Tag Archives: writing prompts

steal your writing time

Good morning good morning good morning — the summer morning outside my window is grey and sounds like the whistle of a train passing through Jack London Square. What is rising for you this morning? What is falling away?

I am entering into a couple-day writing retreat: two days focused on a couple of book projects, two days of stealing away from my regular life, two days in which I give myself permission not to feel guilty if I spend time writing rather than doing other work. This is a stay-at-home writing retreat, and will be interrupted by a trip to the vet and a few other tasks (mostly involving prep for writing groups); still, my primary focus for these next two days will be on moving these books forward.

How often do you give yourself permission for a day to focus on writing? How often do you give yourself permission for thirty minutes, or ten? How often do you feel as though you are stealing time from something, or someone, else in order to write?

How often do you actually sit down in front of the page and just let the words flow? I’m not talking about an email or an essay for school or a grant proposal — I’m talking about playing on the page, responding to prompts shared here on this blog or elsewhere, writing down that poem you began to dream during the commute home or the exchange you witnessed between that old man and young checker at the grocery store or the memory you had of your mother the summer you were six and she took the day off from work just so that the two of you could spend a day at the pool, or was it the beach? How often do you think, I should write that down, and don’t?

How often does it happen that then, when you’ve finally decided to take those ten minutes to get your body in front of the page, you find you have nothing to say, nothing to write — all those great things you wanted to write about when you were in the shower or busy working on a spreadsheet or talking with your bestie on the phone just disappeared! It’s just you and your pen and the blank page and the emptiness in your head. Do you think to yourself, Who am I kidding? What makes me think I’m a writer? Why did I ever tell anyone that I want to write? Look at me — I can’t even move my pen.

Does that emptiness make you want to quit trying? How frustrated does this cycle of guilt and larceny make you feel?

I have a challenge for you today, you who wish to write, you who have words dancing under your skin and a lifetime of terror and disappointment and fear keeping the words from pushing out, stained and broken and imperfect, onto the page: I want you to take ten minutes today. Ten. That’s all. Ten minutes for this writing thing you love.

I want you to change one thing about your daily routine just so that you have those ten minutes. Turn of the tv a little bit early. Get to the gym a little bit late. Take your notebook and pen into the bathroom and lock the door. Get sneaky if you have to, to get these ten minutes where you will not be interrupted by family or friends. Tell yourself that you’ll get a reward after if you write for just ten minutes (and then make good on that reward!) — a half hour of silly television or reading the magazine that came in the mail today or hanging out doing a project with your kids or a dish of ice cream or some pieces of really good dark chocolate or … you know what would make the best reward for you. Of course, even better is the reward your creative genius receives: she gets to see that you will give her some time, that you are wiling to carve out ten minutes to listen to her rambling, generous voice.

Open the notebook and begin writing from the phrase, “This is what she stole…” or “This is what he stole…” (or “we stole” or “you stole” or “they stole…”). Complete that sentence with a single item or a list, and if you don’t know what to write next, start again. “They stole diapers and they stole time. We stole glossy, foil-wrapped Cadbury eggs from the convenience store up the road at Eastertime. He stole…”

Ten minutes. Set a timer. Stop when the time is up, period. If you’re really into the writing, break off in the middle of the sentence, and begin again when you steal another ten minutes tomorrow.

Keep on stealing these ten minute snatches. Do this day after day. Take twenty minutes some days. Take an hour. Take a weekend. Grab it. Demand that time for this thing that you love. One day you will find that making time for your writing doesn’t feel like theft, it feels like life-giving and promise. One day, you will find that taking time from writing is what feels more like theft.

how to fumble more often

graffiti of faces all pressed together in a tube, as the inside of an artery...Good morning good Monday to you — this morning there’s a good weightiness all around me; the world feels solid and maybe not entirely clear but present and necessary and open. The birds are a dawn chorus (thank you for that, Lucretia!), and the candle flickers over the words “Run your finger down the blackness behind my ribcage / make a puzzle of my womb / an alphabet of my fingers” (from the poem, taped to my wall, “Poem,” by Roberta Werdinger). How are you feeling your way into this Monday? What does the week hold in store for you? What are you carrying forward with you from this weekend?

A poem for today:

The Poems I Have Not Written
John Brehm

I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.

And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing

and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice

speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,

make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.

The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.

please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would

bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I

might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,

praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate

reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life

I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.

There is much–everything, it seems some days–that I haven’t written because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect. I have been thinking, recently, about the tyranny of perfection.

I misspelled tyranny as I was typing, keying it in as tyrrany, and the little wiggly red underline cued me in to my excellently-staged potential irony; I could leave that misspelling as a device, as a way to call you, out, reader, who would snag on that misspelling, almost assuredly, and want it fixed before you continued, thereby giving you an embodied experience of just what it is I’m about to continue on to write about; but I’m so deeply beholden to this tyranny myself that I couldn’t leave it sit there, that red squiggly line, that indication of my fault and incorrectness, that visible wrongness, so I went back and corrected it.

It’s one thing to say, and know (and we know, don’t we) that there’s no such thing as perfect and, simultaneously, that we’re all excellent just as we are, perfect in our imperfections, our scars and brokennesses, our fuck-ups and disappointments and celebrations and joys.

