Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hallelujah for the Discomfort

Prayer is not a language I speak.
My words get tight, jumbled, stilted,
I'm never
too sure who I'm talking to
or if
they're listening.
I get stuck
not knowing how to address
the person to whom I am speaking
-- if it's he, or she, or they --
I know God
is probably that 10-year-old genderqueer kid
who already corrected me once last week
when I used the wrong pronouns, and didn't think to ask first.
I mess up
every prayer I utter
in spite of my best intentions

But I want my heart to be good at blessings.
I want my blood to be made of hallelujahs,
want my cells to form themselves in the shape of active love
till it's the only thing I'm made of.
So even though my bones
tremble when I speak,
may it be only because I took what was broken
and used it to fuel a fire of intensity
and the pieces --
they sometimes rattle when I get going;
there is no place
for shame, disappointment, being small,
this active love is bigger
than my tendency to be
in the face of injustice, so
is the hallelujah.
is the ferocity,
the intensity,
the whole-hearted
being without apology
this active love alliance is
the hallelujah.
So hallelujah.

My love pulls my spine like a rip cord
that parachutes the broken open umbrella of my heart.
My heart prays
on street corners with signs and loud voices
in quiet circles
in conversation
in how do I help
in listening
in standing up
speaking up
showing up
showing up
showing up...
I was not taught pray.
Was not taught to engage this type of love -
I was taught to be quiet.
To look away,
to not speak,
to look for love in all the wrong places -
can't find my own body holy enough
to hold her whole and sacred,
there are so many layers
to stepping in
but  Brave is just what we call
Scared when she's
holding hands.
So let's hold hands.

Hallelujah for the discomfort.
Hallelujah for every time we pull back the covers on our still-sleeping hearts
to feel what we couldn't feel before,
hallelujah for the pain of light entering 
our too-long closed eyes
let's throw open the shades
and bless the uncomfortable
we'll praise the surprise
hear the sadness
the rage
hold the tears
cherish the anger
let's bless this holy voice
turn our anger into movement that breaks
ground on this moment of truth-building.
Let us build ourselves
into promise-beings of active love;
let us break the truth
so when we speak again
our voices shake
and we let them tremble.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Untitled, because this poem makes me anxious

I tried really hard to come up with a title for this poem, and I couldn't, because the poem makes me anxious...and the more I look at it, the more I hate it, and the more I look at it, the more I want to burn it, and I also think this is a really important poem, so I'm not going to burn it...........but I'm not going to title it either.

So there.

This poem needs a title, because it needs context so you can know what the heck I'm talking about.  It doesn't really come from the poem.  It's gotta come from the title.  Soooo....I can't totally back out of the title.  It's also 1AM.  I should really go to bed.  This stupid poem is being a jerkface.


I should REALLY go to bed.  

The possible titles I came up with were:

"Home" or  Family Patterns

The still impossible longing hits and penetrates with bulls-eye accuracy:
this wanting settles damp and chill like winter in these bones.
She enters without question the way winter descends--
expected, yet unbidden, known, surprising and unwanted,
the chill is still dangerous without protection and, 
even now,
I want to believe this body can withstand the cold;
want to believe myself impervious to the
way it enters without asking:
I know I am standing, but cold has a way
of making me
so small.

This is the way it happens:
Like freezing,
but not like the Antarctic,
just like somewhere cold
without a coat, or hat, or mittens
because you thought you had something to prove
or maybe
you just wanted to be able
to feel the warmth
in case it happened.
You know?

Next time, I tell myself, just wear the fucking coat--
but don't we know I like to make her comfortable?
Next time, I will find myself praising the way she is warmer than last year.
Next time, I will emphasize the way she is shining the sun in just the right places, and
next time, I will tell her how those icicles are glistening so nicely and how
the hypothermia is tricking my hands into feeling
so warm.

There are choices we must make
to keep ourselves comfortable and
there are choices we must make
to survive.

My body can count its blizzards
like rings inside a tree--
it recognizes each
as one more choice where there was none
like each year that tree had the choice to grow
or say that's enough now
and stop, but it never did if only because
that's not how trees work --
we know that still in winter, they're growing
even if it's
invisible and
deep and

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Recovery: After the Wine

This post is a letter.

It's a letter for those of you who came home from  the family visit and drank ALL of the wine alone with the dog (or other animal of your choice) while watching "Friends" (or other show you've seen half a dozen times already). 

It's a letter for those of you who felt so topsy-turvy, so not-right, so out-of-your-body, so completely out of touch when you woke up this Saturday morning that you decided the thing to do was to rearrange the furniture in your house because none of it was right.  Nothing was right.  Nothing in your house, in your skin, in your body felt right, and so you rearranged the furniture to attempt to let it settle down new.

I know.  My living room looks great, thanks for asking.

This post is a letter for those of you who woke up with that killer headache -- the one you couldn't tell if it was from the wine, or the stress, or the things you didn't say.  It's a letter for those of you who are bravely marching forward, holding all these things in your heart, written on your skin, feeling like they are emblazoned like red letters on your chest. 

There are lots of posts out there by people more inspirational than me, who got their shit together BEFORE Thanksgiving, and actually preventatively thought through the fact that, sometimes, for some of us, holidays suck.  A lot.  You can go out and read those posts, and all their lovely thoughts about them...or wait, because blink twice and Christmas will be here, and we're all gonna be doing this all over again. 

