is a powerful thing to have someone turn the sun’s eyes on you, to have someone tell you that you are the only and one best thing that can save them — you are the only one who understands — you are the only one who can kiss it and make it better. But you are not their parent. I was not his mother. My job was never to be his mother. My job was never to contort myself so that someone else be more comfortable in the world. And still I put that task on my shoulders because I wanted to be a good femme.

I tried to reach for comfort inside the context of his disassembly: he could have have put the pillows and a blanket on the floor and said to me, If you want to be a good ally to me, you’ll sleep there. I would have. I wanted him to know that I was a safe space, that I got it. I knew that he had suffered, and I could make it better. Wasn’t that what I’d learned from Stone Butch Blues? A femme’s job is to stand by her man, hold all the secrets, and suffer in silence.

So, when the old rage and resentments flare, I rant a little, and then I check in with myself: What’d I need to learn from this relationship?

How to hold my own boundaries as sacrosanct. How to listen to the no that rises up in me like wildfire. How to trust that every other person has their own higher power, their own resources and capacity to take care of themselves, to trust that I was not put on the earth to make sure that any other adult is reparented well or gendered appropriately.

The thing I want to talk about is wounded butches and rescuer femmes. I kneel down into the bed of my psyche, push in tender fingers and pull at that woven bed of matted, invasive root structures: I do not exist to ensure that anyone else’s life is worth living. I cannot not be the mother you did not have. You could not be the father I did not have. I am not your perfect femme, the one who turns herself out to make sure the world sees you as you wish to be seen. Of course, he would say he did not ask for this — and he didn’t. I asked it of myself. This is the mire I get stuck within. My job was to fold myself in such a way that he could rise up and over. Do you see? Let me be the visible dizzy girl when we are out in the world together, so that the world will see you as that girl’s man. The world is looking for that girl to have a man. Never mind that I didn’t want a hero. Never mind that I didn’t want a man. I wanted a lover and compatriot. I wanted a friend and companion. And oh, I wanted to be the best ally. I wanted to be the hero. Yes, of course. A big sister who has failed her little sister wants to hero something successfully, and I tried to hero my ex-wife (when I wasn’t asking that she hero me), and then I tried to be the best hero femme for your tender angry scared wounded butch.

Where is the conversation about how we hold each other up and also demand that each of us gets the support we need outside the relationship? That’s not the question I want to ask. Where was the femme community telling me I didn’t have to be the good femme, I didn’t have to be the Leslie Feinberg tragic heroine suffering in silence at the kitchen table with a tumbler of whisky while my lover recuperated in the other room after yet another tortured encounter with the heterosexist, transphobic, racist, classist outside world?

If you are a femme asking these questions yourself, I want to tell you that you don’t have to be that silent sufferer. You don’t have to be the carrier of all the secrets. You are more than just the body that displays someone else’s masculinity and manhood. You are more than the quiet and slight that someone else can be big and loud in opposition to. You are more than her femme or his femme or their femme: You are more than a possessive or a thing possessed. You are more than your guilt or shame or sorrow. You cannot fix someone else’s woundings by making yourself small. You cannot fix someone else’s woundings at all. You can only carry yourself with your own fierce grace. You can only follow the tender violet callings of your own broken open heart. Yes, if you are a lover of butches, you will watch them get hurt in the world — but it is not their right to demand that you make everything better (even if they are not aware that they are making that demand). Your love will not change the world. Your love will not change them. Only they can change themselves. Listen to them tell you they will change — once. After that, pay attention to what they do, rather than what they say. Find femme support and listen to the innerest voice of your heart and your gut. Your instincts don’t lie to you, even when you don’t want to hear what they have to say. It took that relationship to teach me that I could trust my instincts. I wish I could have learned that lesson differently, and yet I am grateful that I learned it as soon as I did.

A life that has new languages in it

the swallowed grain
takes you through the dreams
of another night,
the deer meat becomes hands
strong enough to work.
– from “Inside,” by Linda Hogan

Outside the birds are already waking up, even though the sun isn’t up yet. My body is sore from a weekend working in the garden — we  got ourselves connected and grounded and rooted over these long, warm days.