Fine. Yes. These things are true and my head knows the, but  then there’s the fact that I have so deeply internalized this idea of and desire for perfection that it stops me, nearly every day, for taking some first step toward a goal or a dream because what if I get the first step wrong and then everything else about each subsequent aspect of my pursuit of this dream is also wrong because I did the very first part wrong?

Tyranny means the cruel or unjust use of power. Tyranny can get internalized. We do it to ourselves, after awhile — we get trained into these ways of thinking that are fully intended to keep us from realizing the fullness of our potential and possibility.

Here’s what’s true: whatever idea I have, it always exists as perfect while still living only in my head, only as a fantasy. As soon as I begin to move the idea from my head out into the world, no matter what I do, I will imperfect it. Period.

What if I just allowed that to be true, and moved on from there? What if I took imperfect as my goal instead?

Here is something I wrote last week, at the second Dive Deep meeting of the second quarter.  The prompt was to grab one of the ideas from Bruce Mau’s “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” and write on it, or write the beginnings of our own manifesto for growth. (Look what it says right there at the top of that linked page: Begin Anywhere. The message comes to me over and over, and still I beat my head against wanting to do it right.) The idea from his list that chose me was, “Make Mistakes Faster.” Oh no.

Make mistakes faster. This is the hard one. This is five books sitting on the shelves inside me, unwritten, on the backburners of my brain and heart, this is the frozen aching, oh god what if I get it wrong? what if the idea was wrong, the premise is wrong, what if somebody doesn’t like the idea what if somebody challenges me on it and I don’t know what to say what if it’s the wrong journal the wrong publisher wrong agent wrong advance wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong? what if I just did it anyway, put out the ideas and stood behind them, what if I fucked up more publicly and more often, I mean what if I fell ass end up right on my face? My god, would I die? Doesn’t every single person know that we only learned to walk by falling forward, falling forward, falling forward? Why cares, now, the root cause of this fear of being wrong, of blueing in the face, this having someone who could say to me, you stupid girl, I can’t believe you would write that — ? Some days I would look at it and not believe that I’d written it either. But isn’t it true that most days, these days, I’d breathe into the insult, spine straightening, understanding, yes, exactly this is what I wrote and why? My tongue is working now. Some days I can fuck up. I have learned how to fumble without breaking my body open at its hinges just to offer my heart up as a replacement for the kicking.

I want to release this idea of perfection, this need to be and do perfect. I want to welcome wrongness more often, and with open arms, let the shame and embarrassment wash fully over and through me and then move on to the next step. Learn, grow, keep writing. This is my practice these days. If you got it wrong, change it, move forward. Begin anywhere, and then keep going. That’s what we do in the workshops, right? Just dive in, and know that you can come back to it later, change the beginning if you want, edit, revise, recraft, elucidate, concatenate, lengthen, alter — create the raw material first, then work with it. Do it wrong first, absolutely. What if I offered myself not just that permission, but that imperative? What if we had to do it wrong? What then? What brilliance would emerge?

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An idea for your writing for today: There’s this quote, What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? So, that’s one prompt, and a good one. Here’s a redrafting of that, though: what would you or your character take on if you knew that without question you were going to fuck it up, but that it was going to end up brilliantly anyway? Let yourself write into that idea, into all the ways whatever it is that you want to do will be wrong as soon as you start to do it — and then follow that writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for all your gorgeous, your breathtakingly beautiful wrongnesses. Thank you for the fierce risks that you offer yourself as necessary food. Thank you for your anyway writing. Thank you for your words.

stay hungry

 

image of a door with black, spray-painted graffiti, "Stay Hungry"

(click on the image to view the full photo, which gives a different context from the close-up here. A whole different prompt, the full view, I think.)

Hello and good morning — happy Wednesday (if it is indeed Wednesday where you are) to you. There is tea here, where I’m writing you from, and candlelight, and a little quiet music. No foghorns that I can hear, just a car now and again, early commuters, or maybe the paper-delivery guy.

What’s it like where you are this morning? What’s it like in you this morning?

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My online erotic writing workshop, Claiming Our Erotic Story (offered through the Transformative Language Arts Network) begins this week — we’ll be writing hard all through February, and there’s still time to register if you would like to join us!

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I am thinking a lot about hunger these days. I’m in the midst of some big transitions (it seems like this has been true for the entirety of my thirties, but here it is again), and my appetites have shifted radically. I am not hungry, and am mostly only eating when the rumbles in my stomach get loud enough that the puppy starts throwing me looks of concern, or when I am worried that my cube-mates at the day-job are going to start calling me out. I am feeding myself, let me be clear, but only just enough, small meals.

In spite of this belly-throat-shut down-conspiracy, I seem still to be filled with hunger — just not hunger for what I have fed myself with in the past.

Do you ever do this? I have been a binger — maybe not clinically so, but I used to refer to myself as a bulimic who forgot to purge. I would (and may again still, as this is a long-held and hard-won coping strategy) stuff myself with something, anything, to get away from my feelings. I binged on alcohol, food, television, and after I did so, I was left awash in shame, which allowed me to focus on that feeling instead of whatever was up for me before I filled my body with something else.

