taking it: number one

"taking it"

said to and of women.
said to me
about me.

slut. baby killer. ugly. damaged goods. used up. fuckable. unfuckable. sloppy seconds. whore. feminist bitch. pig. dog. disgusting animal. piece of ass. crude. unattractive. sweet. not sweet. bossy. shrill. bleeder. dried up. hysterical. emotional. crazy. nasty. heathen. first to sin. the devils gate. [the one who] destroyed so easily god's image, man. seducer. the first deserter of the divine law. she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. a temple built over a sewer. asking for it. poisonous snake. defective. unfit. (because i cannot provide enough. because i work too much. to pay off another man's debt. because i love. because i had the audacity to say no). wife or prostitute. small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, [and] to the end should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. barren. weak. ballbuster. baby. vile. offensive. property. possession. uncooperative. unwilling to compromise. collateral damage. wrong for not coming forward. liar when i did. confused about the meaning of consent and in need of his explaining definitions to the women in the room.
too sensitive. unable to think for herself. demanding. needy. shit. domineering. angry. unhappy. a dissapointment. prettier when i smile. impure. broken. full of myself. opinionated. irrational. cold. cruel. too soft. reject. trash. hideous. hot body. freak. fallen.

but without being told
named by another,
this is a body. this is my body.

my hands have caught babies and held the dying, baked pie and hit hard the weight of
another against my will, soothed the sick and built with bricks. 
my hips have danced free and held my infant son and burned under the aftermath of illness. 
my mouth has sung hymns and kissed open and located the refuge of just right words. 
my legs have bought my own survival and hooked around another’s waist and walked and walked and walked.

 


Though many religions have a history of misogyny, I chose to take words from Christian history for this piece, as it is the most dominant (and in this one can make the claim the most oppressive) religion in the country where i presently live. Christianity, with its history and holidays and beliefs, is considered normative, and as such often remain unexamined and unquestioned.

"And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert— that is, death— even the Son of God had to die." - Tertullian, from "On the Apparel of Women" book 1

"Woman is a temple built over a sewer." –Tertullian, cited in “the father of Latin Christianity”

"For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman. –Origen, from Fragments on First Corinthians, 7

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children." –Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius, from De genesi ad litteram, 9, 5-

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence." –Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

"The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes." –Martin Luther, from Works 12.94

"Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. –Martin Luther, from Table Talk

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." — Pat Robertson, from a letter written July 1992

"The Holiness of God is not evidenced in women when they are brash, brassy, boisterous, brazen, head-strong, strong-willed, loud-mouthed, overly-talkative, having to have the last word, challenging, controlling, manipulative, critical, conceited, arrogant, aggressive, assertive, strident, interruptive, undisciplined, insubordinate, disruptive, dominating, domineering, or clamoring for power. Rather, women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands." –James Fowler, from Women in the Church, 1999.

"Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture." –Mark Driscoll, from a sermon in 2008

belonging to the body

                                                          "home" by Terri Fischer

                                                          "home" by Terri Fischer

The truth, is that it is a strange thing sometimes, this being embodied; living inside skin, falling asleep to the sound of the heartbeat, feeling love and affection for a thing and the instinct then, to reach out and touch, feel the ways things merge and maintain separateness, coming up against and crashing into, and in all of it knowing a sense of forever being held. Because here I am, in a body. my body. You.

I was supporting at a birth recently. I was there, holding the mom in my arms while she labored, counting through contractions, breathing up and down like climbing and descending. I was there, as she summoned every part of herself to push her baby into the world, and I was there when a whole new person was now here, alive. And it occurred to me, as if I had never really understood, that it is sometimes a hard thing to be born. Even when there are no complications. Even when all is well. Still, something in this baby had to choose to come, to be here, to at some moment in time, fully enter her human body and form, and be born into a world that was waiting for her. I had never before felt the separation part of this, the way i did that night. That to choose to be embodied, born to the world, meant to leave behind another thing. And it does. And this baby did. As did i. I came, and was born, into you.

And though i have at times fled as far as i could go, you, my body, have never left me.

My leaving was learned. Was survival strategy. Was choice to sever and disconnect, for fear that the feelings would devour and destroy.
It wasn’t just one thing. It was all the things. They were too many and too much. 
So i left.   
It was my way through, but it was so incredibly lonely.

I spent a long time trying to find my way, fighting my way, back to you. I fought to be here, in and with you. Fought like angry drunk impulsiveness, fought like hunters with ready arrows, fought like you fight for what you love, willing to do the unthinkable.
From the outside, it looked like I was hell bent on destruction. But it was me doing what I knew to do, to come back home.
Which i did.  It was a terrifying and costly thing. And dear god was that night was brutal. But it brought me back to you. And evacuations are over.

So i am here now.
Here, where i can travel through history and years, mapping my stories through the scars on my skin. Here, with stretch marks that show the way you were once home to my child too. Here, with less of you than once existed because cancer came and took without warning or waiting for permission. Where menopause changes things, skin and bone and even the heart changes they tell me. And none of this was my choosing, but we make do, and I’m here.
I am here. I am here. I am here.
Here, with my over active reflexes, the slightest tap of knee sending my leg jerking up and out.
Here, with my right eyelid that droops, and the thick vein on the soft inside of my left arm, and my tendency to bite my bottom lip.

And you. You have been the very place from which I know life, what it is to be human.
It is an extraordinary thing.

The contraction of pain, the way heart hurt is felt in every cell. The vulnerability of breaking and bleeding. The murky disorientation when waking in the middle of the night in the summer, eyes adjusting to the dark, feeling the heaviness of heat. The rush of water, cold, and how good it feels to stand there drinking, gulps full, first thing in the morning.

Tired muscles. The comfort of arms coming up from behind, wrapped around, holding close. Laughter. deep rest of stretch. The sting of needles etching image with permanent ink. The first time she touched me, and it was the smallest thing, but nothing could ever be the same again.
Walking, feet against ground. Bare skin against soft sheets. The heave of chest and pounding legs and fists in fits of grief and protest. Shivers. Ache. Ease. The way his chest of ribs pressed up against mine. The way it is to dance, ecstasy and slow salvation and uninhibited joy. The way the jaw loosens and languages and worlds come tumbling out.

All of this exists and is known in the flesh, in unapologetic incarnation.
There are all these things I do not understand about being human. But this I know. You have been so, so good to me.

Cancer is a bitch. I has taken parts of you from me. It has hurt.
Then three years ago we were there again, in the loss and the taking and the unanswerable questions.
It was one hell of a rough ride, even as it brings me ever more deeply into you.  

“Do you hate your body? Are you angry with it?” she asked me.
And I knew what she meant. Do i feel betrayed, let down, my own cells turned against me.
I wish things had never invaded, intruded, from the first time it happened so many years ago, to the cells that turn from clear to cancer. But the answer comes clear and without hesitation.  
“I love my body. i can’t bring myself to hate her. She’s too good. I belong to her,” i said.
I do. And i do love you.

I love you the way you love a wild thing, not meant to be tamed. I love you the way you love your origin myth, your beginnings, the salt water womb you once came from. I love you the way you love your best friend, having their back no matter what. I love you, as I love the heart you house. I love you as home, and as that which takes me to the edge of adventure and risk and welcome breaking open. I love you whole, complete. 

So i am here, writing you this letter.
And I think what I am really trying to say is,
I am born into you, again and again. For each time, for every time, for changing while never leaving, for always, thank you.
You have taken such profoundly good care of me.
And now I will take good care of you.

You. This web of cells and memory and feeling, bone and blood and heat. My house of belonging. My way of knowing. My resting place and my wrestling space.
I love you.

close to the bone

For a long time, my life was like being displaced in some way, transient and fractured, forever exiled from my own body. I could not be or become comfortable, because at any moment the next evacuation might occur, where the alarms inside the head short circuit and scream ceaselessly even though all you’re doing is sitting there waiting for the coffee to brew. But time bends and reality blurs, trauma shaking itself through a body long after the day when the breaking became one tremor too many. And when that happens, the psyche doesn’t even have time to pack bags or boxes and instead it just flees, leaving your limbs sitting in a chair, terrified and hollow inside the numb. I could not settle inside my skin because at many moment I might be evicted, as if the part of me that found myself in bed with another person had failed to communicate with the physicality of the flesh being suffocated, and so the way I knew to make it right was to evict my own Self so as to survive.

