Sunday, July 31, 2016

I haven't been able to write this poem

I have been struggling like woah with writer's block.  It's awful.  I have about 15 pieces of poems in various places...on my phone, on pieces of paper, in notebooks, on my computer....and they all suck.  They're all trying to say the same thing, and none of it worked.  I have about 4 pieces of other writing I've tried to do to get around it, and that isn't working either.
So tonight as I was washing dishes, this is what came to me: "Stop trying to say all of the things.  You can't say all of the things.  Stop trying to say it all fancy and impressive.  Say it simply.  Just say it.  Ask the question.  State the problem.  What is it your heart is trying to say?"
And then I listened.  And the question is how do I write this?  And the question after that is how does my heart hold all of this?
Here is the 5 minute poem that came from those questions and that listening:

I haven’t been able to write this poem.

The hateful rhetoric is loud and threatening and I
am frightened.
My baby sister calls and tells me she is scared.  She has
nightmares if she reads the news
too close to sleep.

I walk the dog in morning dew.
The world feels fresh, like it
doesn’t know what’s to come, or—
maybe it does and it
believes in itself anyway.

How do I write the depth of this fear,

How do I write the intensity of this hope,

How do I write the way my heart
blisters as it strains to hold both

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hella Strong: Radical Self-Love and Gratitude

Okay, so here’s the deal: I am exhausted.  I have about 500 things I should be doing, and at least 3 other things I should be focusing on writing, but I really need to write this tonight. 

No, no, you don’t understand.

I need to write this tonight.

I don’t know if non-writers or non-artist/creative-types understand this need.  Hell, I don’t really know for sure if anyone who isn’t me understands this need.  It’s like an addiction.  It’s like I need to put the words on the paper or they will start to crawl out of my skin and do dangerous and unsightly things, and we can’t have that, can we?

I know I am not alone when I say that my relationship with my body is difficult.   It has come a long way – particularly recently.  Part of being human, and part of being female in this culture, and part of being raised in my particular family culture, and part of being a survivor of sexual violence, and part of just, like, being me with my particular neurology, probably, has meant that my relationship with my body has been tough.  It has gone through healthy times, and not-so-healthy times, and destructive times.  It has been through a lot, this body.  It’s hella strong, and hella resilient, and I have also put it through a hell of a lot of shit.
Most days now, I know how to feed her and water her and move her in ways that feel good and right.  It’s not that I always do those things, but more often than not, I am privileged enough to be able to make the choice to do those good things.  I am learning how to think good thoughts that do not hurt her most times.  I’m learning.  This being human, y’all.  It’s not for the faint of heart.
But here’s the thing: when my body does not do the things I think it is supposed to do…when it does not act in the ways I think it is supposed to act….when it does not feel the way I think it is supposed to feel…I fall apart.  I lose my cool.  The whole “positive relationship with my body” thing goes out the freaking window.
For the past week and a half, I have had some pretty nasty joint pain, amongst other symptoms.  I’m still in the process of figuring out what’s causing it…but it’s not fun.  Moving hurts.  Not moving hurts.  Typing this makes my fingers and wrists feel like they are on fire.  There are good moments and bad moments, and they are unpredictable and have seemingly nothing to do with what I do or don’t do. 
And ultimately, it will be fine.  I am blessed with a hella strong, hella resilient body, and with health insurance, and with access to whatever doctors I choose to go to, and that is one hell of a blessing.  In the meantime, I am tired, and I am frustrated, and I have done a really shitty job of being kind to myself about the whole thing, asking myself questions like “what did you do!?” and convincing myself that my body has some crusade against me, as if that is the only logical explanation.
In a few rare, gentle moments last night and this evening, I realized a couple things:

1.       There are not, actually, “sides,” here.  I am not at war.  This thing is just an experience that my body and I can live into.  And, I actually have some control as to how that is going to go.  This simultaneously makes me anxious and relieved. 

2.       Living fully present in my body is something that was a challenge for me for a long time, and has been something that I have only really learned how to do again easily recently.  Pain messes with the ways I use to ground myself physically in my body, which then makes it more difficult to feel grounded.  It’s a fun little cycle.  I spend a lot of time in my head.  And this is such a good excuse to spend more time in my head and not in my body.  

