(just a note: language of sexual trauma and regret in this post — be easy with you, ok?)
It’s late on a Sunday evening, and these are my morning pages, left till the end of this traveling day. Thunderstorms this evening: bolt lightening creasing across the sky, and claps of thunder so loud they stop the heart for a moment. Such a spectacular welcome.
Last night at this time I was contorting myself in an airplane seat — we were in the row right in front of the exit row so our seats didn’t recline, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to get my body comfortable enough to let itself fall asleep. I read and read, my eyes drooped, I yawned and the words on the pages blurred, but when I turned off the light and closed my eyes, my body held itself hostage. An old move. All I could do was adjust, adjust, adjust, adjust, but nothing worked, so I showed up at Logan a mess of sleep-deprivation and rage. Another old knowledge. Used to be, that’s how I’d arrive at Logan every time — returning to the East Coast after a visit home to Omaha while I was still in school, having spent a holiday or term break or several months living under my stepfather’s world order: no one ever got enough sleep, and the job of the female bodies in the house was to light around in a state of heightened anxiety and panic that was only released when he actually proposed to rape one of or when he exploded with rage. Then something in us could relax — we didn’t have to anticipate the worst anymore; it was already happening.
Good morning, good morning.
It’s good to have a ritual, an opening, a way to say hello. I’m here in the quiet green room, the birds just percolating in the apple tree outside the windows, the sun spreading her thick, buttery smile over the top of the apartment building across the way. The garden is quiet (only the bees and cabbage moths awake), and home is figuring its way into my mouth once again.
Back from a few days on the other coast, in that place where I used to be from. I can’t call it home. I can’t lay any claim to it. Home is supposed to be the place where you were born, the place where your parents are, the place where there is a house you can return to.
How many of us actually have a home like that?
Today’s post comes from the Fearless Words writing group — our prompt came from the group itself: how do we get clean?
How do you get clean? You know — inside? How do you begin to release that sense that you are dirty, soiled, smeared with someone else’s stain?
We took about 8 minutes — and this is what came for me (with only small edits):
Good morning good morning — where I am right now, the sun is rising slow behind a scrim of Atlantic fog, and my toes are readying themselves for the day’s first kiss from the sea. What in you is beginning to percolate already on this day?
~~ ~~ ~~
Those who have something to say about what it means to be A Writer say we should write what we know. But what if what we don’t know what we know? What if what we know is denial and silence? What if what we know is discord, the underside of words, the words squelched, torn from our throats? How do we write what was unspeakable, never meant to be spoken, words that people who love us have shown us they are unwilling to hear and/or acknowledge that we have spoken? We come to understand that our words are unhearable, unknowable.
What happens when we write in an unhearable language — and then, one day, someone not only hears, but responds to what we have said? This is what happens at Write Whole, and other Writing Ourselves Whole writing groups. We write these things and share them in a room of peer survivors who nod: they hear us. They witness. They understand.
It’s the Velveteen Rabbit, it’s Pinocchio: it’s as though we materialized into visibility when our words are heard, witnessed, acknowledged, responded to. Like the Cheshire Cat re-emerging, we may feel that more of our very selves have become present in this room full of wise writers.
Good morning! How is the sun peeling through the night’s succor where you are? Did you celebrate the Summer Solstice this weekend? Have you noticed that the days are shorter now?
This weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in A Festival of Writing, sponsored by AWA West and the Pacific School of Religion (Pat and Peter Schneider’s alma mater). I facilitated two writing sessions (one focused on writing about sex, and the other a general topic writing session, like Writing the Flood). What a gift it was to spend a day connecting with new writers and my AWA community here in the greater Bay Area. At the end of the day, we got to gather with Pat (via the wonders of technology), who shared with us about the seasons of a writer’s life and read from her new book How the Light Gets In: Writing As A Spiritual Practice.
