Tag Archives: write anyway

December writing retreat! Join us for a day of writing in the East Bay hills…

photo of narrow wooden deck, looking out over trees and mt tamalpais

The view from our writing room!

Meridian Writers
 an all-day writing retreat!
Saturday, December 1, 10:30am-5:30pm.
(Light breakfast from 9:45-10:30am)
Lunch provided.

Open to all writers, regardless of writing experience or previous participation in Meridian Writers.

Location: Private home in the East Bay

Treat yourself to a day of good writing, good food, and good community!

photo of brown dog lying on a wooden deck next to table and chairs, looking out over eucalyptus grove

(Sophie enjoying the deck)

For this day-long writing retreat, we gather for coffee or tea and some home-baked breakfast, and then write through the rest of the morning. After a break for lunch, we dive back into our work through the afternoon, and we close by 5:30pm.

You’ll end the day with:

  • New creative writing,
  • Feedback about what’s strong and powerful in your writing,
  • A strong sense of writing community, and
  • Inspiration to keep on diving into your words

Give yourself a day to immerse yourself in words and supportive community — in a beautiful, quiet space with views overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fee: The fee for day-long retreats is $200; a $100 non-refundable deposit will secure your registration.

Spaces are limited: Please let me know if you’d like more information or would like to register! Write to me at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org; visit writingourselveswhole.org for more info about our workshops or methods.

What I did this summer…

a line drawing of a long-haired woman with one eye closed holding closed fists in front of her face - words on her fists read "'cause if it wasn't for all of your torture, I wouldn't know how to be this way now and never back down, so I wanna say thank you"

This is a photo I took in Lisbon; part of the #shitgirlsdo project

… or “Yes, we live in patriarchy, and women have been telling you forever that they’re being assaulted by men from infancy through childhood, into adolescence, all through their working and mothering years and all the way up until they die, thanks for finally listening I suppose now you want us to give you a medal”

(This is very long. All summer I’ve been repeating to myself that I can’t write, I’m blocked, I sit down and nothing comes — but the truth is, I have been writing, getting words on paper, struggling through depression and with a feeling of complete helplessness in the face of this current cultural conversation that has been so innocuously labelled #metoo. So this morning, after waking at 12:30am, once again unable to sleep, I decided to combine the morning writes I’d already typed up, and realized they served as a kind of back-to-school essay: “What I did this summer.”)

 

June 13

Last night I tried to get inside what has felt like enervation around writing. I sit down to write, especially to blog, and all the energy just drains out of my body. I get tired and then I sit back and look through the sheer brown curtain covered with white circles, I look out to the backyard, the brown fence, the ivy climbing the brown fence and the treetops above the fence, the eucalyptus beyond, and then the white that is the sky. I look out and my mind goes blank like the sky, goes white like that, goes empty. I try and think about what point it makes that I’m here doing this. 

white stenciled graffiti: "where is the love?"

Lisbon street art

Type one sentence then stop. Type one sentence then stop. 

Look at the candle, look through the film of the curtain. This room is full of books. Full of possibility, of the material I have surrounded myself with for a lifetime. I try and understand it, this sense of not having anything to say, maybe not being able to get my mouth my words big enough to encompass what needs to be said.

It’s not that there’s nothing to say, but that there’s too much. Do you feel that way sometimes, too?

 It’s not that I don’t want to know these stories of violation, it’s not that I don’t want to hear about the crimes. It’s something about the way they are reported. Every time we’re supposed to react with shocked surprise. The media treat each incident like it’s unique, disconnected from the larger society or anything that happened before. 

The headline reads, “Sexual Assault on School Campuses Has to Stop,” as though 1) that wasn’t obvious, and 2) it only needed to stop on school campuses. 

The headlines are meant to do a job. They are meant to call your attention. So they must use this language this energy this sense of breathless astonishment. Each news story must be about something new. So we are hearing about assaults on college campuses and a culture of sexual violence at workplaces as though they are somehow not wholly related, wholly interwoven with one another. We are hearing about sexual harassment as though it’s somehow separate from the culture of pedophelia in the Catholic Church. We are hearing about the men who excuse the violence of other men in workplaces or on college campuses or in doctor’s offices or in professional kitchens or in Silicon Valley or in philanthropy or in sacristy or a schul or in sex-positive communities or in social change communities as though it’s not wholly related to what it means to be a man in cultures around the world. But those of us who have lived through it know that it’s all of a piece. None of this is unrelated. 

a tangle of brown, spray painted graffiti on a white cement-block wall

Lisbon graffiti

If this were a movie about a renegade virus, about the fear and panic around an outbreak of a disease, the scientists would have a map and they would be coloring in all the different places where outbreaks had already occurred. On the map showing outbreaks of sexual violence, there wouldn’t be any part of any map that wasn’t colored in. But we pretend like each incident reported in the news is a unique and disconnected site of outbreak. But no. They are all sites of the same disease: the sexual assault of women and children, the assumption that women’s bodies and children’s bodies are available for men to take and use as they so desire. Because we as a society have told men that they deserve this access, that they are the strong ones, they are the powerful ones, they are the ones who can keep us safe, and in exchange, we give them our bodies, and our children’s bodies. Is this the exchange we want to keep making? is this the devil’s bargain? Because here’s the heading — they aren’t even keeping us safe. It’s a bad fucking bargain. We have been harmed at their hands, in their homes, under their watch, in their churches, in their workplaces, in their schools, even in the groups that they organize to resist and create change.

If you are a man reading this and you are thinking to yourself, but I haven’t ever hurt anyone, I am delighted if that is true. But the work is on your shoulders now. What an awful thing, to be associated with such violence and harm. Don’t you want to do everything you can to change the story, to change the truth? To uproot this disease that has so taken hold? 

My therapist told me last week about a personality study, which showed that men could admit to feelings or acts of sexual violence and still be deemed sane, still fall within the range of normal, acceptable behavior. (Women, on the other hand, were found insane if they admitted to such thoughts or acts). We don’t find this behavior in men insane. We expect it. We indoctrinate them into it. We tell them it’s their right. 

So the disease metaphor doesn’t really work, does it? It can’t be a disease if it’s utterly enculturated, if it is part of what we call man, in this country and around the world. This behavior — the sexual assault of women and children — is not seen as problematic enough to unseat men from their thrones. You see the rise in nationalisms, fundamentalist communities, right-wing and violent belief systems — these movements are the armies that seek to keep men in their positions of power. 

So what do we do? How do we sustain ourselves? How do we hold on to the ideas, the possibilities, of things changing, in the face of such horror and resistance, especially when we get triggered every time we turn on the fucking news or open any social media site? I’ve been turning off the news. I’ve been avoiding Facebook. I’ve been reading books by women, by women from around the world, I’ve been in the garden, I’ve been baking, and I’ve been eating. I sit in the sun. Every time I try to force myself into some other feeling or state of mind, I end up feeling worse — so I try to let this feeling be, I try to accept this feeling of enervation, which is actually rage turned inward. 

graffiti of hands reaching toward a green origami bird

Lisbon graffiti

She’s just inside me, barely under the surface, that twenty-four year old who was yelling at anyone who would listen about violence against women — I guess I’m surprised that there can still be people in the world who find these “revelations” to be revelatory; haven’t women been saying for generations that we have been under assault from men? But, of course, we were not believed by the men in power, we were ignored or silenced by the women too afraid to reach for change, who sought security in the cave of the monster. 

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the Sunday times, and found rape in every section of the newspaper. It’s everywhere, all the time. But Jeff Sessions doesn’t want to allow women to be granted asylum here just because their husbands beat the shit out of them and their governments refuse to intervene — if we say it’s wrong there, well then by god, we might have to say it’s wrong here, and we don’t want to do that, do we? 

Maybe we should see this backlash as a positive step. If we pull back and look at that larger picture, the map of disease over place and time — I read somewhere recently that if you feel the resistance, you know that you are making change. They are pushing back so hard against us because they believe that we are creating real change in this country and around the world. Of course they are not just going to lay down their power and walk away. Of course they are going to fight and say it’s righteous, say it’s god’s way, say it’s the natural order of things, make whatever frantic ridiculous excuse they can for their need to keep hold of the right to violate the bodies of women and children whenever they want to.

I’ve been thinking about how to step out of the stream of news, the reports of violence, the violence of this language (someone is brought down, a man is brought down by sexual assault scandal — nope, he’s brought down because someone finally, probably after many many years of violating others, spoke out, someone broke their silence; he is brought down by his decisions and his very own behavior). 

The enervation is the other side of rage, maybe the other side of grief, too. The enervation is like depression, but without the tears. 

Firing that one guy won’t make the change that we seek. Because it’s not about that one guy.

 

statue of a man standing on top of a pedestal; below, at the base, is a statue of a woman and child - the woman points, directing her child's attention to the man standing up top -- meanwhile, her ankle is still chained

Lisbon statue; she’s directing her child’s attention to the important man standing up top — meanwhile, her ankle is still chained

June 14

I’m thinking this morning about the struggle involved in pulling oneself out of a closed system, out of a system of thought and control that’s so all pervasive it’s designed to keep you within its grasp, I mean, a system designed to confine you to one way of thought and thinking, so pervasive that it seems impossible to see it for what it is, to examine it from the outside because it seems that there is no outside from which to apprehend it. 

I’ve been trying to make sense of the particular fatigue I feel around writing these days — not all writing, just writing that’s intended to participate in any sort of current cultural conversation, which has been made difficult because I feel repelled by the language being used. I refuse the terms, I don’t agree with how we are talking about things. 

Yesterday it was this: the medical profession is having its own #metoo moment. It’s a phrase meant to connect to a meme, a term that’s been deemed acceptable by mainstream media because #metoo is somehow less frightening or threatening than rape culture or patriarchy. What is a metoo moment? These days, that phrase is intended to convey the idea that a person or a workplace or an industry is (finally) being called (not by victims, but finally by persons with power to impact change — the victims have been speaking out forever, have been silenced or shamed or fired) to admit to and do something to change their historical and present-day culture of systemic sexual violence. A “moment” in popular culture parlance is supposed to evoke a flash in the pan, something that’s been given its fifteen minutes, a little time to shine in the sun of our attention but will disappear underneath the Next Thing soon enough. 

This is the language that gets used these days — some person or place of business or particular industry is having their moment under the spotlight, is undergoing a reckoning, is revealed publicly to be sexually violent, possibly unrepentantly so. 

And we are meant to think, No way, there, too? Him, too? As though sexual violence isn’t everywhere, a part of patriarchal culture, intricately interwoven in the masculinity with which we indoctrinate our sons (and other children)? As though it isn’t absolutely everywhere, all the time?

But, “Yes, we live in patriarchy, and women have been telling you forever that they’re being assaulted by men from infancy through childhood, into adolescence, all through their working and mothering years and all the way up until they die, thanks for finally listening I suppose now you want us to give you a medal” doesn’t really make for a clickbait headline.