But I have yet to find anything written by anyone inspirational that tells me how to recover from Thanksgiving.  I mean, maybe if I had gotten my shit together beforehand, if I had written that inspirational post ahead of time about how I was not going to lose my mind this year, and if I had implemented all the positive coping skills one should implement when faced with holiday stress....maybe I wouldn't still be in holiday hangover mode. 

But here I am.  It's Sunday afternoon, and I don't know what to say to me anymore.  I get so frustrated when people say things like "well what would you say to one of your patients?"  I mean, seriously.  First, if it was that simple, I probably would have said it to me already.  Second, most of my patients are small humans with developmental disabilities, so mostly I say things like "pee goes in the potty" and "hands are not for hitting" and "is talking about door hinges during math class an expected behavior or an unexpected behavior?"


This post is a letter.

Are you ready?

Dear Precious One,

As the heaviness of these days weighs on you, you can know these things:

1).  Whatever your Thanksgiving was and was not, it is over now.  Whatever your choices were on Thanksgiving day, and the day after...they, too, are over now.  You did the very best you could, friend.  Believe that.

2).  Giving thanks is not a one shot deal.  Just because your gratitude is elusive on this day -- the day when the entire nation chooses to give thanks -- it does not negate the other days you choose to give thanks.  It does not erase the ways you marveled at the sun on those early mornings in August, or the times you were moved to tears by beauty and amazement in April, or the ways you let your heart constantly fill and overflow throughout the year.  You are not wrong, love.  There is no way you could be. 

3).  It is okay to feel confused and disoriented, and to feel you are struggling to know which way is up.  Know that you only need to keep swimming, and you will orient to the light -- because this is who you are.  This is what you do.  Like a compass pointing to true north, you will flounder and spin and bounce, and you will end up where you need to be. 

4). You are not alone.  This is, perhaps, most important.  You are not ever alone. 

And here is where the grace comes in: in spite of the ways it seems your heart cannot even fathom it, you are loved, and you are loved, and you are loved, in spite of and because of everything. 

Here is where the grace comes in: you are the one in your body, and you are the one who chooses what comes next.  Even if you have fucked it up a million times before.  Even if you think you don't deserve that grace -- there is no other way forward but for you to make the next move, and you always move forward.

And here is where the grace comes in: you are worthy, and whole, and loved, and there are people who love you and are willing and able to show you this love whether or not you can see it or accept it.

Dear precious one, you are not alone.  You are loved.  You are not wrong, and you always move forward.  There is grace, and it is here for you.

You are worthy and loved.



Monday, November 23, 2015

Vagina Monologues: Loosen my tongue

(Note: All of the pictures in this post come from my trip to Haiti earlier this year.  It may not seem entirely relevant as you're reading at first -- but it felt right).

I recently came across an Audre Lorde quote I had not seen before. The quote reads: "Mother, loosen my tongue or adorn me with a lighter burden."  (Audre Lorde,  "Call," 1986).

It's funny how the universe sometimes gives you what you need to hear.

Girls in Haiti, photograph by autodidactpoet
January 2015
 What feels like a very long time ago, I somehow agreed to participate in a performance of Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues" with my church.  I had seen a production of the monologues several years ago, had read the book, was well-versed in Eve Ensler's work like all good feminists should be, and had even written my own monologue for a speak-out against sexual violence event.  This was not a new thing for me to be involved in.

But here's the thing: not new does not equal "easy."  Not new does not mean "not hard."  Not new does not mean that all those old thoughts and feelings and hard things stay in the past.  It just doesn't.  I hoped it did.  I lied to myself, and told myself it would.  But it didn't.  Of course it didn't.  That's not how that works.

It was hard. 

Guys, it was really hard.  It was so much harder than I like to admit.  After the first rehearsal, and then the second, more than one person gently asked me if I should continue to participate.  I considered excusing myself...a choice I told no one in the cast I was pondering...because I was embarrassed.  Because I get tired of things being hard.  Because I am stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.  Because I wanted to be brave.  Because I want to show myself that I make decisions that are not based in fear. 

There were a long few days when I almost backed out.  It was just hard, you know?  Sometimes, I rationalized to myself, we don't have to be quite so brave.  Sometimes, we don't need to DO the thing -- it can be enough just to know that the thing is being done.  That's what matters, really.  

But the thing was that, while choosing to participate felt hard, choosing not to participate also felt hard and - perhaps - felt harder. 

And then came that quote -- "Mother, loosen my tongue or adorn me with a lighter burden."  I don't know for sure, but it doesn't seem that a lighter burden is coming my way anytime soon, right?  However, participation in "Vagina Monologues,"...that seems like a pretty good opportunity to loosen ones tongue, does it not?  I mean, to get up in front of 100-and-some-odd friends and strangers and talk about watch ones friends moan, reclaim "cunt," rant about all the "dry wads of fucking cotton," and pontificate about loving their vaginas, or shutting down their vaginas, and losing and finding their clitoris...that seems like a pretty decent tongue loosening opportunity.
MPP school, photograph by autodidactpoet
January 2015

So I stuck it out, even as it felt big and hard.  Even as it took my breath away.  Even as I loved it, and hated it, and even as it sometimes made my body shake.  Even then.

When I distill it down to the bare bones, now, the day after, here is what happened:

I stood up with my friends and said things that were hard.  And I survived.

My friend and I performed the monologue "My Vagina Was My Village," which is drawn from interviews conducted with survivors from rape camps in Bosnia.  We told their story out loud.  We made an audience sit and listen as we told them, in first person, details of what no woman should ever have to endure.  The story is horrific.  It is not mine, and I do not understand the intensity and horror of that violence.  I spoke the words, but I cannot embody the sort of pain one must hold to have lived it.  What a privilege it is not to even be able to imagine it.