I lived dismembered and disjointed, which the larger world supported and even encouraged. At times I was even praised for it, for my capacity to soldier through even when in pain, and for my ability to disconnect and leave the constraints of the horribly human realities of bodies that curse and need and bleed. I learned how to leave quickly and cleanly, and I learned how to never relax because I could be required to abandon shelter at any moment. This is what was required to make it through to the other side. So this is what I did. And it also was so terribly lonely.

There was forever a vague uneasiness, trying to locate what was missing. I was restless and searching for some crucial and important piece. Which was me. I was homesick for myself, returned and belonging to the body. 

The homesickness was the compass itself, the only way I had to navigate, trusting that I would find my way to re-member what had been dismembered, restored to the flesh and bone which was and is my dwelling place and wrestling space in this lifetime. It took everything I had. It was costly and harsh and achingly beautiful as cherry blossoms when they begin to weep pink and fill the air was ecstasy. And it was worth it.

Cracked Open to Trust

To return to the body, reclaiming our rightful space, and live fully embodied is to accept the very real limitations and traumas and soft hurts of the innate vulnerability in being human. No longer is it possible to pretend we can transcend all suffering, control outcomes, find refuge in ideas and ideals. We are tethered to the earth in a way, reckoning with our most human and our animal skin, our inability to avoid wounding and be wounded, our arrogance in having once claimed we would create reality with our thoughts alone. This is much of what abuse, sexual assault, and cancer taught me. I learned how to fight and surrender my way back inside. I learned how to finally crack open to trust, trusting myself and my body, which is different than leaving it and different than liking it. But the war was over, and this kind of reconciliation to reality is a powerful liberation.

To leave the body was to be forever lonely. To inhabit my own body was to live close to the bone of realities that we often choose to ignore, to live opened to the flesh of our want and hunger and subtle awakening when even the wind blowing through fingers, as your hand slips out the car window while driving, can become a portal to what some people would call prayer.

So it is not all love and light on the other side of returning after evacuations are over. And yet, it is also the only way to have all of ourselves. To live embodied is to know your full capacity, the full range of motion, having access to every part of you, in every moment, to respond to life as it arises and retreats like ocean tides. Here we can feel the full range of our own feelings, volcanic and new-leaf soft. We have the open book of our own truth and innate knowing, our own needs and resistance and rebellion, our own wholeness. Here, present, alive. It does not make the unknowns and unknowables any less daunting and even frightening. But it does make them less lonely. For we are no longer exiled from our home.

The Messy, the Mystery, Giving God Entry

This way of being and inhabiting our lives is radically different than much of the historical, deeply embedded and ever present perspectives of many religions and spiritual paths. There is such a long history of human attempts to transcend the confines of the human body and ascend toward god, the divine, enlightenment. Embodiment is messy and it makes such complete sense that we would find ways of labeling self-abandonment and evacuating the body as spiritually superior, so as to not be faced with Mystery and vulnerability, which humanizes and heals. And yet even when in the realms of the gods, the results are often the same. At war with our embodied humanity, we seek salvation in the realms above and beyond, and yet in leaving what is present and real we become strangers to our own selves, separated and restless for home.

Rabbi Kotzker Rebbe once wrote the lines that are a poem that are a prayer, “Where is God to be found? In the place where he is given entry.”

Here is a story different than what we’ve been told. The gods found not in detachment, in leaving, in rising above, transcending our embodied humanity so as to become pure or freed from suffering. This is to know and wrestle with and love the angels and demons with our own bruised and sublime bodies, becoming more fully human, awake to our flesh and feeling. And fully present inside our own skin, we have all of us, giving the gods of our choosing entry into this life, this world, into the hands that hold and heal and the back that arches in pleasure and the terrible and terribly stunning edges we encounter when fully embodied and loving another being in their wholeness. Liberation need not be leaving. It can also be returning, into the messy and mystery of this evolving physical form, the life force of veins and bones, rooted and real.

that i might flight: a grief observed

"And if they were heavy, and even if no one else had them, and even if your children and their children didn’t have them? 
     Yes, I think so.

But you would still have arms and hands and legs, and you could still speak, but you had wings, too. You would want the wings, too? 
     Yes, I would want the wings, too.

And when you were walking around, people would stare at you, and they wouldn’t necessarily understand that you could fly? 
     I understand. I understand that they wouldn’t understand.

Or if people thought they meant something, something they didn’t really mean? 
     I would know what the wings were for.

And if you had them, forever—the forever, I mean, that is your life, you would still want them? 
     Yes, I would want them. I would take them, so long as I could fly.

that I might fly away
    that I might fly away where the ships
        that I might fly away where the ships of pine
                    wood pass between the dark cliff"

- from "Wings" by Susan Steward
 

"places i would fly away to"

1.     to the fields before they come and cut everything down, and you walk through stalks as tall as you and even taller. to the lake after dark, and the locusts loud and thick as heat. to the slowness, and the not knowing what comes next, and the creak of porch steps and swish of swings, bare feet pushing off and lungs pumping night air.

2.     to the bar in berlin where i learned how to forget.

3.     the store where they had all those beach shack t-shirts and necklaces of twine and shell, and everything smelled like salt and suntan lotion, and he said, “you don’t belong here.” and i laughed and said, “i belong almost everywhere.” and that was how it started, the day that turned into three days, that was where i saw wild horses pounding the shore of the ocean. that sight, the great strength of it and how it physically hurt inside to see something so complete. i would fly to there.

4.     the solitude of winter in vermont, walking up an iced path, trees making groaning sounds and i thought, the way snow falls is like hearing quiet, wet stillness that makes everything make sense in new shapes and constellations.

5.     i would fly to the origin of the origin myths.

6.     to the train station, where it came and went, and you were still standing there.

7.     the fire where a picture was burned, of a girl in a blue sweater, smiling. how without even knowing, someone gives you a new name.

8.     to the roof of the shed we hid on during kick the can, laying there trying not to laugh, breathing heavy, mouths close. to those moments, and how i did not know then, how soon he would die.

9.     i would fly to hecate, standing in her crossroads, triple faced, ruthless and relentless in her love. to la loba, sitting in the wilds of her wilderness, singing over my bones.

10.   to the place where we really looked at each other. where the other things fell away. and we knew what was real.

11.   to a room of my own where in just one door over, i can hear a young bob dylan writing songs, and in the room next to him, or maybe it’s out on the porch, i can hear florida scott-maxwell writing on a typewriter, giving life to last words. “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

12.   i would fly at night, when stars are like a cloak of interrupted stories, and you can breathe better there, space enough to find yourself between the in-between.

13.   i would fly fast across sky right in the moments when the spinning tilts toward sun and it breaks over the curve, eruptions of light.

14.   i would fly to 1998 and watch myself take flowers and leaves and place them into books to be pressed, returning them then to the library, like sending out messages in a bottle.

15.   to the place where the bruises are deep and long lasting, and the apology comes with promises to do better, only to turn it around and place blame for having caused your own harm. the place that was the reason for your leaving, terrible in its shaking as hurricanes, sweet as your own forgiveness. i would fly to there, and help her pack her bags and fly us away to a room thick with understanding, a greenhouse of plants and paper.

16.   to upstate new york, watching as snow came and fell around attic windows and knowing nothing could be the same again. and i wouldn’t even say anything. i wouldn’t change anything. i’d just sit there, and be in all of it, exactly as it was.

17.   i would fly over cities, and watch all the lights come on at night.

18.   i would fly to the deep of the deep, the hollow of the hollow, to the empty of the empty, to the center of the center.

19.   to a waffle house, where another me is working, pouring cups of bad coffee, going home to water her plants and play her guitar, when the summer heat comes in through open windows, and there is nowhere to go and no one to be.