I turn off the news for awhile — I started doing so actively since we began hearing the story of Brock Turner’s assault and subsequent trial. Something about that incident in particular, his six-month sentence, the shit both his father and the judge had to say, that kind of knocked me over the edge of hope. I kept working and writing, I kept believing and supporting survivors, but I began to pull in. I couldn’t respond in public writing to that particular story, even though I felt like I should somehow. It happened right here in the Bay Area, it was my backyard, it was a college-educated young man at a progressive school, a young man raised after Antioch, raised, I would have thought, with lessons about consent and respect, raised with the message that real men don’t rape. But it didn’t matter. This progressive education, all our skits and writing classes and rap sessions didn’t do anything in the face of the matterhorn that is male privilege and patriarchal entitlement. He still got the message about who was important and who wasn’t. And his father and the entire judicial system backed him up, when the time came.

So what could we do? What was I doing? What difference had any of my work made? Young men are still being trained to rape as a matter of course, as a part of their passive education. They are still getting the message that It’ll be ok if they “slip”—they’ll be protected, since they’re the ones who matter. Even as we claim to be teaching girls that they have power, they are strong, they have a voice, they get to use that voice. So now we live in a world in which exists a subculture of men who are murderously enraged to recognize that women have agency and might say no.

After awhile I turn the news back on and immediately implode with resentful outrage upon hearing/reading another more story about another more man violating many, many women and/or children that is reported as though I’m supposed to be surprised to learn this information and am supposed to see th

sticker image, line drawing of a woman with cracks running through her torso -- overlaid are the words, "There's a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in."

Lisbon street art; from #shitgirlsdo project

is man as an individual problem (maybe mentally ill) and not another datapoint in a worldwide reality, just another instantiation of patriarchy, another man just doing what he was raised to do (and had been told, directly and indirectly, for years, was perfectly acceptable).

The words we use, the way we talk about a thing, impacts the way we understand that thing, impacts the way we perceive it, the way we can know it. When we say, “Oh, that guy got caught up in the #metoo movement” or “he was felled by a sexual assault scandal,” all responsibility is removed from the hands of the abuser. It wasn’t his actions that brought him down, it was this movement, it was these feminists, it was those women, it was something outside of him. That language matters. It furthers the narrative that we are (already, after about ten seconds) taking things too far, casting too wide a net (because this is about nets and capturing and we’re supposed to see most of the guys complaining as innocent little dolphins caught up in the tuna catch, as opposed to members of a system from which they have benefited since birth, whether or not they have actively raped a classmate or sexually harassed a coworker).

I have been accused now and again of seeing sexual violence everywhere. Surely, folks have said to me, your history and the work you do has primed you to see it everywhere. Are there some of those same folks who might want to return to that conversation now? Can we agree that, actually, I (and other survivors and other activists) see it everywhere because it is, in fact, everywhere. 

How do we step to the side of this overwhelm and rage and despair and continue to function and/or get work done and/or even continue to believe that a better world is possible? I one thing that’s given me any hope in the recent months is the raid on the Chilean Catholic Church the other day — a government entity actually willing to take on the worldwide power of that institution that has caused so much harm and damage around the world for hundreds of years. That news gave me a little twinge, a little flash, inside, of “maybe.”

 

July 16

Oh, it’s morning and I’m home. 

The keyboard is louder than I’d like, but the other one on the computer itself makes it difficult for me to write at all. Maybe another one, another option. What’s this place and possibility? I’m back in my chair at this desk in this basement outside these walls beneath this hill inside this forest of live oaks and scrub after two weeks in Lisbon. 

photo of a tile pasted to a wall, painted with blue lines and the words "it's okay to be"

Lisbon street art

It’s quiet here, and last night, after you left, I had to turn on the sounds just to get to sleep — thought that’s not so unusual when you’re away. We had seventeen hours together — you counted — between you picking me up at SFO and me dropping you off there again. I cried when I watched you go through security and head off to your gate. I wondered, is this what parents feel? What is this thing in me that has these feelings, this need to be with you? Something deeper than hunger and desire — something deeper than sex. Your face appeared from behind a group of travelers when I came out of the gates to the waiting area, not having had to go through customs when getting back here because we’d done it already in Canada, in Toronto. I hurried out, once I realized, I walked faster, almost trotting, not quite running, let’s not be ridiculous. I scanned the place for you, looked int he seating area, looked up the aisles from which you might be approaching — I was getting out so much sooner than either of us had thought I would. But I didn’t see you and I figured you were still parking. I looked then for a place to wait, maybe a place with a cup of tea. I hadn’t slept, I was fragrant with sweat, with plane smells, with travel, with the dust of now three different countries on my face and clothes. And then the group of travelers walked on and there you were, leaning against a railing at the bottom of a flight of stairs,. in your black t-shirt, watching me with your side smile.You didn’t move. You were waiting for me, you were patient. You let me find you with my eyes.

It’s not that I didn’t want to make new friends or meet new people while I was at this writing workshop— it’s that I missed the people who know me in my bones already. Who hear the layers of me when I speak, who know my undersides and curves and nuances. Is this a new feeling? It kind of seems like a new feeling. 

There are other words I’m looking for. Maybe this is a place of what love is, a piece of it — this opening to another’s presence in your life, in your skin. Maybe there aren’t really words for this thing. That’s what poetry is for. Outside the trees are just coming into view. It got to the point that I couldn’t wait to get home. Lisbon was an excellent trip, an astonishing experience, especially getting to go alone — I was hungry for that, too. I became aware, in Lisbon, that I am happy in my life so much of the time now. Could that be true?

Here is the bird awake at 5:30. These mornings in Lisbon were met with voices, people passing by along Rua L. S., still drunk or just awake, maybe hollering at someone inside the building across the way as the construction work got started. Mornings meant cool air, mostly clouds, and the birds, swallows mostly, but pigeons and seagulls, too, calling into daylight, calling the day. I sat for little bits on the terrace, looked over to the Taugus river and the bank beyond, but mostly sat inside, away from the voices, from the wind or the sun. It’s a strange thing not to wish to be back there, not to wish to be away from here, not to wish for something different from what I have and am in my life. 

 

graffiti of a koala hanging onto a cactus

Lisbon graffiti

This is a new thing. All weeks, those two weeks, I felt grateful that I had lived this long to get to this place of possibility — traveling with a desire for home.

I loved being there, being on my own, walking where I wanted whenever I wanted. I loved all the discovery and possibility. But I got tired, too.

I met people in Lisbon, at Disquiet, but spent very little time with others. I had a couple of meals with other people, maybe just one, two, and coffee, and went to workshops and some readings and a couple of the gatherings, but the gatherings at the miradours (and especially, of course, at the bar) were about drinking; there was the open bar at the embassy, the wine receptions — these were about gathering over alcohol, helping to ease the nervousness, something. What happens when I spend time with people who are drinking hard is that I feel farther and farther away from them — like they are at a party I can’t attend anymore, they are going off to their part of the world and I can’t join them.

What are you drinking, they’d say. Tea, I’d show them, And they’d nod and smile and say something about how healthy I was, how smart. 

Of course I feel like I missed out — those are the places where the connecting happens, the deepening, the conversations and openness and curiosity and revelations, the mutual riskiness. 

I took pictures and shared them with the family and made little notes and comments so I could share what I was seeing and experiencing. Now I am home and it’s quiet, there are no shouting-singers, no drunks outside the window, no music from the bar (which was mostly quite nice, in all its variations), no construction noises, no trucks or motorcycles or foghorns or dogs barking (at least not right now). It’s foggy outside. Sophie andI will go to the park and walk, and I will take out a notebook and try and find words for what I want to say next, what I want to do. The novel, the workshops. This was a good transition, this time in Lisbon. 

In Lisbon I moved every day, nearly all day — 6, 8, 11 miles walking. climbing. Last night out with Sophie I felt the impact — sure, we can walk down the trail and then come back up the hill. That will be no problem. But it was late and I was in the wrong shoes so we only went down part way and then came back — but maybe later today. Maybe this evening. I like this office space and this quiet. The house feels enormous after the studio with the slanted roof, ceiling, on which I ith my head so many times I think the bruises are still healing. Our kitchen, the fact of the dishwasher and washing machine, the fact of the space outside, how good it feels to move. 

  

August 14

sicker art, black and white image of a girl holding a frog and leaning in for a kiss

Lisbon street art (don’t do it, girl child — kissing the frog is never worth it)

I’ve been trying to get to the page all day. I’m trying something else now. Now I have the tv on and I’m at the couch and I’m listening, the upper mind occupied. I decide I’m going to go to a cafe, then change my mind. I get set up at the desk downstairs at 6, and get as far as naming this document, and then I start scrolling through the documents from around this time in 2010 and 2011, revisiting who I was. 

I have tea, the notebook and pen. I sit down and all the old addictions scream at me — or do they scream? They whisper. They are simple and comforting. They talk to me like they make sense, they are easy, they are — how do I say this — they are my friends. My long-term companions. They sound so reasonable: You’re going to be fine. Don’t worry about it now, don’t get stressed. You can do that later. You’ve got so much time. So much time. Go ahead and eat something now. Open up Facebook, check out what’s happening in the world.

What is it that keeps me from sitting down at my desk, sitting down with the notebook, pushing in? My throat speaks up now. Let’s eat, it says. There’s food upstairs, right? There’s cereal and the rest of the galette that mom left, there are cookies that Ellen doesn’t want, there’re tortillas, I could make quesadillas, make popcorn. Eat eat eat. watch tv. I come downstairs, shut the doors, keep the light out. It’s grey outside, but the sun is coming — isn’t it? 

I wanted to get started today, I wanted to come back. I wanted to find a way in, to start to explain where I’ve been, why I haven’t been writing here. Why I haven’t been seen, why I’m out of view. How much longer do I have to wait? I read through the morning writes from August, September 2010, and that woman was wanting out, imagining a long road trip, a house in the country, someplace quiet, isolated, someplace small, inexpensive, someplace I could afford — me and Sophie, just us, we would make a space just for ourselves. I read through those old writes, journal entries, longings, and I find that I have so much of what I wanted then. I was asking myself, over and over, if it made sense for me to feel the way I did, if it was normal for people in relationships to dislike each other sometimes, or even often, to have moments (or long stretches) when they didn’t communicate well or at all. Now I’m on the couch, and Sophie is at the other side of the couch, she’s on a warm blanket, she’s folded into herself, we are together. 

What’s coming? The parole letter. Am I afraid that I won’t say enough, that I won’t say it right, that I won’t have the words. Don’t I want everyone to know? How do I say it? 

On August 29, I’ll be in a room at the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, NE, asking the parole board not to grant parole to the man who abused me, my sister, and my mother, and harmed countless other people in the community, 

He’s been given a parole hearing, which means he’s being considered for parole. Which means he’s been deemed — what? — worthy of early release. Rehabilitated. Safe enough to be released into the community.  This man. 