When I was living in my stepfather’s house, of course, there was no room for this sort of over-feeding; he was the only one who could binge, and he did so on us. And so it was a profound release, when I was away from him, to sit in front of the television for seven hours, knowing that no one could tell me otherwise. I was free, goddamnit. This was my right. I could eat everything in the house if I wanted to — I was liberated. If I wanted to sit at the side of the party and polish off that entire bottle of Jack Daniels, well, first, it meant that I was not going to feel anymore the ache of not being with the woman I wanted at that moment, and second, it meant that I was truly out of my stepfather’s hands (he was a wicked social climber, and would have looked down on Jack Daniels as low class, which drew the bottle into my hands surely as if it and my hands were magnetized to each other).

This coping strategy was a way of understanding how to consume, how to manage feelings of loss and rage and terror that overwhelmed my body, left my limbs limp or aching with tension, woke me nightly with terrors all through my twenties and into my thirties. I spoke about it, went to therapists and support groups, filled endless notebooks with the words I could allow myself to write about what he had done and what I had done, too — it’s not as though I was without outlet. But still this need to sit with a bag of chips and push every single one into my mouth, until I felt myself bulging, a desire for that fullness and shame, how terrible I felt I was then. This, maybe, a safe way to engage with my terribleness. A contained way. A familiar way. And a way that would pass, quite literally, in the morning, and I could imagine myself empty, virtuous, free.

So there’s that part. Then there’s the part that I have never been the girl who would deny herself food — as a political statement, I have always ordered a full meal on a date. let me not be the dainty who says, Oh, I’ll just have a salad, in case, god forbid, you think I eat and maybe have some heft and weight to me, maybe could meet your appetites. I have, too, felt that commitment/commandment to finishing everything on my plate, thanks to those messages we got (though I don’t remember getting them directly from either of my parents — I think they were in the very air that we breathed in the seventies) about waste, and about there being other children in the world who weren’t getting enough to eat, so you better go ahead and finish what’s right there on your plate.

I think I haven’t written about all this before. These are some of the layerings for me around food, eating, feeding myself, engaging with my hungers.

I have also stuffed myself to avoid or shut down hungers that I felt I couldn’t feed — hungers that had nothing to do with food, but had to do with desire to write, desire for particular intimacies or sex, desire to construct my life in particular ways — another word we use for desire is hunger, right? And when I would stuff myself, I wouldn’t feel those hungers anymore. Instead, I could situate myself back comfortably in my shame, which I knew how to manage, and which I knew would dissipate (at least momentarily).

Here’s what I know: when I let myself stay hungry, stay in those hungers, I am uncomfortable (yes), but I also am driven to do my work, which then brings me profound joy and satisfaction. It used to be, when I lived in Southern Maine and drove in from Hollis to the Maine Mall (the one mall, for real) just on the outskirts of Portland to write for some hours at the Borders there, that I wouldn’t want to eat before I got into the car. I would maybe pack some snacks into my bag, nuts or an apple or something small, but I didn’t want breakfast. Eating sated something in me that I could otherwise put into my writing, and I wanted it in my hands, between me and the pen, pushing the page full of ink.

I am not talking about starving myself, or ourselves. I am talking about allowing ourselves to be in our hunger, feel it, ask it questions, find out what it wants for us.

This is all too surfacy, and I would like to go in deeper. But, for now, I am noticing how, of late, my body is simply not interested in allowing me to stuff it. It/she/we do not want to sit in front of the tv for hours with bowls of popcorn and bars of chocolate: we want to go to work. We are writing, following-up on long-missed email messages, making phone calls, playing with the dog. We are talking with friends, we are drinking poetry like water, we are lit up.

Paying attention to what we’re hungry for is necessary and healing work — radical self-care, even — whether we are hungry for a new way of eating, or a new way of being in our lives. So here’s a prompt for you: What are you or your characters hungry for these days? You might find yourself writing about food, actually, or about something completely other than eating. Just notice what arises as you read the prompt, and let yourself begin writing from there. (If you are working with a character and want to get to know them better, you might allow yourself to consider what they are hungry for…) Give yourself ten minutes for this, or more, if you want to. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you. Thank you for being here (in your exact here-ness) and for feeling, thank you for tending what it is within you that wants to be fed. Thank you for your words.

image of a door with black, spray-painted graffiti, "Stay Hungry"

(click on the image to view the full photo, which gives a different context from the close-up here. A whole different prompt, the full view, I think.)

Hello and good morning — happy Wednesday (if it is indeed Wednesday where you are) to you. There is tea here, where I’m writing you from, and candlelight, and a little quiet music. No foghorns that I can hear, just a car now and again, early commuters, or maybe the paper-delivery guy.

What’s it like where you are this morning? What’s it like in you this morning?

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step into the winter dark

sticker graffiti of a little girl in a flouncy skirt, holding a hammer up over one shoulder

she's going in to break it up

This morning I spent an hour writing in the notebook. It’s chilly here in the little apartment, but I got to wrap up in a bright red wrap that was knitted by my mother, so that helps.

What to say on a Wednesday morning? This is the slow time, the molasses time, the bundling time. Why does it, why do I feel, some need to go faster? Faster isn’t possible right now? All the gears are grinding to a halt. It’s not just Winter, the Winter Holidays, or Mercury Retrograde — it’s all of these plus deep inner-work that brings me into contact with my old stories, the ones I haven’t told, the ones I haven’t wanted even to look at, or let my throat and mouth shape.