Write in the notebook, take care of the dog, get the day’s bread ready, work in the garden, be with the child. How is this not the work we’re supposed to be doing? All the rest is about making money to pay rent. All the rest is about living under capitalism.

When I work in the garden, I think about writing. I dig in this Oakland dirt and listen to the neighborhood kids play. I listen to the neighbor’s radios, their laughter and shouts. I listen to the dogs at other houses barking and playing. I listen to the birds playing deep in the middle of the trees. I watch the neighborhood squirrel as she peeks up over the top of the fence, waggling body and tail, waiting to see if the puppy’s going to run after her. I listen for bees, to see if they’re coming back. I listen for hummingbirds and hawks. I churn up the soil with the pitchfork and then I kneel down into the garden beds and dig my hands into ever clod of turned dirt, shaking out the roots of weeds before I toss the weeds into the compost bin. I make a rhythm out of it: push forward, hands under the cover of a blanket of earth, finger into the netting of weeds, pull back, break up the soil, shake loose the root system, clear out the bed. Back and forth.

On the porch, my sweetheart rests her eyes while listening to the Giants game on the radio, and I remember my father ‘watching’ baseball while he stretched out on the couch, taking a nap. Everything comes around again.

I listen to Erykah Badu, Raphael Saadiq, India.Arie while I plant the first part of this year’s garden: red onions, lettuce, zucchini, bush beans, snap peas, tomatoes, basil, eggplant, jalapeno, yarrow, gerber daises, dahlia, delphinium, calendula, butterfly weed — one bed I seeded only with red clover, to help the soil (and for the lovely flowers); we’ll turn that over later in the season if we want to plant more. I put in creeping thyme and a couple of other groundcovers around the stone path in the yard. Still to get in are a couple more flowers, watermelon and blueberries — I need to go collect some pine leaf mould to fold into the planting mixture for that last. I read this weekend about making our own fertilizer teas from grass clippings or seaweed, and thought about how to use what we already have to tend what we are growing.

And then, too, I baked: two more sourdoughs, and I’ve got the starter back out of the fridge now and working on the counter so that I can try and get it going with more local wild yeasts. The sourdough bread I’m making is tasty — round boules with a good crust and tight crumb, perfect for sandwiches and french toast — but not sour, so I’m playing around more with it. I talk with a man at my church who spent eight years baking at Esalen; he tells me about volume, and about practice.

What do I want to say about all of this?  I feel so grateful to get to do different work with my hands. This weekend, that work looked like gardening and breadwork and holding a child and holding my love. My hands remember that they are capable of sacred work. Then, this typing can begin again to feel sacred, too — less like a chore and more like pleasure. There’s something I’m trying to figure out how to explain, how to articulate — what it feels like in me to give over to the rhythm of an intimate togetherness that includes children, even if those children aren’t “mine.” A life that has words in it but isn’t only words. A life that also has room for other rhythms, other ways of being that aren’t just thinking about what it means to survive.

Gardening doesn’t force me into my body — gardening allows my body to be a part of a larger body, allows me to engage with a larger rhythm. Baking with wild yeasts allows me to accommodate another form of life: I learn to read new signs and languages — what do big vs. small bubbles in the starter mean? What will happen if we let the bread rise very slowly in the refrigerator? How will the bread work if we add different grains? In all this, too, my body learns to speak an older language again — the language of play and hard physical labor. The language of curiosity and delight: look at those bugs here; hey, what are those pigeons doing over on the neighbor’s roof; wait, why are there earthworms over in that part of the yard but not on this side? The language of stained fingers and dry skin that comes of digging hands deep into dirt over and over again. The language of recuperation. The language of tenderness.

