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trying to save ourselves. trying to save each other.

Lisboa graffiti: silhouette of birds sitting on a wire beneath a row of windows1. This is the morning. Let’s see if I can remember how to type. It’s been a month since I wrote in this blog – and during this month, my life changed and didn’t change. During this vacation, I taught my body about rest, separation from the daily work, from the sort of scheduled struggle we in the Bay Area have turned our normal into. I visited other places and touched other ways of being and walked on new streets and listened to new voices and touched new possibility.

2. Today is the eclipse that the papers can’t stop talking about. Tomorrow we will see if the world has survived this particular form of darkness, another disappearance in the eyes of the sun. We will stand at attention today and watch as celestial bodies battle it out for our attention, for light. Isn’t that what we do every day, with our attention to celebrity culture? But these are real stars, you say. Yes. Real stars.

3. I want to say something about Charlottesville, but of course, it’s not about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is emblematic of our country’s entire history. White supremacist racists have been killing people, mostly folks who aren’t white, for the entirety of the American “experiment.” Yes, we should rage that a woman was killed, a person was killed, when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people who were standing up for anti-racist values. who were standing up against white supremacy, standing up for a fundamental change in America. One that says, all people are created equal, and means it, and believes it, and enacts policy and government with the idea that it’s actually true. Racists killing people is nothing new. White supremacists killing people isn’t new, not in our American past, and not in our current day.

We white folks should rage as loudly, in such large numbers, when white supremacy kills folks of color, too, of course.

3. I wanted to tell you about the things I saw and learned during these days away, these weeks away from the everyday, but I have returned to a place that is so vicious and hate-filled and violent and crazy-making that it seems almost an additional violence to discuss peace instead of war. So many of us do not have the luxury of peace right now. We don’t have the luxury of vacation, because of the economy or our national obsession with work or because it is not safe to leave what we know of as home.

4. It is easy to be triggered all the time. It is easy to feel only despair. It is easy to feel lost and frightened and even nihilist — it is easy to want to lose yourself with just about anything— drugs or alcohol, food, television, video games, social media, all of the many ways we addict ourselves out of reality. It is easy to understand why we would want to disappear from this place if we are not part of the majestic elite that is rising like cream in this country.

We are not the only country with a vast canyon yawning between the haves and the rest of us, but this is the one I live in, and it feels like being at the back end of violence when I have it shoved down my throat. Today I will return to downtown San Francisco, push back into the disparity of this my once-beautiful city, in this the place I thought would save me as it had saved so many others, in this place I thought was my mecca. I will see the tech nouveau-riche and the very very poor, the homeless folks who live on the same streets with these tech giants. I will walk again amid the violence of the American experiment, the truth of the American dream.

5. I read a lot of science fiction while I was away, a lot of speculative fiction, a lot of weird fairy tales, taking the old tropes and pulling them inside out until their teeth and veins show. I read books in translation, wanting to touch other ways of imagining the world.

6. Outside I can hear the BART train. I can hear the whoosh of traffic like a constant tide. Two days ago I awoke to cardinals and the sound of the ocean. Why am I back here again, except for a mother who loves her boy and a dog who I missed like skin?

7. I would like the news media to quit publishing photos of the supremacists’ flags and regalia. Seeing those things continues to harm the folks these symbols were brandished against, and gives the images a wider audience, which the supremacists want.

I would also like the media to stop publishing photos of the troll-in-chief, especially on the cover of their papers or magazines – it’s all he wants: publicity. Let’s stop giving it to him.

8. We are trying to save ourselves. We are trying to save each other.

9. I am glad that many, many people are turning against the troll-in-chief and his wayward patch of hopeless advisors. It should not have taken this long, but at least there are people who are beginning to stand up. There should not have been as many people as there were and still are who dismiss him as a newbie who’s still getting his footing. Don’t you recall that the exact same language was thrown against Obama as a hostile criticism: that he was an amateur, that he had no business in the White House?

10. I am afraid for this country. I am afraid for our human species. Tech is not saving us. Tech is driving us apart from one another.

11. This is a scattered post of loss and wanting.

12. What’s new, we say, about Charlottesville, about this moment in racist American history, is that white supremacists feel free to show themselves, to march armed through the middle of a major town in the United States. But it’s not new for white folks to show their faces at a massacre or a murder in the name of white power — it’s actually on been a short time in our American history that the white supremacists felt that they needed to hide.

13. In spite of all the current awfulness in our country, and around the world – or maybe alongside it – I want to feel hopeful. There is so much to terrify us, so much to rage against, so much to be furious about, to grieve, to despair of. But there are glimmers of hope for me as well. Maybe it’s the antidepressants. I can’t say. But if nothing else, if they’re working right, antidepressants can lift us enough out of the muck that we want to keep going, that we believe there’s worth in staying alive another day. For me, it’s remembering that what got me through the worst of the violence of my adolescence and young adulthood was the idea of tomorrow — tomorrow might bring something new. Tomorrow something might change. Tomorrow could bring a new development. Often tomorrow did bring a new development, and it was bad. But the day came when tomorrow brought me courage and strength. The day came when tomorrow brought me a no so loud I couldn’t see my way clear to living the way I’d been living for so many years. The day come when tomorrow was my today and my today had a big yes stamped on it and that was the day that everything changed.

Looking forward to tomorrow has a kind of hope in it, or at least, can elastic into something like hope.

14. Keep standing up. Keep fighting against the brainwashing of white supremacy. Struggle in your heart and in the streets, if that’s right for you. Thank you for your struggle today. Thank you for the ways you hold the truth of others’ stories, the way you allow others to hold yours. Thank you for your creative resistance today. Thank you for your words. 

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book snippet: who asks us?

(Good morning, good morning! While I’m away, I wanted to share with you some pieces from my book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, which is coming out next month! I’ll post one of these a week, on Friday mornings. Be easy with you, ok? And please keep writing…)

Cover of Writing Ourselves Whole book, the view of a small island from a wooden deck, you can see the edge of the deck, water, and a green island in the distance. The title reads Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, Jen Cross.From the section “who asks to hear your story?”:

“What happened to you? What was your childhood like? Want to tell me what brings you in today? How are you doing? Why don’t you like me to touch you there? Why are you so quiet/loud/scared/angry/sad all the time? How come you have so much sex? Why don’t you like surprises? How come you won’t have sex with me? What happened that night? Why don’t you want to talk about it? Do you want to tell me what happened to you?”

To be asked to “tell your story,” one of your core-being stories, is to be asked for a piece of your heart, a chunk of your Real Self. When someone says to me, I want to hear your story, my belly tightens with hope and anxiety. Sharing my history of sexual abuse and how I’ve lived since is a wildly vulnerable act. What if they can’t take it? I worry. What if they can’t really hear me? And, maybe even scarier to consider: What if they can?

Who asks to hear traumas stories—I mean, really hear them? And how long does it take to believe that someone really wants to hear us?
Cops ask some of us. Parents ask. Sometimes a friend will ask. Sometimes lovers ask. Therapists, of course. That’s not very many people. Most of the people we spend our lives around don’t ask and don’t want to know. They want a pop song, a poster, a bumper sticker. They don’t want the sticky sweet rot of our true details. That messes up the cool ocean breeze and gently swaying grasses of their triumphant sunset cinematic fantasies of Everything Is All Better Now.