20.   to the places where artists spray their revolution on brick and building. the secret ones. the masters and magicians, and from above, in quiet, i would watch them work, shake my head in some kind of wonder.

21.   to the place where we were all young and beautiful and unknowing. how we could not have imagined all that would come after. how we would not have believed the loss possible. how all worlds were waiting. how we did not know and could not know, and how i love us for this, the audacity of innocence. i would fly to them, to me, to us, and let us do what we would do.

22.   i would go back to the day he was born. and the day he stood at the window, jabbing his finger at the glass saying his first word, bird. and the sight of his little body and mohawked hair, sitting out on the deck in a chair just his size.

23.   i would go back to the creek in colorado and build another dam with sticks and leaves, rocks and rotting wood. and ask my grandmother what it was like to work in a one room schoolhouse and wear your hair in flapper pin curls.

24.   i would go back to the hotel room, and say just one more time. i love you.
i love you, i love you, i love you.

25.   i would fly to the time i was driving with no direction, and how i couldn’t stop crying, and i couldn’t stop driving. everything was ending, had already ended. i would fly to her. i would tell her to just keep moving.

26.   i would fly to the lake cottage, and the body at rest, and the best week of my life. the one i love.

27.   to the hospital operating room, and i would watch it all happen, and guard her in the unconscious.

28.   to the stag at the edge of the forest that guards the dream world.  and because i have wings, this time, he will answer all my questions.

29.   to the house in the woods, where the door has the sign and it says, here all dwell free.

30.   to the coffee shop, dancing with the old man in a bathrobe to wilco singing "jesus" and how i didn’t know if the cancer was gone or not, and we were finding our own salvation.

31.   to all the people i’ve ever loved who died. and i’d ask for just one more day or cup of coffee or conversation or even a look. just one more look, our eyes locking across the room, silently saying all the things.

32.   to the big room with the windows and mirrors, dance steps painted onto hard wood. the click of shoes on ground. the fringe. the way my hair was short then, and lips were dark and smeared.

33.   i would fly to the still center, without which there can be no dance. and there is only the dance.

34.   to the screened in front porch and the rumble of the rock salt ice cream maker, and how certain i was that i could be saved, praying for rain so houses could not be painted, and breathing was so hard, but everything was still possible.

35.   to the place where the sea catches fire.

36.   to the place where the sky is an ocean.

37.   that i might fly toward and all the way inside the moment where you know. where there are no real do overs, and you have layers of feathers on your wings that speak of regrets and grace, and in this moment, you have not been given a way to make amends, but a chance to awaken. that moment. the one when you know that you do not get to go back, even if you can fly. that you do not get another ending, or beginning. that you do not get to every fully understand the why or what comes next. that moment when you know all this, and you still choose to be here in the living anyway. 

 

An Open Letter to the White Man Who Takes

An Open Letter To the White Man Who Takes,

To you, the one who wears your entitlement with the same self-assured ease as your cashmere coat and your ability to laugh at things that are not at all funny and your disbelief that you have ever had any advantages in life and so it must be something special in you, something earned, that lets you enter into other people’s places and bodies and lives and casually pick up their most needed things and walk out winking, deepened in your declaration that the world is indeed your very own oyster, all of it made just for you.

To the ones who stood in the front of the classrooms, giving out good grades in direct correlation with quality of cleavage. Who took hand jobs in exchange for access to education. Who corrected speech to put us in our place and rolled eyes when asked real questions. Who said "you are too pretty to be smart" and then "too smart to bother yourself with writing stories about domestic abuse because it is only women who will read that kind of drivel and if you want to make it (and you do want to make it, don’t you?) then you need to listen and learn from the greats," all of whom are white men. White men whom we never really mention had some woman somewhere taking care of them and doing their laundry and listening to their shitty first drafts and pretending to like it.

To the ones who beat my body into a mess of muscle and shivering skin. Who broke me until bleeding and left me to lie there. Who felt it acceptable to take all your rage or your confusion or your wounding, all your hatred or your fear or your own numb dissociation, and pound it into my own flailing protest and walk away unscathed and unseen. Because you could. Or because you wanted to. Or because you felt incapable of stopping yourself. You, who chose to do this, were allowed to do this, and left me with the medical bills and brain burned with the way your voice was mocking and the way you smelled on the back of the neck right where the rough of your hair gave way to pale skin.

To the ones who watched. Who said nothing. Who did nothing. Who looked away or walked away and now claim the status of one of the good guys, one of the not all men, because as you say you never took fist to face or held a woman down with your own hands. You only did it by doing nothing, by participating in the system that will, weeks or months or years later (and this only if she beats the odds by actually seeing her perpetrator arrested, charged, and on trial) blame the woman who was assaulted while you stood there silently in the other room and twisted the cap off another beer.

To the old (and sometimes young) ones in your uncomfortable looking suits who spends immoral amounts of money to run for office and then sit in seats of power and weigh the pros and cons of someone like me who once had a uterus getting to make her own decisions about the care of her own body. Who decide and demand that a woman should be required to give her body to grow a pregnancy into a possible birth of life, though you have never demanded the same of your own body for things like kidney or bone marrow or sections of the liver which also could keep a being alive who is already alive and here and in desperate need. Who tell me how pregnancy works and how abortion works and how rape works and how birth control works and tie down and bind up my own body with legislation and say it is for my own good.

To the ones who paid me to care for their children and upon returning left the wife at home to drive me to wherever I said I was going next and let their hand move from steering wheel to stick shift to the slip of skin of exposed thigh, and said "thank you for understanding and I’m always here for you if you need me," and when I said "you can just stop and drop me off here" and started to open the door, threw hands up in the air as if injured and said, “What? No hug goodbye?”

To the one who takes up so much space. Too much space. In the conversation. In the classroom. In the work meeting, the voice loud and insistent upon superiority for things banal and tedious in their boredom. At conferences and on panels and in the front of the room. On the subway, with your legs spread wide open as we trip over your feet and hold on hoping not to fall. In line at the grocery. On airplanes, placing both arms on shared armrests with complete disregard for the bodies sitting on either side. In positions of power and influence. On all the dollars we use and the painted portraits in all the buildings that preside over important decisions and all the statues built that I have to see and walk by when wanting to enjoy the heat of this city in the summertime and the way there is often a horse involved too or some kind of charge happening in case we forget the heroics of who you were.

To the ones who told me god hated girls, and punished the disbelieving, and cared about exposed knees and the status of my soul so much that it would take obscene violence to purify so as to be let into his good graces.  Who spoke to god, and spoke for god, appointed prophet and given all the keys to all the rooms and so there is no such thing as safety. Who entered into every thought, words in repetition, and in creating a world has the power to decide even the details and so it becomes difficult to know if my face or name even exists or if the erasure succeeded so completely I became invisible.

To the ones who decided, without my consent, what my earliest sexual memories and stories would be.

To the one who claims spiritual enlightenment and seeks solace in nature and works diligently to affirm your status of conscious and deeply present, but doesn’t pay child support on time or doesn’t pay it all because you chose to do something else with your life altogether. Who nourishes your body with organic food from the earth and makes sure to mediate in the mornings and feels sadness for those who care about consumerism and have given themselves over to the rat race, but don’t provide the health insurance for your children for which you are legally required to do so and choose instead to invest in correcting others when they speak, when I speak, because you are so sure your wisdom will open wide all the doors and women might then stop complaining so much or blaming so much or being so offensively demanding.

To the one who wears a white coat and has a title next to your name that allows you to decree what I should or should not do with my body. Who refuses to listen to me. To believe me. Who says, “maybe you just need to sleep more,” without even knowing that I cannot sleep more because I am working full time and a single mother and in graduate school and have had cancer twice and so now there is bone loss and arthritis taking over my left hip and I know my risk factors and I know my family history. It is MY body after all. I’m the one who has lived here in it for forty years. But please, why don’t you explain to me some more how all I need is a good night’s sleep.