The garden, the sourdough starter — these are live things, not unlike pets. They require attention, tending, awareness. Like an animal, they speak to me in a language I have to learn to understand — we build a relationship with one another. They teach me about other ways of living. They ask for water or food, and in return, they bubble and swell with bright and quiet beauty. They remind me that I need to get dirty if I really want to be in the full body of this life. And, too, like the puppy does, they pull me out of my head, out of this ever-churning wash of recriminations and worries. Just stop, the garden says. Come down here and pull out some weeds. Think bigger than your small worries. Think longer. Think months away, or years, Think about what will come of this little action, one seed in soil, add water and sun. Think about the cumulative effects of one small step, little bits of effort in the direction of beauty and joy, every day. Think about the aftermath of positive labor. Think about how far you have been allowed to come away from the girl who lived inside a too-white, too-quiet house in the middle of this country, how clean and painted she was, how plastic and silent. Think about the language the dirt speaks. Think about the soil under your fingernails. Think about what it means to be in ongoing communion with all sorts of life.

“as alive as any animal”

Yesterday, the poem asked: What do I do with my body if it’s not a secret? Today, the poem says:

This soup is alive as any animal,
and the yeast and cream and rye
will sing inside you after eating
for a long time.

– from “Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe” by Bill Holm

Today, I am anxious to get off the computer. I want to be in the garden. I want to read about sourdough starter, about cool vs. warm rises, I want to bring my second attempt at san francisco sourdough bread back up to temperature (it rose in the fridge overnight) so that I can put it in the oven and get breakfast going. I want to learn about soil textures and compositions, learn how to tell what nutrients the soil’s abundant in based on what weeds are growing there. I want to learn about soil amendments and natural fertilizers. I want to figure out the best way to grow watermelons here in Oakland so that a certain young man isn’t disappointed again this growing season. I want to go to the local organic nursery and pick out native plants and organic varietals that will thrive during this coming thirsty summer. Then I want to go to an urban recycling center to find a big bucket to catch shower water (while the water’s heating up, say) to help water the garden. And a bird feeder. And a top for the bird bath.

There’s a lot I want to do these days that doesn’t involve sitting in front of the computer — or even a notebook. The work I want right now is a different sort of bodily work. It’s whole body work. Kneading, digging, bending, planting, pulling work. It’s listening to longer rhythms than the immediate insistence of twitter of facebook will ever allow. It’s thinking ahead: ok, if I want this bread for dinner, tomorrow, then I have to start it now. Or : Ok, if I want to plant this weekend, then I better spend these weekday afternoons weeding and preparing the beds– and that means spending time outside working in the sun rather than hunched here over this little computer.

That is to say, the thinking these days looks less like, What do I need to do to grow my business?, and more like, What can I do today to grow a life?

This is a fairly significant shift in my thinking, needless to say.

There’s a book I love that I discovered while I was a Hedgebrook a couple of years ago — World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwen. (Sneak a peek up there at Amazon, and then buy a copy directly from the publisher here.) I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately (I’d flip through it again, but my copy has walked away from the Writing Ourselves Whole library — that happens sometimes) — McEwen describes how necessary it is for creative folks to slow down, feel our rhythms, be all the way in our lives. Through personal anecdotes and examples from hundreds of creative folks, McEwen makes the case for a slower — rather than fast and multitasky — creative life: she describes the artist’s need to wander (literally and figuratively), to have space for silence and dreams, to do one thing at a time, to have space for deep connection with others and room in our lives for alone time Not everyone will resonate with her arguments. I myself bought a copy of her book as soon as I returned from Hedgebrook and dipped into its pages whenever I needed to counter the voices in my head (not to mention all those business-coach types out there on the interwebs) clamoring at me to do more and go faster and do it all now now now now now.

So I am listening to that part of me that wants to do other work: the building a life work. And what I notice–as I give my attention to the people I love and the garden and tend to a puppy’s hurt foot and dig up oxalis out of the raised beds and make lists of plants I absolutely must get into the ground this year (so many more than will fit in this small yard, mind you)–is that I don’t have to force myself to write when I sit down to the notebook or this little computer: the words begin to percolate around the edges. They are fermenting in the deep and bready parts of me. They are finding their own slow rise back to into my fingers. They come again to be as alive as all these other animal parts of me. I feed the words in this slowing down, even as it looks, on the surface, like I am turning away from them. This is a good kind of creative parenting. This is making a life I can live in.