But to hear these stories, read these stories, see these stories in live theater, they become more real than they can when read only on a page.  When heard in first-person narrative, read in shaky-voice innocence of someone who cannot even fathom, there is still flesh and blood and breath given to the story that makes it real.  Reading it is painful, and hard, and a privilege.  It is right to give it voice.  It is holy to give it voice.  It is hard as hell, and it is holy.  This  particular story, and this particular violence is not mine, but I do understand this violation.  I understand the invasion of your skin.  I know what it is to feel your body is no longer a place you want to inhabit.  To feel you must move elsewhere.  To feel you do not have a voice. I know the kind of grace I wished for.  I know the ways I have wished to speak truth to my story.  I know the ways that I have.  I know the ways I have not.

In her introduction to the monologue (which we did not read), Ensler writes how horrified she was to learn that between 20 and 70 thousand women were raped as a war tactic in the former Yugoslavia in 1993, and how devastated she was by the fact that the US was not doing anything about it.  She says, "...a friend finally asked me, 'why are you surprised?'  In this country [the US], in one year [in 1993]'s a documented fact ...over 700,000 women are raped.  And in theory, we're not at war."

"Mother, loosen my tongue or adorn me with a lighter burden."

Damn, Audre Lorde.

This is what these monologues are for. 


In discussing the Vagina Monologues with people over the past several months, two questions have come up - both more than once - that have given me pause:
  1. Is there a male version of the Vagina Monologues?  Why not?
  2. Are the Vagina Monologues still as needed/still as culturally relevant today as they were when Ensler wrote them back in 1996?
Not that you asked, but here are my answers anyway, to both questions:

Penis Monologues?  Really?  Does anyone really think that is something we need? 

If we wanted to talk about a few monologues on the ways patriarchy can hurt men...the ways stereotypes of masculinity can harm men...the ways gender roles can be harmful for men...then I guess we can talk about a set of monologues for men.  But that's not really a male equivalent of the Vagina Monologues, is it?  These aren't the Women Monologues or the Female Monologues -- these are, very specifically, the Vagina Monologues, and they are created and designed to be a direct actionable force against the worldwide silencing, shaming of, and violence towards women and girls bodies and sexuality.  The monologues are, of course, about saying the forbidden words aloud: period, tampon, vagina, orgasm, clitoris, cunt -- and to make female sexual pleasure a thing that is acknowledged and celebrated.  The monologues are absolutely about celebrating vaginas, and women, and female sexuality. 

MPP School -- photograph by autodidactpoet
January 2015

And, unfortunately, we cannot yet celebrate vaginas, and women, and female sexuality without recognizing the very real impact of violence and oppression on female bodies worldwide.  That, perhaps, is the point.  We need the space "Vagina Monologues" creates because there are so few other spaces created where female bodies can even just take up space.  Where they can be freely and apologetically sexual.  We need space to name the things that are done to us and to our bodies.

"But it is not so taboo to say these things anymore," people said.  "It is not so shocking.  People aren't taken aback by the word vagina at this point."

Perhaps not.

  •  There are girls getting "dress coded" on a regular basis in our middle and high schools.
  •   There are girls being "slut shamed" by their peers.  By their teachers.  By their school administrators.
  • I was asked what I was wearing.  I was asked if I had been drinking.  When I was deemed to have been both sober and "decent," I was blamed for having been out at all.  Victim-blaming still happens.  All the time.
  • In the US, 65% of women report experiencing street harassment.  Of those women, 23% reported they had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual.  (From: Unsafe and Harassed in Public Spaces: A National Street Harassment Report).  In New Delhi, these numbers go up to 88% of women who report experiencing verbal harassment, and 92% of women who report experiencing sexual violence in public spaces (From:
  • Every year, approximately 293,000 people are sexually assaulted in the US. Approximately 68% of these are not reported to the police.  98% of rapists will never spend any time in jail.  (
  • The US Military has a serious sexual assault problem. 
  •  One in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, most likely at the hands of her partner (
  • Of all the women who were victims of homicide worldwide, it is estimated that almost 50% of them were killed by intimate partners (compared to less than 6% of men).  (
  • More than 700 million women today were married as children (under age 18).  (
  •  Approximately 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation. (
  • Women and girls account for 80% of trafficking victims globally (
  • Maternal mortality continues to be unacceptably high: every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth worldwide. (
  • Two-thirds of the illiterate people in the world are female. (
  • There are still 31 million primary school age girls not in school.  There are 4 million fewer boys out of school than girls. (
So we ask -- is Ensler's work necessary?  Is performing "Vagina Monologues" necessary?  Is my participation in "Vagina Monologues" necessary?

The answer is yes. 

It is hard.  It can be fucking brutal, y'all.  It leaves you shaking, and breathless...but it is necessary.  Even though this little performance goes no further than my corner of Columbia - for me, and for you, and for all of the millions of women across the globe with whom we stand, it is a way of loosening our tongues, and that is holy.

It is holy.

May we -- all of us -- work hard, and harder, and harder still to loosen our tongues, for it shall be so very long until all of us can be adorned with an equally lightened burden.

