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?

It’s not that I didn’t write — I wrote blog posts and emails, I did business-related writing. I just didn’t do the sort of reflective writing that comes for me when I’m physically writing in my notebook, candle lit and favorite pen in hand. I was afraid of what I would write. I was afraid of fully feeling exactly what I was feeling, which is often the case when I write.

I’ve been doing this kind of writing practice for twenty years, and still this fear of the page rises in me. Of course, it’s not the page I’m afraid of; it’s my feelings. It’s those tender, sticky, uncomfortable feelings like shame, greed, envy, disappointment, embarrassment; maybe if I don’t write about them, they’ll go away. Even after all this time, I can still make this bargain with myself. And it’s true — they’re just feelings. Give them time; they’ll shift. But what I’m left with, in the aftermath of this kind of avoidance, is the sense that the notebook is a threat to me, that it’s not a safe place for me to be with ALL of my feelings, especially the ickiest ones.

It’s just like avoiding calling/talking to friends when I’m feeling at my lowest points, and instead connecting with them after I’m feeling better. I say, “Oh, yeah, sorry I was out of touch. I was feeling terrible, but I’m all better now.” I’ve had many friends gently let me know that they could be there for me while I’m in the middle of the ick, and only very recently have I begun to trust that they might be telling the truth. Have you struggled with this? It’s a form of self-protection, of course, to isolate when we’re feeling our most vulnerable, for any humans but especially, I think, those who are survivors of trauma. Why should we trust that our hurt selves will be safe in someone else’s heart, when it’s people who made that promise to us who damaged us in the first place? This is hard work, heart work, and we have to be easy with ourselves as we learn to let other people see the un-polite, the sore and chafed and hard places inside of us.

And it can be just as difficult to let those places speak and breathe on the page. After years, sometimes decades, of stuffing those places down, of pretending like we were fine all the time, sometimes we even do that in our own writing, when we’re alone with our pen and our thoughts. But self-deception, at least for me, is the worst kind of poison. It continues to be big work to go ahead and freewrite those (at least) three morning pages when I’m feeling at my most terrible. Afterwards, though, I always feel better. That’s the gift of practice. Then I can close the notebook, leave the gnarl and oog on the page, and treat myself to some fingers-full of chocolate frosting anyway.

If I tell one part of myself that it doesn’t deserve to be on the page, that part is just going to get louder — at least, that’s my experience. So I practice writing anyway, writing the bad stuff, writing what hurts. Sometimes I step away from the notebook — forcing myself to write doesn’t feel like good self-care — but I don’t stay away for long. This is a friendship that I need to nurture, and that means being willing to be my whole self there, not just the shiny and socially-acceptable self.

How are you taking care of all the different parts of your creative self today — the brilliant and the brilliantly-hurt? How do you write what’s hard?

I’m grateful for your words today, for how gently you hold the vulnerabilities of others, and for how tenderly you hold your own vulnerability as well. Thank you for letting yourself be human. Thank you for your words.

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