Poem for a Friday – “if it’s not a secret”

My hands are covered with dirt, and my laptop is dusted with flour. These are good signs, I think.

A poem I love for this second Friday of WriOursWhoMo. Consider using that last line as a prompt…

Bodyweight
-Matthew Schwartz

My crutches felt heavier than I was.
They landed with a thick thud on the blacktop
each time I took a step. I had to watch how I walked

so I didn’t fall, like the other kids expected.
I liked to leave my crutches half-buried
behind the sandbox, where I couldn’t see them,

and creep up the uneven monkey bars
arced like the upper half of a globe.
I wanted to see the whole playground.

The rungs crowded too close together,
and none of them was shaped the same.
I lifted my feet slowly to keep my braces quiet

against the metal. At the top, I could still hear
the jump rope flying, my friend throwing
handfuls of sand. I slipped. I locked my arms

tighter around whatever bars I could reach, and my leg
tensed and shook and hit the rung too close to me
when I tried going down, and my foot shot

through the gap, and dangled there.
I thought I could maybe slide out.
I thought my body could fit like my foot did,

but I was stuck. Everyone could see me,
everyone could hear me asking myself
What do I do with my body if it’s

not a secret?

Let your body have some joy this weekend. Consider — just consider — letting that joy not be a secret. I’m going to consider it, too.

the garden and the breadbowl as teachers

Good morning, good morning. I’ve got the decaf with soymilk this morning and nothing can stop me — look out. The birds are making their insistent songs under and around the morning serenade of the garbage trucks. Thanks to the folks who collect the garbage, the folks who take away what we have decided can no longer be used. Thanks to those carry the scent of our waste on their clothes, on their skin. Thanks for doing that part of our dirty work.

…If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops…
– from “Happiness,” by Paisley Rekdal

What are the things you do to come back into your body? What’s the work you do that brings you joy just in the very doing?

This morning I am sore, my back aches, my hands are rough and stained, and I am breathing more easily in my skin. I spent yesterday doing different work with my hands, and put my body out under the sun. I walked to the neighborhood natural foods store and bought the ingredients for detox teas and sprouts and bread, then came home and got my first batch of California sourdough bread rising. I’d got a starter going last week, and had refrigerated over the weekend — after bringing it back to room temperature, I pulled out a cup and used that for the dough. It took five hours for the first rise, but it rose! Beautiful. My last attempts at homemade sourdough (back in Maine) were so  pitiful that it has taken me ten years living here before I was willing to try again. (After the bread came out lovely, but not at all sour, I looked up some tips on the King Arthur flour website — they told me I ought to pitch that first cup of starter (give it away, use it to make something else), then feed the starter to get it working again, and use a cup of that starter for the bread. I’ll let you know what happens next time.)

When I wasn’t writing or working on an editing project or playing with bread dough, I was out in the garden, weeding. Not planting, not harvesting, but weeding. I cut back the pink ladies’ foliage so that other plants could breathe, and then I did some weeding in the raised beds, in the paths around the raised beds, around the newly-planted salvia and the just-beginning-to-spread mint shoots. (I know, I know, everyone warns me about the mint taking over, but in all the years I have been gardening, I’ve had sad and leggy mint plants that just sort of straggle around and look like they don’t really know what to do with themselves. I’d be beside myself to have a yard filled with mint.)  Weeding is one of my favorite things to do in the garden — so definitive and clear. This: out. The puppy follows me around with a ball in her mouth, monitoring my progress. I get to have the sun bake my shoulders and back, I get to listen to the bee song and the screams of the junior high kids from across the way, I get to smell the rich earth that reminds me what I’m made of.