Women of Haiti, photograph by autodidactpoet Jan. 2015

                   "Mother, loosen my tongue or adorn me with a lighter burden." - Audre Lorde

Monday, November 16, 2015

Yes, here

even with my tender places,
my numb spots,
all the ways it is hard to breathe,
I beg to believe myself enough so when
I touch this fragile casing skin of a body, I say
in this place,
I am whole,
an unapologetic fire of rage
and love and right and
I am unfolding creation that speaks
courageously against fear, and doubt, and
in all these scarred and aching places
we shall only ever know that courage lived
and power blossomed
is where this beautiful was created
so yes
there is destruction.
There are places of unbreathing, fearful loss,
there are depths of unending still ache that ripple,
I know this poem
is the one I keep writing
assure myself you are tired of reading, but never
feel I can make the words heard
for I am here
holding these contradictions that can only land
when obscured by metaphor,
and even
when I am most precise.
Pointing to this place
here --
this place
it is still a home of invisible,
of masked ruin,
there are depths that flatten my lungs,
this type of alone is not adjective,
is not noun, not place
not somewhere I reside,
this alone is a verb that reaches
all boundaries -
in these aching places,
I am here,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Emoticons, for when words fail us

So...I haven't written a poem since July...which really is Not Okay.  I pleaded with the good people of Facebook to give me things to write about.  One friend gave me permission to write about the story below.

This is for her, and for M, and for all the people in my village. 


Emoticons, for when words fail us

Facebook update number 1:
My  friend's 3-year-old daughter is watching their wedding video.
She sees Mommy so beautiful and Daddy so handsome,
dances wildly in the living room as though
dancing at weddings was her favorite thing, and she
would have been the life of the party
if only she had been invited.

Facebook update number 2:
"Her new ambition is to be a flower girl."
"We gotta get this kid to a wedding.  She's got moves."

Facebook update number 3:
 "Mommy, who's that dancing with Papa?"
"Oh....that's my grandma?
She needs to come out of the TV so I can hug her."

Comment number 1 (unposted):
                I wish I knew the magic that could make that happen.
                I would give it to you.
                All of it.

Comment 2 (unposted):
                I don't know how to be a grandma.
                Or a mom.
                Or even a really good friend sometimes,
    I mostly just know how to be this being with two hands and a too-big heart
    that bumbles around trying to find a way of making them fit
    and I know it's not the same
    that's not what I'm trying to say, so....
    scratch that.

Comment 3 (unposted):
Look, most days, I don't know shit
about how we humans get from one day to the next
but I know something about high-fives,
tickles, hugs,
and a little bit about the ways we use our hands to
congratulate, lift-up,
 praise, dry tears, change diapers,
to soothe mama worries,
frustrations, fears;
about the ways we use our hearts to talk hard things,
and the way doing brave things makes us badass,
or so fucking scared,
and how some things
have 11 obstacles
even when you only see 10;
and I can't be a grandma, or a mom,
or a fairy godmother with a magic wand to bring someone out of the television set,
or even a person with much more two hands and a too-big heart most days --
but your daughter's face is the one I picture when I hear the words "it takes a village,"
and I know nothing
of the hole grief has ripped in your heart
but you
are in my village
and in my village
we belong to one another
and there is no such thing
as other people's children.

Comment number 4 (unposted):
           Sorry that's so long.
           I told you that thing about my heart, right?
           It doesn't fit in this
           social media format.

Comment number 5 (posted):
           <3 <3 <3 <3

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Brave post #817374: It was everything

After church this morning, I was talking with a woman I don't know well.  I can't even remember the context of what she was saying at this point.  She asked how I was, and why I almost passed out at choir practice on Thursday (it's fine), and I said something about being slightly stressed..."job stuff, family know."  Her response was pretty much "you're 30!  Of course you're stressed!  You've got a career you're trying to focus on, you've got friends and a social life and a family of origin you're trying to balance, you've probably got a young man you're interested in who's taking ALL of your attention, and God knows THAT'S distracting at your age...or maybe it's a hot young woman who's turning you on, I don't know anything about you and your sexuality, needless to say..." and she kept talking. 

And guys.  This poor woman.  She was so confused.  Because as soon as she said that, tears started rolling down my face -- in the middle of the very over-crowded lobby, the tears just

Because language matters.  Because she caught herself using that one non-inclusive word and chose to back up and make it right.  Because even though it took time, even though she didn't know anything, even though it wasn't even relevant to the conversation at that point, even though to many, many people it would not have mattered, it mattered.  It mattered so much that I cried, and I confused her, and I hugged her, and I had a moment where I felt ALL THE THINGS in the lobby at church. 

She didn't know, of course, that I got in an argument with someone close to me yesterday that left me feeling wrong, and silent, and weak.  She didn't know, of course, that last night I went to bed nauseated on all the things I did not, could not say.  She did not know the way that not saying these things is hurting me, and the way that saying them could potentially hurt me more.  She had no idea that I had come out to my sister two days before, and a friend the morning before, and the ways that this feels authentic and right and true.  She did not know the ways that I am discovering comfortable in my skin for the first time in some ways, or the ways that I cannot stop smiling when I talk about some topics I previously completely avoided. 

She does not know the joy and excitement and honesty and truth I feel in my heart when I let this part of my being float to the surface, and the way I feel like this shows in my person. 

But mostly, she had no idea the way that simply changing that pronoun made her safe.  She had no idea that changing that pronoun to name my way of loving would make my face drip into a puddle of tears, and let my heart unharden itself.  To her, I'm sure, she was just...well she was just talking after church.

But to me?  Today? was everything.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Attention, devotion, and spiritual crises

This morning, I woke up and my sense of life-suck is intense. Not my life-suck. My life is pretty okay. It's the world-suck,really, that's hurting me in a visceral way. In a way that takes my breath away, and leaves me feeling like a scuba diver under an ocean that presses the weight of a thousand worlds upon every inch of my skin.