This sounds cynical. I understand the triumphant sunset cinematic fantasy, of course I do. I carry it, too. It’s a great place to visit, but a hard place to be expected to live.

•§•

Of course, a powerful draw of therapy is that someone to listen to our whole story with compassion and empathy and non-judgment (at least, ideally). The bounds of the therapeutic relationship mean that our telling is contained and confined, which we often need.
Consider what it takes for us to unravel our full story for those who share the rest of our lives. What a risk, to allow ourselves to be more fully beheld.

We believe no one will love us if they know who we really are, what we carry, what we’ve done, what’s been done to us—and the more we don’t expose ourselves to those we love, the more certain we are of the old story of our unlovablity.

And then what if they can’t hold it? We are afraid that our stories, that we ourselves, are “too much”—and given that our story has probably frightened or overwhelmed friends, that we’ve had family ignore or discount what we told them, this fear doesn’t arise out of nowhere.

The page asks for your story. In writing, we can be free to say just what we want to say, to tell the story however we want to tell it, without editing ourselves based on how our listener reacts. A workshop participant once described to me a difference she appreciated between a traditional support group and the survivors writing group: in the support group, she spent a lot of the session rehearsing what it was she wanted to say, or editing it based on the group’s energy, so she couldn’t focus well on the folks who shared before her. In our writing group, though, we all wrote together, and when it was time to share, because her story was already crafted, she could give more attention to the other stories being shared in the circle—and trusted that she had the full attention of others in the room as well.

Just because someone has asked for our story doesn’t mean we should tell them, doesn’t mean they can hold us, doesn’t mean they’re safe. We listen to our instincts. We know when someone is interested, really interested, in hearing more, when someone has shut down or slipped into overwhelm. We expand or pull back in, accordingly. We don’t want to slip the sticky heartbeat of our stories into hands that cannot hold them, into ears that have turned to stone—or worse, to negative judgment or disbelief. We employ the skill (likely developed during our abuse) to redirect attention away from ourselves. Sometimes we tell those wrong folks anyway, because we are hopeful and lonely, because we want to believe they’re good for us (no matter what our intuition says), and sometimes because we believe or feel like we have no other choice.
I have had ridiculous responses to my stories. Someone once asked, “Did you like what you did with your sister?” Someone else asked, “Do you think about doing it again when you see her now?” Others have believed that now they understood, after having heard some part of my history, why I was queer, or why I was feminist. Some listeners have cut me off with the sincere appellation “brave,” when what I wanted was to be understood as so much more complicated than that.

What I want to tell is the truth, to burst the bubble of that sunset fantasy. What I want is to download it all so that I don’t have to tell it again, even though I will never stop telling it. What I want is to get it right so that you can see the land I live in and what I look like inside, so that I don’t have to be alone there anymore.

(Thank you for reading, and for your words today…)

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book snippet: what writing can do

(Good morning, good morning! While I’m away, I wanted to share with you some pieces from my book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, which is coming out next month! I’ll post one of these a week, on Friday mornings. Be easy with you, ok? And please keep writing…)

Cover of Writing Ourselves Whole book, the view of a small island from a wooden deck, you can see the edge of the deck, water, and a green island in the distance. The title reads Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, Jen Cross.From the section “what writing can do for survivors”:

This is what I believe: Give us safe space, a “room” of our own and we will create change in our lives. We learn what it means to lie and truth our way to safety, to lie our way home. We must take what we need to continue the process of survival, which is ultimately a process of resistance: the pen the paper the time the space the cafe or bedroom or kitchen table the 3 a.m. living room the subway train the cemetery the laundromat the whatever it is we need.

Take me backward into your dreams and let me watch you stumble. Your language is yours alone, the sounds of your body the stretch and wrinkle of your face the wrinkled words and nods, shrugs and shivers and shifts of eyeballs. You know your own way and I cannot tell it for you. I can hold your hand, though, and promise to listen while you float in your own waters, while you choke down the nausea of history in your instance to see the clownfish and schools of yellowtail floating around the coral of yourself. (2003)

In the years I’ve written with groups of sexual trauma survivors, I’ve become convinced that every person has artistic brilliance in them. There hasn’t been a single person in any writing group I’ve ever facilitated who hasn’t generated work that surprises them and astonishes listeners. Not one. And this isn’t because I’m some kind of genius facilitator—this is about what happens when survivors gather to share their stories through poetry and metaphor, song and testimony.

Pat Schneider says in her book, Writing Alone and With Others, “What I believe is not what everyone believes. It is this: There is no place for hierarchies in the heart, and the making of art is a matter of the heart. Art is the creative expression of the human spirit.” Together, we who participate in these writing groups engage in the co-creation of a space that allows for risk, performance, and play. We who have been denied hearings by those in power can assist and heal ourselves and each other. There is powerful pleasure, connection, and transformation possible through the sharing of ourselves through story, and deep change occurs when we have the audacity to articulate the truths of our lives.

When we come together this way, assiduously working to remain aware and respectful of the differences among us, and share our words, we get to acknowledge our ability to create beauty—both because we listen to our own poetic phrasing and descriptions, and because others tell us what is beautiful and strong for them in the writings we offer. We hear, witness, and open (to) the beauty in ourselves and in others; we “seek[] a language that allows [us] to imagine a new world without forgetting the tragedies of the past,” as theologian Sharon Welch wrote. It’s a revolution when we, who have spent years reiterating to ourselves the lessons of ugliness learned at our abusers’ hips, are able to acknowledge splendor in ourselves.

•§•

One Monday night, several years ago, a group of writers gathered in my living room for the fourth of eight meetings of a survivors writing group. Three walked in together, laughing, having met at the front door of my apartment building. One was already here, and the others arrived soon after. My homely little living room with its tangerine-orange walls was full of conversation as the writers made their tea and gathered up plates of snacks: nuts, strawberries, baby carrots, potato chips, and dark chocolate. The tenderness, delight, and anticipation was palpable. If not for their readiness to claim trauma survivor openly, the writers would not have found themselves in this room, thrumming with the heartbeat of creative connection.

This deep connectedness doesn’t emerge in every single group—sometimes folks don’t click quite as completely; that’s a possibility for any group of people. Still, it’s not uncommon for the writers, two or three weeks in, to find their hearts broken open to one another. We find we care about each other as people. We care about each other’s histories, but even more, we care about one another’s now. Folks exchange phone numbers, offer rides to and from the subway, email each other during the week. We begin to allow ourselves to connect.

For those who have been shamed, called stupid or dull, for those taught that kindness is weakness or weapon (and what American has not been taught this?), for those who believed no one would listen, for those whose voices went dormant, for those silenced or terrorized, the steps we take together when we write, read, and respond allow us to organically unlearn old lessons, and allow our psyches to gently internalize something new, something that was always true: we have a necessary story to tell and we are enough for that telling; we deserve (and deserved) to be listened to; we have something to share; the story of our survival helps others heal and grow. Our words are necessary sustenance for ourselves, yes, and for others in our communities, too.