3.       I teach parents Kristin Neff’s self-compassion exercise all the time.  I have told friends and colleagues about it.  I refer to it often.  But I don’t use it, actually, because self-compassion is hard, guys.  I am really, really good at recommending self-compassion.  I’m really good at modeling it, showing it to you, taking you out for a self-compassion test-drive, even.  But when I am alone in my own head, it’s another story. 

Anyhow, she teaches the three steps of self-compassion (1) mindfulness, (2) connection with common humanity; (3) self-kindness. 
So, one might say to oneself – (1) This is a moment of suffering; (2) Suffering is a part of life; (3) May I be kind to myself.  Or (1) Wow, my shoulders and knees hurt right this moment.  (2) I know there are many people who are also experiencing physical and emotional discomfort.  (3) May I be gentle in my thoughts and actions. 
So I have been thinking for a few weeks now that I want to do a “post-a-day” challenge, and I actually really want to do a poem every day for 30 days like I did last year.  But then I think about how tired I am right now, and how much my all-of-the-things hurt at the moment, and how my brain gets uber obsessive about poems and writing, and how that would NOT be the kind or gentle choice right now.  Like at all.
But this is what my brain has been coming back to for the past several days: I’m going to start a gratitude practice specifically for my body and how it carries me through the day.  Because, when you think about it, it’s pretty fucking amazing.  Right? 

Every day, for 30 days, I will name one thing I’m grateful for about this hella strong, hella resilient, hella hurting body.  
But here's the thing: this works better with friends.  Will you also commit to loving and celebrating your (strong, beautiful, resilient, hurting, insert your adjective of choice) body with me? 

Will you join me in this act of radical self-love and gratitude?

Monday, June 13, 2016

On being a queer woman in 2016

Being a queer woman in 2016 feels
like mourning.
From where I live, the air smells like violence,
water tastes like misogyny,
homophobia rings the air.

Brock Turner: six months in jail –
a white-washed wrong that presents itself
every time I open my newsfeed like
picking at a wound.
of facts I would rather forget as
my history
intersects with headlines of injustice and everyone
has an opinion about his

A client’s mother says she
doesn’t want those people around her son.
My supervisor tells me the higher-ups are
Republican, urges me to stay
hidden, in case
the newspaper were to find out
some therapists can also be gay.
A client’s father finds him laying
with another boy.
He beats them both with belts
and fists,
my client tells me he is never getting married
and definitely not to a boy.
He is 7
and my heart breaks

Being a lesbian in 2016 means
coming out, slowly, and then
all at once, but not
to my family, it means
seeing the closet with its
splintering, raw edges and
low ceilings it is
too small for the way
I need to move to embrace myself,
it means finally
meeting all of me, it means –

--50 people dead and I
want to call my mother.
An almost instinctual urge that can never be
trained away,
I want to pour this grief like lava:
let it spill
out of me like the blood of solidarity, of
it could have been me, of
rage like
I don’t know how to contain this, so
I want to call my mother. 
Want to tell her I’m safe – this time,
want her to know this fear
anger installing itself
deeper into my bones.
It wears into me like rivers erode their banks;
waves come and carry
away pieces of body, leaving
nothing but my woman-loving
female frame as I
sit on the waiting list
for violence
convincing myself I am worth
more as I live with a heart labeled:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Witnessing the World

After going to Haiti, I struggled to name the feeling of both blessing and burden that is witnessing suffering.   While there, and after I came home, I wrestled with what to do with the knowledge I had obtained of the suffering in the world.  The suffering of the world and her people became real to me in ways it just cannot if you do not witness it.  When I came home, I wrote:
“I don’t have children, but the analogy that keeps coming to mind is that it feels like the difference between knowing that babies cry and hearing your baby cry.
I knew the world was crying.  Now, it is my world that is crying.  This world – the one that I live in – with you, right here, right now, this world is crying.  Our world.”

And that is what I mean by witnessing.  I mean that the experience, the pain, the suffering – it is no longer something that just happens to people somewhere.  It is no longer something that happens to others.  It is a deep, profound, abiding knowledge and acknowledgment that this thing is part of my world.  Witnessing is not only letting the experience into your vision, but also letting it into your heart so it becomes part of you.  Witnessing allows that thing to change you – perhaps only for a second, but you feel a shift and you know: there is part of you that will never be the same.  It is painful.  It is not easy.  It is worth it. 