In the second writing session, I started us off with a collection of images that I scattered over the table; we each chose an image or two, and wrote from those. The image that spoke to me was one that showed a bird flying over barbed wire, and this was the writing that came from the prompt:
The second prompt I offered to last night’s Write Whole writers was to scatter over the carpet a selection of images that were erotic, sensual, sensuous — and while the writers examined them, I shared the following two quotes:
I believe in the erotic and I believe in it as an enlightening force within our lives as women. I have become clearer about the distinctions between the erotic and other apparently similar forces. We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change. ~ Audre Lorde
Truly, we know that we cannot really subsist on little sips of life. The wild force in a woman’s soul demands that she have access to it all. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Last night I offered Monica McIntyre’s song “Like A Lover” as a prompt to the Write Whole writers — if you haven’t met this woman’s amazing music, I invite you to do so now. Anyway, after rambling a bit in the notebook, this is what I dropped down into:
The singer says, “like a lover” – how would we talk to, treat ourselves, if we acted like our own lovers? What would it look like if we attended so deeply and gently and assiduously to our needs and desires? Drop in – I say into my own heart: I need space and deep quiet for my morning writing time. I say into my own heart: I am gladdest when I have spent some time every day with my fingers in soil, and in the preparation of food. I say into my heart: my body is all right. She is whole and strong, round just where she needs, and with a true a tremendous capacity for delight. I say into my own skin: you are whole. I say into my belly: you deserve to unknot. I say into my arms: you deserve to hold what keeps you whole. I say in-between my ears: you deserve space to unravel and meander. You deserve to weep and sing. You deserve the exhaustion of deep release. You deserve to come to conclusions, re-think, reconsider, change, unknow, decide for sure, and then do it all over again. You deserve to turn off the noise. You deserve poems that sing you awake. You deserve not to keep up with the Joneses. You deserve your own definition of enough.
I say into my self: You deserve to trust what you know about your own heart. You deserve the exact sort of pleasure your body prefers. You deserve to know what it’s like to be surprised by orgasm. You deserve as many orgasms as you want, no matter how long they take. You deserve to own the life you’ve crafted for yourself. You deserve to have survived. You deserve to treat yourself with the generosity and spaciousness you offer others. You deserve to know peace. You deserve to sleep well. You deserve to ask for what you want most even when you can’t figure away all by yourself to make it happen – you deserve to release that ask into a space where someone or something has resources greater than your single strong will and your single curious mind, and can come up with ideas you never could have imagined. You deserve to live in a state of curiosity and wonder. You deserve to live unafraid. You deserve to trust that he will never come after you. You deserve to know how to protect yourself. You deserve to trust that your beloved’s admiration is not clean enough for a demand, but simply a clarity of feeling: a delight and wonder at your precise you-ness.
Good morning good morning. Outside my window right now it is still grey with morning clouds. I’ve got hot water with lemon and honey, and I am trying to remember how to breathe. I am trying to remember the point of this process. I am trying to remember how my limbs and lungs learned to function. I am trying to recalibrate after a deeply triggering experience and a week in the throes of — not flashback, exactly, but a deep and embodied re-memorying of what it was like to be a 22-year-old person trying to get away from a man who had brainwashed and abused her, and terrified for her life.
Last weekend, at the Survivorship conference, I had occasion to learn some new information about the man who sexually abused me, and in the aftermath, I have not been ok. I crashed. I have been sad and scared and triggered. I have been hopeless. (And yet, I want to say that the conference was, overall, a powerful and good experience for me, and I am so grateful to have been able to participate!)
Part of the crash was trigger, and part of the crash was a feeling of hopelessness, of sheer powerlessness to change any of the conditions that allow kids to continue to be harmed by the people who are supposed to care for and guide them. I don’t like to write here when I am in that place of hopelessness — I prefer to offer a sense of possibility and hope, even if it’s thin and fragile; I know how easy it can be to fall into despair, and I don’t want to be a part of that for anyone else. But this week, most of what I felt was despair: people do terrible things to children (and to other adults) and most of those who do will never be held accountable for their actions. Other adults will protect them. Our system of government will protect them. Even we who were abused will protect them — because we love them, because we forget, because we are afraid for our lives and the lives of others we love. This week it feels like violence and desecration are a part of the human constitution — how can we undo what people with the power and money fight so violently and tenaciously to continue to have access to?
whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them
And the dirt
(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive and how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)
(Just a heads-up: there’s some talk in this post about negotiating feelings of suicidality — be easy with yourselves and only read what you want to read, ok?)
And then I slid into a pretty serious depression. I don’t know how much I want to say about that here, except that it was both hormonal and historical — it grew out of the long grief I held about my own loss of motherhood, it grew out of shame I felt around my failures as a writer and facilitator and woman, it grew out of sorrow at how long it took for either my sister or I to become parents — all the work we had to do just to survive long enough for our soul’s to heal enough that we could imagine cradling another’s spirit with any determination or self-assurance, how unfair what our stepfather did was. It seems an understatement: unfair. Of course it is. And it’s true.