Today I am supposed to be talking about writing groups as care for caregivers and partners of trauma survivors, and yet I am here in this place, caregiving myself. I am at a table covered with gardening books and making a list that already has 45+ plants on it that we want to get into the yard and garden this year (please note that this includes my sweetheart’s son’s requests for bacon flower and cocoa beans, however). Yesterday I took my hands off the keyboard and pushed them into dough, pushed them into the soil. My hands are stained with dirt that I can’t remove even after repeated scrubbings, my nails are torn and dirty: they look well-used and strong.

There is no use to tending this garden so diligently. We are in a rented place. Whatever money we put into the garden will ultimately go to waste, right? We’re developing someone else’s property. And yet, this weekend, we’ll go to to the neighborhood yard store and farmer’s market and find our new plantings. I’ll pull up the crabgrass and oxalis and bristly mallow and burweed and spotted spurge from around the stone path that someone else laid down in the lower part of the yard, and plant creeping thyme and corsican mint as groundcover there instead. I’ll plant hollyhock (for my mother and her mother) among someone else’s roses. I’ll plant daises and gerbers for my love. I’ll plant yarrow and echinacea and delphinium and calendula and globe amaranth for the butterflies and bees. And we’ll get the edibles in, too: watermelon (second try), onions, basil, tomato, cukes, bush beans, eggplants. Try it all again. When we move, none of this effort will be wasted. Every minute in the garden is a moment of phoenixing, of allowing something new to rise from fermentation and diligent, loving attention.

Yesterday I was writing about letting the new rhythm find me. Gardening and baking helps me to do this — they each have their own layers of rhythms, their own tides, their times of activity and their times of rest. They each will show you what they need if I learn to listen and pay close attention. So I am listening and paying close attention. I nurture the starter, I do a little weeding each day, I remember that what we tend to reveals what we love. What if we love ourselves enough to do what we love to do, even when that work seems (in the short term) to do no service to the greater social justice needs of the world? Tending the garden doesn’t change the world — though it does help my neighborhood, and it does bring beauty and goodness into the lives of those I love; kneading bread doesn’t undo rape culture — but it feeds a young man who is learning to navigate the complications of this world — and all of this work feeds this particular person who is finding a way toward some kind of new balance in this lifetime.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for doing the things you do that bring you joy, and that bring joy and beauty into the world.

 

Radical self care as upheaval (part 4) – slow walk with paradox

keep going(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive and how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)

I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark—
“Made it again!” Oh how I love this climb!

This is what’s true: You can’t force a rhythm. When things are out of sync, you have to let them find their own way back into togetherness. Today I am going slow. I am listening to the birds outside, the spring birds, the ones just waking now, the birds hiding in the slowly-flowering apple tree, the ones that sit in the narrow pine at the back fence. I am listening to the candle flame flicker in its glass enclosure. I am listening to the puppy shudder in her morning dreams. I am listening for what wants to happen next.

This writing was supposed to come on Monday, but it didn’t. After a very full weekend, the writing went quiet, and so I didn’t force it. I wrote in the notebook, things not meant for public display, and I found poems for this space. Today I’m going slow — I’ll write, work in the garden, bake sourdough bread, and, while the sourdough is working its rise, I’ll work on a copyediting gig I’m in the midst of.

Sourdough is a thing that needs time to do its work, even more so than conventional yeast-raised breads. Sourdough bread is old bread, original bread. It’s a fermented product, just like pickles and sauerkraut and yogurt and  kombucha — there are probiotics in these foods that our bodies need for digestion and better health. I’m going to use sprouted wheat flour for the bread, which is supposed to be even better for you.

(I’ve started to look at un-fermented breads the same way I look at candy: I go into the cafe and look at all the candy lined up on those pastry shelves. That’s exactly how my body reacts when I eat a conventional croissant or bagel, something made with processed, bleached, enriched white flour—it’s just like I’ve eaten a half-a-bagful of jellybeans.)