So I set up a new writing corner in the apartment, move a rocking chair in, a small table (complete with requisite box of tissues), move a candle in — and this morning, I move my body in as well.

Here’s something I read in my recent revisiting of Women Who Run With The Wolves (which I’ll probably keep mentioning for awhile) – how alone has a connectedness to all one. Alone and all one. Sometimes (for me this is true — it might not resonate for you), the only time I feel all one is when I’m alone, when I can be unobserved, when I have no sense of having to perform any particular persona or personality. All my fragments and foibles, my snotty voices and messy faces can come out and just rest their elbows on the table with me while I eat dinner, while I read a book, while I vacuum. Off-center pieces of me can be present and accounted for, even though they don’t fit or talk right, they chew funny, they talk to themselves — even though all of that is true, they’re necessary parts of making me me, aren’t they?

Do you have stretches of time where you avoid the computer, the InterWebs? I’m having one of those times right now– you may have noticed, after almost a week of no blog posts. What does this time mean? A desire for a break from the blue light of the screen, sure. A desire to touch something besides silicone and plastic. A desire, yes, to actually be in the dark with one candle and no other noise. I often go through stretches of wanting to be away from the computer, and it’s not just about avoiding emails (that’s another issue altogether!), it’s about wanting more than these pixels, the ones and zeroes that make up this new form of communication that, sometimes, doesn’t feel even remotely human.

So I step away, into the winter dark, and let the nesting, longing, sorrow, old memory, new possibility, let all of it come upon me. I find space to be alone and bundle all the tossed-aside bits of me back up under my coat, inside my gloves — suddenly, there’s room for them. And then I get together with old and new friends and laugh until my sides ache and I remember that medicine, the necessity of it. I remember how to breathe by watching my breath take shape in the cold ocean-morning air. I fit myself into the iciness of this new blue, even if it’s not as cold as it would be this time of year if I were still living in northern New England. Still there’s the slumber — maybe not a bleak midwinter, but a cold, a going under, the sun in its hibernation, in its distance.

Plus, there’s the xmas cookies that need making. So far this year, there are about 20 different kinds on my list. Let’s see how many I can get to this year.

How do you mark the winter dark? Or, more specifically, how does your creative self respond to this time of year, to these long nights, to the chill and the quiet (if, indeed, it’s quiet where you are)? How do you or your character respond to this idea of alone == all one? Want to take 10 minutes with one or the other of these this morning? Follow your writing (like we do) wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks, yes, thanks, for your creative you. Thanks for all the parts of you that you hold out a hand to, hold open your heart to, even though they’re rude and not grown and they’re skateboarding down Market St or Broadway instead of sitting quiet at the table with you. Thanks, this morning, for your words.

It’s more a reflection of the boundless possibility that lies in all of us, all the time…

(nablopomo #14) writing the wolf

graffiti of a shorts-wearing Little Red Riding Hood, next to the words "Fear makes the wolf look bigger." In the image, Red is placing a spray-paint can back into her basket.Good morning good Monday morning. Here, things are just beginning — it feels like they’ve been churning for hours: thin dreams, half-waking, in all the worlds at once.

The nablopomo prompt for today is another from Ricki Lake: I was terrified to go on DWTS, but facing my fear and overcoming it has been an incredible experience. Have you faced fears and overcome them?

There’s another prompt that my friend Ellen offered me recently: What would you write on a piece of paper that you were going to burn immediately after writing?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about facing fears in writing, and fears of writing. What are the places I’m afraid to go in my writing, and how do I push into and through those edges, write anyway? There are pieces of my own story that I never write, never talk about, never engage. They sit, still, bulbous, inside me, and I’m afraid of what will happen when I attempt to find language for them. Will I be up to their tellings? Will I be able to find the right words? Will it be too overwhelming for me?

The more I live into those questions, the bigger the wolf gets for me — right? Whatever the task, the more I avoid that task, the scarier it looks. Always. And then, nearly every time, when I actually just let myself take it on and do it, I find that 1) I am capable and can handle it (or can ask someone to help me, who is willing to do so), and 2) that it wasn’t as bad as I’d built it up to be. Mostly right now I’m thinking about my taxes. But there’s also this little business about writing something that terrifies me.

What do we do with the writing that we both want and don’t want, with the stories that we need and that we don’t want to commit to the page? What happens with these stories that scare us?

Dorothy Allison talks about the importance of writing in/to our fear, that what we’re afraid of holds an awful lot of energy, and that energy will emerge on the page, will transmit to the reader, will bring the story alive. We have to be willing to go directly into what terrifies us.  That will bring us naked on the page. We can use that energy, the energy of our fear, to bring the writing vivid and alive for the reader.

We pay attention to what we’re afraid of, don’t we? I can tell you how my stepfather’s face looked when he was getting angry, when he was shifting from Fine to Fucked-Up. I remember the nuances of the dining room table, the one I stared at during the hours and hours we had to sit there and confess all of our psychological workings, every thought and imagining. I remember my sister’s face, I remember how the light was in the house, I remember the qualities of silence in each room around his voice, around each of our own, how the house, his house, seemed to swallow us, the way he wanted to. Those details, when I can get into them, are important — they allow the reader to be there with my narrator, exactly in the situation with her.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to writing that’s drawn closely from life. There’re fiction stories that scare us, too. What happens when you meet a telling, a character, who both draws you in and repels you? What happens when you let yourself all the way into her, anyway, even though you find her disturbing, even though you question what it means about you that you can imagine her so clearly? I think it can be useful not to analyze too much, but just to write it — don’t worry about where she comes from. We all have plenty of models of terrible behavior to draw from. Use your fear of her to show her vividly.