To the ones who go to personal development retreats and use soft words and speak of the divine feminine and the sacred goddess, who close your eyes when speaking so as to let everyone know you are deeply feeling, and then question why I am so angry, wonder if it might help for me to just release some of those negative thoughts so as to open to the abundance possible in right thinking. Who want validation for your emotionally stunted performance of self-actualization without confronting the misogyny and white supremacy that is so thick it surrounds everything, and we are choking while watching you release your inhibitions and find you “true self.”

To the one who pressed close with your paranoia and fear of my own separate self choosing something besides you. Who woke me in the night to make accusations about what I had been doing in my sleep. Who blamed and threatened to harm the bodies of those I loved and sneered the word feminist with contempt and broke into my home and read through all my things, even the box of the oldest letters in a closet I had long forgotten about. Who demanded I account for where I had been and how I spent my time and who I had just been talking to. Who did all of this, and bludgeoned me with verbal assaults, and then said, “It’s just that I love you. It makes me crazy. I just love you. And no one else will ever love you as much as I do."

To the one who speaks over. Who explains. Who tells me I am wrong, and that I don’t understand, and then turns to the others at the table or in the room or around the conversation and says what I just said, and nods your head slightly as if to wait for recognition and accolades for the insight.

To the one who breaks legal agreements and finds loopholes, regardless of repercussions to others. Who commits fraud and attaches my name to money owed I never knew existed and then does some emotional healing work around understanding how you no longer need to feel indebted to others, after their bank accounts are emptied. Who asks questions and does not hear no or believe no or honor no, and instead stands there righteous in certainty that you alone know what is best, and the rest of us are limited in our thinking and closed minded in our ways of being.

To the ones who forced themselves onto me when I said no. To the ones who did not ever ask for a yes, ask if this is what I wanted, ask if this felt good, and chose instead to press and place their body into mine with an insistence that implies expectation and assumption of being owed. Owed. As if my body is a sacrifice or offering, the thing handed out as a consolation prize for the difficulty of being here human. 

                                                                   taking it: II

                                                                   taking it: II

To you.
The one of many.
And you. Yes, I am talking to you.
The one who knows you are part of this, and the one who will spit in my face denying it is your name located here in this letter, and the one who will read this and shake your head in disappointment at all those other men over there and not even consider for a moment that it is you.
To you.
The white man who comes and takes.
And takes and takes and takes.


You have taken my dignity, and my opportunity to learn and live and work in a safe environment, and the money I gave hours of my life earning with pride and love.
You have taken parts of my body, and my good credit record, and my ability to be with my own child.
You have taken my housing, and my name, and my no.
You have taken my sexuality and my memory and my range of motion.
You have taken the intimacies of my mouth and the stories I swore to bury and the hope of knowing what it is to not be afraid.

You have taken
what didn’t belong to you.
It never belonged to you.
It wasn’t yours.

(And it didn’t matter.
You took it all the same.)
Entitled and certain of all owed you, your life has taken from others, from mine, breaking in and breaking trust and breaking bank accounts and breaking agreements and breaking bodies.
And the systems allow you to, again and again and again.
And then turn and point the finger toward me, accusations made against me and my kind for all we have done to scrape by and survive your endless violent consuming of our own lives and beings and bodies.

You take.
And I have sat here, “taking it.”
Swallowing what is indigestible, gagging on my own repulsion and tremored terror at how deep the wounds and word go down.
Silencing the scream because I also need to keep my job or need to get in the door or need to do right by my child or need to stay alive long enough to leave.
Choking.on impossible choices so as to stay intact enough to crawl through toward survival even as we all know there are all these things taken and lost which will never ever be recovered or returned. It doesn’t work that way.
And while I’m sitting here taking it, I’m told I really should smile. I’m prettier that way. It makes people more comfortable and at ease. It shows I’m willing and ready to cooperate and be kind, which helps those who take what does not belong to them feel better about themselves and practice self-care for their self-esteem.

You take. And you leave.
I remain.
My body remains, and it wears the map of your pillage, all the places you came and took, where you tortured and terrorized, where you battered my no and decided what of me you wanted or needed and what you were free to discard.
My personhood remains, and it is marred and marked by fractures where something in me was severed from the assault of living in your presence, and though it is you who caused the injury, it is still my life and so I am the one left cleaning up the broken bits and pieces and mending, always mending, stitching together from resiliency and old library books and the bravery of longing.

That I will make it through, into the arms of the irrepressible movement of life where I will know the deepest love and stunning intimacy and artistic revelation, is clear to me. 
And, I will have to so do crawling and climbing through the wreckage of your brutality and ever present gaze and hand that reaches out to take just one thing more.

Stop.
That is my one ask.
Stop.


Sincerely,
Isabel

 

p.s. And figure the rest out yourself. God knows you have enough resources.

The Body Contains Multitudes

my body is not a sin.
it is not an apology.
it is not a product, or a possession or a piece of propaganda.
it is not a thing to take whenever you want, and spit back out, disgusted that i chose to speak while you grabbed and claimed consummation.
it is not a secret or mistake or limbed legacy.
it is not a piece of skin to quick and cover up, because as they say, everyone knows that if you look that way, dress that way, it can only mean one thing.

my body is neither broken nor whole. 
neither shameful nor source only of disease. 
neither fantasy nor fallen from the higher realms of spirit where it was once told to me i should abandon flesh and strive toward transcendent sky.
it is, rather, complex and intricate and intimate. 
it is source of pain and unexpected shivers of pleasure when moving
from cold of rain to steam of hot bath,
body submerged and breathing out like echoes into a
safe room where all the secrets live.
it houses scars, from fisted and turbulent trauma, stained assault,
sharp blades and skinned knees, and also loud laughter,
and a jaw that won't unclench, softness on the back of the neck
and mourning and ease of comfort to belong among my own bones and marked skin.


i have cut into my own flesh, to leak out trauma I could no longer contain in quiet, 
and then too there was the cut of the scalpel, swift and saving. 
i have lost uterus and ovaries, hormones and health,
live now with chronic pain and the intricate web of injuries
that linger as part of the cure.
the cancer came and was treated and left.
the wounds of the healing remain. 

i am forty, with the bones of a sixty year old.
i can no longer box or pole dance and i find myself flailing around
in search of some place to now thrash my own aggression and need to slink across a floor.
i sometimes still wake in the night, even after all these years,
shaking with the tremors of what happened
when my no meant nothing and i kept quiet just to stay alive.
what i did for my own survival still lives here, embodied, in me.
and i do not think that will ever change.
and perhaps i would miss it even, if it one day up and left, relocated into another room.
because though it speaks of horrors, it too is mine,
belonging to me.

as are the lines deepening around my mouth,
and the way sun sinks into my skin
and the sounds i make when ready and waiting, like a sharp intake of
breath that hovers there just inside the space between mouth and throat.

the body contains multitudes.
and this body. it is my own. 
in all its complexities. its ambiguities.
its wonder and its relief.
its remarkable strength and its unresolved woundings.
its falling in love and its feet, found sure here on solid ground. 

so here i am.
this body.
my body.
multitudes.
my home.

believing the body

The body does not lie.
And this seems at first glance like a straightforward sentence, a statement either true or not true, real or not real.

So which is it?

The body does not lie.
But not lying (the body telling the truth) is not the same thing as always knowing the language, knowing the meaning, knowing the translation of a voice submerged in flesh and heartbeats and blood that runs opaque as secrets through the veins.
So I want to say yes. It is true. It is true in and with, for and from me. The body does not lie.
Though I spent a lot of time, years that became decades that became a life, questioning and cajoling, asking my own embodied self to justify and explain and defend every murmur and cold scream.

I would have told you that the body, my body, spoke truth. But I had also pathologized myself. Told myself that trauma had changed me in a way that made my own body’s signals less reliable, somehow skewed in the direction of fear and clamping down closed.  For many years I lived with the roaring fragmentation of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and this has a way of making time warp, the nervous system bent the shape of past harm, and it was here that I learned it can be possible to suffocate not from lack of oxygen but in the too muchness, lungs choking on air. Because of these things, I then made connections between dots to craft cohesive narratives and form a picture of what and why and how come. So the body would feel afraid or feel hesitant or feel guarded, would feel numb or feel vigilant or feel severed. And I would hear this, and though I wouldn’t tell myself I was straight out wrong (embodied lying), I would tell myself that it was somehow misdirected or the signals had become mismatched in a body once beaten and left for dead and so something in me was forever lost in confusion.

