where we’re from

a body sitting crosslegged, wearing headphones, presented in rainbow silhouette -- over the heart is a triangle, pointed down, containing the words, 'You are here'Change sometimes feels like catastrophe, doesn’t it? Even if my conscious mind understands that what we’re going through is just transition, learning curve, new growth, my body/psyche/other parts are battening down the hatches and armoring up, trying to hold their ground, ready for battle. If change provokes anxiety, if we’ve got something at stake in this new learning, the inside selves run around in circles, worry the underside of my eyes til we’re blue with bags there, send out the old voices: why are you so weak? why are you so tired all the time? why aren’t you working harder?

I understand that those voices, once upon a time, just wanted to keep me safe — to get me to start questioning myself before anyone else started to question me. Didn’t that give me a sense of safety, or rather, a sense of control?

So I breathe into the questions now, and check in with my friends a lot: what’s the matter with me? nothing’s the matter with you — you’re just doing some new learning.

Stepping up to our passions, our authentic desire, can be terrifying. Is this also true for folks who aren’t trauma survivors? I need a poll. But normal for me is trauma, and so I believe that this fear is true for most people: what if what I always wanted was wrong? what if I’ve been pursuing the wrong goal all these years? what if I can’t do it after all? what if my dreams are too big for me?

Do any of these fears sound or feel familiar? What do yours sound like?

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Yesterday was the first meeting of our third go-round for the MedEd writers at the UCSF Office of Medical Education, where I have my day job. We’ll get together for an hour a week over the next 8 weeks and use creative writing as a way to get more comfortable with all writing, as a way to take a break and refresh ourselves for our regular work, as a way to connect as team members. I love this group, not least because I get to meet other sides of my coworkers through their creativity, their writing.

For our first exercise, we wrote to Where I’m From — you might be familiar with this poem/prompt; have I talked about it here before? When I give the prompt, I read the George Ella Lyon poem first, and then invite folks to start with the same title/first line: This is where I’m from…

A bit later today, I’ll update this post with my own write in response to the prompt. But let this be your write for today, if you want — and let the writing take you anywhere it seems to want you to go.

Edit, 6:17: Here’s my response to that prompt:

She’s from lost angels, from words nobody can pronounce the way they were originally spoken in Sioux: Niobrara, Nebraska, Ogalalla, Omaha; she’s from flat As and wait, where is that, exactly? She’s from the sort of place that people on the East Coast get mixed up with other places — you were from Oklahoma, NE, right? She laughs at them, strikes up bravado in the face of their ignorance, their lack of caring, their phrases like Flyover Country.

She’s from fried potatoes and bacon and hot coffee and griddle cakes, from turkey and pheasant hunts that even the liberal dads go on, from criks and blufs and fireflies and late May lilacs, she’s from a place no one can put their finger on, from those amber waves of grain that always just looked green or tan-brown when she rode across the tate in the back of Dad’s old orange VW bus.

She’s from Swedish holiday festivals and Indians in the museums with the wolly mammoth fossils and no one talking in Social Studies class about Wounded Knee. We thought Custer was a martyr. She’s from the town Malcolm X was born in, though nobody there ever mentioned it — she didn’t learn his name til she left for college.

She’s from: rhubarb-strawberry pie, cantelope-peach salad, homemade jham with wax sealing the Bell jar top, she’s from light up the faeries and wishing every day for an ocean vista and now every time she sees the water, she thinks how much it looks like the grasses undulating on the prairie, the ones Laura Ingalls ran through. She’s from day dream and Electric Company, homemade yogurt and lunchmeat platters, she’s from people gather in the church basement after a funeral and the same three ladies serve all the food and clean everything up, from bad coffee with lunch, flags waving everywhere, we love our troops, peace vigils at the Catholic church, she’s from long stretches of emptiness inside her parents’ marriage that eventually pulled wide enough to break, so she’s from that shatter, carries fragments in her bones, knows something always about being incomplete.

Thanks for your roots, for your tenderness to them, to the ways you let them hold you as you grow. Thank you for your words.

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