There’s power in the material we’re afraid of, and we can make it ours, we can take it back. All those stories that we’re afraid of, they’re ours now, just ours. I say write them, even if you need to tear out the pages after you’re done writing and shove them into the back of a drawer (I myself don’t advocate burning any writing, but I’m a packrat when it comes to writing — you do what you need to do.)

Is there a story you want to write that you’re afraid of? Pat Schneider gives this simple prompt: Write something that scares you. Take 10 minutes, go into it. Give me the qualities of light, expressions on faces, how the narrator felt in their body.  Keep to that time limit, whatever you set for yourself. Dive in, then come back out, and stop for today. You can come back to the story; there’s no need to push into overwhelm.

Then, after you write, do something excellent for yourself. Go to the ocean, get a coffee at your favorite cafe, call a friend and laugh. Celebrate your success.

You face your fears every morning — thank you for that. Thank you for the fears your writing names and shows, thank you for the ways you’ve taken that power back for your own use. Thank you for your words.

(nablopomo #9) how deep are we really ready to go?

graffiti of a girlchild holding on to a bunch of balloons, which are carrying her over the wall the graffiti is painted onGood morning good morning. The wall heater has just kicked on, so I can’t hear the owl that I was about to describe to you — s/he’s out in the pine trees, maybe situated near the top, maybe watching the moon, who-who-whoing every now and again, waking up the air around me this morning.

How is it where you are? I ask this every day, and here’s why: 1) I’m curious (and if you wanted to tell me about it in the comments, I’d love it) and 2) I think it matters for our writing, to know how we’re situated, I mean the details of place, what and where we begin from.

(A note about comments: I love them and am so grateful when you write here. I’m not always able to respond right away, but the responses mean so much to me, and I want to offer a public thank you right here.)

There’s work to do, a talk for next week to prepare (how do you define liberatory, after all?), but I’m here with this quiet page, quiet music, quiet cold air, not quite into the day yet, because it’s still dark out, so that means we’re in the inbetween. Night, early morning, isn’t that the inbetween?

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There are big things I’d like to write about this morning — including the sexual assault awfulness at Penn State and the way sexual violence is being used and ignored at #ows encampments. When does this writing happen?

I set my timer and am just doing it. These subjects don’t go away, but public interest in them does, fades, shifts to the next best public horror. At Penn State, they’re apparently working with the model of the mainstream Catholic Church, which means, allow the pedophile to continue to have access to the children, and to use resources and facilities for his violence, but work, always work, to keep it quiet and hidden. Then they said, well, just don’t do it on campus. Yes, thank you. Take it home, don’t do it here. That way, we’re not liable. We don’t have to call you out or fire you. We don’t have to be accountable.

The truth is that we have plenty of precedent for this, not just the catholic church. This way of engaging power is all around us. Is this part of what the #ows movement wants to change? This is certainly part of the privilege that the 1% wants to hold onto, that many in the 99% also expect to have access to.

Why is anyone surprised at this behavior, at this story? The fact is, I want to be surprised. I want to be horrified. I’m not. It doesn’t feel like a calloused or cynical thing, more like familiarity with what goes on behind the surfaces of perfection and ostensible ethics. (You’ll remember, or some of you won’t know, that my mother’s second husband, the man who violated all of us, he was a child sexual abuse therapist, who wrote articles and small books about treating CSA) — The thing I heard on the news about this coach,  the one who covered for the pedophile, was that his ethics were always impeccable, everyone counted on him to do things the right way.

How do we learn to trust people again, when they never give us the chance to?

There’s more. Don’t stop. I want the details of this story, I want all of those people, those men, the men who colluded with this violence, the men who made it possible for all those boys to be raped, I want them fired, I want them held to account. Maybe jailed, but better would be a public remembrance — don’t forget. What does transformative/restorative justice look like in this case? Do they need to sit in a room with the boys and their families and listen to the damage that they were instrumental in causing? Do they need to not just apologize but provide financial restitution? They wanted to distance themselves from this man’s actions but somehow also, for reasons I don’t understand because I’m not a sports person or because I’m not a man, they wanted to keep him around. What do they have in their own closets? Why not fire him as soon as they learned about the abuse, the violence? Why are the priests moved around from parish to parish instead of fired, released from duty, sent to a monastery where they won’t have access to children, something? What is the investment for those in power, if not  so that those in power can continue to render themselves blameless for their own violences?

Why do we continue to expect more than violence from those in positions of power, when they show us, over and over, that they will violate our trust, our skin, when given opportunity — when we see, over and over, that those around them will shield them, not us.

This is where it gets complicated — we want to change how financial resources are distributed, in and with and through this movement, but we don’t necessarily want to give up our white privilege and we don’t necessarily want to give up our access to women’s and children’s bodies (& to men’s bodies, too). Is that it? What part of cultural revolution doesn’t include a revolution around engagement with racial violence and sexual violence? Deep change means giving it all up, means letting go of the places where you had unearned power and privilege, also — without knowing what will happen after you open your hands and bodies and release.