He’s also been moved to a community corrections facility — from which he may be allowed to leave, work in the community, without regular, consistent supervision (though he may have to wear an ankle monitor, which would give us a little peace of mind). 

This isn’t flowing, there’ s no poetry in it. 

graffiti image of a woman holding her hands over her chest; branches are growing out of her

Lisbon street art

When did we learn about the hearing? February? February. My sister found the information online. Thank goodness she was monitoring it herself; the corrections department didn’t get in touch with us until June, I think. If we’d waited, we wouldn’t have found out until very close to the date itself. 

I don’t have much energy for this now, Is that right? It’s not that I don’t have energy. It’s not that I don’t have words, but I have too many. Is it that I get flooded, swamped? 

The popcorn is right upstairs. 

 I’m trying to figure out what to say, how do I know what to say to the parole board that will convince them that he should not be out of jail, he shouldn’t even be in the minimum security prison.

We learned that he had been moved to this minimum security prison while I was in Portugal; I spent several days in a panic, in a fury, in a rage. What do we have to do? What else would he have to have done to us for him to be deemed, to be seen as the threat, the violent predator, that he is? 

I try to remember everything that I wanted to say, that I was feeling, the ways I swirled and fell into grief. What will it take? This man controls, threats, shames, hits, rapes us for a decade, and he’s going to get let out. Men who got arrested a few times for smoking a joint, those guys are in forever. 

I keep thinking I’m going to be able to write about this. And then I get quiet inside, not cold exactly, but blank. Not shut, not stoppered, but like I’m up against the criminal justice system, once again. 

The popcorn is still calling me. It gets louder. It’s not insistent, exactly, but like a presence, like it’s already in my throat. Like what difference does this make? But that’s not it — more like, you can keep going with this after you have me, says the popcorn. Even though I know it doesn’t work that way. If I stop here, I won’t start again today. 

spray painted graffiti: GRL PWR GRL PWR GRL PWR

Lisbon graffiti

August 15

It’s dark outside, and I’m listening for the owls. Yesterday I got started, I was here in the morning, I was ready to write something about the hearing that I would post on facebook or the blog or something, but I stopped. I read old morning writes, I thought about who I was 8, 7 years ago at this time. And who I was was hurting. It’s exhausting to read, draining. Just leave, I want to tell her. Just go. It’s not going to get any better. The longer you stay, the harder it’s going to get to go. 

Did I want to say something about Portugal, about the workshops, about what I do and why? Why is it that I’m so tired when I think about writing these days? I get exhausted, overwhelmed — why would I spell it out? Who cares?

I get so sick when I use Facebook — literally sick to my stomach. Is there another way to do it? I manage to spend time there in ways that are harmful to me. These days, when I go to Facebook, I search out controversy — not to engage in it, just to read, to immerse myself in, to bathe. These are situations in which I have some marginal connection (community, friends of friends, or old friends. people I once knew), writing vitriolically about situations or issues that matter a great deal to me generally, even though I don’t have any involvement in the specific situation. In one case, the writing all had to do about an altercation at this year’s dyke march; in another case, it has to do with a student of an old friend writing about how she felt emotionally and psychically harmed by my friend’s actions when he was her teacher. In both cases, voices are utterly polarized.. There’s a clear line down the middle between two camps, two opposing opinions, two visions of reality, two interpretations of reality — both camps/groups feel wholly in the right, certain of their point of view and interpretation of events and memories; everyone is righteous and clear. Each side is fighting the good fight, trying to make the world a better place, only speaking up the way that they are to help others who might find themselves in similar situations. Incident reports, letters to the editor, callings in, callings out: these are all intended in each of these cases, to make visible what (those speaking believe) has been kept invisible, hidden, ignored by their communities, or media, or the public at large. In both cases, there’s actual violence that’s occurred — humans have been harmed in meatspace (as we used to call it), offline; one person used their body to physically harm or threaten another body, in one case absolutely intentionally.  And yet what I’m drawn into is the violence online—our language, the way we talk to each other when we know we are right, when we have a message we want to teach, when we are experts and others need educating, when we have been silenced or ignored or shamed maybe by mainstream society and we know where to go to land some punches: we look around us, to the people who were supposed to be protecting or standing beside us, to our allies (and what does this word mean today, especially in an online context?), to our communities. This used to be called horizontal hostility, punching sideways at those standing with you because you can’t or don’t seem to be having any impact at those who are standing on your head and shoulders, directing your anger about oppression at those who are suffering similar oppression to you, rather than at those who are causing the oppression. 

I know what it’s like to feel so righteous, to feel so certain of my answers, of my anger. 

I was thinking, while I was in Maine, about the time I spend online these days. There was an article in the NYT one morning, “The Trolls have Won,” which made it sound as if the author believed that the trolls won just recently. But I think it’s social media that did it, that gave the trolls their final bridge into the mainstream (well, that and the comments sections on every site these days). So, thank you, Facebook, thank you Twitter. 

Sticker art, black and white image of a naked woman wearing mickey mouse ears

Lisbon street art

I’ve been online since 1990— nearly 30 fucking years. Once I loved it — I loved what seemed possible: the sharing of information around the world, the ability to connect with those you might never be able to meet in person, the ability to find support and resources around things you couldn’t talk about in meatspace — when I was first coming out as in incest survivor, I was terrified to go to police or therapist, I was afraid to check out books or buy them in a real store, but I could go to purely text-based newsgroups and talk with strangers about what I was going through; this was a time when it was still a sane thing to do to be anonymous online, is that how I want to say it, when being anonymous didn’t necessarily mean you were a hacker or a troll. It just meant you weren’t ready to give your name, you were afraid for your safety or your job, so you visited alt.sex.motss undercover of pseudonym, handle, just to be safe. 

It doesn’t even make sense to say things are different now. It’s not even apples and oranges; this thing that’s available to me through web browser or email or app bears almost no resemblance to the place I spent so much time in the 90s – though of course this world existed then. There were trolls and what we used to call flame wars (and now call calling out or having a conversation on twitter); there were codes of conduct in every community — folks, those who’d been around longer, reminded the newbies: don’t feed the trolls. Don’t engage them. Don’t give them what they want: attention, energy, time. There have always been trolls, those folks who, in any situation, online or off, will make a comment just to get a rise out of someone, to piss people off; this is the guy who always has to play devil’s advocate in any discussion, or the woman who just needs to point out every slip up of language or terminology — I can’t take you seriously if you describe your feelings as dark, or some such. 

At this point, mostly, going online feels like (I forget where I read this) walking into a public square where everyone is yelling at the top of their voice. 

What is it in me now that goes to Facebook for this sort of indulgence, this sort of sticky so-called pleasure: here are people arguing righteously, shouting at people they used to call friends, allies; here we are, standing up for our people, showing off how educated, how woke we are, using the right (and right now) words to put others down, to reveal their ignorance, their backwards thinking.

The way I spend time online is taking me back to those days when I laid on the couch and watched talk shows all day, too depressed and frightened to get up, to leave the house, I watched Jerry Springer, Sally Jesse Raphael, Rikki Lake — these shows fostered the idea that we’d watch real people talk about their troubles, that they hosted brave folks who are exposing difficulties that are shameful or scary in order to help us, the audience, so that we don’t have to go through whatever it was alone.  Maury — right. There was Maury, too. But after watching these shows, I usually felt gross, like I’d just participated in a public shaming or humiliation. Here were folks who’d likely been paid some small (comparatively) amount of money to let people berate them in front of an audience of thousands, at least. who revealed terrible things about themselves, who leveled accusations, who screamed at family, at loved ones, who got more and more entrenched in whatever view or opinion they’d been called on to television to defend or change. The host asked personal, leading questions, and the guests cried or grew angry, the audience grew angry or scandalized, shouted, booed, cheered — 

Go back further: the stocks. The public hearings. The coliseum. Football. Rugby. We gather to bear witness to the suffering of others, not to ease their suffering, but for our own entertainment, to pass the time. To pass the time. 

 

August 16

red spray-painted graffiti, "poesia não basta"

Lisbon street art; poetry is not enough

It never really gets dark here, there’s always light in the clouds from the city; on clear nights, it’s a little bit darker, but when do we have clear nights? Yesterday I took BART into Oakland, to the office. The office was quiet (mostly) and it felt good to be there. I spent hours in front of the tv yesterday; that’s going to be the name of my biography: she spent hours in front of the tv. Always the same sitcoms. The same stories, I know these shows by heart. What is it that I’m getting from them?

Why am I so quiet inside? Why aren’t the words pushing up, bubbling, now that I’m back home? In Maine, I was ready to write — I left the beach, went in to the bookstore to get work done, to sit with the notebook. But now I just feel quiet and empty. Yesterday I was writing about how terrible the internet is. A couple of days ago, I posted something about the hearing on the 29th, and I’ve had an enormous response — people from all parts of my life showing up, sharing words of concern and support, asking what they can do, telling me I can do it. I go to FB for things like this — to reach out for love and concern — and then I tend not to offer it back much, because I spend such little time there. 

Two weeks in Lisbon, then three weeks in Maine. So little time in front of any screens. In Portugal, I walked — I left the tiny studio and moved my body through the city, miles every day. It was like when I first got to San Francisco, and felt too cheap to pay for the bus or subway, so I just walked, wanted to see everything, find my way by foot. If I were in Maine alone, there would be days I didn’t drive, days I didn’t leave the beach. We get in the car to drive to ice cream, some days that’s it. I drive in to a cafe for writing when everyone else is around — how would it be if I had the place to myself? Something about getting in the car, having to drive, having to surround myself that way, inflict traffic on myself, launch my body into that fray. Is it agoraphobia or something else, something broader, or smaller — wanting to be home, wanting to be able to walk to what I need, hasn’t that always been my desire? And yet I’ve never really made it for myself — maybe at Madison, that was the closest.

spray-painted image of an octopus with her tentacles tangled around a red heart

Lisbon street art

In Lisboa I walked. I put a book in my bag, a bottle of water, and took myself to little outdoor cafes, In Maine, when we were alone I read everyday, 10, 11, books in a week.

Am I feeling left out, left behind? Or like I’m intentionally stepping off the racetrack. I’m just not interested in keeping up with every podcast, every new show, every stream of content, Content is king, you say when I’m astonished that a network has decided to make not a movie but a tv show from one of the books we read in Maine, Sharp Objects by Gillian something — not Anderson, that’s the woman from the X-Files, a show I also didn’t watch? After we got home, we started watching the latest season of Orange is the New Black, but it was all violence immediately — guards beating the women indiscriminately, sadistically, forcing them to have sex with each other, the women tearing at each other over old injuries. Nope. We turned it off after the first episode and didn’t go back.