This week, I have been wading through two children’s stories – their actively lived, current realities – that broke something inside of me.  I know I’m young and haven’t practiced that long yet, but these stories both fell in my Top 5 Worst Things.  And let me tell you: it takes a lot to get to my Top 5 Worst Things.

This week, I met with a child here from another country who has had no intervention: no education, no therapy, no interaction with other children.  She is rarely to never taken out of her home (she does not go to school).  She rarely even comes out of her bedroom.  She has no functional skills, no communication, no play skills.  She has severe behaviors.  And somehow, from the other side of the world, she ended up in my office.

So I did all of the things I know how to do: I got my favorite interpreter and I explained everything slowly and carefully to parents with such limited understanding.  I did a functional behavior assessment.  I emailed teams of people to rally their support and expertise.  I sent them to the severe behavior unit.  And soon, they will go back home to the other side of the world.  Soon, they will be back in a culture with no understanding of their child’s needs.  Soon, they will be back in a culture where it is expected that a child like my client will be kept hidden and locked away.  Soon, they will be back in a place where she has no access to intervention, education, stimulation.  They will return to a place where this is just the way of life.   

My job?  My job is to let them go.

This week, I had a child in elementary school for whom violence, and instability, and trauma are part of his daily existence, look in my face and ask me if I could help him stop getting beaten at home.  Can you tell them to stop beating me?” he asked.  Can you tell them not to beat kids?”
Damn, y’all.  I would give a part of my body to be able to say to that small human, “yes.  Yes of course.  Of course I will keep you safe.  Of course I will make sure you are loved for the miracle you are.  Of course I will protect you, and I will make sure that everyone in your life knows that you are to be loved, and seen, and heard, and protected from harm.”
But I couldn’t say that, because what that child needs is honesty, and he doesn’t need some sensitive, big-hearted therapist making big promises she can’t deliver.  If has that much strength, and perseverance, and fight in that tiny frame that he can look at me, a theoretically helpful stranger, and ask that question – he deserves my honesty. 
“Can you tell them not to beat kids?” he asked.  I took a breath.  I grounded my feet on the floor and felt my body in the room with him and I knew that the most I could honestly say to that child was, “I know things are so hard for you.  I am going to try really hard to help you and your family.  Thank you for being brave and telling me how hard things are.  You are brave and strong.  I am proud of you for being so brave.  It is so important that you tell other adults when you get hurt.”  And then I called Child Protective Services and talked to workers in an overworked, underpaid, stressed and hurting agency in a stressed and hurting city.  And then I talked with the child’s caregivers.  And then I called every other agency I could think of, and I referred them to all the places I could. 
And then they left my office.  Now, having done all I can do, my job is to find a way to let them go.
I used to feel this pressure that I had to have all the answers and fix all of the broken.  As I get older and supposedly wiser and more skilled, I am able to turn that pressure down.  I am one person.  I have no magic wand.  I can call other fallible humans working within broken systems trying to change equally broken lives.  I can make recommendations and say things that I have learned and that I believe in my heart are right.  I cannot make change happen.  I can provide the car, and the gas, and point them in another direction – but I can never drive.

Mostly, I don’t want to drive.  Mostly, I just want to point out the sunshine, and the landmarks along the way, and to show them how very far they have driven.  Mostly, I want to remind them to stop and get gas, and to change the oil, and I want to be there when it rains and when the transmission breaks.  Mostly, I want to show them how very amazing they are for driving so safely all this way.

But here is what I hope is remembered: I want to be remembered as someone who truly witnessed their lives.  I want them to know the ways that the gates of my heart swung open to allow them to enter.  I want them to feel the ways that they changed me.  I want them to know that it mattered to me that we spent those few hours together.  Because it did matter.  When I witness the world in this way, I can expand my heart to hold pain and promise that I never knew existed.