If the movement doesn’t deal with these structural, cultural places of damage and pain, it will disintegrate. First, because the ‘new society’ being created will look awfully the same to folks of color, all women, all children — change that comes for white men isn’t the only change we need. Second, because those in power, the 1%, will always say that they want to protect women and children, and will use the issue of sexual violence as a reason to attack and dismantle encampments — not because they care about protecting anyone from sexual violence, mind you, but because they want the movement to go away. We’ve seen this already, at occupyoakland and elsewhere.

What are we fighting for at this time of revolution? How deep are we really ready and willing to go?

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The nablopomo prompt for today is this: When was the first time that you realized that your home was not like other people’s homes? I have an old piece of writing to share, in response to this:

I was hunched up against the night, sometimes. I watched all the lights go on inside.  I looked in shamelessly, walked my dog through quiet neighborhoods where nothing was happening inside the houses that would make you want to call the cops.  I looked in and watched dinner times, I watched rooms turned blue flickering with television, I watched straining and want.  I passed by.  I never stood there. I passed by.  The crickets were nighttime and I was safe in them. No one was baking bread. That was a long time ago, back when the fields were real and the houses were wool and the streets outside were gravel and cicada shells swollen with puffs of cottonwood trees, swollen with something. Possibility. Hope.  At 5, there’s nothing but.  At 5, there’s nothing but.  Later, though.  Then.  Now.  Teenager in crimson pants or nothing.  Teenager in bright green anger. Teenager gliding through nothing like hope anymore because the concrete has thrown itself up into roadblocks.

Where can I go with this story, tell the drama of those walks and all they meant for me. They were like a movie but worse, a long-going soap opera, a hope for something new, no, just escape. They were a movie where I’d never be interrupted because it was all in my own head.  This was near the university, not so far from Elmwood Park, where I only went alone when I was older and I learned there was nothing to be scared of, nothing scarier than I might find at home.  This was why I hated winter.  Walks were circumscribed.  The dog got cold and so did I and I hated being all bundled. I hated the ways the windows got frosty and kept me out; I couldn’t see inside, could just see the blue flickering against the ice on the windowpanes.  A pristine kind of privacy. Winter kept me locked out., and in.  Winter kept me too hot in my own head with no time away for distraction.  No crickets.  Still no bread.  Just the cold against the fingers.  Just the frost heaves, just the grass turning dead but still green, too poisoned, too fertilized.  What were those walks but forays into aloneness? What were they but desperation?  I’d defend myself when I got home, learned to gauge what was too much, too long. An hour? Mid day summer vacation only.  Nighttime?  Strictly ten minutes or less, unless I was pushy.  And I usually was.  That was my problem.  Half an hour with the dog meant half an hour of relative freedom, some new breath, something unsupervised.  Not free.  Just unwatched movements, when I could watch alone.

Want to use this as your prompt? Give yourself 10 minutes, just 10 minutes, set the timer, put the pen to the page, write straight through, don’t stop and don’t think/edit/censor. Let the words come. More than you might imagine can emerge in 10 minutes.

Thanks for all the questions you’re asking, the places you’re holding open for answers to emerge. Thanks for your deep engagement in complication. Thank you for your words.

our plagues

red ribbon on Twin Peaks to commemorate this 30th year of fighting AIDSAh — there’s the blue morning sky!

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What I meant, yesterday, by it adds up, is that I’ve got at least 100 pages of usable material — and I’m not even through all the backlog yet. 100 pages of writing that will work for these couple of book projects; that doesn’t include the writing that could be worked for creative submissions, poems or short fictions.

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Last night we watched part of Angels in America, the movie — just part one. I am trying to remember that time, late 80s, when everyone was going to die from having sex. Sex became something even more important to avoid. In the 80s I was living in Omaha. Gays had AIDS. People who went to the hospital got AIDS. I lived in Omaha, where no one got AIDS. I didn’t know anyone who was sick — it was on all the magazines, on tv, and of course, les taught us about it. What do I want to say about all this? It seemed removed. It seemed like something that would happen to me. It seemed necessary, having to pay so much attention to sex; we did it all the time. For a long time After, after I broke contact with him, I thought it was a wonder that we didn’t get sick, me and my sister, given that he was having sex with both of us and mom & who knows who else?

AIDS was this defining cultural event for my generation — we already knew to wear condoms because teen pregnancy had already been a big deal. AIDS seemed far away but lurking, too. Possible. Vague. I figured I was in the clear, first because I thought I was straight, then because I was having sex with women. After I went off to college, I got tested regularly. I’m sure I got tested first because I wanted to have sex with some boyfriend,  so we could stop using condoms. Then I went every 6 months for a long time after that. I was fooling around with bi boys — they could get it; that was the story. Bi boys– those were the ones bringing AIDS to the gay male & straight women communities. That’s what the fear and panic was. Biphobia gone ballistic. Did les ever get tested? Why, of all people couldn’t he have died of it?

People were wearing gloves to touch their children in the hospital, they were platsticking up. In college, I participated in safer sex trainings, teaching us how to have hotter sex using plastic wrap, dental dams, condoms. We needed to wrap it up. I didn’t learn about AIDS up close and persoal, just third and fourth-hand. Someone at school maybe got it, maybe killed himself after he was diagnosed. Even in the early 90s, it was a terrible death sentence.