•§•

There is magic that happens for a survivor who sits down and writes herself to the page in stunning visions, who sits down with other survivors and reads her real self: her surviving, wondering, hungry, difficult, fragmented, gorgeous self. The writing opens up the tight fist of power and control and drops us out—the writing opens up a chasm, the writing throws over a bridge, the writing topples buildings and walls, boulders fall, steam rises, the room opens. We don’t do anything when we hear each other except bear witness, and maybe that’s all that matters. Yes, we hear and, yes, we speak our listening and, yes, we say this is where I swell when your words touch me. Yes, we listen hear want desire imagine. The pen is a vision is a dream shimmering, the oil slick silvery rainbow over the deep well of tide pool we will eventually dive into.

Writing makes a difference. Visualizing and hoping makes a difference. When we write this way, we risk becoming aware of ourselves differently. We can take the lessons we were taught, the rules and regulations of our traumatized selves, and walk through them like a ruined house of mirrors. We don’t have to be who they—the abusers, the school teachers, the boys on the bus—told us we were.

What I have learned deeply, what I have internalized through this transformative writing practice, is that there’s no such thing as “doing it right” when it comes to writing and when it comes to sex and when it comes to living in the aftermath of sexual trauma. We are infinite in our abilities, in our possibilities.

•§•

Someone said, if we don’t tell our stories, others will tell them for us, and they will get them wrong. The stories that the others tell about you will be used to build policy and pathology, will be used to build boxes to hide you in, used to build walls to close around you, used against you. If we do not tell our stories, the stories told about us will be used to our detriment.

We are a nation of subjected and silenced people. We are a nation of people trained into the difference of others as reason enough to kill them. We are a nation raised on our supremacy—America is the greatest country in the world!—and we believe it even as we see our leaders stripping away our bedsheets and clothes, snatching the food from our and our children’s mouths, tearing down our homes, thieving the books from our children’s hands and tossing it all on the bonfires of their war, tossing it all into their own furnaces, selling our labor on the open market to the highest or most connected bidder and pocketing the money themselves.

Still: We have our bodies. We have our hands and feet thighs legs arms eyes noses breasts mouths bellies chests butts foreheads fingers lips toes and yes genitals yes cunts and cocks yes, and we have our voices. We can use them to our own ends, and in service of those we love and all we believe in, rather than allowing ourselves to be deployed in service of those in power through our silence. Through this writing practice, I open to the world around me. I walk around heavily awake, I smile more amply, I touch the cats on the ledge with my eyes. I am present. I am seen and I see. I am heard. This is the opposite of dissociation. This is the practice of embodiment, the practice of resistance, the practice of freedom.

(Thank you for reading, and for your words today…)

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book snippet: the page has room

(Good morning, good morning! While I’m away, I wanted to share with you some pieces from my book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, which is coming out next month! I’ll post one of these a week, on Friday mornings. Be easy with you, ok? And please keep writing…)

Cover of Writing Ourselves Whole book, the view of a small island from a wooden deck, you can see the edge of the deck, water, and a green island in the distance. The title reads Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, Jen Cross.From “the page has room for my incomprehensibility”:

Today I don’t want words, I want the juice of this river, I want to play in the garden. I want to plant new seeds and then listen to the neighborhood birds until the seeds throw up shoots. Some days it’s all white butterflies and green tea. Somedays it’s all the dog and her orange ball and the kids screaming at the school a block away. Some days you’ve done enough healing, it’s been years enough, and you can set something down, remove the practice barrier, the training wheels, you can roll down the window and let the air in because you’ve done enough. You’ve done enough. There are more tears to come, yes, there will be more big ache in this lifetime, but you recognize now that that’s the human condition—not only about incest, not only about recovery, just the whole life fact of this existence. We don’t stop crying and there is laughter in our eyes, the puppy sprawls at my feet in the shade. I let the sun take my shoulders to a dark brown, bake this old, oldest, tension out of muscle and bone. (2014)

The page has room for all of this, has room for my incomprehensibility, for what’s belabored, for the poetry that lives inside all my pretense. The page has room for the scars and scabs, the boll weevils, the torn leaves, the torn skin, the nonsense phrases , the bird calls, the butterfly with the wet and torn wing. The page has room for text messages and daydreams, the old fantasy and the hummingbird right now putting its green beak into the scarlet runner bean blossoms. The page has room for my wilted leaves, for the gangrenous selves, for the parts half clipped and dying, has room for what’s still to be resurrected and room for what he just could not figure out how to kill.

The page has room for as much as you can give it, and only accepts it one way: a word at a time. You can give it whatever words you want, in whatever order they arrive, but you have to stroke them out letter by letter. You give the chaotic story a bottleneck to push through and it will frame itself into a kind of sense. Write it again and the frame, the sense, will be new again. You never write yourself the same way twice. The hummingbird flies overhead—you grab it out of the air, you press its luminescent feathers and rusted-hinge song to the page. You open your eyes wide, wider, to find more of yourself existing. You are how you see. That apple tree, how the breeze reshapes its flow around you, how you eavesdrop on the conversation between those two city birds. You are the dreams you lived and the dreams you left behind. You are everything that got you here and you are here.

•§•

How does transformation happen? Minute by minute, and word by word.
As is true for so many of us, writing saved my life. I’d been trained out of the ability to be a friend, had been instructed to trust no one, did not open myself to even my most significant others. The person who knew me best in the world, during my adolescence and very young adulthood, was the man who sexually abused me, and even him I didn’t tell everything (despite his very thorough attempt to convince me that, since he could read my mind and already knew what I was thinking, it was simply a measure of my trustworthiness for me to reveal to him my every thought). The only safe place I could find was the page. I came to realize that he couldn’t get in there (nor, actually, could he get into my mind, but allowing myself to trust that fact took much longer). Finally, I had a place for all of myself to belong. I let the worry, remembering, panic, desire, sorrow, rage and fear out there. Writing helped me to figure out what I knew, what I thought, who I’d been and who I was becoming. I read Writing Down the Bones, and followed Natalie Goldberg’s instructions: freewrite every day, follow any surprising or ridiculous thought, get it all down onto the paper, don’t stop to analyze or decipher, just write, just write, just write. The practice became exercise and meditation, and a process of recreation and resurrection.

•§•

They say—those voices of writerly authority—that we should write what we know. But sometimes what we know is denial and silence. What we know is discord. What we know is our words squelched or torn from our throats.

So we write what we know, and we write our “unknown”—that which is uncertain, hazy, confusing, diffusely remembered, unrooted in us. Write what you don’t know, or what you don’t know yet. Write what you think or imagine or wonder. Write your certainties and your fears. Write what unknowing feels like. We need a language for what it’s like not to know what one’s own body has done or been put through. Write the fuzziness and numbness. Write the cycling of emotions. Write exactly what happened—what you know happened and what you don’t know happened. Write the uncertain as if you were absolutely clear, and then write it full of questions and confusion. Write it grammatically incorrect, as it exists within your body and memory: confusions, fragmented, broken, metaphorical.

•§•

As young children, if we are lucky, we are taught by those who love us to listen to our instinct, intuition, curiosities—to listen to our “gut.” We need guidance and encouragement to heed that deep inside wisdom, though, and most often, even for those of us not abused, the process of growing up means learning to ignore our intuition. We are taught to do what others expect from us, what makes others comfortable or happy. If we are female, we’re taught to act small, get quiet, and stuff our voices down while baring our bodies for the viewing and approval of others; if we are male, we’re taught to get loud and big, force our voice into a room, take what we want and stuff our emotions down. If we are genderqueer, well, we’re mostly just taught to disappear. We are—all of us—taught that what other people think of us is more important than what we think of ourselves. And we are taught that being ourselves, if that self is at odds with the expectations of our community or those in power, can get us hurt. Our survival instinct kicks in and teaches us how to follow, even if following chafes.