When I teach mindfulness, I often use this meditation: “Whatever it is, it is already here.  Let me feel it.”  I love this meditation particularly because I think many of us fight and struggle against those emotions and stories we hold, thinking that if we fight them they will go away.  That if we do not name them, if we do not face them, if we do not bring them to the light, they will cease to exist.  But there is no reason to fight: whatever terrors lie beneath the surface, they are our terrors.  We are already living with them.  We might as well name them, bring them out, and offer them a sandwich.  Why not make friends with those most difficult and painful pieces of ourselves?
This is how I feel about the world.  When I can see, and feel, and name the injustice, the suffering, the beautiful, the magic, and the pain, then I can be fully human.  When I can be witness to the racism, sexism, homophobia, pain, oppression, and violence, I am only allowing myself to name and be present with what is already here.  By doing this, I am allowing myself to enter fully into the world.   
 I’m not going to lie: this is not a picnic.  In fact, it fucking sucks.  But this is also the way I can feel more honestly and authentically alive.  This is the way I can feel more honestly and authentically human.  This is the way I can feel more like the person I want to be: a person who is bold in the face of injustice.  A person who is compassionate in the face of suffering.  A person who is brave and gentle and who breathes this world in knowing I am part of it.  A person who breathes into this world like an act of rebellious, radical, truth-telling, change-making love. 

Will you witness this world with me?  Will you also breathe in this fully alive and human existence?  All that we turn our eyes from – let us see it and name it and let it penetrate our hearts.  Whether we name it or not, it is already here. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On why I almost always cry after yoga class

I have been working on this poem in my head for a long time.  It's been a hard one to get down on paper, mostly because I DO almost always cry after yoga class, and because it's taken me a while to figure out the Why and the How To Say It and the How To Poem It.

If you know me, you probably know that I have migraines, and you probably know that they're pretty ridiculous lately.  Lately, in particular, they have made me struggle with being in my body, and my relationship with my body...mostly because I'm just kinda pissed about it.  Finding ways of being present with, behind, alongside, and around the migraine stuff is something I'm working with all the time, but particularly in yoga.  It's not easy.  It is helpful, when I can figure it out.  And it's not easy.

And, those pesky emotions we hold on to -- this speaks equally to them, doesn't it?  Pain is not, of course, only physical.  I think this speaks to both.  

On why I almost always cry after yoga class

Living in this body is like being held hostage in a place
I have been evicted from.
I know I'm not welcome
have nowhere else to go
cannot physically leave and yet this
is the place I call home.

Unyielding tyrant -
Pain sneaks tension into the tiny crevices.
Frustration, resentment,
hatred turn inward,
this body becomes
battle ground,
war zone,
unpredictable fun house mirror --
how do you feel at home here
when it feels the house
is crumbling?

But yoga reminds me there is no tyrant holding me in
this sealed envelope of a body.
Yoga breathes open the seal like
perennial forget-me-not blooming in my heart like
green growing forgiveness like
gentle opening of love letter from
long lost lover --
even in the most aching of places, saying:

Make room.
Breathe into the ache and pause
in the painful places. It is here
that the beautiful
shines through.
Unpack your bags.
Take off your coat.
This body was built for you
and your love--
it is big enough to hold the pain-
you are made of space
and stars, don't shrink,
take, hold, be, imagine --

And sweetheart,
holding breath is not the way to breathe.
Tensing muscles is not the way to stretch, and crumbling
is not always breaking but a way
of coming together with a space
for sunlight
does not take away the pain, it merely
makes holes for the sunlight
so breathe
and crumble
and let the sunshine through --
You can't hate your body and live fully inside it.
Can't resent your body and welcome yourself home.
Can't live in your body with your heart and not
explode from your chest with love, and sunlight--

Love, I am telling you:
soften around the pain.
It is not your captor,
you are not at war, this
is your body.
Your good body.
It is ever breathing you

Monday, April 11, 2016

Asking the right questions

Asking the right questions

It is 9AM.  A mother, interpreter, and an
impossibly small boy follow me to my office.

Did you have any trouble getting here? I ask.
The mother tells me they took three buses because nobody will help her boy.

He is always sick.  He is not talking.
She heard I would help him, so she came.

I tell her I can help his listening, and his learning, and his talking.
I can help with his hitting, and throwing, and running away from her.

She talks rapidly with the interpreter who holds up a manicured finger,
giving me a silencing glance. I wait.