Yesterday, I listened to an interview between Krista Tippett and Mary Oliver on "On Being." I had listened to this interview before, but they re-aired it in honor of the publication of Oliver's new book.

There are many beautiful moments in this interview, but this time I listened to it, this one stood out to me:

" MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. I’d like to talk about attention, which is another real theme that runs through your work — both the word and the practice. And I know people associate you with that word. But I was interested to read that you began to learn that attention without feeling is only a report. That there is more to attention than — for it to matter in the way you want it to matter. Say something about that learning.

MS. OLIVER: You need empathy with it rather than just reporting. Reporting is for field guides. And they’re great. They’re helpful. But that’s what they are. But they’re not thought provokers. And they don’t go anywhere. And I say somewhere that attention is the beginning of devotion, which I do believe. But that’s it. A lot of these things are said but can’t be explained."

And I think this is part of it. My work - my professional work - is so much about attention, isn't it? When I am working with a child or a family, on my good days, there is nothing else in the world. I am there, in that moment, attending only to that child. I am not only noticing his verbal answers when I ask about the bullies at his school, or about how angry she gets when things don't go her way, but I am also attending to the way her eyes shine when she giggles, and the way the dimple on his chin stands out when he is being mischevious. My work lies in noticing the ways parents look away with embarrassment when they talk about their frustration with their child. It is held in noticing the moment when the shift happens - when the anger gives way to sadness, when the frustration gives way to desperation, when the denial gives way to reality. It lies in drawing out the tiny moments of joy, and capitalizing on the moments of pride with genuine excitement. My good work depends on attending to the details: favorite colors, special interests, dog's names, family vacations, and favorite superheroes.

But my heart is not full of field guides of other people's children. Instead, my heart is full of the way these things matter, and the meaning of the places where these things take us. My work is not about reporting, or solely about attention. It is not even only about empathy.

Since the first time I worked with a child one-on-one when I was 16, I knew there was something holy about this work. There is something spiritual, and necessary, and hard, and cruel, and beautiful, and right. There is something about this practice of attention and empathy that feels like a devotional practice to my world.  It is necessary for me, and it is my whole heart, and I don’t know how to be any other way.

When you attend to the world as I do, just because it is the way I was made, sometimes it gets to be too much.  And not just a little bit too much.  Sometimes, it becomes all the way too much.  It has always been this way.  I was the kid who cried over her history book in 4th grade.  I was the kid who cried over pictures of dinosaurs eating one another in kindergarten.   When things at work go shitty for me, my whole world goes topsy-turvy.  I wish I wasn’t this way.  I wish I was different.  I wish my heart wasn’t this big, boundless, uncontrollable thing that goes catapulting into spiritual crises with such regularity I practically feel at home there.  When your heart is full of books about the meanings of other people’s lives, when you read about death after death, and injustice after injustice, and you know those lives are books full of meanings you simply never had the opportunity to know…what do you do with that?  I try to change, but I am always here – right here – in this place of attention, and empathy, and devotion. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

These are the times that no one talks about.

My heart is overflowing with the world's suffering. 

This week, it has felt like the pain of living here, now, is just too much.  I cannot hear one more thing, or I will crack open and crumble into a million pieces.  Part of me feels like I already have.

I don't even really have words for this because it feels so big and all-encompassing.  In spite of the fact that I know I am wrong, I feel alone in this.  I feel like there is something big and wrong with my heart that makes me feel this sort of tired.  If we are all feeling it, then how is the world going on?  If we all feel this bone-aching, broken, crumbling tired, then how is it that the world keeps turning? 

This week, I have followed the defunding of Planned Parenthood in the place I used to live.  I have watched my friends fight, and advocate, and struggle.  It feels like taking giant steps backwards in history.  It feels like being told that bodies like mine don't matter.  It feels like the wrongs that are done to female bodies are not important.  It feels like silencing, and powerlessness. 

The past few weeks I have heard stories at work that have broken my heart.  I saw a child who is dying of a degenerative disease.  I met with a family with two children with complex, severe medical issues and developmental disabilities, and I held their mother's fear as she cried about how utterly terrifying it is to have two children who are so incredibly vulnerable.  I saw another family with two beautiful, severely disabled children, both of whom were abused in their public school.  I saw another family with many children, where the 8 year old served as the primary reporter because the mother's own intellectual disability prevents her from being able to understand and answer my questions.  I spent all day on Monday calling providers to attempt to help two families in crisis, and I ran into dead ends at every turn.  I met with children who are being bullied.  I had to explain rape to a child.  I could go on.

People are dying from gun violence.  A few weeks ago, I supported my trainee when she was terrified that she was unable to get in touch with her sister -- who goes to the community college in Oregon where 9 people were murdered.  The news is full of pictures of Syrian refugees with trauma in their eyes that I can feel in my body.  Black and brown people everywhere are being murdered.  It feels like everything is wrong and there is no justice.

The racial disparities I see in front of me in my session room are stark and unrelenting.  There are children with disabilities being handcuffed in our schools, children with disabilities being physically abused in our schools, children with disabilities not receiving the education they need or deserve in our schools, children with disabilities being bullied in our schools. 

So this week, I came home and I yelled at the dog because he had to go out, and I couldn't handle one more being needing something from me.  I was frustrated with myself when I had to get up to get a glass of water, because even I didn't want to need something from me.  I want to let myself crumble into those thousands of pieces to just relieve the aching, so I can rebuild myself into something that feels human again.  I am tired.  I am so tired. 

