This is a new day. My body is sleepy, thick with desire for the covers. The candle blossoms new color into the dark room, and I am here with these early words. Fit me into the couch cushions, cover me with my mother-knitted afghan, hand me my tea cup and my novel. What do these words want from me today? What do your words want from you?
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I have two survivors workshops going right now, one in person (Write Whole) and one online. Last night was the third meeting of the spring Write Whole session, and got to be amazed at how deep the writing went, and how fast. We wrote hard about memory and grief, and in-between writes, we talked and connected and laughed. We wrote anguish and struggle last night, and after the workshop was over, I felt energized, lighter, and so grateful. It was a big one last night.
Sometimes people say, when I share with them about the work that I do, “Oh, that must be so hard.” I don’t know how to convey to them how much it’s not hard. How grateful I am every time I’m in the presence of a story that was never supposed to be told, how I appreciate the effort and risk involved in sharing brand new words, how honored I am to get to be in circle, over and over, with writers who are willing to language what we are trained never to be able to say. That’s not hard, I want to tell people; that’s a gift!
In the online workshops, folks have to be willing to offer their words out into the ether, before the eyes of strangers. They are taking on yet another layer of risk — we don’t have the friendly faces of our writing companions right there in front of us. And so I am additionally grateful, in the online space, that these writers offer generous and specific feedback to one another even though they are not working together in-person. We build trust that way, and get invited to go more deeply into the words that are wanting to be written. And through the layers of trust built through the affirmation of risk, we strip away one more layer of isolation; we take one more step toward our true home.
I want to share with you one of my writes from the online workshop. I offered Assata Shakur’s “Affirmation” as the prompt — maybe it can be a prompt for you today, too.
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“And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
There is something here about the body, about this disarticulate wisdom. There are stories I no longer want to have to find language for; I just want to live them, want my skin to breathe their agonies and tell me how to release them. I’m ready for a new understanding of healing.
It’s twenty years later. Twenty years. It’s twenty years after the last time he had his physical hands on my body. Twenty years since he was literally inside my skin.
They say that every seven years, the human body totally regenerates itself. Cells die and are replaced. I think of myself as persistent, my body as holding some kind of steady state — but it’s a mobius strip, a klein bottle forever in motion, constructing itself from the inside out, moving what’s dead from the inside out. I believe in the topology of regeneration: Today I said to my sweetheart, this body is not the body that he raped. He has never had his hands on this physical body.
What does this say about belief? How does that help me in the night when she puts her hands where the outline of his remains, when I must still talk myself through the tensile boundary of this memorying: these are not his hands; you are not there; this sex you are in, you are choosing now — how do those biological inner workings help unhaunt what remains of the structure I inhabit? How do you explain to a ghost that the site it has inhabited and bedeviled no longer wears the same structures? How do you slough the memories and terrors away with the cells, the mitochondria and waste?
I believe in the way this body is new and not new. This is a hard write just to flow into. I believe in the possibilities, I cannot quite believe in how joyful my body can feel these days, like somewhere inside the cells that ought to have died away they are still reproducing the old terror — how do I inseminate these cells with joy to replace the pain? How do I get inside that infinitesimal membrane and seed the seeds of me with what I have learned: that the body can be a site of wonder and delight, that the body can be worth inhabiting all the way to its very edges, that the body can be no longer some separate entity (“the body”) but just me. Just I. Just here. How to communicate that all the way down into nuclei, so that when this cell prepares to replicate itself, it offers up not the memory of anguish — or at least not that memory only — but brings with it something more, upon each new tiny birth, of what we have learned during these twenty years in the active physical labor of recovery?
Maybe it’s already happening. Maybe it takes more than twenty years to utterly erase the terror from within the skin of what’s within my skin. Maybe I will forever have upon me the faint graphite smudge of all that life is teaching me I can erase. Of course the trauma doesn’t dissipate fully — we are built to learn from what we have experienced. But we are not only able to learn from fear. The joy brings so much to feed into what I am made of.
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That was a twenty minute write. Set your own timer, go back to that poem, notice what rises for you in response as you read, and drop down onto the page. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thank you for your presence today, for the generous and kind wit(h)ness you offer to others, and for the way you invite others into witness with/for you. Thank you for your words today. I’m always grateful for your words.