In the workshops I talk about what it means to come back into a relationship of trust with our intuition, that small quiet voice inside that has always wanted to lead us in the right direction but that we were trained or forced to ignore, especially if we were children of violent homes. It didn’t matter that there was something inside us screaming, No, stop, let’s get out of this situation, let’s get away from this person! If we live with our abusers, we can’t leave, at least not physically, most of the time. We are forced to turn our attentions outward—to focus on the smallest nuances of a parent’s or abuser’s mood, voice, actions, so that we can get a sense of their emotional state and thereby hope to keep ourselves a little more safe. We learn how to read their tone of voice when they call us to dinner, learn how the evening is going to unfold by the way they shut the door when they come into the house. We give so much attention to the violent or unstable people around us, and we turn our attention away from the voice inside that knows what goodness and brilliance we’re capable of. We have to ignore that voice if we want to be safe.

I’ve used writing as one way back into a relationship with my intuition. And part of that practice, for me, has been writing messily, taking risks, following whatever thread is pulling at me. I write the words that call themselves forward, even if they make no logical sense, even if I’m confused by where they’re going, even if I’m scared or feel stupid about what I’m writing. Maybe I just hear syllables or nonsense words—write them. Maybe there’s a phrase that wants out that I don’t understand—I have to write it; otherwise those words or sounds just keep repeating themselves until I do.

This is a languaging of trauma, the real world’s song, with its own grammars and choruses. Repeat what bears repeating, and then rewrite the rest. Follow your instinct, and let your pen guide you.

(Thank you for reading, and for your words today…)

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book snippet: how to restory

(Good morning, good morning! While I’m away, I wanted to share with you some pieces from my book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, which is coming out next month! I’ll post one of these a week, on Friday mornings. Be easy with you, ok? And please keep writing…)

Cover of Writing Ourselves Whole book, the view of a small island from a wooden deck, you can see the edge of the deck, water, and a green island in the distance. The title reads Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma, Jen Cross.From “introduction: how to restory”

I started journaling in 1993, when I was twenty-one years old and breaking away from my stepfather after nearly ten years of ongoing sexual, psychological, and physical abuse. As often as I could, I took refuge in local café, where I bought a large, dark roast coffee, and popped a tape into my portable cassette player—Ani DiFranco, Erasure, Zap Mama, The Crystal Method—slid my headset over my ears, folded the notebook open to a new page, uncapped my pen, wrote things I thought I’d never be able to say out loud. I spent years doing this, my butt planted in a wooden chair in some coffee house or other in Northern New England or around San Francisco. This is the way I found my tongue again. I wrote through the numbness that kept me protected—through writing I could feel the sadness, despair, depression, rage. The emotions had a weight and a shape once they found their way into words, whereas, inside me, they had all tangled together into a single inarticulate mass. There were few days I didn’t break through into tears while I bent over my notebook at that corner table in the back of the cafe.
In the earliest months of my writing practice, I was often rigidly and “logically” truthful. I froze often during my writing sessions, straining hard to get every detail right so my stepfather could not accuse me of lying (should he ever come to read what I wrote—and, of course, I assumed he would; up to that point, he’d had access to every single aspect of my being). I wanted to compile a record of his atrocities, and was beginning the work of disentangling my feelings from the so-called psychoanalytical brainwashing that was a core component of his control over me, my sister, and my mother. If he ever made good on his threat to have me killed for leaving his bed, I believed someone would find this notebook and finally know who I really was. In those early years, as much as for any other reason, I wrote to survive my death in the form of a final, true story. I had told so many lies—I wanted someone, in the end, to know What Really Happened.

I wanted friends and former lovers and family to read the story that explained me: this is why I was so sexually experienced so young; this is why I’d be locked in the bathroom of my dorm room on the phone with my stepfather for hours; this is why I had rabid mood swings; this is why I was such an erratic friend; this is why I disappeared. Oh, this was why Jen was so crazy all the time. This is what she was dealing with.
After a year or so of “just” writing, I managed to get into individual therapy. I participated in groups for women who were incest survivors. I spent hours wandering around my small college town, listening to music and crying. I drank too much, watched too much bad television, spent uncountable hours reading books about incest, feminism, sex. But it was when I sat alone at the Dirt Cowboy Cafe in that small town in New Hampshire, one hand affixed to a big mug of French Roast coffee and the other hand moving a pen across the page, that things—life, loss, longing—slowed down and unraveled enough for me to be able to breathe a little better.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg said we should take two years focused only on writing practice before we tried to write for publication, so that we could learn the contours of our minds, our inner selves. I couldn’t imagine wasting all that time just journaling. Two whole years? Is she kidding?

I look up today and it’s been over twenty.

They weren’t relaxing, those hours with my journal. This was not a hobby or dalliance. I was learning to save my life. Writing came to be a way for me to be safely but intensely present with myself and with the world around me. Through writing, first and foremost, I (re)learned what it meant to be human.

•§•

This is the writing practice that has worked for me: write daily (or as near as possible), create open space for the words, keep the pen moving, don’t let the censor/abuser stop the flow of words (sometimes I write down the censor/abuser’s objections, when I can stomach it, just to get them out of the way), and follow the writing wherever it seems to want to go.
“Following the writing” means listening to the tug that wants me to write about my childhood dog or that moment of feeling triggered when I thought I was going to finally get to write about the sex I had last weekend. It means writing exactly the words that pop into my head—those first, often nonsensical thoughts—and trusting them, even if I can’t see where they’re leading. It means writing, word by word, into the terrifying places, always going slowly, listening to the deep wisdom of psyche that tells me when we are ready to go in and nudges me when we are ready to ease back out. I drop my pen to the page and go, trusting that I won’t be the same on the other side. French feminist Hélène Cixous, in her brilliant essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” wrote, “When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love.” That’s what I mean.

When I started journaling in cafes back in the early ’90s, I wrote fast and messy. Fast, because I wanted to catch those first thoughts as they came to me. There was no time to slow down—I needed to grab the thought and get it on the page right away because the stepfather in my head was sure to contradict, challenge, or change it. I learned to catch those thoughts and write them, too. I wanted all of it on the page, so I could look back at it later, so I could record all the madness in my head, so I didn’t have to be all alone with this overwhelm anymore. The page could help me hold it. I wrote messily so that I could write anywhere—in public, at the coffee shop—without worrying that the people around me could easily read over my shoulder. I was afraid of being found out, yet I couldn’t write at my apartment. Home wasn’t a safe place, no matter that the physical danger lived 1,400 miles away. At the cafe, I couldn’t hear the phone ringing, reminding me that he was (I feared) never going to stop monitoring me, never going to stop harassing me, never going to let me live my life away from him in peace.

I had a whirlwind in my head. I wanted to get it all down before I forgot, or lost the thread, or lost my nerve, before he came to take me back. I was sure he was going to track me down and make me go back.
In order to concentrate on writing, I needed noise outside to counteract all the noise inside, to soothe my hyperarousal and an overdeveloped startle response, to get to what Stephen King calls “the basement place” out of which to imagine and create. I needed a crowded cafe, loud music in my headphones, and my back to a wall, face toward the door. No one was going to sneak up on me while I wrote this history, while I wrote into the contours of my trauma. It took a great deal of effort and energy to be able to focus my attention at all. I wrote stream-of-consciousness (I have whole notebooks that are run-on sentences), fragments, flash images, and filled the page with shout-and-scribble when I was too angry to form words at all.