These are the times that no one talks about. 

I feel such a sense of embarrassment and shame, even, about being in this place.  We who are helpers and healers and open-hearts in this world are supposed to know better, and do better, and care better.  We are supposed to care for ourselves all along so we don't get to this point.  We are supposed to do the hard things, and see the beautiful in the hard things, and focus on the ways in which life is lovely in spite of the suck.  We're supposed to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. 

But here is what I would tell my fellow helpers and healers.  Here is the thing no one ever told me.  Here is the thing I am longing to hear -- the thing my bones are aching to be told before they disintegrate into dust:

Dear You,

There will be times when the weight of this world lays on you like a wet, wool blanket.  There will be times you feel broken and alone.  There will be times when you feel as though the enormity of sorrow, anger, grief, and pain in this world will engulf you, and you will be pulled into the undertow.  Your body will ache, and you will long for quiet, for peace, for a break from the need and the hurt and the wanting. 

This is not wrong, Love.  This pain is not your shame, is not your broken, is not sign of your failure or lack.  This is simply the way of it: our hearts are meant to crack open under this enormity of grief.  We were never meant to carry this alone.     

Self-care sometimes looks like crying alone in the bathroom.  It can mean naming the beast: exhaustion.  Compassion fatigue.  Burn-out.  It can mean reaching out, in spite of everything that tells you to fold in.  It can feel like allowing yourself to crumble. 

So crumble, Beautiful.  We do not need to fear the how of putting-back-together.  We will come back together because something in our cells was built for this: for the falling apart and putting together of broken lives, including our own. 

You were made for loving, Friend.  It is the beautiful reason you come apart so easily.  It is the reason you will always fit back together.  This world has not stopped loving you.  It does not know how.

You are held, now and always, and you are always loved. 


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dear Neighbors: Sorrynotsorry about the education I gave your children today...

I had the opportunity to meet some of my neighbors today.  Well -- not neighbors, really, as they are a pretty long walk away, but we'll call them neighbors nonetheless.   While on a walk with Marshall this afternoon, they ran up to greet me. 

"Can I pet your dog?" asked the boy in the black Ravens shirt.

"Sure," I said.

"Is him a boy or a girl?" he asked.

"He's a boy," I said.

"Why does hims have a purple fing on hims neck?" he asked.  "I finked he was a girl because hims fing is purple."  He chuckled as if I was so very silly -- giving my boy dog a purple collar.

"You thought he was a girl because his collar is purple?" I asked.  "You know, I think anybody can wear any color they like.  Marshall just happens to like purple."

"Oh," he said.

A girl in a pink Ravens jersey came and joined us.

"He has a dog," she said, pointing to the boy.  "A puppy.  I'm not his sister.  He lives there.  I live here."

"Oh, so you're neighbors then!" I said.  "That's nice.  You guys must have fun playing together."

"Mmmmhmmm," she said, spinning in the grass.  "Except EVERY TIME he comes over, he wants to play Spongebob Yahtzee Junior, but I don't always want to play that game!  It's EVERY TIME!!!"

The boy giggled. 

"You must really like Spongebob Yahtzee," I said.

"Spongebob Yahtzee Junior," he corrected me.  "I OH-WAYS want to pway it, but hers NEVER wants to pway it, and then I can't pway it because hers won't pway it wif me!"

"I play it sometimes," she said.  "Just not ALL the time, because we have to find time to play other games, too."

"But sometimes we should play Spongebob Yahtzee Junior," he said, as he kissed Marshall's butt.  "I love dogs," he continued.  "I will hug and kiss them allathetime.  Allathetime I will just kiss them and kiss them because I love them. And we were digging in the gwass and watering hers twee, even though its a big twee and we only has a wittle water.  Also, she's my girlfwend."   He looked at the girl and laughed.

"I am NOT your girlfriend!" she exclaimed.  "He always says that and...I am not your girlfriend.  I'm not."  She went back over to the tree she had been digging under before I arrived.

"How do you know she's your girlfriend?" I asked him.

"Because I told her hers was my girlfwend," he said, matter-of-factly.

"Ohhhh," I said.

"BUT I'M NOT," she called from under the tree.

"Well, you know, the thing is," I said, "is that there is a really important rule about being girlfriends and boyfriends."  The girl put down the stick she was digging with and came back over.  "The rule is that in order for people to be boyfriends and girlfriends, both people need to agree."

The girl looked at me and paused, while the boy continued kissing Marshall's side, ears, and tail.

"You know how you want to play Spongebob Yahtzee Junior, but you can't play if both of you don't agree to play together?"

"Yeah," he said.  "When hers doesn't want to pway, I can't pway it because you need two people to pway it."

"Right," I nodded.  "It's the same way with boyfriends and girlfriends.  Both people need to say 'YES' in order to be boyfriends and girlfriends."

"Oh," he said.  "Did you know that Spongebob isn't my favowite show?  I wike Paw Patrol better."

"Really?" I said.  "I like Chase.  Who is your favorite?"

And he told me that he likes Everest, and she told me that she doesn't like Paw Patrol, and they talked about the hole they were digging under the tree, and then I left.

Dear neighbors:

Sorrynotsorry about the education I gave your children today. 

I don't always provide sexuality and relationship education to random 5 and 6 year olds.  Just when the opportunity presents itself. 

It takes a village,


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Grace from a preteen girl to a boy with a kazoo

I have this strange fascination with the word "grace."  As someone who is more agnostic than anything else, the idea of "grace" in the traditional sense doesn't mean much to me...but there are those moments, you know?  Anne Lamott says, "Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking."  She also says, "I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us."  This definition works for me, I think.

