the gifts of radical breaking

graffiti of a hand emerging, strong and full, from a just-cracking-open eggGood morning this Monday morning. Outside my window the thick grey fog is just beginning to lift, and the song birds have returned themselves to my feeder (now that I’ve replenished the seed stock). I’m back in the saddle today, even if the saddle has shifted, even if I am sitting in it a bit oddly in order to accommodate the pain that’s still wrangling with me. I’ve got the tea and the candle, I’ve got the quiet apartment (outside chainsaws and jackhammering notwithstanding) and I’ve got the pull into these words.

How are you rising into your (creative or other) saddle today?

This morning I am thinking about how different this month turned out from what I had originally planned. After leaving my day job back at the beginning of the month, I fully expected to erupt into busyness. There was so much I needed to do, now that I was my working hours were going to be devoted only to my writing and to writing ourselves whole: I’d opened conversations with many folks around the area about new writing workshop ventures; I had promotions work to do for the workshops scheduled to begin in January; there are two (just two?) books to write; I needed to figure out my weekly schedule, exercise every day, calendar lunch/coffee dates with friends and colleagues, run the puppy, go go go go go.

And then guess what happened? I’ve spent the month recovering/recuperating from a back spasm that hit me on the fourth day of my new life. Instead of continuing on with the busy that I have built a worklife and work-identity around, I was forced (allowed, allowed) to find a new way to interact with my work as my body took full-on precedence in my every day. Over and over, through this November, I’ve been terrified that I was wasting time (even if I couldn’t actually do anything other than lie still and rest), that I was useless. What am I trying to say? I’ve been terrified that I would lose everything if I couldn’t keep busy, keep going every minute. And yet, here I am, nearly on the other side of this pain and with a profound new understanding of a new way to inhabit my life: embodied and bodily, connected to friends and love, with time for both good work and big rest, time for the body. There’s time in this life for this body.

Sometimes, at least for me, I have to break big before I will let myself learn a lesson like this.

This has been a month of trigger and sorrow and frustration and worry and missing. It’s also been a month of love and sweetness and surprise and vulnerability and opening. On balance, I believe I’ve been more grateful than not, even with the awful “why me?” moments and the throat-tearing sobs (those sobs were big and old and necessary, an embodied release of old trauma response that had surely been held in my sacrum, my hips,my pelvis: this root of my body).

What I learned this month is that I can take care of my body and still show up full and present for the workshops. I learned that it’s more painful not to be able to write than it is to take the sort of care of my body that I need to. And that I have created (with the help of my community) a space and writing life that I’ve been dreaming of for years — a space where, at 8pm on a Friday night, I can settle into a corner of my couch with pages to read for a workshop participant, classical music or jazz issuing soft from my radio, and be exactly where I always wanted to be. I have learned, this month, where my allegiances lie: with story, with the body, with the writing, with the friendships and love that nurture symbiotically; with risk and vulnerability; with space for creative emergence (whatever form that takes: bodily or verbal or…).

This month, I have held in my body over and over (even alongside this difficult pain) the understanding that we get to craft and then live in the lives we believe in. We get to make new homes when our old homes cease to serve us. We get this.

We get this. We get this part of healing, too: the settling into a self-made life, and the chance offered when big things break and we have to start over.

In her essay “Of Power and Time” (included in her collection Blue Pastures), Mary Oliver writes “Of this there can be no question—creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity.”

And further along in the piece:

It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.

At some point, if we are fortunate, we get to claim what we adore–what we have always wanted–and also get to allow anything that doesn’t serve that ardor to fall away. We get to radically break open and discover what gold and mica and quartz lives in the veins of our unarticulated knowing. We get find new ways to adore the bodies that carry us, that have carried the residue of our trauma and healing, that sometimes feed us back that residue when we are unprepared.

There’s so much more to say about this month of new body learning, but I need to stretch now. As for a prompt, I wonder about what it is for you (or your character) that needs to break radically — something in a routine, an identity, an expectation? (Radical, I want to remind us, derives from the Latin word for root.) Or allow yourself be in those Mary Oliver excerpts above — what arises for your writing self as you read them?

Give yourself at least ten minutes with whatever these prompts raise in your writing fingers — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the whys and whispers, the screams and laughter in your own body. Thank you for your resilience. Thank you for your words. 



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