Over time, by following the thread of my writing right into the now, the now became a place that’s safer for me to inhabit while I’m writing, even without all the distraction. Slowly, over these years of writing practice, I have come to be able to write even with no headphones on, no longer terrified of my startle response, no longer afraid of something bad happening to me when I get lost in the words.

(Thank you for reading, and for your words today…)

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off to see the wizard

Painting of a log cabin in the woods, beech trees in the foreground; the house has a steep, peaked roof and stands up on chicken legsGood morning, good morning.

On my screen is Baba Yaga, going off on an adventure in her cup, hair flying wild, broom in hand. Her house stands up on chicken legs. It’s just right for this day that I’m getting for my own adventure.

This morning, though, I am sick and scared, and even though I’m exited, there’s part of me that just wants to stay home, not do something new, stay where I know, with what I love and what’s familiar and good, stay with my pup and the view of the water and the trees and the bay. It’s like a wall inside me, this fear, something stubborn and seemingly immovable.

It’s scary, going to new places, doing new things, trusting: so much trusting. Let that be ok, I try and remember to whisper to the inside parts. Let yourself be the person you are: worried, careful, wanting to take care. Let yourself take care. Scrub the places that are breaking out. Scrub the safe zones. Uncover what’s ready to be risked now.

When you run up against the wall, you have options. you can sing,you can bleed, you can pound, you can cry, you can try and climb. sometimes the wall feels like it’s going to be there forever, sometimes you can’t imagine yourself not sitting up against it every morning, every day, every night. sometimes you look up to watch the birds build their nests on top. Sometimes you turn back, walk away. You forget about climbing. This is and is not a metaphor. You know the walls I mean.

This morning as I was doing my stretches, waiting for the teakettle to boil, I stood in a dark room and looked out at the thick morning fog. The lights twinkled on, off, on again as the clouds moved over the city. Then I caught a glimpse of something behind me, froze inside, turned to look in spite of myself — but it wasn’t him. He wasn’t there. It’s just and old wall, a memory, a forgetfulness and a remembering, a fear. I watch for him sitting on the couch, waiting in the dark for me. He probably didn’t imagine, all those years ago in New Hampshire — when he sat in my apartment in the dark waiting for me to come back home — that, more than twenty years later now, I’d still catch glimpses of how afraid I was that day, glimpses of his ghost, his threats.

How to explain an old fear like this that lingers in the peripheral vision, that isn’t even him anymore, but some embedded bit in my psyche that says keep to what you know, don’t go out there galavanting. Stay here. Be where you’re supposed to be. Be what we know, what we’re familiar with. Be safe. Don’t risk, don’t change.

It would be interesting to pay a different kind of attention to this, to learn whether there are times that I’m more likely to see him sitting there in the dark, waiting for me. Times I am more afraid, times my psyche sends up more flares in the flavor, in the shape, of his shadow, his echo, there on the couch, waiting for me in the dark. it’s an old message: You have something to be afraid of. You aren’t safe. You should stay vigilant, you should not relax. When I come home at night, alone, and catch that fear, I have to check all the closets, slam open the shower curtain (quickly — so it startles him if he’s hiding there), turn on the lights in every room. Still, he’s not there. He’s not there, Jen. He’s not there.

And he wasn’t there this morning. It’s a presence in me, though.

Sometimes the wall seems like it’s still there, in the body, in the heart. sometimes it feels like a forever thing. The wall obstructing your view, obstructing the future, obstructing your possibilities. Other times the wall is gone, and you are free.

It has its uses, the wall. It can be a friend, if I let it. If I look into the fear and ask it what it wants to tell me, if I don’t just berate myself for being stupid and afraid, or steep into self pity. I don’t mean never doing any of these other things — but not only doing them. If I let myself notice that fear, hold it in my hands, maybe even comfort it, comfort the parts that are afraid, the me that is afraid, the me that wants what’s known, that is tired of risking. Why do we have to do the scary thing? it asks. Don’t you know our show is on, and there’s popcorn you can make, and we can pull the curtains and make a safe cave and be here all day until all the bad things go away outside?

I do know that, I tell it, me, her, that scared self, the old just wanting things to be ok. And another day we’re going to do that. But today we;’re going to get on an airplane and go to a new place.

She wants to stay home cuddled with the dog. I tell her the dog is gong to be with a good friend and is safe and in good hands and will get to play a lot and even have her ball in the house like she doesn’t get to do when we’re home. We know she’s going to be ok. We both still cry a little, though, me and that girl inside, the scared one.

Underneath the scared one is the adventurer, the fearless curiosity, the place that ignores the wall, or just sees it as something to get to figure out how to get over. Come on, it’s time to go, she says to us. She’s tired of our weeping. She has backpack, hiking shoes, a walking stick, her hair in long braids down her back. She has her hand out for me to take. She wants to go out with Baba Yaga. She’s not afraid of the chicken legs, and wants to know how the old mother can get that cup to fly.

So we’re doing something different today, all the old places and times and selves that live in me, all the trauma history and memory and the adventurous girl and the tomboy and the girl in the twirly skirt who just wanted to be pretty. We carry our fear with us and our curiosity, the thing that has kept us alive all these years (maybe both have kept us alive, and finding a balance between them) — what is going to come next? The old stories can help carry us through, if we let them, show us all the ways we know how to be safe, to survive, and to risk everything we have for change. We’re off to see the Wizard, with our brains and our heart and our courage and our home always with us, always already inside, and out there for us to discover, too, over and over again.

Thank you for the ways you are easy with the walls you’re still living with, and easy with yourself when they flare up before you. Thank you for the ways you let yourself move around them, over, through, and the ways you lean against them sometimes, too, resting your head against concrete or brick, tears on your cheeks. Thank you for all the ways you use to get over. Thank you for your words.

(A note! While I’m away I probably won’t blog much, but I’ve scheduled a handful of posts to share excepts from the book (coming next month!) — I’m excited to hear your thoughts.)

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they love it that we’re distracted

 

stencil graffiti of a person bending down in front of a tv screen -- their head is inside the screen. Around the image are the words Good morning, good morning.

there was a cat out on the porch just now, a shadow that smoothed across the morning deck, and stopped at Sophie’s water bowl. I watched her there, looking for bits of food. Then I turned to catch the kettle before it boiled, and when I looked back, the shadow had disappeared.

The morning is a quiet candle and a peaceful place. In two days we’ll get on a plane. In three days we;ll be in Dublin. Just now the temperature in Dublin is… I make myself not pick up the phone to check, not open a safari screen to check. It’s all I can do to remember how to do one thing at a time. The urge to look is a tightness in my belly and throat. Why do I just have to be sitting here typing? I could be reading a book and checking news and listening to news and have bread rising and doing all kinds of other things at the same time. I could be getting information right now — why that need? What’s the urgency about?