I have started listening differently to my body — again. After the terrible depression I struggled with last month, I am listening again. For about a week now, I’ve been taking a new set of supplements, and have cut back on my sugar and dairy and gluten; while I will be going to talk to some different practitioners about how I can best manage my hormones and take care of my body, I got started with the information on this webpage. Please note: I’m not initiating all of these supplements and herbs at the same time! I started with things I’ve done before — multivitamin, fish oil, nettle and dandelion tea — and added the vitex, evening primrose, probiotics, and b-12. I’m starting with low dosages, letting my body acclimate. This is the time of the month when I’d usually be deep into my difficult mood, the big depression, the hard pull down. I can feel it inside me: the spikes of anger are there, I can certainly feel the flares that say, oooh, girl, you’re premenstural. But I don’t wake up deep in despair. I am paying attention.

Have you seen a Möbius strip? It’s one of those things kids get shown when adults want to demonstrate the concept of infinity, and paradox. They take a long strip of construction paper between two hands, twist it once, and then tape the ends of the paper together so that you have a loop with a twist in it. Then they say, Now look: if you drop your pen at any point and start making a line along the length of the paper, you’ll end up drawing on both sides of the strip without lifting your pen — how is that possible?

I remember being delighted by Möbius strips when I first discovered them, and made bunches of them, amazed every time that the strip of recycled paper from my dad’s old dot matrix printer had a line that traversed the whole surface of the paper; I never had to pick up the pen to get to the other side — this two sided piece of paper had turned into a loop that appeared to only have one side. How was that possible?

Sometimes our new topologies just don’t make logical sense to our old eyes, our old ways of thinking. We have to meet the paradox with curiosity — at least, that’s what I’m trying to do right now. Wonder and delight aren’t always easy when the boundaries appear to have moved indefinitely and I’m walking and walking on this new path with no end in sight, and those footprints next to me on the sand look an awful lot like my own. How can I slow down when I’ve got so much to do? Haven’t I been here before, in this place of major transition? When will the ground get stable under my feet again? When will everything make sense?

My intention right now is to go more slowly — on all fronts. Less multitasking, more hands in dirt and dough and changing diapers and holding the pen. What if this got to be a good life? How do we go slowly enough to be able to listen to what the birds were trying to tell us, or to discover that the path that we think keeps changing is actually the same one we’ve been traveling all along?

(still on pause, but I found a great poem)

Another poem today, in honor of National Poetry Month — what do you (or your characters) know about survivor’s guilt? How do you respond to the final line of the piece? Consider using this as a prompt — take twenty minutes, and follow the words wherever they seem to want you to go.

Survivor’s Guilt
-Patricia Kirkpatrick

How I’ve changed may not be apparent.
I limp. Read and write, make tea at the stove
as I practiced in rehab. Sometimes, like fire,
a task overwhelms me. I cry for days, shriek
when the phone rings. Like a page pulled from flame,
I’m singed but intact: I don’t burn down the house.
Later, cleared to drive, I did outpatient rehab. Others
lost legs or clutched withered minds in their hands.
A man who can’t speak recognized me
and held up his finger. I knew he meant
One year since your surgery. Sixteen since his.
Guadalupe wishes daily to be the one before. Nobody
is that. Sometimes, like love, the neurons just cross fire.
You don’t get everything back.

Radical self care as upheaval (part 3) – negotiating depression and its aftermath

(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive and how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)

(Just a heads-up: there’s some talk in this post about negotiating feelings of suicidality — be easy with yourselves and only read what you want to read, ok?)

And then I slid into a pretty serious depression. I don’t know how much I want to say about that here, except that it was both hormonal and historical — it grew out of the long grief I held about my own loss of motherhood, it grew out of shame I felt around my failures as a writer and facilitator and woman, it grew out of sorrow at how long it took for either my sister or I to become parents — all the work we had to do just to survive long enough for our soul’s to heal enough that we could imagine cradling another’s spirit with any determination or self-assurance, how unfair what our stepfather did was. It seems an understatement: unfair. Of course it is. And it’s true.