It sounded like. . .
I know I am safe but my body doesn’t feel safe and I can’t relax or rest or stop tensing tight.
I know my body is braced and my jaw locked in protective defiance but it must be the haunting of the things that can never be undone, because she really loves you, because he would never intentionally hurt you.
I know I am not being attacked, but I feel silenced when they walk into a room.
I know I am cared for, but my body just can’t receive it (because of the past, because of violence, because of scars and stories of what happened and should never happen).
If you were really healed, you would be able to sleep better or you wouldn’t shake or you the dreams would one day just leave you alone.

The body does not lie, I would think and say and want so much to fall into.
But what I really told myself in my own responses to the language she spoke, was that my body could not be trusted, could not be believed.


(And I was not alone in this. I had others tell me this too. Tell me that though my feelings were real, my body was not based in reality. Because I had no reason to not feel safe. Because my skin was speaking about what happened years ago. Because they, the teller, were trustworthy and loving and so it must be my body that was wrong for not opening up and letting myself give over to their goodness.)

Then something happened. I had an embodied experience (hours and days and weeks of them) that let the cracks break wide enough and I slipped through, into the other side of something. My body began responding, began speaking, in a way that made all the other claimed confusion now the eloquence of clear truth. Here, I was safe. Here, I was loved as I had always needed to be loved. Here, I was known and known and known. Here, I was not asked to defend or prove or strive, to fix or mend or make better. I was not asked to be anything at all. I was not told I was safe. I was not told I was loved. I was not told I could trust. I was not told I should loosen my grip and let go, that my body was betraying me by not believing another. My body, all on her own, spoke. My body came to rest, the nervous system no longer ranting and raging. I felt safe, because I was safe. I could breathe with ease, because I was not being watched or monitored or assessed. I could hurt and be held. I could remember and not know the intrusion of interpretation. I could laugh and light up and feel my own skin on the inside of the thigh wake up with a whisper of a touch from a hand I know as intimately as my own while cloud cover came and passed over.

This re-writes everything about consent I once thought and named as known.

The body does not lie.
My own body had always been telling me the truth.
It is not important that I understand it all or make meaning or decipher the code. It does not matter if I articulate in verbal speech or classify it correctly or can give a list of reasons and whys. The body speaks. I believe her. It is this stripped down, clear and complete.

So it happens. You have an experience that lands soft and firm inside your whole body, and you know new. Your embodied truth had always been speaking true, and something shifts in a way where the inked key now knows where it belongs and the parts come untethered and you are complete. You keep thinking back, to that time, sitting there by the water, and how didn’t know why, could not in any way have explained or made it make sense. Because it did not seem reasonable or rationale. But you felt it so fully. “I am afraid,” you kept saying. “I am just so, so afraid.” And how you were told you did not need to be afraid. Told that you were safe (which is to tell the body it is lying). Told that it was hurtful to say you were afraid when they were, they assured you, so safe. And you tried more, for weeks and months and one time even for years. You tried and you worked to make it work, to not let the body’s language take over and to tell it that it misunderstood. Except, it doesn’t work. The body knows what it knows, and speaks as it speaks. And so later, and sometimes it is much later. Later, in a moment where your body now knows what it is to relax into a complete release, to come and to show up and to shudder and to have your whole self and be loved. Later, you will remember back to the lake, to the fear, to the inability to get your body on board with the decision you had made for how things were going to be. And you will remember what came after. How things you had shared in moments of opened trust were taken and used against you, hurled out as accusation rather than the intimacy of another’s story spoken. How you were now told you were unwell, pathologized as if your fear was a symptom of your own ailment and not a diagnosis of the reality of what was there in the room and the spaces between breathing. And then. Then you would remember. I was so afraid. Not of attack. Not of assault. Not because another was bad or cruel or seek harm. But because even so, even if and when there is love or desire, it was also true. It was not safe. You were afraid. Because it did not feel good.

The body does not lie.
Now, I go about the work of reconciliation, hearing in myself all the times I dismissed and told myself to get over it or carry on or soldier through or that I should be happy or that I should be grateful or that there was nothing to be afraid of or that I must be mistaken.
These past months, I’ve been making amends with this body of mine.
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
I’ve been doing the hard work of repair.
Never again will I not believe you.


20160913_194625 (1).png

You can trust yourself. Real.
You know now what home feels like. Real.
It hurts when you open your jaw all the way. Real.
You can say whatever you want or need to say, and it is also true that you are not required to say anything at all. And still you will be known, will be loved, will be held in the heavy breathing and the whimper sounds made right before falling asleep. Real.
There are a great many things that can never be resolved, metabolized, made sense of. Real.
The body will still pound them through the blood’s memory and cell’s awakening. Real.
Not knowing you are alone can save your life. Real. Attaching in completeness, now no longer alone, will save your life again, the line drawn so clearly between before and after, altered. Real.
You are ticklish in undetermined and always different places. Real.
You will fight for your kin, your beloveds, and when you can no longer fight you will let your limbs be carried. Because we need each other. Real and real and real.
Your body was not lying. Your body was telling the truth. These are separate but connected things. Real.

Never again, I hear myself say under my breath, still shaking off the aftermath of not listening or dismissing or listening and telling myself I had somehow misunderstood. Never again.
Now, I believe myself. Now, I know different. Now, I breathe with a breath that belongs to me.
This is my body.
This is the body of the world.
This is the good body and the broken body and the body believed.
This is my home, my refuge and my resting place of return.
This is my compass and my north star.
My body. Which knows and is now known.



* Photography by Stacy de la Rosa

forty

The thick heat of August is when and where my birthday lands.  
This year held a threshold and soft opening into intimacy.
I am forty now.

It feels like the most beautiful arrival, like soft landing and solid ground, an opening to let loose the things which were ready and wanting to leave, a celebration for having come this far.
It feels like return and like the sweetness of the unknown, discovered, unfurling like a curled body unwrapping itself late in the morning and leaning toward sun and the taste of another’s skin. It feels like the work was worth it, and the wrestling with the unresolvable, and the knowing when it was time to lay them to rest, and live.

There are things I know now. Things I have learned, in struggle and in surrender and in embrace. Things I have found and cut openings in my own scars so as to taste and turn towards. Here, I name my own animals. Here, I let my own tongue speak. Here, I stand in the wreckage and the glory of this life, my life, and say thank you. 


And I wanted to share some of them, forty of them, with you.
What I know now. What I see now. What was here, the wisdom of a body speaking true, waiting to welcome me into what comes next.

1.  This earth. This world. This broken sky and the way the buildings go gold when the sun descends. This ribcage shaking with the underwater world of crying. This held out doorway of hope and this ache for the taste of blackberries and this scar that runs wide up the back. This hand that doesn’t know how to unclench and this breath that comes easy and gasping and steady. This. This is what is real, here, and alive. Whatever may or may not come next, above or below, this world here is my home.

2.  Being willing to make choices, the hard choices no one else may understand and the ones with no guarantee of outcome and the ones that remind you of the vow you will never break - this humanizes. Make choices and take risks and have regret and wake again, and choose to live.

3.  Honor your limitations. Let them become a net to catch you with kindness, sinking into the knowing that you need not do everything for everyone, even yourself.

4.  You are allowed to change your mind.

5.  There is honest (if hard sometimes to the heart) love in being willing to disappoint people so as to be true to your own voice and knowing and need. There is rich substance of sovereignty in not abandoning yourself in order to please another and pretend it is enough. The truth is sometimes rough to the touch and sometimes elegant as silk against smooth skin. Love it for its own sake. Do what is true. Speak what is true. This is what it is to be trustworthy, for your word to mean something real.