In the newspaper I can read about the Catholic Church and the latest revelations about their covering up priests’ abuses, violations of children. I can read about a man who shot his wife and children after a several-month-long struggle over custody. I can read about men blowing up a bus full of children, about white women calling the cops on black kids selling water, about the world’s atrocities. It’s not a thing that ends, or that’s going to end. Men are trained by other men to seek power, influence. If you are not a man that seeks power and influence, you’re not really a man. The sexual assault of women and children goes along with this, like a side car, like a carnival prize. It’s one way to display your power, to show the world that you’re a real man.

 

spray-painted graffiti of an owl, eyes closed, resting on a perch

Lisbon graffiti

September 20

 I was hoping for owls at this hour, but nothing yet.

I don’t know — how are you doing with this whole Brett Kavanaugh thing? Of course I’m not surprised that we, as a society, are having the same conversations about men’s violence or predatory or threatening or aggressive behavior that we had when Dr. Hill came forward about Clarence Thomas’ behavior toward her. What’s astonishing to me is that the Senate delayed the process for a single week, and are at least pretending to take this new information seriously. Take this in contrast with the response to every new revelation of shitty or sexist or predatory or violent behavior on the part of our President. (I can’t look up links to the stories right now because I will get distracted from the writing and so angry and more deeply depressed that I won’t be able to write anymore. That’s what’s happened so often over the last few weeks when I sit down and try to write something for the blog.)

What’s crazy-making are the public conversations, the constant repetition in the press of the details of his actions toward her (yes, please, say it again — there might be a couple of folks in your listening audience who aren’t triggered yet). What’s crazy-making is this sense that we’re shouting into the wind. That there can still, and it seems there always will be, be more weight given to a man than to a woman — I mean, a man’s word will be given more weight and credibility if he’s responding to a single woman (I keep saying, if you’re going to be raped or assaulted or harassed, make sure that your assailant assaults others, too, so that you’ll have others to back you up if you ever decide to go to some authority to hold him accountable for his actions). The woman is still the one portrayed as tattling, as the little girl pointing on the schoolyard and whining, It’s not fair!

What’s crazy-making is hearing folks say, over and over, I don’t know, he’s a really great guy, it’s hard to believe he could do something like this. (The subtext is, “I never saw him rape anybody; how can I believe you if I didn’t see it with my own eyes?” How many millions of people have had this thought about priests who were actively (or are now) harming children?) 

Yes, the actions one commits as a young person, a young adult, matter. This is someone being considered for a lifetime appointment to a court where he will be making decisions that affect the lives of all women in the country. 

Do we really need to hear the question, why didn’t she come forward earlier, over and over again? Do we need to say Clarance Thomas over and over again? *We do, actually — because his isn’t the name that I’m hearing. The name that I’m hearing on every reporter’s and commentator’s lips is Anita Hill. She is the one who carries the weight of his actions, because she’s the one who named them publicly. He gets to just be a supreme court justice. She — though she is a respected and successful law professor — gets to be the one who said those things about a man in front of Congress. When someone says, Anita Hill in the media, it’s a kind of short-hand for the whole situation: the fact that he behaved abominably towards her, he was elevated in his career, she believed that his actions in the workplace revealed a great deal about his feelings towards women, his respect for them, which would, necessarily, impact his professional judgement, and so she chose to bring this information to light. When we hear Clarence Thomas, we think, supreme court. 

spray painted graffiti: "You sexist me, I feminist you"

Lisbon graffiti

It’s absolutely not fair.

I’m still walking around in the aftermath of the parole hearing. Last month, my sister and mother and father and I all travelled to Lincoln, NE, where we spoke in front of the parole board, making the arguments that the man who had abused my sister and me should not be released on parole. It seems pretty straightforward, right? But the in-practice, the whole thing was not straightforward at all. 

Sometimes you go through something very big, and life goes on as usual after it’s finished, and on the outside you look like your normal, functional adult self, but on the inside, you know that you’re not ok, and sometimes it’s all you can do to take the most basic care of yourself. Maybe you return to your life and have others to care for, a busy job, a great deal to keep your mind occupied. Maybe you don’t. I don’t. It’s been very hard for me to concentrate on much since I got back from Nebraska. There have been a couple of health crises, and of course workshops to attend to, and during those I can show up, of course. But then the workshop ends or the crisis is concluded (thank goodness), and everyone leaves and goes out into their lives and I am back in this place of stasis. It looks and feels like depression — very tired but unable to sleep well, aching body, unable to concentrate, unable to see the point in almost anything I do. It’s a deeper depression than I’ve been through in awhile, and I keep beating myself up for not being more functional, not getting more writing done, not Doing More Things. It’s all so heavy and full; everything feels like it takes twice or five times as much energy to complete. 

So I make tea. I watch familiar and friendly old shows. I eat too much. I avoid email and phone calls. If I were back in school, I’d be developing or nurturing some new sexual obsession in order to take my mind off my grief and rage. I’d take myself out dancing a bunch of times — or I’d just drink too much with my friends. 

I’ll write about it here eventually; the news keeps derailing me. 

 

sticker art: "livres habitamos a substancia do tempo, Sophia de Mello Breyner"

Lisbon street art; Google translates as “free we inhabit the substance of time”

September 25

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

I don’t know how to build this story, or make it pretty. I can’t sleep these days. I wake up in the middle of the night, try to sleep again, turn over, shift, try to go back to sleep, cant. Tonight I woke up at 12:30, and finally got out of bed an hour later. I make tea, come to the desk, light my candles, and sit down not feeling especially hopeful, just resigned. Something deeper and sadder than resigned. Something older and much angrier.

Are you taking care of yourself these days? Are you getting enough sleep, eating well, staying connected with friends, those who love you, writing or painting or otherwise doing creative work that brings you joy and opens you to permeability? 

Me, either.

Last night, listening to the radio about this third — what do we call it — this third description of B. K.’s deeply respectful behavior toward women — let me give a link here, I’m not going to recite the details right now, as they are awful — I wanted to throw all the chairs off the deck. I wanted to break something big and heavy, toss it in the air and watch it smash on the concrete below. I wanted to do something irreparable. I wanted to know how it felt. 

Yesterday I kept the news on while I was working — it’s been so hard to get motivated to work, and I was feeling good that I had the energy — and during the few hours those few hours, I heard, repeatedly, the details of B.K.;s assault on Dr. Ford’s and his assault on his classmate at Yale. Then there was the opportunity to listen to a detailed description of the rape of a high school girl at the hands of at least two male classmates. I declined, turned the channel, turned it off. I got to hear news anchors describe only cursorily Bill Cosby’s assaults on the one woman whose case made it to trial, but they did remind us that he has been accused by 60 women of doing exactly the same thing to them. (SIXTY.)

If I were to read the paper, maybe I would see something about the “scandal” in the Catholic Church — it’s a scandal now because people are paying attention, some handful of priests are being held to account, the church is paying some small amount of reparations, our progressive pope is having to face his own actions and inactions around the sustained and systemic abuse of children under the auspices of church and god. 

The other day, I said to my sweetheart, we use the phrase “war on women” like it’s a metaphor, but it’s a fact.

We live amid men — family members and coaches,  religious “leaders,” classmates, people we may have known since childhood, doctors, mentors — haven’t I written this all already? — who will, it seems, if given what they consider to be the opportunity, unhinge us from our wild and precious lives for their own momentary amusement, and then go on with their own lives like nothing happened, like they didn’t do anything wrong, like they didn’t violate the autonomy, the bodily integrity, the sovereign integrity of another human being. This begins as young as very early childhood and can continue through a man’s whole life (hello Bill Cosby), He has a system of laws and societal mores and social rules/restrictions that protect him. He has a community of men — teachers, coaches, school administrators, police, courts, classmates, teammates, accomplices, presidents — who will hold his secrets for him, support and sustain him, treat him with respect, remind him that he’s a good guy, a giving guy, remind him how much good he’s done in his community/school/workplace, who will pat him on the back and say good man, who will rally around him, who will — if she breaks his silence and tells about his violation of her— reframe the problem as hers alone. (think Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky — their names precede the word “scandal;” Clarance Thomas’ name precedes the phrase “supreme court justice; Bill Clinton’s name preceded “president” — why don’t these men get to evoke “scandal” whenever their names are uttered, too?)

And to protect us, we women? We have a system of laws (which work very well to inhibit sexual violence, as we can see from the news.) We have rules and mores that teach us who we can talk to, what we can wear, where we can go, what we should act like if we don’t want to draw the wrong kind of attention — that is, we are trained to police ourselves, each other. We have “chivalry” ostensibly on our side, which, as we can see, has not worked to keep us safe in any way. 

What have I done with my one wild and precious life? I have spent it recovering from the violence that my once-stepfather decided, over and over, daily, over the course of a decade, to inflict on me and my family. I am still in that work. My task has been to clean up the mess that he made of me. I want not to think of it, of myself, that way. I want to say that he didn’t succeed, I am unbroken, I am a survivor. And I am. But I am also irreparably harmed; his actions impact every day of my life. they have impacted where I lived, my work as a writer, my work off the page, my sense of myself and my capacity.

I have been reading recently about the uses of rape as a war crime in Bosnia during the wars in the early 90s, and the abduction and sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in Iraq. I read about the rape of Chinese women in Nanking by Japanese soldiers, and their keeping of Korean “comfort women.” Women are systematically raped in conflicts in the Congo, Sierra Leone, girls are abducted and kept as sexual chattel in Nigeria. Women are being raped as a part of the effort on the part of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority to ethnically cleanse their country of Rohingya. There is an epidemic of violence against Native women across North America, women sexually assaulted, women disappeared. Men still, in the US and around the world, even after a century of efforts to raise awareness of and criminalize the behavior (with the idea that, I guess, if it’s against the law, maybe at some point men will understand that it’s unacceptable—though, again, as we see, that hasn’t worked with rape) beat, rape, and kill the women they say they love, they tell others that they love, they pretend to love but really just seek to control (I can’t look up links to news stories about domestic violence right now, I just can’t).

words drawn into concrete: "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? - M. Oliver"

Oakland sidewalk art

What about our wild and precious lives? What else had we planned to do? Does it matter to the men around us? 

I am preaching to the choir, I know. I am yelling this out to the home team. We know all these things to be true. Here’s what else is true: What we are hearing about this man, this judge, this man who has been instrumental in the creation of legal precedent, who has been allowed to rise almost to the top of his field and participate in legal decisions that will get woven into the fabric of our country and history—his actions are part and parcel of this war against women. The description of the actions he and his friends are to have engaged in in Washington dc sound remarkably like the actions of Serbian soldiers in 1992.

This isn’t about a few bad apples. This isn’t about a couple of priests gone rogue, it isn’t about individual ethnic conflicts. Pull back, look at the planet from a different vantage point — I mean, consider the actions of men in all environments and cultures across the planet: men create conditions in which they can systematically make use of and then destroy the women around them. If they are not actively harming the bodies of women, then they are keeping the silences of the men in their communities who have.

