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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.

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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.

FH-hummingbird-slider

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.

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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?
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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 –

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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.

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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.

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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.

FH-hummingbird-slider

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.

 

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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.

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write why it matters

I have my angel islands on today, my candle drifted, my morning tea. The long boat of the night is gone and we drift into this day, we peek or float or flail. We whisper or whimper.

I sit down at the page and know that I’m out-gunned, that I will never get it all down. I will always be chasing something I can never catch. I have to pick up the pen anyway. That’s the day’s first triumph. I will never capture every thought and image, I will never pierce every hole inside, I will never get it all out there. There’s just no way. We have too many stories.

What does it matter whether you write something today that didn’t exist in the world before, if that writing never sees anything but the inside of your notebook? What does it matter if you sit yourself down in front of the page every day, a resolute starfish obeying the tides? What does it matter if you wipe the sleep from your eyes fifteen minutes earlier than usual so that you know you’ll have those few moments when you feel the most whole, the most uncontained, the most possible?

Does it matter if the process shifts something inside you, defeats the anxieties, quiets the spinning places, opens the eyes of curiosity? Does it matter if it’s a place of meditation and play and sorrow and confusion and joy?

Give yourself ten minutes and write why it matters that every day you do it anyway: pick up this implement of humanity and try again.

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do what matters to you now

I am working on a book. It is the book of my right-now heart, and it’s where most of my writing energy is going these days — including my blogging energy, which means I’ll be blogging less frequently again for awhile. I will sometimes share here what I’m working on for the book, and will welcome your thoughts and feedback.

The life I want to live is the life that has writing and books and love and the natural world at the center of it: this means that when I’m done writing, I don’t want to spend more time at the computer; I want to go outside, for a walk with the dog, or time in the garden, or to run and dance by the bay. That’s the life I have created, and am living into. That’s my fairy door.

Last week a new friend died. He was with me on Tuesday afternoon for a surprise short walk. About an hour later he had a brain aneurysm and went into a coma. Five days later he died. Last week was a week of presence with his community of good and close friends. It was a week of presence with my beloved: this man was one of her two closest and oldest friends, her son’s godfather, one of her roots in this life. It was a week of thinking about what matters. This is the terrible root of the cliche of my this week: his death has me thinking about how we accomplish what is most important before we die.

My friend was quite young, just fifty years old. He had vast amounts of life still to lead. He told me, during that last conversation we had, that he was accepting himself as an artist.

I have spent much of my adult life afraid of dying. I have been terrified that I would not complete the work I was put here to do, the work that matters the most to me — terrified I would not heal, would not ever get to write, would not get to be free before I died. I have been debilitated by this fear for years, so overwhelmed that all I could do was drink and watch tv to get out of the panic. That particular state of being isn’t exactly living — my body was alive, but I didn’t take any enjoyment or satisfaction from that fact. I was afraid that if I lived my life fully, my stepfather would find a way to take away what I had finally let myself love: life, friends, work, children, relationships… he had promised to destroy me, don’t you see? He promised. So, to forstall against the inevitable, I kept myself from living fully into my life. The end result is the same, of course, only I just did his work for him.

So now I am writing my book. On the day my friend died, I took a walk from my apartment to Jack London Square, and looked out at the San Francisco Bay. I had planned to sit there and cry for awhile, missing him, thinking about my beloved and what it means for her now to reconfigure a life so shaped by and around this particular friendship, what it means for her son to live the rest of his life without the physical presence of this man’s exhuberance and delight and struggle and joy.

I sat on a concrete piling and let the hard breeze ruffle me. I cried a little. And I thought, then, of how much work I still have to do before death comes for me — which could be later today. I felt him urging me back to my desk: Go do what you love, he might have said. Make this the life you want right  now. There’s not be enough money, you might be afraid, you won’t do it perfectly. Who cares? Go do it.

I walked home quickly and sat down at my kitchen table and opened up a new notebook and started to write, and have been working on this project for more than an hour every day since.

What matters most to you? What are you afraid you won’t get done before you lose the ability to do it? What has fear of death kept you from doing? What has fear of living kept you from doing? Any one of these might be prompts for this day. Take 20 minutes — they’re yours to do with as you wish. Write longer if you feel so drawn.

Thank you for how you risk loving, risk living. Thank you for your work today. Thank you for your words.

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taking care of all of our creative self

It’s a bird party outside my window this morning. The house finches have taken over the live oak and are demanding to be heard, demanding to be taken seriously. The are tangling with their small constituencies, assuring themselves of their song. They flit back and forth between bird feeder and branch, establishing intimacies and hierarchies, listening to belly and instinct. They bring some bright into the grey out there.

Good Friday morning to you. How has this week been treating you?

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If you’re in the Bay Area, don’t forget to come over to Berkeley tomorrow and join AWA West and PSR as we celebrate the launch of Pat Schneider‘s new book, How The Light Gets In: Writing As A Spiritual Practice. The event is free, and meets at the PSR campus at 1798 Scenic Ave. in Berkeley. The afternoon writing groups are full (though you can probably get your name on a waiting list if you hurry), but you can certainly join us for the reception and reading tomorrow evening. Pat will read from the book, and then she’ll have a conversation with Cary Tennis about Amherst Writers and Artists, writing practice, and so much more. Writing Ourselves Whole will have a table at the event — come on over and say hi if you’re able to make it! There are a few more copies of the Fierce Hunger chapbook left and I’ll have those available for sale, as well as information about the Summer workshop schedule. I hope to see you!

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This morning I got back into my notebook for the first time in about a week. I’d been feeling especially gross, all the inside voices telling me that it didn’t matter if I wrote, that my work doesn’t mean anything, that my time would be better spent with a bowl of chocolate frosting and some terrible television. Do you get the inside voices taking up all the space between your ears and around your heart? How do you take care of yourself  when they get especially loud and demanding? Continue reading “taking care of all of our creative self”