And then, too, I was dealing with hormonal shifts, a depression that I fall into for about two weeks a month, every month. I cried and cried, every day, for two weeks. I fell deeper and deeper into this depression, so far in that I started to get scared — what was the point of anything, anyway? What difference would it really make if my nephew didn’t have this aunt? It’s not like he would remember me — and I didn’t have anything really to pass on to him anyway, did I? Wasn’t everyone showing me that — the fact that I couldn’t get anyone to sign up for my writing groups meant that I didn’t really have anything to share. (I offer these as examples of what’s going on for me when I’m thick in the throes of depression — not because I really believe that they’re true or because I need them to be negated here.) The scary voice in me that sounds like despair and loss and nihilism took over; I couldn’t self-talk my way out of its arguments, I wasn’t telling anyone what I was going through, and I wasn’t doing the sort of writing that will often help me notice and shift this sort of struggle.

I didn’t see how it could ever be possible for me to live the sort of life I’d always imagined sharing with a child in some way: a life that looked an awful lot like the one I had as a very little girl living in the country in Nebraska (and that I tried to recreate in Maine) — a small life in a house with a big garden; bread rising in the kitchen; sprouts growing on the kitchen window; herbs drying from the rafters; pantry filled with jars of flours, seeds, nuts, spices; long walks through the garden and the surrounding fields or woods, talking about the plants that grew and what work they did in the earth, what work they did in our bodies;  hours every day spent in physical labor; hours spent writing; hours spent walking and reading — I imagined being an adult who knew about the earth, about our environment, and getting to pass on that learning to the child/ren in my life. And then that all fell apart, and I came to the city, and I would never have a child anyway, so what difference would it make if I never learned the names or the gifts of the plants that grew in this new place I now inhabited? What difference would it make if I never lived that long-held dream? I thought about how I wouldn’t ever really be free from what I’d been through, how it would always be with me, and how I couldn’t protect this new child from all the evils this world has to offer.

I knew that the depression was hormonal, but that knowing doesn’t really help — you can’t think your way out of depression, can you? In fact, knowing sometimes makes it worse; I’m thinking to myself, Jesus, pull it together, this is just hormones. And then, because I still feed bad, I become further depressed that I can’t talk my way, can’t rationalize my way, out of this feeling, can’t (at least, all alone) cognitively-behaviorize my way back to wellness.

I put on as good a face as I could for those around me, even when I talked, finally, about how sad and low I was feeling. And when I began to bleed, and the depression abated, I felt relief — and I felt really scared. What if that low came back? I thought about folks who survive horrors, who live a long time with the aftermath, and then kill themselves after twenty or so years after, who looked like they made it, and then suddenly got taken down by history, or by the long and awful work of living in the aftermath of what they’d survived.

I’m talking about this here for a reason: because so many of us struggle with depression, with these voices inside telling us that we’re worthless and that nothing will ever get better, and yet we feel profoundly isolated when we’re in the grip of this feeling. It seems like no one will understand us, no one will want to hear what we’re feeling, no one else has felt as bad as we are feeling. I want to undermine this experience of isolation. I want you to know you’re not alone in feeling these things, just as I’m reminded that I’m not alone whenever I talk to anyone else about depression.

I didn’t bounce into buoyancy, as I often do when the hormones shift. I felt better, but I also felt subdued — I needed help. I didn’t want the depression to fall on me like that again. Because I can’t really afford to go to an herbalist or a physician right now, I went to the internet, and found some ideas for dietary changes and supplements that folks use to mitigate the intensity of PMS or PMDD, and I am trying those now. Suddenly, I’m one of those people with a handful of pills they swallow every morning (thanks to an amazon gift certificate I got for my birthday). Suddenly I am thinking again (link here) about how to prioritize my own wellness. Suddenly I am wondering what it would look like to really take care of myself first, to put my health and wellness at the top of my priority list. Suddenly I am looking at food differently — as something that can support not just my physical but also my mental wellness, or something that can cause me mental and psychic harm.

The truth is, I don’t want to die. The truth is, I still have a lot of living and healing I want to do. The truth is, I am scared enough by how I felt last month — at a time when I should have been as happy as I have ever been in my whole life — to make some radical changes in my living.

Why does it have to hit me so hard before I decide it’s acceptable to concentrate on my own wellness, that I deserve help as much as those around me do?