On the news last night, I heard reporting of a conversation with a male classmate of BK’s — I think it was from Yale — who said he had heard the story about his actions toward the second woman who has come forward; this classmate said that the story had stayed with him; he never forgot it. News for this “friend” of hers:

1) neither did she ever forget it,

2) but you did a great job of helping BK hold his silence for all these years.

It’s that simple.

I am tired of thinking about us having to break our silences about the harm done to our bodies and our lives. Last night I said, these men walk around in our silences. They count on our silence in order to continue living their happy lives. These crimes, this shame, these silences all belong to the perpetrator. 

What will happen when men begin coming forward about the actions of their colleagues, classmates, coaches, parents, friends, frat brothers, priests, mentors, and brothers? Not out of some idea of chivalry, not out of some sense of protection, but out of a sense of human decency? What will happen when those men — those men who read this and say to themselves, Hey, ti’s not all men! Hey, I’m not like that — those men who want to change what it means to be a man (look at the history of the world; rapist is what it means to be a man) — what will happen when those men begin standing up and fighting back? Whey they refuse to hold the silences, to collude with the violence, to laugh along, to keep watch at the front door for the cops or some other authority, even if they’re not actually in the room where those men are raping that drunk girl? 

it used to feel cathartic to write these things. It doesn’t right now. I feel sick and still wide awake — what is sustaining me right now is the new writing I get to be surrounded with in workshops and writing groups, plus ridiculous sitcom reruns and many many cups of green tea. 

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

7:00 am

I’m grateful that you’re out there. I know I am not alone in these feelings, in this overwhelm, in this ongoing triggeredness, in this sense of being so enraged that some days it’s all I can do just to keep putting one foot in front of the other without smashing all the furniture or windowpanes or dishes in my immediate vicinity. “Be easy with you” is, for me, difficult work these days — but I do keep saying the words to myself, a little like a mantra, and trying to let myself feel it when others say it to me — I mean, feel and trust their care and concern. I offer that in your direction, too — care and concern from my corner to yours.

Be easy with you. Your life, your living, is wild and precious. Find your way to your words however it works best for you. Please keep going — we need your stories, in all the forms in which they come into the world. 

I can’t even — ok, well maybe I can

Picture of little white girl sitting crosslegged, looking at a bluebird, beneath the words, "If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit! -Banksy"Good morning, good morning.

Deep breath. Ready? Ok.

One more time. I’m going to try one more time to write this post. Hang on — this is a long one.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, who is in a tough work situation. He is well-spoken, articulate, smart, and has decades of experience in his work, yet whenever he speaks with his boss (someone who consistently undermines and then gaslights him), he gets tongue-tined, feels silenced, mute. There’s nothing I can say, he tells me. I feel stupid, practically like a child.

I nodded as he spoke, then said to my friend, this sounds so much like the relationship I was in seven years ago — by the end, I told him. I was convinced that I was actually a terrible communicator, that I literally did not have the ability to communicate with other people, that there was not just something wrong with my ability to connect, to convey my thoughts and to interact with another person through words, but that I had deluded myself into thinking  that I could communicate well.

My friend looked wide-eyed at me, so surprised, given that I center my life and work around deep and open communication. I laughed at myself and the situation, maybe a little more gently than I’ve done in the past — maybe I’m beginning to forgive myself.

I tried to explain to my friend what I’d learned from the analyst I was seeing back just before I left that relationship — that my ex had created a closed system around us, and I had to agree to the terms he set for this system, or I was violating the system and harming him. Either I agreed with his worldview and outlook or I was against him. Layer on top of that insinuations of (my) racism and classism, as well as my history, and you can see why I was in knots and, like my friend, tongue-tied for the better part of eight years.

Unfortunately, this mirrored another relationship I’d been in, the one with my mother’s second husband. Closed system, setting the terms of the conversation, the debate, setting the very terms for reality — and you either agreed, or took your life and the lives of those closest to you in hand.

I have been experiencing a similar tongue-tied-ness, muteness, around our entire public “conversation” about sexual violence in the last couple of months.

Yesterday I went back through a big handful of blog posts I’d started and abandoned, twenty pages of stops and starts, of trying to get in, of trying to figure out what I wanted to say about each new major issue that bubbled to the top of our media frenzy about rape culture: the hierarchy of violence (is it really that bad if he’s not Harvey Weinstein?); the idea of a witch hunt; the fear of a sex panic; women suddenly having all the power and wielding it indiscriminately (unlike men, of course), bringing down any guy who just happened to look at them wrong or who, you know, shamed or cajoled or pressured or guilted or threatened them into sex; female sexual agency (what’s that?); enthusiastic consent — so many important issues about which I have a great deal to say, and yet each post would trail off after some thousand words or more, and I’d be unable to bring it to a close, unable to find a particular point I wanted to make.

I often look back on a particular phone call I had with my stepfather, late in his abuse of me

 

and my sister. I was in college, a junior at that point; it would be almost a year before I was able to get away from him. I was at a payphone on the first floor of my dorm, a newer, non-descript building that felt like a cavern every time I walked in the doors. In my memory, I am clinging to the black receiver like I’m holding onto a life raft. My stepfather has said the word incest, he has used the word: Sure, it’s incest (technically, he probably clarified), but it’s only a problem because of this repressive, sex-negative culture we live in.

I didn’t hear much else during that call.  He used the word, the one he’d denied and avoided for all the years he’d been assaulting me. He claimed it, took it away from me — he would not allow that word to have any power. And I understood several things: He knew exactly what he was doing, and what he’d been doing for years; I was not crazy to think he knew he was harming us; and he wasn’t going to allow me to talk my way out of this, though he’d pretended to offer me that possibility for years. He would always reshape the terms of the debate to serve him, to favor his interpretation, to keep himself in the right and in power and in our beds, There was nothing I could say to make him acknowledge my experience or admit his wrongdoing.

Photo of a poster that reads Mister, Mister Get your laws off my sister, above an image of the woman's symbol with a fist at the center

So we come back around to why it’s been so difficult to talk or engage in writing in this larger public conversation — do I have to use the hashtag? — about rape and sexual violence and male power and privilege and entitlement. The trouble is that this is another closed system: if you want to enter the conversation, you have to agree to the rules of the game — and the rules are, you have to let them frame the conversation, and you have to talk about what they want to talk about, the way they want to talk about it, if you want to be heard (or delude yourself that you will be heard).

This is where I got stuck. I don’t agree to the terms.

I said to a friend, it’s like a theoretical mathematician having to talk about something they know intimately and in profound depth, but they are only allowed to use the terminology of second-grade arithmetic. We are still only able, or allowed, to talk about violence against women (and children, and others) in incredulous, lurid, simplistic terms.

I saw a quote recently on the facebooks —  it said something about it being ok not to engage in arguments with people who are determined to misunderstand you. We who are insisting that rape culture harms absolutely everyone are being asked to define our terms and defend our positions over and over, endlessly, made to prove our points, to offer evidence in the form of our experiences and our bodies, repeatedly, to those who will, every time, find ways to deliberately misunderstand or misconstrue or misdirect or straight up deny what we’re saying, simply because they don’t want to have to be accountable for their behavior or make any changes in their lives or thinking. The hope is that, if we have to explain ourselves over and over (and over and over and over and over) and over again, eventually we will get tired (as I have gotten tired) and just go away and let things stay the way they’ve been for, oh, I don’t know, millennia.

It’s not that hard. Folks who have power don’t want to let go of it — any of it. Neither the rapist nor the rape apologist, neither Trump nor Sarah Sanders, wants to give up the power they’ve got in this culture. There’s power in being able to shape the conversation, the narrative, to demand that your accusers, those insisting on cultural change, prove their very right to speak endlessly, until they are exhausted.

So, in order to enter the conversation, I have to accede, accept, the terms that, for instance, it makes sense that a radio announcer in 2018 will state, breathlessly, that we’re seeing sexual harassment in all sorts of workplace environments (what, really?) — or accept the idea that a hashtag constitutes a movement (thereby agreeing to ahistoricize it, pretend like we just got started, decontextualize it from, let’s say, feminism and the generations of women (and others) who have named sexual violence and its harmful effects, demanding something better.  I have to agree that there’s a hierarchy of sexual violence and then weigh in on whether someone who isn’t systematically torturing victims over decades is really doing something all that bad; I have to agree that rich, white women started this “movement”; I have to hop up and down, the little kid in the back of the classroom, saying Ooh ooh ooh, me too! Me too! Hey, me too!

Even if I don’t agree on the terms, I have to agree to debate them — to discuss them, if I want my contribution to be even remotely relevant.

But these conversations are so ludicrous to me that I can’t even engage them seriously. A sex panic? Honestly? A witch hunt? Weighing the relative violence of acts that don’t violate criminal law (but are obviously deeply problematic/ impactful/harmful and create lasting impact, and undergird a system of violence that supports more violent acts)? Are you kidding me with this?

How to enter the conversation if you don’t agree to the terms of the debate? Maybe you don’t.

I’ve had this trouble for years. There are simply debates I can’t enter. I won’t talk with you about the relative merits of Lolita. I won’t discuss how great William Burroughs’ Queer was (because I haven’t read it, and frankly, I’d rather not have him in my queer lineage at all, thank you very much), you know, in spite of the fact that he shot his wife in the head (as though that were a side note in his life, a quirk, a small biographical detail). Is it even sort of of ok for a guy to have sex with a girl who’s drunk and not actively shoving him off her because she’s too out of it? Nope. Is it ok that David bowie had sex with children? Nope.

I am not your girl for those discussions. (But no worries — there are many thousands of folks who will talk about these things, so no one’s missing out on anything.)

It’s not just that I don’t agree on the terms of the debate — I don’t even agree that any of this is debatable.

I can’t engage seriously in any conversation that begins with, “Why is it difficult for women to come forward about experiences of sexual harassment at work?”

I can’t take seriously a “movement” to end sexual violence globally when it’s centered around rich (mostly) white women with access and power and is supposed to, what, trickle down to the rest of us?

I can’t take seriously any panic about witch hunts and male fear when children are still being raped in their beds across the planet, and the pope still protects the rapists in his ostensibly-Christian ranks.

I just can’t even.

You understand this feeling, the I can’t even feeling. I think anyone who has experienced or is experiencing oppression, and seeks to create change or simply have the reality of their situation recognized, acknowledged, for what it is, can understand this feeling.