Here's the thing: I feel like I'm sinking.  In spite of -- or because of -- that, I have these moments where I will suddenly find myself not where I started.  There are these weird moments that grab my attention and say: "HEY.  You.  Get out of your head for a minute and look: everything is not as shitty as you imagine.  There is shit, and there is also this moment, so forgodssake, stop for a minute and look here."

Earlier this week, I went to get my patient from the waiting room.  This patient is a preteen young woman with a myriad of physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and mental health concerns.  As I walked out to her in the lobby, another patient -- a young boy with a severe intellectual disability -- walked up to my patient.  This young boy was drooling and vocalizing, his shirt was wet with saliva, and he was holding a kazoo in his wet hand.  He walked right up to my patient, stood in front of her, looked in her face making a variety of sounds, and attempted to hand her his kazoo.

Both caregivers started to move in the direction of their children, but my patient looked at the boy and smiled.  "H-h-h-h-hi," she said.

The boy vocalized, grabbed her hand, and attempted to put his wet kazoo into it.

She smiled.  "C-c-c-cool," she said -- looking, but not taking the kazoo.  Instead, she raised her other hand.  "How 'bout a h-h-h-high-five?" she asked.

The boy gave her a high-five and turned to his mother, laughing and delighted.   My patient laughed, too.  "S-s-see ya," she said, waving and bending down to his level as much as she was able to get his attention so he knew she was saying goodbye.

"Bah," he said, waving with his hand turned backwards towards himself.  "Bah-bah."

From there, we all carried on as if that moment had not been the most beautiful thing in the world.

Something about this little moment, though, just moved me to tears.  It gave me what I needed to get through the rest of my day.  It was a moment of such gentleness.

I watch people all the time interacting with people with disabilities, and there is always a moment of hesitation, awkwardness, looking away, stepping around, avoiding.

But here, there was no awkwardness.  There was no looking away.  There was just a love that I don't typically see: from a preteen girl to a boy with a kazoo, there was a moment of gentleness, and generosity, and love.  Grace, even, though they had no idea. 

And perhaps that is what grace is then, right?  Perhaps it is nothing more than extraordinary love that defies expectations and lands you, breathless and whole-hearted, in the next moment, changed.   

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The encouragement of light against our beings

Several weeks ago, I found this quote by Haifz titled "It Felt Love:"

did the rose
ever open its heart

and give this world
all its

It felt the encouragement of light
against its being.

we all remain



I wrote it down and kept it laying around so I would stumble across it occasionally.  I tend to do this when I find words I think might be important for me to remember.

I have found myself without words for the past two weeks.  For a week, that was literal -- laryngitis set in hardcore and very nearly drove me crazy.  More than that, though, I have been unable to write.  I have 3 paragraphs written, from different times, all trying to say the same thing, none of which went anywhere.  I wanted to write.  I knew I needed to write.  But in spite of me showing up -- and staying at -- the page, no words came.

I know why.  The answer to this is glaringly obvious.  I just haven't known what to do about it.  Remember that situation I wrote about?  The one that is making me feel small, and scared, and stepped on?  It still isn't resolved.  And there are other layers layering on, as layers are wont to do.  There are steps, and I am taking them, slowly, but it is hard to take steps when one feels small and scared and stepped on. 

This isn't my body's first time at the small, scared, and stepped on rodeo.  This isn't my first time needing to find the courage to stand up to situations and people and institutions making me feel small and scared and stepped on.  And, oh, my body hates this place.  It panics, and it gets sick, and it has a hard time breathing, and it decides that, maybe, if we respond with enough ridiculous intensity, the feeling will go away.  It doesn't work.  I don't recommend it.  The only thing that does is serve to make you feel really, really tired. 

My brain is smart and rational.  My body -- well --she's just trying to protect me, as misguided as her steps may be.  But my brain tries to do the right thing.  I try to face it head on.  I try to put words to it.  I try to reach out and talk to people, even if just to say "Hi.  I don't know what to say, but I need to touch another human right now." And because of or in spite of that, people -- my people -- my church people -- have been there.  They have reminded me over, and over, and over again in direct and indirect ways "you are not alone."  "You are loved."  "You are worthy, and badass, and okay, in spite of feeling a decided lack of okayness."

Anyway, I went to church this morning, and I was tired, and grumpy, and didn't much feel like talking to people.  It feels like there are tethers tying down my typically buoyant heart, and I need some quiet to figure out if I want to try to loosen those knots.  I spotted a friend sitting in the back, and I joined her.  She's someone I know I can just be quiet around.

But then the service started, and by the time we sang the first hymn (Spirit of Life, a cappella, which will hit you in the heart with raw truthiness on a good day), I realized I was probably in trouble.

See, I don't cry in front of people.  I don't cry by myself.  I can count on two hands the number of people I have ever trusted enough to cry around.  And, aside from a worship service at General Assembly and the movie of "The Fault In Our Stars," (because, holy crap, who didn't cry at that movie?), I don't cry at events.  I just don't.

Except for today when I did.  And not just a little bit.  Like, a lot.  Like, the fucking tears just kept falling because the minister just kept saying words, and the more words she said, the more she touched that voiceless, aching place in my soul.  Those words poked right at the grieving, aching part of me as if to say, "hey, this?  You know this part right here?  This hurting achy place?  We see that, and know that, and hold that, too."