(Tomorrow’s post: Walking along the Möbius of  major life transitions, and allowing ourselves to feel turned inside out as we do so.)

Radical self care as upheaval (part 2) – finding the time, finding the words

(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive and how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)

As someone who has again allowed herself to get overly busy, where did I suddenly get the time to spend a full day or two in the south bay with family? Me, who rarely feels she has time to see friends, who is overwhelmed with all that’s involved in running a business alone, who can’t find the time to finish the books she’s been working on for years — suddenly there was time in my week to (want to!) run someone else’s errands, wash someone else’s dishes, clean someone else’s catbox. (Of course, it goes without saying that there was also time to hold someone else’s brand new baby — but everyone can understand that, right?)

It helped that almost none of my winter workshops filled to baseline capacity, and so most had to be cancelled — the financial panic that caused was mitigated by the fact that I had more time to spend with this family that has recently come to occupy actual, physical space in my everyday life.

It also helped that I stopped writing almost completely during the two weeks after the baby’s birth — that opened up a lot of time as well. I couldn’t even imagine sitting down in front of the notebook (not to mention this blog) and trying to find language for what I had experienced and witnessed, or what my sister had displayed — a capacity and resilience and determination that she pulled up from somewhere in the earth, drew into her body, and used to deliver this child. She had a coterie of supporters around her, a swaddle of women holding her as she pushed and rested, and a husband who kept himself in front of her eyes at every moment, reminding her that she could do this, carrying as much as he could with her, encouraging her to rest, to take it one step, one breath at a time. There were no words for what it meant that I could be a safe person for her there in this setting, that she trusted me to be there, given our history, given the history of our bodies, given what our bodies meant for and to each other.

At one point, midway through her laboring, when she was taking one of those sudden naps that laboring women are able to take — so exhausted from the work they do during the contractions that they are able to fall immediately to sleep when the pain subsides and they are given a reprieve — I burst into tears. I was sitting next to my sister, witnessing this majestic capacity, so grateful that she had been able to bring herself to this place in her healing and struggle that she could give herself this gift, this experience and life she’d always wanted: to have a child, to become a mother.

I was remembering who we used to be, I was remembering the girl who couldn’t see herself as worth any love, I was thinking about all the work she’d done over the previous decade to allow herself to get here. I was thinking about how grateful I was that she survived. I was in awe of what she was doing. I had all of our history in my body in that moment, and I couldn’t keep it in anymore and so I sobbed, as quietly as I could, sitting beside her, not at all sure how I could be of use to someone who had the ability to walk with the kind of pain she was enduring. The doula came over to be and comforted me. She thought I was sad about the pain my sister was enduring in this moment. She said, This is just what women can do — what our bodies are capable of. I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want the past to be voiced in that room. I could not say, I am crying because I am so grateful she lived long enough to get here — that we both did. I let the doula hug me, and was thankful for her generosity in that moment, even though she didn’t know everything that filled the room around and underneath us.

And I certainly couldn’t even begin to find words to describe what that new human looked like when he slid from my sister’s body, what he sounded like when he first made his cry to this side of the world, what his eyes did when they met air instead of fluid, what he looked like on my sister’s chest. so close to her face and her husband’s face, their looks of delight — these words don’t even come close to capturing the experience, offering it back to them, offering it back to you.

I had a journal I’d intended to keep for my nephew, writings from each day of the first months of his new life. I wrote in it before he was born, and haven’t returned to it. Instead of writing about this new life we were all circling around and inhabiting, I was living it. I didn’t want to pull away and examine what was going on. I wanted to be in the mix. I wanted to be there for every minute of his breathing, and I couldn’t be. I’m not his parent — I don’t live with him; I will never be the primary person in his life — but I could do as much as possible. I’ve put hundreds of miles on my odometer so that I can put myself in that room, with the sister who is my heartbeat, and this new child who now lives inside the breath that my sister and I share.

(In tomorrow’s post: navigating deep depression in the aftermath of a radical life change.)