I can’t even lives on the other side of the tongue-tiedness, but is mostly spoken to those who stand with us, who can hear is, who understand all that we are not saying, who read us without our even having to speak. Because having to speak the same fucking things over and over, having to reaffirm our humanity and the violence done to us, having to articulate, again, the harm that violence did and does, is exhausting. It takes work not to fall into the crazy-making mire of gaslighting and but-what-abouts and reverse oppression and backlash … I can’t even comes before the deep breath, the closed eyes, the sigh, the restating what we have been saying for decades, generations:

Yes, this entire system was set up to serve and protect those in power, by those in power. It’s just that simple.

I’m sorry, William Macy and Frank Bruni, if it’s hard to be a white man in this moment (well, at least in these conversations — are you having a lot of trouble, as powerful white men, outside of discussions involving racism or sexual violence? I didn’t think so). That’s not quite true, of course. I’m not sorry. Because I don’t believe it’s hard. I believe you’re experiencing some discomfort, sometimes, in some conversations. And that’s discomfort you can choose to feel or not; you can step out of the conversation. You can turn to another part of your life and never have to think about these things. The people who are inviting you to feel this discomfort? They — we — can’t step away.

I have been feeling “I can’t even” several times a day, most days, if I choose to engage in any media consumption whatsoever, for months now. And then I take that deep breath and close my eyes and sigh and pick up my hands and drop them on the keyboard and try to engage and find myself frozen. It’s not fear that freezes me, I suppose, but rage. The NYT magazine this weekend has a piece about female rage, about how and when (and which) women “get” to be angry, and how readily angry women are dismissed from any conversation.

Folks who’ve been oppressed for generations aren’t supposed to be angry about it — we are supposed to forgive and move forward with our oppressors. Women of all races; folks of color; queer folks — forgive and move on! Things are better now! Don’t be so angry. Why are you so angry? Don’t you know if you bring anger into the room, no one will take you seriously? You’ll just make people uncomfortable.

And anyway, what do you have to be angry about, women? Some men who abused women have been fired! You got what you wanted! Some men are — well — thinking about their language sometimes, in mixed company. Isn’t that the revolution you were looking for?

What I noticed was that a lot of those blog posts I started and then abandoned were really fucking angry. I am so tired of having to DEBATE the relative harm of different forms of sexual violence in a culture that is built on and shaped to protect male sexual entitlement, hello. Every piece of it, that is, every instance of sexual violence feeds the system, and tangles with every other instance. Every Aziz Ansari who we dismiss as not that bad and just needs to learn and didn’t know he was doing the wrong thing is laying the groundwork for a Harvey W., and is communicating to every woman everywhere what she can expect, or what she has to defend or armor up against, if she wants to have sex with men or masculine people.

If we repeat it enough, will you hear us? It doesn’t seem likely, but we keep saying it, just not for you — but for us. For those among us who need to know that we are not crazy for being outraged or triggered every time we turn on the news; that there’s nothing wrong with us for expecting our sexual partners to treat us like human beings who deserve respect and even adoration; that there’s nothing wrong with us for having expected those who were tasked with the job of raising and protecting us to do just that and only that; and that there’s nothing wrong with us for wanting a break from the litany of abuse stories sometimes — it doesn’t make us bad survivors, or unsupportive.

Sometimes you have to leave the room, quit trying to talk to people who will insist on misunderstanding you so that they can exhaust you into submission and silence. Sometimes you have to shift into another part of the house, with people who are interested in a different kind of conversation.

Be easy with yourselves out there, ok? Write hard, write whatever the fuck you want to, as angry as you want to write it, and then take yourself out for some ice cream or popcorn or even a non-food-related treat (which I just can’t seem to be able to imagine at the moment). I am grateful for each of you out there, and stand with you in the moments when you can’t speak, when you choose not to,  and in the moments when you do. Thank you for your words today.

we show up for our creative beauty

graffiti painted on a wall that of a village at night,stars and moon overhead, trees in the foreground

Homage to a Starry Night, Santa Monica (flickr)

Good morning, good morning. What’s the day opening up like where you are? Here there’s a chill in the air after a too-hot yesterday, and the birds are still recuperating, I think — I haven’t heard a single one wake up yet. Wait, there they are…

It’s been hard to write recently. I sit down at the desk in the morning and all the words evaporate from my head. I try to sneak up on them, the way you might with a skittish cat or a butterfly or a hummingbird resting at the tip of a bottlebrush tree branch, but they slip away from me as soon as I get close enough to see what they might look like. The writing just isn’t coming.

Still, I dutifully show up at the desk most mornings, I sit down with the candle and notebook or this quieted keyboard.  I come down here anyway, even though I’m not feeling the urgency. This is the part about showing up anyway, about being true to the thing in you that’s going to want to sing eventually. I’m not sure what stories or essays are going to want to come next, but I hold the channel open, that’s what someone suggested once: You have to keep the channel open.

I have been feeling very bad about the fact that I’m not “really” writing — developing nothing much new for publication or sharing on this blog, no new submissions, no new words. I rage regularly when listening to the news or reading the paper, but then I show up here at the keyboard in the mornings, and the words slip out from under my fingers, they pull away like a shadow under sunlit scrutiny, they hide under the folds of depression, under the fragments of despair, they leave me to walk in the nightmorning alone. I have been stuck for weeks in the old story, in a painful story, in the story that says I am worthless and nothing I do matters. I have been afraid and lost ever since well before the book came out. And when I’m not writing, I tend to feel even worse about myself. Somedays I come down and just sit in the dark and listen to the nightsounds outside, watch the candle, some mornings I can just rock in the chair and sip my tea. Then I spend the day beating myself up for not writing.

I read a story this weekend about Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night: apparently people are visiting the MOMA in New York  just to take selfies with the painting, not to look at it. Not to see it. What caught my attention in the piece, though, were Vincent’s words, his hopelessness, how he felt unseen, unwanted, unappreciated as an artist: “One comfort for someone who loves Van Gogh,” the author says, “and can’t see over the crowd’s shoulders and heads is to recall the artist’s deep misery that his work would never be noticed. ‘What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity,’ he despaired, ‘an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have.'”

I thought I should cut those words out and hang them over my desk, to see when I am feeling low, when I am in the dark times, when I am in the trough, to remember how many of us feel this way, and how often.

What am I realizing this morning is that, even though the it’s been hard to create much recently, I have still kept faith with the writing. I have kept to my part in the covenant. Even when depression fills me to the brim, even when I am feeling so hopeless that writing can accomplish anything at all — just look at the world; what can this writing possibly do? — I still get up before the dawn, make my tea, light the candles, and open the notebook to a new page or open a blank notepad document here on the computer. I try again. Maybe this morning will be different. Maybe this morning the words will come.

Sometimes I have to force myself to write my three pages. Sometimes I can’t or won’t even do that. But my body is here. The channel is open. I remain faithful to something hopeful in me that wants to be with the words, that trusts they will come back, that still believes in what words can do — for me, and in the world.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been walking with the puppy out by the bay in the mornings after I write. At about 7, she gets up, shakes the sleep off her fur, and walks over to me, leans her head hard into my calves. It’s time, it’s time. So we get ready and go out into the early sunrise. We walk on quiet morning fields, we watch sea lions in the swelling bay water scoop up fish for breakfast, and pelicans land like splashing-down space capsules before gliding off like swans. I move this good body that I have spent so many years beating up. I think about how I’m going to Write More Now Goddamnit. And then I throw the ball again for the puppy, who launches herself up to retrieve it out of the air with so much delight in the Right Now.

I put one foot in front of the other, I keep going, even when everything looks hopeless. And this morning I can recognize the faith inherent in that. the hope there. I can beat myself up for not doing enough, or I can look around the edges of those old voices and see how I have been keeping faith with my creative self, showing up for her even when she is (justifiably) scared that she won’t be listened to or certain that her words won’t do any good — the world is still going to be an awful place when she gets up from the keyboard and blows out the candle. Sure, I think, but somewhere, maybe, there’s someone who wanted companionship in the midst of this awfulness. Somewhere there is a story that wants to live in the world.

We keep going. We show up even when the words are rough going. We show up even when everything tells us not to bother. We show up for truth and our creative beauty even when the world around us looks like all and only devastation.

Thank you, this morning, for the times you take a deep breath and have faith in something tender and necessary: the generosity of your voice, the playfulness your words can bring, the brilliant beauty that wouldn’t exist if you don’t let it emerge through your fingers (and any other creative mode in which you discover beauty and truth). Thank you for your spaciousness with this process, with yourself. Thank you, today, for your words.

the next phase of write it anyway

graffiti

 

 

 

 

 

 

From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

-Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks

Good morning, good morning. The birds are awake and insistent this morning. the BART train trails across the lower half of my sky. I can hear it long after it’s gone. That’s the way dreams are sometimes, isn’t it? The fog is still covering, thick and tensile, dusting my skin with leftover starlight. This is what happens when the romantic lifts up from the dreams and suffers into the daytime.

Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, writing is. Sometimes it’s worse than that. Sometimes you can’t get to the writing at all. Sometimes you sit down with the pen and notebook and what comes instead is blank, is empty, is forget, is nothing. Sometimes when you open the laptop all you can allow to be available is reruns of old tv shows on YouTube because social media isn’t a place, really, that you should be anymore, so you don’t go there to write — social media isn’t a place anyone should be any more, in your opinion — but certainly the thing you aren’t doing, the thing you can’t do, is opening up a new blank window and letting words come. Is what used to be called writing. You aren’t doing that anymore, apparently.

Sometimes it’s like the pain has settled over your brain and you forget that you used to be called writer. Sometime there are too many months of all the other worries — the family worries, the money worries — that take up all the space in the necessary brain, whose tendrils encroach into the creative brain and you are stuck making hamburgers over the stove or roasting gravensteins or asking over your shoulder why you shouldn’t just spend your nights reading Calvin and Hobbes once more time for old times’ sake.

Maybe you are back to keeping other people’s secrets and you are hard and heavy with them. Maybe you are again negotiating within yourself what’s all right to say, what’s not. Sometimes there’s so much else to do, and the words won’t come anyway, so you just put then pen down and pick up the sponge the spatula the car keys the people-tempering-smile and try and forget about writing for one more day.

You are forge and temper and loss and grief. You are old sorrow, and you remember — oh yes, writing doesn’t undo old sorrow. Writing doesn’t save me. Writing doesn’t take away the people who say yes to the men who rape and pillage. Was there some little-girl part of you (by which I mean idealistic hopeful wanting part of you) that thought it could, that thought the words could make a big difference like that?

You think, oh fuck, one more story about the guy getting away with rape (or murder or…), and you are overwhelmed with the old feelings and you think, just let the dust settle here and I can get back to writing, but then you wake up the next day and the same thing has happened again. Another man, another rape or murder, this is the country, the planet, the people we live in. You understand that you can’t just let the triggers settle and ease back before you write again because you are apparently living once again in a state of ever-present triggeredness and rage.