6.  It’s a voluptuous powerful thing, to know what you’ve given your life to. And everything else, all the ambition and striving and waiting and insisting and pounding against metal doors until the fist bruises and bleeds. All of this is laid to rest. You have already given your life to what you love and the paths uncross, clear.

7.  Know and enter the unanswerable questions, and do not try to answer them.

8.  You are not the possession of another. This is not the cost for belonging. And so you do not ever owe another your own self, as if intimacy is a transaction of putting out parts of you you in order to be fed. You, your time and your body and your presence and your capacity and the curve of your conversation, is not a thing another human has a right to or is entitled to. Love, and whatever of yourself you choose to offer out like undone origami all soft paper and wrinkled angular lines, is a gift. Every single time. Without question.

9.  Love what and whom and how you love. Feed your hunger to satisfied. Want what you want. Without apology.

10. There are many things you will not do or ever get to do in this life, and there is some kind of relief in this, the knowing and naming of it.  It means you don’t have to pretend you will get to it or chase the dream that drains, scampering around trying to fill a hole in the heart or insisting I can live another nine lives. It means you get to walk away from what is not yours or what no longer fits or what you once longed for and now can see only as a ghost of a dream of another woman, many years younger, learning who she wanted to be in this world. It means you get to be here, in this life right here and now, fully, deeply, and with all of you. No bullshit.

11.  Whatever it takes to listen to yourself, to hear yourself true, do that.

12.  Can you be good with yourself, no matter what happens or what is said about you or what the cards or planets spin of stories? Can you be good with yourself, solid, even when you don’t know what comes next or feel the weight of another’s expectation or forget the sound of your own name? Can you look in the mirror and see the stunning presence of your face, and love her for everything she had to do and could not do and say “I’m here, come on home to me.” Forget the measurements or ways of codifying and monetizing meaning. Can you be good with yourself, be a good home to yourself? This is the question that must always come first.

13.  It is ok to have needs. It is more than ok. It is human. And inevitable. And crashingly beautiful, the way it connects us to one another and reminds us of the silk strands of a web that work their way through creation and allows us to love and be loved.

14.  Your life will be forever changed the day you learn the power of a clear ask. And the strength of your own breath bringing you through. And the solid bones of a clear no. And the open space of a full yes, how it tumbles over grass and rocks like blue iris opened.

15.  No one else gets to define you for you, to tell you who you are and insist you accept their projection and pain veiled as insight and then say thank you. You are not theirs to assess or determine or decide. Others can and will think what they think, about you and themselves and the world. They will sometimes find or form stories, as we all do, that help them make sense of what hurts and in the process they will sometimes seek to brand you, leaving burn marks and the sound of your feet as you walk out of the room and into your waiting life.  

But in the quiet and crash of reality, we just don’t know. We don’t know what another person is going through, or what they fought through the night, the empty glass and the road trip west and the way the sun felt like salve after so much heavy rain. Another may come and tell you what they assume to be true about you. But they do not know. They do not know that someone from your past just died and now your old stories get to be rearranged, or that that the cancer came back, or that the shatter was sharp. They do not know that the love you always needed came and found you and everything, everything, changed. They do not know how it feels to be you, living in your skin, and what it took, to make the choices only you could make. They do not know. It is not their job to know, to assure you, to name you. So let them say what they will say, and just stay with yourself. There is nothing you need to go look for and figure out outside you, because you. . .you are the way. So stay, right here, breath after breath, finding yourself landed back home in your body, the love that will never leave you.

16.  You can and will discover capacity in yourself that exceeds what you were given or taught or knew from experience or exposure. I do not know the why of this, only that it is true.

17.  When the question comes (why?) you will know the answer.
18.  because my body is my own, belonging to me. 
19.  because I was not, a single time in all the many times, asking for it.
20.  because no is a complete sentence.
21.  because pleasure is my birthright and I know now just how good, good loving can be. 
22.  because creating consent cultures is how we unlearn and relearn the voice and body
       that knows what it knows and wants what wants without apology.
23.  because sex is not a dirty word. slut is not a dirty word. feminist is not a dirty word.
       woman is not a dirty word.
24.  because we are allowed our places of belonging without ownership and possession.
25.  because my body is my own, and I love her. 

26.  I used to worry that something was wrong with me for not caring so much what other people think of me. For not having much interest in confirming their ideas of who I am or am supposed to be. I used to wonder if this meant I had not yet learned the rules of the road for a culture I did not come from and stand always a whisper from the edge, as outsider invited in. I now know differently. There are many things I care deeply about. But what other people think about me is not one of them. This does not make me broken. It makes me free.

27.  There is so much suffering that is not optional in this lifetime, all the ways oppression is real and devastating and the most horrible things can and do happen. But all the other things, the optional suffering, the unconscious suffering. It has no inherent virtue, making you a better or more noble person. So you will learn over time, learn and relearn as many times as it takes, to choose to not remain for what is optional, free now to live your life in all its pleasure and protest.

28.  Be willing to be wrong. To acknowledge the ways you have been wrong, no longer interested in living saddled with the errors of confirmation bias, where we look around at the world only for evidence to prove our own assumptions and beliefs. For we are not always right. even when we feel we are. Even when we can "prove" it. Even when we wrap ourselves tight with certainty. And when the stakes feel high, it can feel so very hard to let down the insistence and open to the other. To listen. To look. To learn. To be educated. To tolerate discomfort. To see. To say, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me." But it's where freedom lives.

29.  First marriages are good teachers.  It is ok to keep the learnings and leave the rest behind.

30.  People you love will hurt. And get sick. And lose work and parts of their being and body and those they love. And there is nothing in the world you can do to make it better, or take it away, or make it not happen. So you will sleep in a room with soft red light, and make music, and walk the dog, and choose love.

31.  At the age of forty, you will have lived through so much loss, your own body bearing the weight of woundings that can never be undone and your own memory choked with trauma that never resolves. You will have had and lived through cancer, twice. You will have watched a great many people die, many of them from a terror from which you still will never know why it was you found a way out and through, landing on a city street where you changed your name and listened to music fill the streets late at night, counting the concrete steps and your luck of impossible aliveness. You will have lost through all the leavings too, and there will be all these spaces inside you, like gaps, where they once would have slipped inside and now there is only the grief and then it is only memory of grief, missing the missing. It will hurt. You will not be able to return or go back or become what you once thought you were or would be. You also will come through.

32.  So there is this. Keep making decisions. The hard ones. The uncertain ones. The in the dark ones. Keep following the tread of curiosity and trust the voice that knows what it knows, beyond language or the ways of reason. Keep showing up, for the work and the wrestling and the water you submerge yourself into, swimming deep and fighting strong, tossed up to a shore of your own survival. Because you make it. You arrive. You know what it is to say no more. You let loose the need to understand or master or make meaning of brutality. You lay a thing to rest, which was everything it took to come from there to here. You taste and see and know that it, this flesh and fought for freedom and the home that is her, it is good.

33.  Stop finishing books you don’t like. Or eating to the end of a meal of food you don’t like. Or wearing clothing you don’t like (just because it’s in your wardrobe, doesn’t mean you like it. So you can stop wearing it. Or give it away to someone who does and stare there at your closet with only four hangers dressed with black and fringe and flannel, and a pile of torn jeans, and know that you live now in what is loved.) Stop completing and competing in conversations that have no ending because they are really arguments or attempts at control. Stop telling yourself will do things that you really won’t ever do. Because you don’t want to. And you don’t like them. And they only serve to weigh heavy on the paper of the list of to do’s, so you can just not do them and cross them off and call it complete and never write them down again.

34.  After trying things on and working around other’s ideas and ideals. After playing with possibilities and bending your back to become the shape of another’s unarticulated longing unaccepted in themselves and offered out to you. After setting up house and putting placemats on the table and then hearing your voice again, clear. After this, you will stop trying to do it, life, by someone else’s rules or ways. You will no longer ask yourself to huddle down and limp along and hope the hurt later leaves. You will no longer pathologize your own want and need and the names you choose for love. You will feel the words come, different and altered and fully now your own.

