can we have delight even when we’re so rightfully angry?

greybrown sandy beach and a brown dog in a red coat with her white paws pressed to a ball  - over the beach, a blue and pink sunrise sky

The puppy doesn’t care how pretty the sunrise is – she has her ball

CN: talk about rage and reasons to be enraged and also some not-rageful sex talk toward the end

Good morning, good morning. The puppy got me up, accidentally, at 2:30 or so, and I haven’t been able to fall back to sleep since — so we came out through the rain (the puppy walking close to me to stay under the umbrella) to the little house and have the candles lit and she is comfortable tucked in her chair under one of the blankets that I bought at Ikea when I was furnishing the office I had in Oakland for a little while and the tea kettle is on and the space heater is churning at my feet and we have an astonishingly perfect morning place. The ocean is so loud I could hear it from the bed, which is rare — it’s been warm the last couple of days, but windy, and there’s clearly a storm coming or influencing us from somewhere. 

Here’s the sentence I just wrote: the ocean is so loud I could hear it from bed. That’s astonishing. I can almost not believe it, almost not believe that this has become my normal.

In a couple of hours, the puppy and I will go back into the other house and get our beach clothes on — boots and a hat for me, little coat for her. We’ll grab the Chuckit and the ball and we’ll hustle down to the water in time for dawn. One reason I like to get up early here is to be able to be out on the beach at sunrise. Today there likely won’t be much bright color. The sky will transition from dark grey to light grey, and the water will shift as well, and we will revel in the wavy brown-grey striations that are left in the sand when the ocean has blown hard all night; we will admire the waves of color in the sand, the peaks of shells and bits of stone atop little hillocks around which all the rest of the sand has been blown away. We will watch the seagulls and the grebes and the loons enjoy their morning ablutions and breakfast hunting, and I will delight in watching the puppy delight in playing with her ball. After ball time, we’ll come back home and fill the bird feeder and then go in for our breakfasts as the sparrows and chickadees and cardinals and blue jays and squirrels all have theirs.

Yesterday morning, after we finished writing, we managed to make it down to the water just in time to watch the sun paint the bellyside of the clouds with the faintest pink and orange, and we watched the color move from where the sun was just emerging from the horizon and across the clouds above us. The morning color is fleeting, brief, and the pictures I can take with my phone don’t capture its true beauty. So we brave the hard winter wind and the deep cold and the shore slush and the icy patches on the sand just so we can stand in wonder as the sun casts herself and her color once more into the day.

•§•

I have been thinking a lot about wonder and delight. In my early 40s, when I was finally emerging from a mindset that had kept me in a difficult relationship for far too long, I felt like my life was filled with color and astonishment every minute of every day. I fell into that wonder. I let it lift me and drive me, pull me away from the shame I’d been living within for so many years: the shame of compromising who I was for another person, the shame of allowing myself to be treated poorly, the shame of hiding who I was and what I believed in order to make another person feel more powerful, the shame of even being in a relationship in which I could think things like “allowing myself to be controlled” or “he said he’s sorry and he really means it this time,” the shame of not listening to my own instincts and red flags and instead — as had happened in my adolescence/young womanhood — swallowing my anger because another person, another man, had told me I didn’t deserve to be angry.

 That shame takes awhile to work out of the system. Stepping outside the umbrella of that shame, though, and toward delight helped me remember who I wanted to be in the world — not quieted, not making myself smaller so that someone else could feel stronger, not pulling myself in so that no one else would give me a kind of attention that he might get jealous about… 

Shame unspoken and swallowed leads to silence. Rage unspoken and swallowed leads to silence. Grief unspoken and swallowed leads to silence. At least for me. (Of course, we also have an entire internet filled with the words of people choosing to externalize their emotions, some might even say weaponize them. But is there something between depressive silence and shouting thoughtless words that cause harm and can never be taken back?)

I’ve written about this before: around the time of the Stanford Rape Case (what the hell was his name? Oh yes, Brock) —

which was just prior, if I remember correctly, to the mainstream media picking up what began to be called the “metoo movement” and reporting on story after story after story of sexual violence at schools and in the workplace and a couple of high-powered men got to golden-parachute out of their long and intensely lucrative careers and also some entertainers had to get a little quiet for awhile before they magically got to make their return through a lament about cancel culture, and edgy left wing journalists lamented that the pendulum had swung too far and now we were in the middle of a sex panic and a witch hunt and meanwhile men kept on raping women and children in homes and schools and churches and everywhere else one might imagine and still folks (including queer and feminist leaders) were talking about how “#metoo had gone too far” well before any real change had been effected in our millenia-long societal structure that keeps women across the world under the control of men, and this even after Donald fucking Trump got elected president, and tell me again, please, about how anything feminist has gone too far when that can happen — and meanwhile the women’s movements were eating themselves, battling each other for their slight ideological differences and disagreements, for not having been perfect in every word and thought, rather than using that energy to fight for the rights of women to be free and to work with other communities to upend a system that keeps the vast majority of its citizens depressed, overworked and underpaid, terrified of any medical emergency lest it lead to bankruptcy, and losing their children to an internet (and soon a meta verse, which will be worse) that teaches them rage and isolation and humiliation

— anyway, around and during this time, it began to get harder for me to spend long stretches of time with delight.