It’s still seen as a gay disease, even thoiugh, the world over, it’s mostly heterosexual acting-and-appearing people who have it now. Regan, the Right Wing, the conservatives — they branded AIDS completely as that fag sickness. Why am I writing about this? I want to remember  — it was just another thing to be afraid of when it came to sex. There was nothing I wasn’t afraid of about sex. Still, that feeling and fear lifts up and around me, it’s present in my body, in my desire, around the longing for dirtiness, for mess; skin-to-skin became a fetish. I’m lost in this. What did les say about AIDS? He’d use it against us, then tell us we had nothing to worry about. That was his way. There was Ryan White, he was normal — not gay. There was how I expected, somewhere underneath, that all my gay male college friends would die. None of them did — we were all protected, isolated. How did that happen? Were we all too scared to get risky?

It feels like a long time ago, and something so far away. When did things shift? In the late 90s? I never knew anyone on the cocktail, didn’t watch anyone die of the disease. Just read about and with those who did. That wasn’t the holocaust I was a part of — I was part of the other one, the one that sang Take Back The Night songs, the one that railed in the night and in small therapy groups holding stuffed animals. I was a part of that epidemic instead. I appreciated having the safer sex community to escape to — we could get angry without shame, could proudly proclaim sex as possible and ours, could talk about safety and latex boundaries, though we didn’t always talk about other boundaries. This wasn’t incest. This was something people gathered in huge numbers to shout about, marched on Washington for, died-in for, demanded change around. People didn’t do that about incest, even though incest and rape killed people, too, and affected almost everyone I knew in one way or another. This was my plague.

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There’s more in here. What do you remember? Where were you during the first part of the AIDS crisis? Where were your characters? Take 10 or 15 minutes and write it out — write the parts you don’t tell all the time, what you were afraid of, what you were proud of, who you loved then, and why.

Thank you for the layers of your survival, for your standing up for others, for your words.

small screech sounds, something full-moon related

graffiti -- a crescent moon smiling at the young child sitting at its pointTime for a 15 minute write — the dog is rolling around a toy that releases food when she turns it. this is helping her slow down when she eats. I could have used one of those at several different times in my life. We are working on sit-stay, working on heel, working on walking with a loose leash. We are testing and pushing each other. Yesterday was her first bath at a pet store up in Strawberry Village. Is this what I want to be writing about? Yesterday, on my self care day, everything was all about Sophie. Even the time that I took away from her, letting myself go to the cafe for some writing after her lunch (the first time I’d left her alone when I was by myself — the Mr and I together had left her alone, walked out of the house together, but this was the first time she and I said goodbye just the two of us, and the first time I walked back in to let her know I’d always come back), I spent writing about her or listening to a podcast about training your dog to walk on a loose leash. I guess that’s what new furry-baby-parenthood is like.

We had a couple of frustrating walks yesterday, she and I; she was too excited (how I hate using that phrase for a puppy — isn’t it her job to be excited?) and I wasn’t doing a good job of calming my own self down. I thought about how dogs can read and respond to emotions, and how, when I’m tense and anxious, she’s going to sense and react to that. And that stressed me out, too, given that I have spent the last 30 years feeling tense and anxious a good percentage of my everydays. So here’s another thing she’s going to get to help me work on — my quality of presence,  being actually all the way here, being solidly in this moment with her — calm and focused, clearly in charge. Since these are all things I’ve actively avoided being for a number of years, it makes sense, I guess, that I’m frustrated and in the midst of a serious learning curve.

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June’s Writing the Flood meets this Saturday! There’s still time to join us — we’ll be gathering in Berkeley this time around.

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Last night, under the full moon, there were three, and then four, big fat birds out on the hill behind the house — owls? They, their silhouettes, were giving off these smallish screech sounds, somehow smaller than their bodies would seem to allow for. One took off flying while I sat on the concrete stairs and watched, a huge wingspan, slow, steady downbeats, pushing air away, heading for another grove. It looked like a small convention, something full-moon related.

More wild animal news: we walked, Sophie and me, within spitting distance of a young male deer yesterday (his antlers just barely poking up and fuzzing around his forehead) (‘spitting distance’ is kind of  an awful phrase, isn’t it? and so imprecise — in reality, we were on one side of an asphalt road, and the deer was on the other). Sophie didn’t notice the deer — not only were we working on heel, but she was paying close attention to me while we were in the midst of the lesson, for a miracle. the deer, of course, noticed us. I’d stopped at the bottom of the hill when I first saw him, a ways away, and tried to encourage him to go ahead and cross the road. My deer(-speak) is rusty, though, and he didn’t get what I was saying, just stood there and watched me, us. Wanted to see what we were going to do. So I had Sophie keep on heeling, we crossed to the far side of the road, and she ended up being more concerned with the storm drain that we had to go by (these totally freak her out) than the fact that there was a huge animal just 10 feet from her. The deer watched us with his big eyes; I made eye contact with him several times, said Thanks the last time. And as soon as we were a short ways up the road past him, he went ahead and long-0legged it across the street and into the neighbor’s backyard.

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Today’s write: Give me something from your natural world, the nature pushing its way into and around your life, even (especially) if you’re living in the city. Take 10 or 15 minutes, and show me the trees growing through fencing or wires, the daises pushing up through sidewalk cracks, the bird dances on fence posts, whatever nature you notice and that wakes up up this morning.