 

On Sunday, my sweetheart and I went for mani-pedis, which still feel like an incredible luxury to me. For twenty or thirty bucks, I get to sit in a chair that will knead my back and shoulder muscles, and a person will work at the hard callouses that all of my bare-footing makes, then massage my feet and calves with sugar scrub and oil and lotion and then paint my toes pretty colors. It’s an astonishing thing, so much offering, and all I can do is sit there and say thank you. At one point I looked around; besides my sweetheart and me, there were three other women sitting in these fat chairs and they were all looking at their phones while, at their feet, someone scrubbed or tended or massaged. At their feet, I mean, someone was touching each of these women in a way that was meant to bring some joy, some ease, some relaxation. I wondered whether the phone women were even aware of the sensation, or if they were made so uncomfortable by this act of intimacy that they couldn’t engage, couldn’t acknowledge. They couldn’t put the phones down. I’m not saying that anyone was unkind — everyone was friendly, everyone said please and thank you, everyone tipped, all that. I’m trying to get into a deeper dive here. Is it just about distraction?

We heard on the radio this weekend that people are feeling so oppressed by the number of podcasts they have to listen to that they are listening to them at twice the speed: hurrying through the storytelling, the artistry, so that they can get through it and get to the next one.

There’s something about all this entertainment we have at our fingertips these days, the sheer amount of it at the ready, and how we feel pressured to consume it all, lest we are unable to participate in the cultural conversation. There are whole newsfeeds in my apple news app about Game of Thrones — the show, the actors, the controversies, whether or not its feminist — and I don’t know what they’re talking about, nor do I especially feel a need to know. It it’s taking up room in the place where actual news could live. There’s a feeling of pressure that I am not participating if I haven’t watched The Wire or 13 Things about a Serial or whatever — I don’t even want to try to remember all the shows I’m supposed to be watching or people have told me I have to watch or listen to or that are getting all the press (even though if I tried, I know a lot of those show titles are lodged in my brain, taking up space where the phrasing for “Do you have custard tarts” in Portuguese would like to be).

I mean, there’s something about the amount of entertainment we’re expected to avail ourselves of, and what happens to a culture, to a people, that is over-entertained, that is forever entertained, that is continually distracted and even flooded with entertainment.  The government and planet are falling apart but we’re making sure that we’re home in time for GoT and (“home in time” — what does that even mean anymore? We don’t even get the myth of sharing this consumption of story and celebrity simultaneously, like we used to, everyone watching JR get shot or Mindy marry Mork or the folks getting airlifted from MASH 4077 or whatever — of course, now we can livestream rapes and car-crash deaths, and folks can participate in those at the same time, so maybe we’re coming back around. It’s like the Colosseum, and we’ve become those spectators again, or maybe (let’s be honest) we always were).

How do we remember how to focus on one thing at a time, to be in this now, and to create ourselves? We actually don’t have to watch these shows or listen to these podcasts or watch the now movies or the It youtube channels or continually scroll through the important Instagram feeds. We can turn it off. We can say no. But it can be hard to. Saying no also means saying no to our own distraction, our own desire to be out of our skin, our life our reality. How often have I said recently, Can we just go see a stupid movie and forget about what’s going on out there? We have a celebrity entertainer in the white house who knows exactly what he’s doing: driving the people to their screens — whether to watch him or escape him, it’s all the same result.

Turning all of it off is a different decision entirely. Turning it off and watching bird tv or cat tv or cow tv or street-outside-the-window tv, or reading a real book (one off a screen, one with pages you turn, I mean) uses your brain differently. I feel less scattered, less neurally fragmented, and less frantic, when I put the phone down.

I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess I’m recommending the slowing down, as I always do. there’s a frantic in me right now that I’m talking to, and it’s not a media-consumption frantic, it’s a too-much-to-do-before-we-leave frantic, but frantic is frantic, and if I don’t know how to settle, how to get present, how to focus on one thing at a time, then the frantic just continues. step up into what wants to be.

In the book World Enough and Time, Christian McEwen speaks not just to our oversaturated media landscape, not just to how hard it is to focus on something as ridiculed as poetry when we’re overtaxed in every part of our lives, but also on how necessary slowing down and focusing is for any creative person. The experience of reading her book models the slowing down, the slipping from lily pad to lily pad, the meandering brook and the meandering thought, invites me to remember what it felt like when I was a younger person and I could leave the house with nothing on my mind but meeting the day exactly as it was, letting the day find me, letting myself follow whatever wanted to happen. I didn’t think about it that way when I was little, though. Often it looked like being bored — I’m bored! there’s nothing to do! and our parents let us be bored, or they had too much adulting to do to worry about our boredom, and out of our boredom grew something new, a new game or an investigation of the back area behind the garage and what all was living under those rocks or a book you made yourself out of crayons and paper you folded in half and punched with a hole punch and threaded together with that fat cottony string.

Boredom creates space for creativity. We don’t call it boredom so much now that we’re adults. We call it leaving room open for something to happen. We call it just breathing, or taking a walk, or going for a run or a bike ride or a swim or just sitting in the living room and watching out the window. We even call it, some of us call it, going to our jobs.

Of course, if we have a device in our hands that can deliver entertainment directly to our brains every second of our lives, of course, boredom never ever has to be a problem anymore. And that’s something that those in power are counting on, I think. revolutions are creative practices, after all.

(never mind what it is we’re “entertaining” ourselves with — the violence, the rapes, the racism, the terror.. this has become what we choose to watch. We willingly inflict it on ourselves. We take it into our bodies and brains and call it entertaining, we call it edifying, we say it matters somehow. There’s a reason we can listen to news reports about hundreds of people dying in a suicide bombing without breaking down in extraordinary grief, without recoiling in terror, and can just go on about our day. There’s a reason, and that reason is serving somebody not us.)

Calvin was talking about this twenty years ago. and his critiques were old even then.

It’s not so much that I’m anti-technology or anti-entertainment or anti I-just-need-to-get-out-of-my-head-for-awhile (god knows)  — it’s more that I want us to allow for space for those threads of curiosity and wonder to emerge. We need room for day dreaming as well as night dreaming, we healing, creative beings. We need room for our attention to be drawn to the hummingbird at the feeder, which is much less likely to happen if there’s a jump-cut car chase on the screen.

They design these shows to capture us, you know. You know this, to knot us in, to keep us watching. It’s their job. That’s fine, they can do their job. We don’t have to always say yes. Sometimes it’s an act of radical self care to set the entertainment down and let ourselves be in the world, even for the space of ten deep, fierce breaths.

It comes as no surprise that those people who choose to pause at regular intervals report almost immediate effects in therms of personal well-being. William James is especially eloquent on this. “The transition from tenseness, self-responsibility and worry, to equanimity, receptivity, and peace, is the most wonderful of all those shiftings of inner equilibrium…and the chief wonder of it is that it so often comes about, not by doing, but by simply relaxing and throwing the burden down.” Rhythmic creatures that we are, it makes sense that we should choose to do this in a predictable way, whether in the form of feasts or holy festivals, or at regular secular intervals. The pause is delicious in and of itself. But repeated, rhythmic pauses, like our contemporary weekend, pauses that can be anticipated and relied upon, are ten thousand times more precious. – World Enough and Time, Christian McEwen.

Be easy with yourselves today, ok? Thank you for the space you make for your dreamself, your curious self, your wondering self. Thank you for the words in you.