The interpreter clears her throat:
"She's wondering if you can improve her son's immigration status."

I glance at the clock.  It is 9:15.

The boy with long eyelashes sits on the chair and taps the window.
Tap tap tap.  Tap tap tap.  He laughs.

Does he ever do anything that hurts himself?
"He hits his head on the floor sometimes," his mother says.

"But I don't worry.
My best friend told me not to worry if he hits his head.

His head is soft so he can't do any real damage yet."
There is a pause and she says, softly,

"Sometimes I worry because he's almost 4 and
that's when their heads turn hard."

We who do this work talk in short-hand questions to one another -
Making it?  Ready?  Okay?  Need help?

I hear my colleague on the phone:
"But do you have enough food to get through the weekend?"

Later, I poke my head in.
You eat?

It's 11:30.
"My creative writing teacher is the best teacher ever.

I think she's the best person I've ever met."
What makes her the best person you've ever met?

"She likes my writing.
 Like, she really actually likes it because she thinks it's good.

She isn't just saying it's good because I have autism.
That's not very usual."

It's 1:30pm and my office has so many people in it
we are all sweating.

Mom sorts through a plastic grocery bag of records, receipts
prescriptions, Mountain Dew, and cheese curls.

She hands me an MRI report, an IEP, and an inhaler as the baby in the stroller screams.
"This one," she says, rolling her eyes.  "He'll come see you next."

I explain the paperwork, hand Mom a pen and she grabs it with her whole fist.
There is fear in her eyes.

Would you like me to read it to you?

I point to the line where it says signature.
She carefully prints each letter.

How does she tell you what she wants or needs?
"Well, she's starting to talk,

but she only knows English words.
No Arabic words. 

So she's finally talking but
I still don't know what she wants.

She's only in Kindergarten
but I can't help her with her homework.

I told her teacher I was trying to help
but she just stopped sending the homework home."

It's 5:30.
I close the door and stare out the window at the playground, watching

the flow of children running, falling,
climbing, crying as

the steady line of people trudge across the muddy spring grass to the rest of their lives
I didn't even know to ask about

big hands holding tight the small ones
mouths forming words not meant for me.

Unanswered questions like prayers burn upon my lips as
I pack my bag and walk through the eerily quiet lobby.

"Dr. L," says the security guard with a nod.
"We'll see you tomorrow?"

Yes sir, I say.
Bright and early.

"A'ight then," he says, seriously.
"We're counting on it.  You hear?"

Sunday, April 3, 2016

And a bird flies out

And a Bird Flies Out

you are walking.
The air is chill, and damp, and moving, breathily around you like
The world is halfway between winter's raspiness and
summer's lush and supple body --
spring filters slowly into the empty places
with hints of green,
white flowers,
tiny buds on high up branches.
You hear a rustling in the brush, crinkling
dry leaves winter left like
smoldering ashes amidst the fragile, new life.
the rustling grows louder and you wonder
what life has touched down here
and why it stayed so long in this
forsaken place -
or if it left -
but returned, here, again
where the harshness reigns, still.
You look for reasons to return and find
hints of tenderness in
the faces of snowdrops.
Peeks of friendship in tiny daffodils.
Mentions of forgiveness in the green that grows
like it doesn't know it was not supposed to, when
the crackling and whispers turn to
an eruption of motion as
springing from her imprisonment of branches
a bird flies out

you are walking.
The air is chill, and damp, and moving creakily around you like
your mind aches with the weight of
thoughts resting heavily in your skull.
Your heart is gray
with the dark and heavy truths of your days
as you wait
in anticipation of how you will unfold from your long
and heavy winter.
there is a field of flowers.
Here, in this gray, forsaken place
blooming! -- this
is springtime --
improbable, I know,
but imagine:
each thought, a beautiful
and simple flower, like:
you are forgiven, like
take my hand, like
you are beautiful, like
all of you is worthy, like
let me stand with you, like
a wind has come
and blown away the crackling leaves.

you are walking.
The air is chill, and damp, and moving softly around you
and you feel
a stirring, starting gently in your chest.
You move your heart
to the returning sun and
a bird flies out.

My tattoo.  Apparently, inking something on your body
gives you a life theme.  My theme since the summer has become
"taking flight."  I'm digging it.