35.  You are the only one who can live your life for you.

36.  You can trust yourself,
       You can trust yourself.
       You can trust yourself.

37.  Let others have their own experiences. Their own opinions and ideas and stories about you. Their own needs and unanswered questions and knotted memory. They are allowed. It doesn’t mean they are yours or need to be yours. So let them have what is theirs. Respect them enough to take radical responsibility for their own lives. And tend to the arrow in your heart. Love yourself hard and well. Nourish your hunger. Honor your own exquisite boundaries. Take good care.

38.  This is your one life, your own life. Choose what feels good.

39.  You can and will learn new things. Even well past the point when you thought it was possible. You will take flying lessons and see the city lights grow small and then fade to a dark sky and open air. You will learn new sleep patterns and discover the cadence of your own language between soft sheets and the piles of inked paper. You will, decades after you had decided it was meant for you, run your hands across exposed brick and call it home. You will wake to realize that there are entirely new experiences that you will at the age of 39 turning forty, only now enter into, undone and set right inside. You will be surprised, not by the bad thing that was always waiting but the impossible possible. This falling. This whole body knowing. This safety. This unforeseen adventure. This love that gives you back your whole self.

40.  And after everything you’ve known and survived and held hesitantly in your large hands, your hunger and hope fragile as spider webs and strong as a hawk’s wings stretched wide. After this, you will only be able to locate yourself in the word lucky. Because here you are, all the constellations of things leading you to this. Not a plan or a purpose or divine intervention. Not because it was meant to be or forever fated. But this. Your life. And you are still here.

So open the drawer that once housed all the things you would never speak. Pull out the deck of cards that was your origin and everything you could not choose, all the odds against you. Splay them out in any and every order. Watch their faces find rest and their mouths spill secrets and wisdom. This, they say. Here, they say. Now. You. Her. Say yes. All things safe and found. All things made new.

a good goodbye

 “It is true that those we meet can change us,
sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards,
even unto our names.” 
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

And so she was for me. 

I am readying for a goodbye.

In less than two weeks’ time, I will walk into a room, and swallow my life whole. I will stop to breathe, to locate that place where my wrist extends to aching arms. I will sit down next to a woman who has been constant and a keeper of my stories, who holds the pieces of me and creates space to climb upon a life raft that lets me rest and fill lungs full again, while swimming and sailing to the other side. I will let myself soak in every detail of that room, and her face, so it can live with me for as long as I need, which is forever. I will say thank-you, and I will say I could not be here without you, and I will say this. This here. This is what I wanted. This goodbye.

I’ve never had one. And thank you, for being here with me, even unto and perhaps most especially right here within, goodbye.

Leaving is its own animal, different than ending or completion of a creation.

(farewell. god speed. because it must be so.)

Running away and running to save your life and learning all the skills required to slip out quiet in the night unnoticed.
Keeping a body in a place even though you’re already a long time gone, and so the dull numb of absence comes to take up all the space in the barren cramped room.
Watching as the one you once loved has already left through decisions that break things beyond repair and yet they stay and they stay and they say they will forever stay and so finally you call it yourself, send the papers and pack your things, or ask them to move out and you reclaim your space again, drinking wine on the back steps while it rains July storms and the sky feels like freedom or forgiveness, and you wear the name leaver in the stories of others and do not stay around in the aftermath long enough to ever even correct them, as if that were even possible.
Knowing the end of a thing is coming and not being able to bear the devastation and so finding all the ways of leaving before leaving, because staying for completion would kill the part of you still beating breaths.
Lighting matches and burning buildings and bridges, not ever looking back. Because you needed to get the hell out of there, and there was no time to waste.
 

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go,
but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” 
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
 

These are leavings. I’ve done them all.
And none of them are goodbye.
 

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There is a weight carried in not ever having really had one, the good goodbye where love is lived and the ache of an ending and losing has space to be seen and said and the love is large enough and the presence spacious enough to hold this, hold the whole.  This never having had this, has been I now know, its own wound in the wearing down of so many leavings in a lifetime.

Because how we honor the humanity of one another matters.
How we end things matters.
How we loosen and let go matters.
The goodbye does not take away any part of the grief in the loss or make the ache an undone memory. Rather, it gives us back our memory and re-arranged self, all the parts and pieces that will never add up as understanding and only brush up against one another in gloriously inexplicable wonder.
This is its own true loving.

You were here.
I was here.
We are human.

We affect each other.
We mend. We tend to what cannot be healed and only held. We love. We learn. We play and we fight and we repair and we nourish. We un-cage what wants to be witnessed as that which once saved us and now lives under the collarbone half way hidden, forever ready. We become. We undo and unravel and we become homes for one another, make magnificent art.
Is there anything else so extraordinary?
 

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable:
through the embracing of one of its beings,”
- Martin Buber

 

I walked into the room twelve years ago, with an infant in my arms, and my own fire breathing heart and tangled in knots history of all the places harm can live in a body and all the ways we can know the impossible as possible. I walked into this room, which became a world which was a womb which we created, which gave me life. I could not have known what would happen, who I would be and become. How I would grow up. How I would know in my bones what cannot be integrated or even comprehended, and I would embrace it still. Embrace the world, through and in and with this being. How I would become fully human.

And now, in only a fistful of days, I will be entering into an ending.
This is not a tragedy. This is not a trauma. This is not a severed sudden loss that makes it impossible to go on into the living. This is goodbye.

I will say good-bye in the turning over of all those mornings when I brought my coffee and stared into the unknown, and all the words spoken that broke my own rules and washed my skin in the act of un-naming, and all the ways of silence that healed what can never be made whole.

I will say good-bye the way we sometimes submerge our whole face into warm sheets or lilacs in late May, to breathe deep something irreplaceable as it washes over everything. I will say goodbye the way we linger over last pages, not wanting the story to end. The way I bite my bottom lip until mourning smashes me open. The way light sometimes comes right before dusk and spills over brick and stone buildings, rests there suspended for those moments as if the sky was taking every longing you’d ever had into her expanse. The way my once young body always wanted, in heaves and strong legs and loud lungs and honesty.

I will say good-bye the way we hold vigil through the night, and the way we pound bodies against what bruises unseen, and the way it is sometimes to get into the car and drive open roads for hours and hours and hours, into the arms of your own life.

If there are open doors of entrances and hellos welcoming you with waiting arms, may you run to them, embrace them richly and wildly, collapse into them, grow strong in them.

If there is deep love and intimacy in your people, the faces of those you hold close and find home within, may it continue to nurture and nourish, enliven and awaken, for all your days.

If there is a goodbye on your threshold inviting you to the ending, of a love or work or way of being, what you once called home now known as a place where the bed is too tight to hold the all of you, or one who was teacher and gatekeeper is now leaving because it is time to leave and so you are standing there rocked with waves of griefs while she looks you in the eyes and points to your arm and says “the key is already and always yours,”  may the goodbye be fierce with reality, holy and inexplicably sweet, a dwelling place where you might hold your own heart beating. Even in the good-bye, even especially in the goodbye, staying here, with yourself, love after love, breath by breath by breath. 

 



* Photography by Stacy De La Rosa

on telling the truth and the beauty of boundaries (and freedom from inspiration and vulnerability porn.)

telling our truth can be liberating, no longer hiding behind shame and
knowing the freedom of refusing to participate in the required silencing.
it feels really good, to speak what we want and choose, to own our stories.
it can be magnificent when our life marries imagination and creates art.
community organizing and activism is fed and grown through activating our own narratives and understanding how publicly sharing them brings us awake to the work to be done.

and…
you don't owe your story to anyone.
your life is not a product of inspiration to be consumed. (you are far too complex and nuanced and beautiful for that).
telling our story in order to be perceived as wide open and vulnerable can end up feeling damaging.
not sharing things and choosing instead to allow them to remain private and nourish the interior creative life is not being "closed" but can rather be exquisite self containment and love, being our own home to return to.

we are surrounded by images that say "i'm so amazing. come be like me."
and then there is the vulnerability inspiration porn that says "i'm so exposed. i'm just like you."
and both end up feeling really off.

the truth is,
i'm not just like you.
because i'm me.
and you are you.
and as humans, we all have our own private and public stories, and we need each other.

you can be real and still keep things private. you can write down the bones and let words open windows to the centers of our stories, even the terrifying and the honor and the mysteries. and you get to have some things that only the smallest number of people will ever know and hold, because they are sacred this way.

vulnerability in our intimacies is sometimes the deepest healing and unexpected service.
boundaries are beautiful.
choosing your own terms of engagement, your yes and no, your public and private, your voice in all its range,
is powerful.
because your life matters, and it belongs to you.