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offering kindness to our healing bodies

graffiti on a wall, surrounding a door. On one side of the door, a green-blue hummingbird hovers over a pink rose in full blossom. On the other side of the door, another, smaller, hummingbird hovers, head upright, wings outstretched. Good morning good morning. Outside the day is thickening into itself. Outside there is something to make yes of, and maybe. Outside the hummingbirds match the hummingbirds in the living room. We make flowers out of a glory hole. Yesterday you said, what is that bird? and I said, that’s crows doing cartwheels in the fog, and you said, write that down.

This morning, while waiting for the tea to steep, I go to do my sun salutations, and for the first time since I started this morning routine, my fingers went all the way to the floor. The loosening does happen. The tight places can relax, can come to trust relax. The tight places can lengthen you, allow you to lengthen. I thought about how I have valued a flexible body, wanted to be limber and loose, where others have valued strength and endurance.

I stretch, feel what wants to loosen in these muscles, feel what wants to relax. For the first week my back hollered at me each time I folded myself over at the waist, reaching hands toward the floor. At first my hands didn’t go much past my knees without my back complaining into tomorrow, without my back yelling no. So I just let my arms hang there, swinging a bit, feeling the pull in the muscles around my spine, where I have gone tight, where I hold things in.

The next day I do it again, and my fingers reach a little further down toward my feet. What’s the message in this? The patience, the waiting. It’s not a metaphor, it’s a body. But sure, it’s a metaphor, too.

Stretching a tight body is like building a new garden is like healing from violence. Patience, sustained practice, showing up, nurturing the soil the muscles the psyche, breathing deep into the anxiety, the place in you that says it’s never going to happen, we’re never going to see anything change, it’s always going to be this painful and this barren. Stretch again anyway, water again anyway, be easy with yourself again anyway.

The plot of land I’ve been gardening started out empty, a lot of it hard-packed clay and weeds. Yesterday I harvested cucumbers and zucchini and green beans (which in this case are purple) and one strawberry for a little boy who loves them.

There’s something about being limber, about being able to stretch backwards and feel where we were, about being able to stretch enough that we can ease into a different future. Maybe the stretch isn’t what’s the past, maybe it’s the tight that’s the past, holding muscles in, reminding us about fear and ache and pain. I try not to push my body too hard. If you pull too hard during a stretch and you are not warmed up, you can tear something, you can do damage. The body doesn’t need any more of that. She doesn’t need rough and hostile when she’s being asked to ease open, release. She needs tenderness, kindness, generosity. We’re so good at offering those things to other people. How often do we offer the to ourselves, to our own difficult and grieving and joy-laced bodies?

The stretching is about rhythm and routine. The sun salutation that I learned (from a book) is this: hands pressed together in front of chest, then press up, arms reach overhead, then lean into a backbend. Lean forward again, all the way over, hands to feet, to floor. Right foot back, lunge or whatever that’s called, then plank, then cobra, then downward dog, then left foot forward in lunge. Then back foot forward, hands on floor, again, then rise up, spine straightens, hands up and over the head and reach into another backbend, then hands part, arms swing down to the side. Bring hands together once more, pressed in front of chest. Thank you, morning. Good morning, sun.

This has been the fight for so long: How to keep going? How to trust that one more layer of healing will come soon, that the stuck parts will loosen, that you will continue to grow? What is the part of the universe you want to clean up, you want to help make better?

How to center, to take deep breaths, to ease into something you love, to be in the moment instead of in tomorrow or the day before yesterday. to promise to write, to love in the right now, to believe you deserve to be in that love, to trust the sun and the growth of plants. The garden reminds us about the long work of healing, and the fruits of our patience. Watch what grows, what doesn’t. Notice the places where nothing seems to be able to grow. What does that soil need, what nurturance, what promise, what nutrients? Then offer those things to the earth, to yourself. Trust the process, just for this minute.

What nurturance, what promise, what nutrients, what rhythms, what practices, what trust can you offer yourself this day? Write into that limbering, just let the words flow, practice releasing them exactly as they want to arrive onto the page. Thank you for your patience with yourself today, for being as easy with you as you are with others. Thank you, too for your words.

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a break in the flow

Red painting on white background of two oxen yoked together, feeding on plants, beneath the words, Good morning, good morning. It’s quiet here, and grey, and chilly, and peaceful. The dog is curled up on the rug, waiting for me to be done on the shiny clacky thing so I can come play.

I spent my morning writing time complaining about things I’m not going to share here. Suffice to say, for now, that the writing helped, even though I’m still mad. And this.

I spent my ride home from work yesterday reading about R. Kelly. And then the news about OJ. So maybe not a great day, yesterday, for the fight against sexual assault and domestic violence, or, you know, femicide in all its forms.

So I came home and I baked bread. I did work. I watered the garden, admired the zucchini, the many green tomatoes, the purple string beans, the chard and sunflowers and potatoes and nasturtium and marigolds.

I don’t know. Is it really so difficult for us, as a people, as a human people, to be kind to one another? I know, I know — but why?

Here’s a poem for this day, because sometimes poetry is the only thing that gets in and touches the places that are lost and confused and scared and aching and need to laugh…

(ok, two):

Boy and Egg
Naomi Shihab Nye

Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.

 

One Boy Told Me
Naomi Shihab Nye

Music lives inside my legs.
It’s coming out when I talk.

I’m going to send my valentines
to people you don’t even know.

Oatmeal cookies make my throat gallop.

Grown-ups keep their feet on the ground
when they swing. I hate that.

Look at those 2 o’s with a smash in the middle—
that spells good-bye.

Don’t ever say “purpose” again,
let’s throw the word out.

Don’t talk big to me.
I’m carrying my box of faces.
If I want to change faces I will.

Yesterday faded
but tomorrow’s in boldface.

When I grow up my old names
will live in the house
where we live now.
I’ll come and visit them.

Only one of my eyes is tired.
The other eye and my body aren’t.

Is it true all metal was liquid first?
Does that mean if we bought our car earlier
they could have served it
in a cup?

There’s a stopper in my arm
that’s not going to let me grow any bigger.
I’ll be like this always, small.

And I will be deep water too.
Wait. Just wait. How deep is the river?
Would it cover the tallest man with his hands in the air?

Your head is a souvenir.

When you were in New York I could see you
in real life walking in my mind.

I’ll invite a bee to live in your shoe.
What if you found your shoe
full of honey?

What if the clock said 6:92
instead of 6:30? Would you be scared?

My tongue is the car wash
for the spoon.

Can noodles swim?

My toes are dictionaries.
Do you need any words?

From now on I’ll only drink white milk
on January 26.

What does minus mean?
I never want to minus you.

Just think—no one has ever seen
inside this peanut before!

It is hard being a person.

I do and don’t love you—
isn’t that happiness?

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

Be easy with yourself on this Friday. Write if you’re called to write, and maybe give yourself a little time with a tree or a flower or a plant or a pet. Thanks for your words, whatever form they take… 

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it all stays (es bleibt alles)

Poster on a stick, pink background behind a line drawing of a house; inside the house are the words Good morning, good morning. Upstairs, the bread dough is resting on the breadboard. I wake up to a room smelling of wild yeast, dough rising. I think a house should always smell like freshly baked bread, or about-to-be-baked-bread, don’t you?