So you put the pen down. You don’t miss it for awhile. You don’t remember ever going to long without writing, without feeling the daily need to write, that thick hunger in your belly, that ache in your shoulders, that thing in you that needs to speak to something, somewhere, even if just to the blank and empty page. Maybe the urge is shifting, clouding. Maybe it’s just grieving. Maybe it’s lost and confused and so disappointed it doesn’t have words to speak about it anymore.

Maybe it is back in the old remembering, twenty-five years ago, when you sat in a bare and dirty room in a farm house in New Hampshire on the phone with a mother who said to you, Yes, I know he is doing those things to you, what else did you want to tell me? And you remember the first time a mother said that the rapist was worth more than you, than your heart and needs, than your well-being and life.

What I want to say is that you remember the first time you were stung silent with grief and loss, when words didn’t just not respond. They weren’t there at all. When there were no words for how awful a thing was, when there were no words for all that you’d lost, all that you’d have to shed in order to keep on living. The difference was, that time, you didn’t know how important writing was going to be to that keeping alive of you. You had ahead of you all of that discovery.

This time, you have been writing for years. You know what it can do. And now you have learned another layer of what it can’t. All the writing in journals and blogs and newspapers and newscasts and letters and fingertip scars and on bus stop walls and along the undersides of thighs and bellies can’t make the people you love unchoose the man who would take off your skin and slice the insides of you up for his entertainment. Can’t make the people of your country, your community, your home love, unchoose a violent, raping, stupid, dickless wonder of a troll who is ‘leading’ our country right into the toilet, supported, it seems, by all the rest of our country’s so-called governing bodies. And it can’t make people recognize a rapist when more than 50 women come forward to tell us he is one. And it can’t make people demand accountability from a police system so steeped in racism that we can (and do) literally watch officers murdering citizens in cold blood, over and over and over, and still not find them guilty of crimes against individual humans and humanity as a whole.

There are still those among my people who will say rape is not a  thing, racism is not a thing. There are serious discussions on the radio: Is it too late, in graduate school, to be teaching male students not to sexually harass or assault women when they get out into the real world of business, tech, work, whatever? And I yell at the radio, Do you honestly think they need another sexual harassment training? When the whole world around them is situated to favor their penis over all else? There are still those who are asking, do I really have to stop liking the art/books/movies/comedy/apps of the men who have raped or beaten women? There are still women asking those questions.

And so this is what happens when you sit down to write: All the anger, old and now, gets clogged in your throat, at the back of your brain. Along the single track that’s supposed to lead the thoughts from just-consciousness down into your fingers and onto the page, well, that track gets snarled in a wreck of everything that wants out right now right now right now. Everything is insistent. You don’t matter if you aren’t responding to this exact moment.

You watch others respond more effectively. There are others who seem somehow capable of engaging in this larger cultural conversation through their writing and words, who aren’t getting snarled in the old loss, who can articulate their feelings without it tangling into the branches of yesterday’s trauma inside your chest and heart. You try not to hate yourself for not being like them, for not being able to do what they can do.

You remember what you used to say: just write it, and you will feel better. But now you know that once you write it down, you’ll walk back out into the world and there will still be neighbors of Arab-descent, of Mexican- and Latin-American-descent, who are afraid for their lives, their children’s lives, their family’s lives. You’ll walk back out into a world in which men can say they think women like to be harassed. In which men young and old, who have been raised in a culture which is talking continually about the rights of women, can still turn over a drunk friend and press their penis into her body and think they did something right that day.

So this is the next layer of learning, the next phase of write anyway. Write anyway. It won’t fix anything out there. It won’t make the rapist-in-chief unchosen. It won’t make the rapists-in-entertainment somehow less powerful or less rich or less acceptable to a society that seems to value celebrity and shitty behavior over all else.

But this is what your writing, your having written, will do: it will remind you of the yes in your own heart and hands. It will be one more plaice you found to say no to the insistent demands of violence and terror. It will be one more time you told that young one in you, we can choose to do something different. It will be a telling the truth in a place that could accept that truth, your complicated and beautiful and real truth, without apology, without fear, without shame.

Write anyway. And thank you every day for every one of your hard-won words.

come back

Angel breaking through the wallGood morning. The music is going, the coffee is percolating, and the rose blooms wide open, like my body. I am surrounded by the books that I love and the home I have made for myself.

I want to tell you that I never believed I could get here, to this place, of possibility and celebration. I reach back into the years of despair, if only to remember again what it felt like to wake up hopeless, if only to remember what it felt like to not ache, not believe. I hoped and longed for and wanted but did not believe I deserved. I did not ever see myself getting here, to the place I wanted: a body that was certain of and curious about itself, hands filled with words and joy, a little apartment in the city that was a haven for language and resilience. But that is what I have.

Today’s post is brought to you by this quote from a poem by Kallie Falandays:
“I want to give you your history back.
Your fingers back. I want to tell you yes.”

and by this quote from Carl Jung:

“In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential that we embody. If we do not embody that, life is wasted.”

This morning I want to say yes. I am afraid, and I am resolved. These are the things that I can do. I can write sex, I can adore poetry, I can wonder at the mystery of the world. I can find words for the tenderest absurdities that occur in the erotic body, I can be a woman who clawed her way back into her own skin. I can remember what it was like to feel outside of my own bones. I can laugh at what wants to dissuade me. I can long for your yes. I can find words for this now of our recovery. I can be the girl with the birds in the back of her throat.

I may never be the safe and clean thing you’d hoped to birth. I may be always sharing words of danger with the strangers who hover around your shoulders.

The poet says, “I want to give you your history back. I want to give you your fingers back. I want to tell you yes.” I want you to know your essences, I want you to feel the importance of your presence on this earth surging through every one of your cells. I want yes to sing through your every syllable. I am speaking to the hardened and to the lost. I am speaking to you who is stuck in her bed. I am speaking to the old me, to the me I’ll be again: despairing and certain she will be forgotten. I am speaking to the one who knows for sure she will never desire again. I am speaking to the broken, to you who do not believe you will ever be welcome to to unfurl.

I want your myriad, cacophonous voices. I want your heavy stories. I want the words that lodge at the back of your throat. I want your mysteries and countenances. I want the history that you have not been allowed to share. I want to hear why you’re sure it’s your fault. I want to listen to you. I want the room to listen to you. I want you to take up all the airtime you need. I want you to talk for hours. I want your words to fill the world. I want the lenses to focus in I want everything to center on you. I want you to tell us. I want you to say it. I want you to put them into words, all those hauntings that shred the edges of your consciousness, your everyday walk to work, your now.

Come back to us. Don’t keep all your songs to yourself. Allow yourself to offer the generosity of the horror that lives in your bones. Do you understand me? Your history is not your burden to carry alone. You are not meant to do this work alone. You are meant to have other hands help you in the carrying, other ears and lungs and legs; it is not meant to be that the deepest intimacy in your life is between you and your violator. Do you understand me? You are meant to settle into the circle of darkness and light that we all share. You are meant to be a part of this humanity, this collection of desecrations and holy knowings, this confabulation of traumas and resiliences. You are not alone. No one will know your story if you do not share it with us. No one will know what you saw and felt and know if you do not release those ephemera and terrors into language.

We need all the wordings you can wonder yourself into. We need them to know you, and to know ourselves. Get lost in the sorrow if you have to — of course, sometimes we all have to — but come back soon. We need what you have to tell us. The essence of you is a necessary part of this earthly existence. Tell us what you have seen.

Thank you.

what your book might do

Good morning, writers — how’s today’s creative possibility holding you? Have you already put pen to the page, fingers to keyboard? Have you released the words that built up in you in the night?
~~ ~~ ~~

Today’s post comes out a write from a recent Dive Deep meeting; the prompt was an excerpt from this post on the Ploughshares blog: “Write As If…”

Here’s what I wrote:

Write as if this book is the one someone needs.

Maybe not everyone. Maybe it won’t be a runaway bestseller. Maybe the big agent will turn their nose, maybe the big publisher will get wowed by some other story. No matter. You find a younger agent, a smaller publisher, your book makes a little splash but maybe Terry Gross doesn’t call.

Your book, still, gets added to bookshelves at bookstores and libraries. Some people read it. They highlight sections and fold down the corners of pages. They keep your words next to them on the bedside table. They will loan the book around to their friends, saying “Listen, you’ve got to read this – check out this part right here…” and they will pull the book or essay or story open to their favorite paragraphs, the ones you struggled so hard over, or the ones you flung out and thought no one would probably ever even read.

Their friends will ask to borrow your book and won’t return it.

Maybe the book won’t top the New York Times bestseller list – but your book is your honest offering, and will, when it reaches out into the world, change the possibilities available to your readers’ lives. This is true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, journalism or fantasy. Your book will do big work, whether on a smaller or larger scale; it simply needs you to get it out there. Your readers need you to get it out there.

Maybe you will have modest sales – maybe you will get invited to do some readings, and maybe not as many as you’d hoped. Still, one day someone in despair or confusion or grief will be working their slow way through the library stacks during their sophomore year in college; they will pull your book from the shelf, sit down on the rolling stepstool, open your book and begin to read. Your words will move into them, and they will find themselves changed. This person will likely never be able to communicate this to you – how your words met them at exactly the right moment and offered them hope or strength or possibility or laughter or some precise sense of witness — withness. How they understood that they were not alone because of your words in that book.

This is the sort of holy transaction between reader and writer that we forget to name, that is almost unspeakable: the love that reaches across time and space, you pushing out with the words you had to write, and that person receiving them may be years later, overwhelmed with gratitude for the person you are right now who undertook the enormous effort to make these words available for them.

I want you to write now, and write as if you need that person as much as they need you –

~~ ~~ ~~

Give yourself at least twenty minutes today, and write as if — write as if you already have an agent, already spoke to your ideal publisher, already know your book is going to find a home somewhere. Or (more important as far as I’m concerned) write as if you can see that someone who might need your story, your essay, your book one day — write to them. Write it.

Thank you for the generosity of your offerings today. Thank you for your words.

letting life in around the words

Trees
~Bishal Karna
 
About life

I started writing a book.

Writing the book

Became my life.
 
About writing a book
I started writing a book.
Writing about writing the book
Became my life.
 
Meanwhile,
The mango plants in my garden
Bear delicious fruits.

~~ ~~ ~~

This poem fits today: I’ve spent so many years tangling with how to write the story of my life that I can get pulled right out of actually living it. This morning I spent a little time in my garden, after four or five days being away from it. I was frustrated with myself because I hadn’t gotten out of bed early to do my morning pages.

I was awake at five, but my body was achy, I’d only gotten about five hours of sleep, blah blah blah: all the usual excuses rose up in me when I thought about swinging my legs over the side of the bed and slipping out from under the covers — only this morning, I listened to them. I let them win. I fluffed my pillow, curled into a new and more comfortable position, and went back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 5:30, I proceeded to play the snooze game for another half an hour, until my sweetheart came in to (sweetly) inquire as to whether I ever planned to join the day.