 

cancer and two years later, love for the scarred and wonderful

to you, love. to me. to what this day in gray january is, wet and cold, scarred and wonderful.

all day yesterday, i kept feeling the pull back, tugging at the sharp parts of my body.
all day today i have stood here, opened like a hymnal spilling sounds i know without knowing, tumbling through the skin's memory, traveling reckless and gossamer veins.

two years ago yesterday, i was preparing to go in for surgery, the first surgery, for the second cancer.
two year ago today i was going to the hospital, walking into the fire. two years ago today i had cancer in my body and inside it felt like things were breaking apart, a door not just unlocked or opened but altogether unhinged and the sound of my own heart beats were muffled and thudding like listening to the world above while submerged underwater.

i didn't know then how things would shake out and go down. i didn't know the grooves i would wear down deep in the road of my survival into living.

was it really only two years, so recent? was it really already two years, so long ago and far away?

how does time happen? what am i to do with all the other lives i feel like i am living somewhere else, parallel and intimate and veiled? do we become beautifully more bare as we age, gathering great losses until we have let go and had torn from us so much that we are diaphanous, transparent, slipping through all the times? or do we become more, richer, a kind of feast on everything we were forced to survive and were fortunate enough to have born witness to, that we swim in the tides of years blended into years? or is it both, together, merged and submerged in the living?

somehow, it has been two years today that i went into the cold room at the hospital and closed my eyes and waited to wake to something ending and beginning. and i want to cry. and i want to kiss things. and i want to smash my face into belovedness. i want to stand under running water for a long time, and i want to call up that which built the bridge that carried me to the other side and say thank you, and don't let us forget how horrifying and smeared with aliveness it was, it is. and i love you. love sent out ricocheting into the cold sky.

it is sometimes easy to love that which comes later. there was so much glory in the relief and the clear scans and the stars written on charts like successful treatment was a moral achievement and not blunt luck. there was so much that felt like the rush of life that came in with the luxury of purple flowers and beginnings. and dear god. it was so fucking beautiful. and how sometimes it can come to feel that what is valued is the after. the pretty pictures made long after the fact, when we use the words brave as if there was something noble in having suffered and survived and we want with desperation to know it will be ok in the end.

and so there will be no big statements about what anything means. because if there is meaning to be had, it has not yet to come find me. i just know it was brutal and bruised, and in its taking it left me altered, marks and memory which are mine now, belonging to me. i just know that at night i map out jacob's ladder, wrap paper wings around it, climb up and down again. i just know that it is true, that we cannot control what we pretend we do, that we cannot predict what we want to, and that being here alive in this body of mine is still the best thing i've ever known.

so today, is a love letter to being in the living.
i'm loving the one who didn't know what would come next, and who was tired to be here all over again, and who felt dark and light inside, a mouth learning to swallow the moon. the me sitting it in a hospital gown feeling skin stick to white paper waiting for the oncologist to walk in the room. i am loving the defiance and the discontent and the soft. letting the moment be what it was in its raw bite and vice and beauty. and how sometimes another can see us here, choose to not look away, and this a life raft that lets us save ourselves.

how do we make it?
how do we survive?
how we do we keep making art and meaning and love and revolution?
i want some smart answer, some clear concise page to pull from the volumes that tell us all where the promise sinks teeth into the disbelieving.
but i don't have something so lovely. i have this. only this.
everything is always dying and something, someone, somewhere is being born.
in all this, a thing so wildly vast, you are like no other that has ever existed.
how stunning. how magnificent. how much, you matter.
i love you. i love you. i love you.

love,
me

surviving the wreck

for the one who woke this morning, uncertain how it is possible to have come this far and you stand in the space where nothing makes sense but there is still this. here. your own survival. your breath that filled lungs that expanded and your eyes adjusting, taking in the smooth arc of skin that curves from clavicle to the last rung of the rib cage. . .

i keep thinking of you.
though i do not know if it is intellectual thought as much as orientation, the way something in my body and bitten lip keep turning toward you, needing to know your location, needing to keep scanning the crowds and looking through all the languages until eyes lock and we land again, returned to the unnamed space where we silence neither the knowing of brutality nor the love lush as the greenhouse where you turned again to the light which is life.

the truth is, nothing i can ever say could ever make any of it better.
there is not a version of the story where the good measures so great that it ever takes away the horror or the holes left from when that which you loved and could not live without suddenly was taken.
there are no do overs, and this life seems not particularly interested in owing us anything.
the healing that sometimes happens is exquisite, shattering every idea i once had about how much a human heart can hold. against all odds, it is possible that sometimes our grief gives us our humanity, restores us to relationship.
but it does not return us to what once was.
so i refuse to meet you the morning when you wake to your own survival and tell you tales of the phoenix rising, the slick stories that carry the sheen of inspiration so as to quell the terror in the teller.
your life does not exist to make others more comfortable.
so just for now, just for this moment, i can offer this. even if nothing is ever made better, i love you and i will meet you in the room where nothing can be undone but for reasons known and unknown, you woke again this morning, breathing and beating life.

and i keep thinking of you. . .
the body that shows the map of injuries and knows a want like hunger and cannot bear to be touched lightly but only strong and sure, the way you might press down hard to try to stop the bleeding.
the haunting of hunting season and the hallowed spaces where you dug out the decay with bruised fists and the way sometimes still, even after all these years, you still feel the way two o’clock tastes on the mouth, filled with broken conquests and steam rising from the concrete. and somewhere in the space where shoulder blades attempt to touch in the chest opening, you still miss it.
the never being able to quite find the right language to say what really happened.
the wanting the relief of not having to explain.
the nightmares that never leave.
the reckless glory of a waterfall washing over you, the sound of it like a roar, and the way she brought you coffee in bed and the plant that hung there in the shower, spilling down like there was still time enough for everything that came after.
the scars that formed on the inside of skin, intimate and devastating, invisible to the rushing world.

i keep thinking of you.
I keep wondering how it is possible we survived.
i keep wanting to hold your face amid all the unthinkable things, and even in the moment by accident, how pulling on jeans over curve of hip and onto waist, i might happen to look up and see a reflection in the mirror, foreign and familiar, finally found.

what are we to do with all this loss?
what are to do with so much beauty?

this is for you.
for all the times you did not want to make it through.
for all the times you did things you never thought you could or would do, just to make it through.
for who you once were.
for who you became in the war you did not choose and the fight you found that saved you.
for the way the warm returned and the salted air changed your skin and you knew again how to let something hold you.
for you. to you. the one who swam to the other side, tossed to shore, waking in the morning to the sound of the city outside your bedroom window and knowing in the marrowed bone that all those things really did happen, and all of it will always be here in you, and so too is the sun and the moon and the stars. you are here in the living and the mango is sweet in the mouth and the dirt clings to feet and your belly breathes power.

for you.
this is not a victory march.
this is not an inspirational poem.
this is not about a bouquet of stories on the other side of loss that make it seem advantageous to know this name of suffering.
this is not a need for you to remember or retell.

this is simply me, standing here with an open boarder inside me and eyes that will not look away, saying thank you.
thank you for fighting and finding the way here, feet shaken and heart steady.
thank you for doing what it took.
thank you for your art and uprising.
thank you for giving a home to the sharp teeth or survival and holding the hurt in your lap like there is love enough even for this, even for the unthinkable, even for her, even for here.
thank you for choosing life.


love,
me