Sometimes you make a decision and you feel something land in you, a place of possibility opens, a thing of yes hollows out all the no you’ve swallowed, and makes itself at home. You become a place where yes can live. Where future can live. Where tomorrow can live. Where hope can live. Some days you are all outshine and coffee grounds, you are the flicker of the flame and you are the flame, you are the waft of steam rising from the green tea and the hum of the wing of the hummingbird hovering over the blossom’s throat, you are the feet finding a new path, you are the fingers welcoming an old stone. You are the gist of a sentence, you are the stamen’s statement, you are the ripening peach, you are the lengthening glisten on a growing beach, you are the bean. Some days you are more than yesterday’s ache, yesterdays no, yesterday’s grief and loss, you are more than garbage, you are more than what was thrown out or ignored, you are more than the book left on the shelf for years, unread, unheralded, unblessed. Some days you are the cool chill on the neck of a sleeping deer, nestled in a place safe beneath a copse of trees, some days you are the copse of trees, you are the safety, some days you, even you, are the safe place. Your body is the safe place, your hands are the safe place, your mouth is the safe place, and your heart, as you know your heart, has always been the safe place.

Some days you are echo and dance, you are willpower and dive, you are forget and forgive, you are revenge, you are remember, you are never forget, you are anger and you are yes and you are power. You are the child curled up on the couch and the youth hiding in the closet and the young man walking down the street with a strut he thinks he doesn’t deserve but doesn’t know how to live without. You are the without. You are the strut. You are the do until die, you are the fake it until you make it, you know how to make it because you have made it here. Some days you are more than the account balance, you are more than the hours of life traded for money, you are more than the receipt, more than the transcript, more than the record, the data, the bits of information floating around in the world about you, you are their aggregation, and then you are more. You are the flicker of the squirrel tail, you are the faint hoot of the owl in the woods, you are the place of promise, you are the finger of regret and then you are the finger that scrapes through cake frosting and brings sweet to your mouth.

Some days you are learn and some days you are unlearn, you are forget, you are unwanting. You are the eyes looking across the water at distant islands, you are the eyes examining the feet of a newborn child, you are the hands that can safely hold a newborn child. Some days you are more than the loss, even though you might also still be the loss. You are the cup that holds the tea, you are the nurturance, you are the truth-telling, you are the sharpened pencil, you are the dance of pollen.

Sometimes you are more than electronic motes across a virtual dust screen, you are not the butterfly caught on the car grille, you are not the emptied rubbish can, you are not the messily erased chalkboard. Some days you are yawn and whisper and you rise from your bed like you deserve to be living. Some days the words come to you in the middle of the night and you meet them, on the page or in dreams. Some days you are the art that lives you. Some days you are the twist of the plot. Some days you are what hopes for escape and you are escape. Some days you are more than what begs in you to die, what begs in you to stop and please can’t we just stop and rest, some days you stop and rest. Some days you welcome the flow of your life, the rises and falls, the swells and thins, the ebbs and purls, the rhythms of you, the rhythms you are, the blood that follows the moon, the shallow dance, the circles, the spirals, the contours, the glisten, the blossom. You are the seed in the ground and the fingers that cover it with dirt with soil and the water that drenches and feeds.

Some days you cannot stop to think about the right word, you are the right word at the right time. Some days you know that you have always been the right word at the right time, even if someone couldn’t hear it, even if you were ignored or silenced, even if you couldn’t say the word out loud, you have always been the right word at the right time. Some days you are more than what enough holds in your belly. Some days you want what lives inside enough, the rest there, the nest, the promise, the comfort, the cradle in lap, the safe place, the knowing that you don’t have to hustle at the center of you, that you have earned the right to love yourself, that you have always been the love you deserve. That you are so far beyond ok that you can’t even see ok in your rear view mirror anymore, that you are the wind through your hair on the highway, convertible top down, sun shining on everything like a wish, you are the breeze through fingers stuck out of car windows and the ears of dogs flapping in joy. You are that joy. You are the small wishes, the littles delights that are the best ones, the bag of candy, the silly laughter, the eyes watching a dog sleep in a safe bed.

Some days you can trust that you are where you need to be, even if you know that you can’t stay there, even if there’s something in you that has to change or get out. And some days there is nothing in you that wants to escape your life anymore. Some days you have found a place where love is a blossom you can believe in, where kindness lives like breath, where your voice is a song written on the walls, written on the inside of every wrist and thigh, where your body is a delight of strength and comfort, where yours can be the body that someone wants to live in, some days that someone – can you believe it? – is you.

I woke up early, before the alarm, to lines of poemish things flowing in my head and I repeated the lines to myself like I do, thinking that I will remember even though I think I’ve never once remembered lines that came to me in the middle of the night that I don’t write down. but I woke up remembering anyway, not the lines themselves but the fact of them, the possibility of meeting the page this morning with imagination and flow, with something hopeful — San Francisco may not care but still I meet her at the corner and buy a batch of fresh Thai chilis at the farmer’s market, and the man with the light eyes didn’t remember my name, which made me happy for reasons I can’t quite explain. The man with the long hair and the question mark body was not around on Mission Street yesterday.

Something is growing inside me, something that wants answering.

I was thinking yesterday about how I used to memorize poems in German, back when I was in high school — excerpts from Goethe’s Faust — for competitions. (These were my earliest poetry recitals.) Sometimes I try to think of a way to say something, to communicate a thought, and the phrase pops up in German — unbidden, as the saying goes, like all that learning is still in me somewhere, the language, the vocabulary, the words, like they belong here, this language I loved all through junior high and high school, into college. I thought for sure I’d visit Germany, spend time there, maybe study. But then life took a different turn.

Maybe the trajectory we thought we’d take got bent and twisted into other directions. We grieve where we thought we’d get to, and by when; we grieve all that we thought we were supposed to be and do — but if I step back and look at what life has unfurled around me, there are days that I can take pleasure in what was and is. The anchor of me is still floating somewhere, not tethered, still free. There is still time to do so much of what the younger me wanted.

Some days there’s peace to be had in releasing the old dreams, even if we grieve as we let them fall from our hands — and some days we can pick them back up again, dust them off, look at them from a different angle. Yes, this fragment of life can still be mine. It’s not too late and you are not too old, Rilke said (in German it’s “Noch bist du nicht kalt, und es ist nicht zu spät”). It’s true — I want a lot (du seihst, ich will viel) — perhaps I want everything.

Some days we get to want everything, with the ache that longing brings, and the joy.

Du siehst, ich will viel
Rainer Maria Rilke

Du siehst, ich will viel.
Vielleicht will ich Alles:
das Dunkel jedes unendlichen Falles
und jedes Steigens lichtzitterndes Spiel.

Es leben so viele und wollen nichts,
und sind durch ihres leichten Gerichts
glatte Gefühle gefürstet.

Aber du freust dich jedes Gesichts,
das dient und dürstet.

Du freust dich Aller, die dich gebrauchen
wie ein Gerät.

Noch bist du nicht kalt, und es ist nicht zu spät,
in deine werdenden Tiefen zu tauchen,
wo sich das Leben ruhig verrät.

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

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.

You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

from The Book of the Hours
(translated by Robert Bly)

Thanks for all you’ve carried forward into today, all the wanting, all the hope, all the dreams. Thanks for allowing yourself to set some of it down. And thanks for picking some of it back up, giving yourself bits and swells of something you always wanted. Thanks for your words today. I mean it.