learning to be unnice

faded graffiti on brick of a woman's face, eyes closed, mouth open -- she is singing or crying or... Good morning good morning out there — how is your today so far?

(Sometimes when I start these posts, I hear (of course I do) the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (hello hello is there anybody in there), even though numb isn’t (almost) ever how I’d describe myself here at the writing desk, during this morning time…

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If you’re local to the Bay Area, and feel like doing some writing this month, don’t forget about Writing the Flood on Feb 18 — we’ll gather for great words, tasty snacks and absolutely fantabulous writing community. You don’t have to be a “writer”-writer to join us, and if you are a writer-writer (whatever that means to you), this workshop is a great chance to change up your usual writing routines. Don’t miss it.

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Last night, at the Write Whole meeting, I handed out a number of images as our second prompt — I invited the writers gathered to notice which one was most calling to their writing selves, which one inspired or evoked story, voice, description. We wrote for 20 minutes.

(Let this be your prompt today, if you want one. Click on the links and notice what percolates up for you as you view the images — begin as soon as you have a strong response, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. You can always use another image for a different write!)

Here’s my response — I bet you can guess which image I was working from.

Stop asking for permission. Isn’t this the interminable lesson for girls? Is it for everyone? (Not everyone.)

Stop waiting for someone to say, Yes please, come on down now, you’ve won a chance to live your life! This is me on the floor reaching upward, this is me slamming a door in your face because I’m writing now, this is me learning now not to be nice. This is a new skill: unnice. It’s not mean or unkind or hostile or even fucking high maintenance (definitely don’t be the unnice femme — that’s another write).It’s honest, which is a generosity, actually. It’s sleek and pressured, it’s not wearing enough clothes, it’s everyday handsome, it makes you uncomfortable. What happens if my face doesn’t shape-shift into an accommodating smile every single time someone makes eye contact with me? What happens if I wear only the body I want to wear and nobody else’s hopes or desires? What if no issues more often from my lips than yes? What if I get really good not only at knowing exactly what I need to be my very best and whole and evanescent self, but also at saying it out loud — and then (and then!), too, expecting it to fucking happen, without offering the backwash of but you know, whatever, I’m fine with whatever.

What happens when I’m no longer fine with whatever? This is a new alchemy, understanding how to hold against my body that some people won’t like it, and that doesn’t mean we’re going to die. How far back does nice go — the little girl who wants everyone to be ok and maybe then her daddy will come home and her mommy won’t be so sad and mad. This is a made up story that lives inside the malleable bones of the nice girl, the one whose main fucking goal was making sure everyone really liked er, who could easily be on everyone’s side, who can understand your point of view and the point of view of the man hurting you, who above all else wanted to walk out of the party with everyone saying, oh, she’s so nice.

What lives inside nice but murk and wishy-washy , the pond water of terror and control, the browned-out idea that if you don’t like me that means I’m bad, like core-bad. Bone bad. Let me break my bones for you, so you can suckle at the marrow– then the nice girl is saved.

How does the nice girl come to understand this, come to paste on her shiny blue mask of happy and appeasing, come to feed others on I’m fine! when the world is crumbling under her feet — come to swallow hard, I mean, choke thick on the stories inside her, the voices the painting the creative ricochet that someone else — almost anyone else — might not like? And then how does she unlearn that swallowing?

Tie a noose around her neck like the Japanese fisherman do with the cormorants, letting them down into the breached deep but then tugging up easy and snatching out what once was the bird’s lunch, now for the fisherman’s supper. This is how we train ourselves out of the habit of swallowing someone else’s shame, what doesn’t feed us anymore. I reach in, yank out the grimy green stench of nice now, before she has a chance to consume it, to relish in the old and sour familiarity. It may be that just now I am starving the nice girl, that I want her emaciated, brittle, stung, I want her less often to feed on me. Then slowly, maybe slowly, we can develop her — I mean my — palate for my own fierce power.

Keep writing, ok? Keep drawing or photographing or crafting or candlemaking or dancing or singing or painting or sculpting or collaborating — keep living into the fullness of your art. Thank you for all the ways you give yourself permission to dream and make those dreams reality. Thank you, every day, for your words.

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