we can do it anyway

mosaic/graffiti of mountain and textGood Saturday morning! How is it already October? Better yet, how is it two-thousand-eleven? Isn’t it still 1983, we’re just 11, we’re just walking to class with our blue bookbags slung over our shoulders, we’re wearing sneakers with friendship-bead pins affixed to the laces, we’re hoping it will be hot enough over the weekend for one more day at the public pool before it closes for winter, we’re starting to get excited for Halloween — the year 2000 is way off, a movie fiction, something that won’t happen til we’re almost 40, for god’s sake, and who can even think that old?

And here we are now. Miraculous.

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The Fall ’11 Write Whole workshop starts on Monday. I’m so looking forward to this group — this will be the nineteenth session of this workshop, the end of it’s fifth year. I first launched the Write Whole series back in early 2007, after I’d been doing the Declaring Our Erotic workshops for several years. It took me that long to decide that I was ready, as a facilitator, to be present with a roomful of trauma stories. I’d been afraid, at first, that I would get overwhelmed, blown away — and, in fact, I think that it was wise for me to pay attention to that fear. I had to build my confidence and skills as a facilitator. Remember, though the first Declaring Our Erotic writing workshops were open to survivors of sexual trauma, we weren’t explicitly gathering to write our trauma stories; we were writing our desire, we were writing fantasy (our own and others’), we were playing with what was possible around sexuality — and though there was a shared understanding in the room around trauma, that is, a sense that we each knew that what we were writing about wasn’t necessarily easy or straightforward, we weren’t writing only about how difficult sex was for us. Sometimes trauma appeared in our stories, and that was perfect — there was room for the full complexity of our erotics, in all the positive and all the challenge. After awhile, though, I felt ready to try something different, and in 2006, four years after I started facilitating workshops, I led my first non-specifically-erotic-writing group, called Writing Ourselves Home, open to women. We met for 8 Saturdays, and I’m grateful to that group for giving me the confidence to stretch out into new of writing groups. I learned that the AWA method could hold all sorts of stories, and that by stayed true to our practices and focusing on one another’s writing, we remain a writing group and not a therapy group, no matter what the topic of the workshop or the exercises. We develop one another as creative writers, even as we also bear witness to beautiful and difficult stories.

Also coming up: Two day-long workshops this fall, in Sacramento —¬†Reclaiming our Erotic Story on Saturday, November 12, and¬†Write Whole: Survivors Write on Sunday, November 13.

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Brief pause for a puppy walk — she’s been so good about waiting until the sun comes up, but now her body’s gotten accustomed to going out, or even having gone already, by about 6:30 — and the sun’s not accommodating us anymore. So we hustle out, hustle back in, and now she’s hanging out with me here in the office, chewing on her rope bone. This most recent one we got for her is about 12 feet long — ok, more like four — and she has to hold her head up very high when she prances around with it, so it doesn’t drag on the floor.

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I want to tell you something. Yesterday, I got up at my good early hour and sat down at the computer and did not want to write. I wasn’t feeling it, no inspiration, nothing. I opened the word document with my long story in it, the one I’m mired in the middle of, still figuring out how much of which parts of what stories to write for and about these characters, and there was so much resistance in me. Why do this? the stressed part in me whined. And I sat there with my tea steeping and little candle lit and started scrolling through the pages, remembering where I was yesterday, thinking about where I might go next. The story, as it is now, is coming out in the voices of each of three sisters, and each chapter/section, we switch from one to another. (I learned earlier this week, from listening to a talk given by Naseem Rakha, the author of The Crying Tree (among the many things I learned from this talk), that the form I’m working with for this long story/book is called basketed — not just third-person-multiple, but also non-linear, non-chronological, if I understand the term correctly.) So I pushed back into the story, got snagged somewhere, made a few edits, and found that I wanted to keep working on that particular section, and ended up doing the work I didn’t want to do. I kept my butt in the chair, at the desk, and refrained from opening up email or facebook or any other distraction. I let myself feel the irritation, and stayed with the work anyway.

Next, when the pup and I went out for our long walk (after the sun finally came out), I wasn’t at all feeling like doing the long climb that we take to get to the top of Tiburon (this is how I think of it)– I was cranky and just didn’t want to do it. God, all the effort. I knew I would do it anyway, and be glad, and we did. It was grey and windy up there, and gorgeous. We (well, I) ached afterward, came back down the little mountain, and while she had her breakfast, I made low-wheat Irish soda bread (trying out a mostly non-wheat flour combination, to see how it worked) — 2C oats, 1/2C each barley, brown rice, spelt and wheat flours; the result is so tasty! I’ll try it again next time with oat flour in place of the wheat, and I think it’ll be just fine.

So I’m thinking about the whole ‘do it anyway’ idea — it’s relatively easy for me to apply that to writing, after more than 20 years of practice, but how to give myself permission to stretch this idea into other aspects of my life. It’s been important, for quite awhile, after coming out from under my stepfather’s control, to give myself permission not to do the things I didn’t want to do. No questions asked. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to, Jen — this was the mantra. Over the years, especially with different jobs, that mantra has had to get more nuanced, but it’s still a self-care technique I’ve held on to — and now, I think it’s one that’s holding me back, keeping me from stretching where I need to stretch. So what about a new permission, a mantra to live alongside that one: first, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. second, you can do it anyway, though.

Sometimes ‘don’t want to’ actually translates to ‘gets triggered by’ or ‘in too much pain to do,’ and those don’t want tos are important to listen to. There’s so much behind ‘don’t want to,’ though, and, for me, it’s often ‘scared to.’ That’s where doing it anyway can come in handy.

What if it’s an invitation, not a guilt-thing or a have-to, an invitation to do something I don’t want to do?

Want to write about it? What don’t you want to do that will be good for you to have done anyway (how’s that for a sentence construction)? What doesn’t your character want to do that they need to do or also want to do (at the same time that they don’t want to)? I’m thinking of things like eating ‘better’/different, returning phone calls, exercising, writing to an old friend, signing up for a dance class — what is that thing you or your character are avoiding doing? Here are two invitations:

  • take 10 minutes and write about the not wanting to do that thing
  • do that thing, or take one action toward completing that thing, then write about it — or, if it’s a character you’re working with, write for 10 minutes about the character taking a step toward doing that thing

As always, follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go!

Thanks for the ways you are easy with you, gentle with all of your stretching and learning, patient with the places in you that are scared and doing it anyway, patient with the places that are scared and not doing. Thank you for your words!

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