Not that I never felt wonder: I had my pup and my beloved and this body that keeps changing and healing and a garden that offered something new to witness every day (especially in CA, where one is able to garden year round) and workshops full of ever-astonishingly brilliant folks whose words made my heart break open every week. And also I was very very angry, as all of us were, and didn’t have words enough to express that rage and wasn’t clever enough to enroll myself into a kickboxing class. Instead I fell into a depression so deep and frightening that I decided, finally, to go on antidepressants.

There were, and are, a lot of reasons to be mad. There were endless op-eds and twitter threads and facebook posts and books written about how terrible everything was, and is. I couldn’t imagine what difference anything I wrote could make. After all, I’m old enough to remember the worldwide outcry prior to the 2002 US invasion of Iraq — millions and millions and millions of people protested, and it made no difference. When I went to the women’s march in Jan 2017, I didn’t feel the energy and connection I was hoping for, nor did I feel hopeful that any change would come of this turnout, this enormous number of folks around the country who said No to the man now occupying the white house and the ideologies and systems that put him there. After all, the nascent movement that might have been brought together by the march had already been tainted and divided by the thinking around crocheted hats. 

Everything in our country, and around the world, seemed to go downhill from there. And then there was covid.

•§•

Of the major writing projects I have underway at the moment, one is about the rage and grief that drove me into burnout; a second is about the rage and grief that I’m feeling about how sex-positive and queer liberation movements have been horrifically coopted toward the goals of male supremacy and capitalism; a third is about the struggle of three sisters to learn how to live and turn toward each other after they were forced to hurt each other by an abusive stepfather during their adolescence; a fourth is about a femme dyke emerging from an emotionally-abusive and controlling relationship with a butch partner and trying to understand how she got so far from herself and how to find herself and trust her instincts again; a fifth is about a violent feminist uprising that is brutally put down by male supremacists around the world. And a sixth is a fairy tale.  

It may not be a surprise that it’s been difficult to sustain any work on any of these. It’s not that I don’t believe in the projects, not that I don’t want to see them finished. But/And: there is very little joy or wonder or astonishment in any of them. I don’t want to abandon them — that’s a lot of fucking pages to just drop in the trash. And also I would like to be able to turn to some work that is celebratory, that makes even a little room for what’s possible, for what capacities we contain for healing and delight.

I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ing my way through the realities of the world we live in. But I know enough by now to understand that if I’m all and only rage, I will make myself sick and I will try and self-medicate that sickness with tv and food and other distractions. 

Here’s the sex part: One thing that’s been an extraordinary delight for me of late is the fact that my body continues to evince the capacity to hold more and more sexual pleasure. If you had told me, when I was in my 20s, that I might reach a place in my healing where I’d be able to have an orgasm in less than an hour (and without having to concentrate hard to avoid flashbacks) and could even come more than once, sometimes several times, I think I would have dismissed the idea as sheer and ridiculous fantasy.

It’s taken me twenty-five, almost thirty years, to get here.

So many years of struggle around this physical experience that we’re told is supposed to be neutral and joyful (and yet is deeply fraught, at least sometimes or for stretches in our lives, for most of us, I think). So many years of thinking it would never change, I would never change, I would never get better, I would always feel at least a little broken or bad or wrong or not like other women. So many years of thinking, Well, I guess this is as good as it’s going to get. And also so many years of refusing to give up, of believing that I deserved (as all survivors of sexual trauma deserve, as we all deserve) pleasure in my body and joy in physical connection with a beloved.

I am able to experience more joy, more pleasure, in my body now than I ever have before at any time in my life. That’s truly a wonder, a delight.  There’s also embodied delight in consuming good bread that I have made and sharing that bread with others, in concentrating deeply as I pipe filagree designs in royal icing onto sugar cookies, in watching my dog pounce on her ball like she just discovered it for the first time – even after 11 years, in sharing a tear-stained and extended belly laugh with my beloved, in listening to loons call to each other across the waking dawn, in watching as seeds sprout their tiny green leaves and imagining what fruit they will produce at the height of summer, in looking up from a book and catching sight of quiet, thick snowflakes drifting down in front of our big fir tree, in dancing (even alone) to good house music, in greeting a deer who has remained on our beach after the tide came up, and watching meeting her eyes for a moment before she bounds away and then swims across the river in order to rejoin her herd, in catching brief sight of the fox who lives in our neighborhood as she pauses for a moment next to my writing-room window, in watching an owl spread her white wings wide over the beach before landing on the edge of a brick chimney and turning her head full around to watch me looking at her, then tilting her head a bit to check out the puppy with me. 

There are so many good and righteous reasons to be enraged — and those aren’t going to go away. But living all the time and only in that rage makes me sick. (Maybe it’s meant to — maybe we’re more easily swayed and controlled when our emotions are hot and we feel powerless and out of control.) I need, and want, to make more creative room for joy, and for pleasure, and embodied delight. That feels a little vulnerable, which is maybe a sign that I’m moving in a right direction.

It’s another hour or so until the sun comes up. Until then I will listen to my puppy’s dream yelps, read awhile, sip my tea, enjoy this candlelit dark. Maybe I will have a piece of sweet potato-zucchini-black bean-chocolate cake (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!) for breakfast with a little cardamom coffee. And I will get to walk on a rainy beach at dawn, and keep my eyes open for the delights that the morning beach has to offer. 

Be easy with yourself today, ok? And I will try and do the same.

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