Meanwhile, in my only-sort-of-sleeping-inbetween-the-snooze-going-off-every-nine-minutes state of mind, I was deep into the self-recrimination: you say you want to write but you don’t even have the discipline to get yourself out of bed.

Do you ever get tired of writing (about) your excuses?

Today, the page didn’t feel like a friend. I imagined pulling myself from under the covers, thumping down the stairs to the kitchen, lighting the candle and opening the notebook, only to be confronted with the leer of all those empty, blue lines: now do you have something worthwhile to say? Just for today, I couldn’t bear it. Please, don’t give me more room for rumination that I’m supposed to pretend is art. Please, don’t force me to be of use this early in the day.

So much inner critic, which gets louder and louder the more often I hit snooze. Then I fell back asleep and dreamt about my stepfather, who’s been visiting me in my dreams lately. He doesn’t say much — he’s a presence and an energy, something that lives in me now as one of the layers of my psychic majesty. Today he wanted some protocol followed that I didn’t want to participate in but finally capitulated to. I called him sir, in the dream (which never was the case in real life), when I gave in to his instruction. A half-swallowed sir, something he didn’t require but that I’d added reflexively. Some layers here.

Then I woke up again and it was seven and I’d missed all the good of the day because the sun was already up. You ruined another one, Jen, said the inner critic. (So easy to do so much wrong and be asleep for most of it!) There was much commotion in the house, readying for school and work, so there was no way I could focus now on my morning pages. I just had to forget about writing and hope that maybe tomorrow I do it better. This is the morning bargain with the inner critic, who would like me to either have conditions be perfect (which they never are) or forgo writing altogether: tomorrow I’ll be perfect, I promise.

And then I thought this line: sometimes the page doesn’t feel friendly — and something fluttered like a feeling through my body: maybe I’ll go ahead and write anyway.

And then I got out of the damn bed and passed through the morning’s fray directly into the garden, which was in dire need of watering (and weeding, maybe: I can’t decide whether to treat the purple oxalis like a pest or like lush ground cover — or steam it up for lunch). Once I picked up the hose and started talking to the mints and the johnny-jump-ups, something shifted in me. I was in another element, another part of my life: I was letting life be life. Some days don’t have to be perfect. Some days can start off on the wrong foot (or no feet and difficult dreams) and shift easily back into alignment if I listen to my instincts and simply try and take the next right step.

I watered and looked over the damage Sophie had wrought during a weekend mostly unsupervised — some carrot sprouts dug up, one salvia plant in need of serious splinting. While I was engaged in this effort, the closed and self-shamed bits in me began to open up, peek out from behind their hiding places, pointing out other spots that needed water, sections of the garden that need fertilizing, one of the newly-planted rosemary bushes that had just begun to put out tiny blue flowers. There was a shifting in me. The day wasn’t ruined. Just breathe. Everything’s ok. The critic wasn’t as audible anymore.

Now I’m out in the sun, typing up this damn post, and grateful. After I’m done, I’ll go into the garden and do a bit more pruning. The tomatoes have finally given up the ghost — it’s time to pull up the plants and hang them upside down til all the last green tomatoes ripen.

What if you trust your process this morning? What words would come if you imagined writing anyway, for just fifteen minutes, even though everything’s wrong? And then — what if nothing is wrong?

Thanks for your spaciousness today, for your listening heart and wise, writing hands. Thank you for your words.

begin again (again)

This is where we begin: at the open notebook, at the blank page. It’s morning again, and we are starting over, again. Even if we are in the middle of a longer work, even if we have characters who whisper to us in our dreams, still: every morning is a beginning again. Every morning we are afraid we might not be able to do it, or we are afraid that nothing will come. Every time we are confronted with that space of blankness that opens out behind our fingers, behind our eyes, behind the parts of our physical selves that do the writing, the places from which the writing emerges into and through us. I have written about this before, and I suspect I will return to it again, too.

This is where we begin: at the self that’s still healing, at the self that still aches for acceptance, at the parts of our own story still being written. What am I trying to say? I sit down at the notebook and want to make sense of a story that is still finding its way into words. This is a morning write. Deliver the words into the air of the page, deliver the words into the fear and the sadness anyway. Watch the sky shift from its nighttime blackness into shallow early morning shadow, and follow those shadows into the words you need to write.

This is where we begin: at the mourning places, with the voices in us that are still keening, with the small death songs that our hands have never been able to sing. We write them down. We write down what we could not mourn when we were younger: lost friendships, stolen dogs, missteps, old wantings, family that could have been but was not allowed to be.

This is where we begin: in the deep joy, in the play, in the silliness, in the wordwonder that struck us when we first began to move pencil across blue-lined pages. We begin again in that first delight in the fact we can shape out of only words a thing that didn’t exist before, an experience, an understanding, a conveyance from ourselves and into another (or more fully into ourselves). We begin in wonder, in longing, and with hope.

There is always a beginning. This is what I’m holding this week. I have been doing this workshop-facilitation work for ten years, this writing work for about twenty, and I still feel like a beginner. I want answers and clarity, and the one thing (possibly the only) I’m sure about is this: we have to begin again. We have to pick up the pen, again. We have to open the notebook to a blank page or the next empty line, take a deep breath, and begin to write. We have to step into the mystery that is this process, the alchemy of want and haunting, language and upbringing, creative mastery and deep curiosity, healing and play.

I will spend a lifetime seeking the language for what it is that happens when we who have survived a traumatic experience sit ourselves down in a writing place and begin to let our words flow, openly, authentically, and without censorship — when we write whatever wants to be written, however it wants to be written. I don’t have the words yet, not just the right ones, and so I keep writing. I step in again, I remove my armor again, I meet the confusion and fear again, I let the words come, again. I trust that whatever words will come will be the right ones. I take deep breaths around the desire to control the flow: I wanted to write it this way, but the words are pulling me over here. Ok, then follow the words over there. There is a logical sense to this practice, this process, and its a logic born of the underground, the current and network of interconnected pathways and experience that shapes our entire lives. It’s a logic we can’t put our fingers on. It’s a logic we can’t see or explicate, a logic that tethers itself to a something beyond.

In trusting that the words will come, we are trusting ourselves, and we are trusting something other: whatever it is that delivers us the words. I don’t have a language for that other; let’s stay with mystery, or the well of creativity, or human resilience — regardless, whenever we sit down to write our stories or our poems or our journal entries or our fiction, we invite ourselves into or alongside that other. We knock on the door and we hope again that we will be admitted. Sitting down is the knocking. Lifting the pen is the knocking. Writing even though we don’t know what we’re going to say, or how we’re going to say it, is the knocking. This is how we gain admittance into that place of other, that deepness in ourselves: we begin again today.

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What is it in you that is longing, again, to find some space on the page? What would celebrate having ten minutes to play in the words with you today? Offer that time today: ten minutes, open notebook, pen, go. Begin with the phrase, “Begin again” or “We (She/He/They/You) can begin again.” If you get stuck, write it again. Begin again, again today.

Remember that the early-bird rates for the fall in-person writing groups ends this Saturday. Register this week to join us for Write Whole (open to all trauma survivors) or Reclaiming Our Erotic Story at the discounted rate.

Thank you for the ways you enter into the joy and play and unknown of this practice. Thank you for your writing today, and thank you for your words.

 

languaging the hopelessness

This is not a hopeful post today. Skip this one if you need to be lifted up, ok? Today I am unreasonably irritated with every noise outside. Who decides to use a gas-powered blower at 6:30 in the morning? Why do people seem to have no regard for one another?

I need help to keep from slipping into the abyss of despair and apathy, to keep from slipping into the awareness, behind the lens, that there is no changing human nature — men will always point guns into closed doors and just start firing at whatever happens to be behind the wood and metal, killing children, killing mothers and fathers, killing other men; men will continue to wield their machines on an earth that will bend to their efforts; men will continue to sever the legs and eyes of animals. This is a despairing morning. The dog is ready to go outside and the music is louder than I’d like it to be so that I can drown out the noise of a machine that is blowing leaves around so that the driveway of a fancy apartment building can look neat for the tenants as they exit the double glass doors on their way to work. It used to be that the people waited until 9 o’clock for that sort of noise — they understood that tenants, and the people who live in surrounding buildings, were still sleeping. They understood that the noise would interfere with the work of the morning: the slow wake, the tending to family, the quiet that we need in order to find ourselves again after succumbing to dreams. Who cares now about the noise we make or the way we impinge upon others? The news helicopters fly low over a downtown community, hoping to get a good shot for their 6pm broadcast — meanwhile, our teeth and windows chatter, our neighbors hide under their beds with trauma memory, and we cannot concentrate on the work of our living. The man goes by with the radio that sounds like it was meant to boom into a stadium, not stuffed into the confines of a souped-up lexus.

Can you tell I’m premenstural? And still the irritation isn’t about hormones, but about this particular instantiation of the civilization I am participating in. Every noise clacks and clangs up into my insides. I feel like pulling my ears off. That’s not even a little bit true — at this point in the hormonal surge, what I want is to remove whatever parts of your body make it possible for you to fling all your noise at me. Garbage men banging around cans at 5:30 in the morning? Give me your arms. Neighbors who need to exercise over the squeakiest part of your apartment floor right in the middle of my writing group? Let me have your legs please. I would like the lips of the smoker who lives up the hall; the voice boxes of all the barking dogs, the car engines, the helicopter blades, the rapists’ penises and hands and tongues — please hand all of it over to me right now. It would seem that you don’t know how to handle it. You can have it back when you can play nice with it.

Why don’t you just leave if you don’t like it, then? And of course, I have that option. I’m aware of that part of my privilege. I can move out of the city — because we all know there’s no violence in small towns and in the country. I can find my quiet isolation. I can find people who have some consideration for one another — at least on the surface. At least on the street. At least as long as we all look alike and talk alike and don’t make anyone too uncomfortable. I can run away from the city, where the only work we can do is aftermath work — no one is willing to change their behavior or give up the power they think they get from violence. I want to be able to envision a time when my sexual trauma survivor writing groups would be unnecessary, but the noise from the garbage trucks is too loud this morning, and up the road, a man is raping his daughter. A mother is doing more than just not seeing.

I want something hopeful but sometimes what we have to do is find the language for our despair — look all the way inside of it — and then keep moving forward anyway.

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Find some words for the places in you that feel unspeakable today. I know we’re only supposed to talk about the positive things — I know that when we give any room to what’s “negative” or difficult in us, the terrorists win. I know, we’re supposed to put a positive spin on everything — that way, we only draw to us what’s positive. Right?

Or, you know, you can find the words for what’s inside you, and keep going. Some days, finding a positive spin means swallowing your tongue and getting caught in the centrifugal force. Write all of it. It all belongs to you. Give yourself twenty minutes, and just let the words come. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for exactly who and where you are today. Thank you for your words.