Thanks for all the patient, persistent wildness that lives in you. Thanks for your creative brilliance, and, always, for your words.

a relationship with home again

graffiti on a street corner of the Buddha's faceYesterday we hiked up a mountain — a small mountain, Tiburon mountain, sure, but when we came to the top, we could see the full body of that orange Golden Gate Bridge, hugged thick by fog, nearly weighted down. We could see the whole fog-heavy morning laid out in front of us.

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This week, the workshops begin again — tonight I’ll be meeting with a full Write Whole workshop, and throughout the day, I’ll be communicating with folks who’ve signed up for the online Reclaiming Our Erotic Story class. I’m making my first videos ever for the online workshop — I feel like we get closer to the ‘in person’ experience if folks can hear the prompt, rather than read it. We’ll see how that goes.

I rarely watch or listen to recordings of myself — this is good practice in releasing self-judgment. Yesterday I felt like I joined the modern age: I took a shower and fixed my hair and got dressed up, all so I could create a youtube video. Then I changed into my regular clothes again.

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It’s getting close to shower-time. The puppy is tearing up a toy and having a great time. This morning we walked up the hill to the old church that sits above our apartment building, and I missed my mom, who walked up there with us the first time last weekend.

I have been homesick for a long time, and I’m not at all sure what that means. How to feel homesick when you don’t have a singular or solid sense of home? And yet, this longing is true in my body, a welling in my belly, filling the whole front of me, chest, shoulders, pelvis, with ache and want. Is it a honing toward a sense of place, a desire to know the people who my blood would call family, a wanting the deep damp and heat of midwest summer?

What does home mean for you? What about homesick?

I realized yesterday that I’ve been away from the place I was born for a generation. My cousins all have babies, some of them grown, and I barely know any of these people. Do I have a right to still call that place, these people, mine?  What is this desire to go back, or to go forward into that land that for so long I couldn’t even imagine being able to escape?

The land itself wasn’t my prison, and those places hold history for me, they hold stories I barely remember, they hold the rest of my stories, the ones that don’t live all the way in my body. And the truth is that I need those stories, those connections, that place that holds me like something right fitting around my shoulders. People who talk like I do, even when I don’t always agree with what they have to say. Could it be that I’ve moved far enough away from my desire for ideological perfection that I could have a relationship with ‘home’ again?

Anyway — a prompt for today: What’s home mean? Let’s start with this phrase: This is what home means for me (or him, or her, or you…) Take 10 minutes, write down every free association, every image or voice or feeling that arises. Let it all come, in its wild and complicated, painful and gorgeous and frustrating mix.

Thank you for the ways you let home come into you, the ways you let yourself become home, for different parts of yourself and for others around you. Thank you for the ways you write yourself home, for your words.

puppy energy

This is what this morning looks like: deer on the road, a puppy learning heel and gentle, jays at the new bird feeder. Nettle-mint-skullcap tea. A Jen learning to run up and down long flights of stairs, in order to exercise puppy.

We all have puppy energy sometimes.

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There’s still time to sign up for either the 8-week in-person workshops (Write Whole or Declaring Our Erotic) or the  online erotic writing workshop! They begin next week — I’d love to write with you!

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How would you define puppy energy? I think of it as exuberant, bouncy, a little clumsy, too many limbs, a little bull-in-a-china-shop energy — that space where I’m bumping into everything, even in an empty room, where I say things I mean but hadn’t intended to say out loud, when I’m wildly visible, excited about everything, slightly ridiculous, a bit anxious, overly myself.

During our walks, Sophie will sometimes fling herself into the air, pulling at the leash, wanting to run after all the ghosts and smells around her. She stops and the teethes the leash, yanking at what restrains her. I understand this feeling in my bones, and both want to let her run all over this little peninsula until she gets her fill and want to teach her when to run and when to walk calm (like a nice girl, right? Ugh — it gets complicated!)

Puppy energy feels related to new relationship energy, just-in-love energy. It’s “everything’s exciting” energy, “everything’s possible” energy.

I love it when I feel a surge of puppy energy: I feel new, renewed, possible, powerful, competent, joyfully up to all the tasks. These surges last a few hours, maybe a day or so, sometimes a bit longer, and I have learned not to question them, not to undermine them with the knowledge that they are cyclical-temporary (meaning I won’t be feeling this way every second for the rest of my life), not to hound this lovely en-lightening with “when’s it going to end?” wonderings.

I get puppy energy over new friends, new work, new puppies — I get it depending on what’s happening with the hormones in my body. It’s the feeling of a crush on a new author or idea, and I wonder about its relationship to jouissance, the French term used in/around psychoanalysis that has to do with a pleasure that’s just about too much, that fine, fierce, terrible, tremendous line between ecstasy and suffering.

Sometimes it’s nice (nice? what a word) to be overfull, up to the brim with excitement and joy. And then, too, the body needs to rest, to release, so that it can fill again.

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A write for today: when was the last time you or your character felt puppy energy or that “new relationship energy”? How or where did you/they feel it in the body? How did you/they relate to other people (or maybe one particular person)? What did the world look like?

Thanks for the ways and times you allow yourself to expand into your joy and possibility, even when it’s scary. Thanks for your articulations, your words, your words.