And then, just as I stopped crying, the whole stupid sermon spoke right into THE place -- that cavernous place that feels like alone, and unworthy, and unlovable that has been threatening to overtake me.  The words echoed into that hole, saying "even in this place right here, you are loved.  You are not alone.  Even in this place where you feel most lost, you are seen and loved, if only because we know those lost, and dark, and achy places, too."

Then we were supposed to sing again, and I couldn't, and my friend put her arm around me until I slowly composed myself enough to, at least, start wondering exactly how much makeup had run down my face.  

The thing about love like this is that it surprises you, and it scares the shit out of you, and it hurts.  It hurts like that moment when you move the foot you've been sitting on and it feels numb, and tingly, and stiff, even as it welcomes all the blood flooding into it.  It hurts, and its uncomfortable, and you want it to stop, even as you know this sensation is exactly what you need.

I imagine that's what the rose feels when she opens to the light, isn't it? She feels love.  She must.  Otherwise, she never would have opened.  She would have remained too frightened.

As I was leaving, a new friend -- someone I love to sing next to in choir but do not know very well -- gave me a hug and the most simple and profound act of kindness and generosity one person can give to another.  It surprised me in that same way -- in the life flooding into the achy part way.  "I love you," she said.

And that.


That is how we do this thing, isn't it?

We work like hell to find the places we will be loved, and then, on the bad days when we are hurting, and broken, and feel alone and unlovable with all of our broken, sharp, and cracking parts, we show up and let the scab be ripped off.  We let ourselves cry in church, we open ourselves to vulnerability, and we let others breathe love into those cavernous hurting places.  We name the darkness that threatens to overtake us, we let others tell us we are worthy and loved and -- even if just for a moment -- we let ourselves feel it.

We feel the encouragement of light against our beings.

We have to.

Otherwise, we would surely all remain too frightened.

(For what it's worth, if you're reading this: I love you). 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Staying Open on the Side of Love

If I had to take a guess, I would wager that I will be learning the following lesson for the rest of my life: you do not have to do the hard things on your own. 

I learn this lesson over, and over, and over again...and when it comes down to it, my go-to response in the hard times is that I need to pull in, shut down, withdraw from others.  I need to toughen up, knuckle down, pull myself together, and handle the thing.  I get imaginary bonus points if I look good doing it.  No sleep?  No problem.  There's nothing a little make-up, a skirt, and a hair-do can't cover, right?

On my good days, you can frame this as fiercely independent.  On my fair days, you can frame it as stubborn.  Both would likely be correct.

On the bad days, though, what this is, really, is stupid.  It has long led to unhelpful patterns. I like to think that I'm a pretty rational person, and this pattern -- it's not rational. 

I'm trying, then, to channel my stubborn energies into stubbornly changing this pattern.  It is not easy.  I don't feel like I always really know how.  But I'm trying.

The past two weeks have had so many hard things.  I have felt small.  And scared.  And stepped on.  I hate feeling small, scared, and stepped on.  Blogger Glennon at Momastery talks about how the only thing you need to do is focus on doing the next right thing.  I have been focusing on this with an intensity that has taken all of my energy -- almost like I'm rock climbing, and looking for the next foot or handhold that will support me as I continue scaling the wall of rock.  Reach up.  Grab.  Test it out before committing to it.  Will this one hold me?  Yes?  Take a breath. Let this be the next right step. 

And I did take the right steps.  I continue to take the right steps.  I have taken the steps that feel true to me, and what I believe is right, and my sense of ethics.  I have accused myself of making the wrong decisions, of being overly moralistic, of being silly.  I accused myself of being wrong.  I tried to convince myself that I, as a person, am wrong.  And when I did those things, I knew they were not the right steps.  I did the best I could to stop from fully grasping those handholds.  I tested them, held onto them for a bit, even -- but they were not right, and when I saw a better next right step, I let them go. That's what taking the next right step is all about, I think.

I read this post about two weeks ago, and I've been wanting to write something about it ever since.  I cried over this post, because oh my goodness I know those moments.  Don't you?  You should read the post, because it's hard, and true, and beautiful, but here's the gist: Glennon did some very beautiful things for someone else.  Upon doing the beautiful things, however, she found (1) that she had not done the beautiful things perfectly and (2) that others were angry about the particular beautiful thing she had done. 

And when this happened, she writes, "And I heard what I ALWAYS hear when my pride is all scuffed up and my heart is darkening and I'm wanting to SHUT DOWN and retreat and lick my wounds forever.  I hear: STAY OPEN.  STAY OPEN.  STAY OPEN.

You guys, that's the only way to make a mess beautiful.  Stay Open.  To everyone and everything.  All the time.  I'm absolutely convinced of this horrible truth.  The good news is that I know this.  The bad news is that Staying Open is the hardest thing on Earth."

There's a breath living in that, isn't there?

My story behind the shutdown is different from Glennon's, but my heart feels raw and like it needs more space around it.  The simplified version is that someone said things that made me feel hated and wrong.  I did the next right thing and I talked to the necessary people about the many issues this presented, and those people made me feel scared, and small, and stepped on.  I have had multiple conversations, with many people, and I have one more -- a big one -- remaining.  I hope that will be the end, but I don't know for sure.  My body physically feels like it wants to curl in upon itself in self-protection.  I am not kidding when I agree with Glennon in saying that I want to "shut down and retreat and lick my wounds forever."  Part of me wants to decide that the world doesn't get to have my heart right now.  It is mine, and if I want to shut down around it, I can. 

But there is that voice that tells me to stay open.  There are many voices, really, but mostly it sounds like friends asking, "you okay?"  Every time that happens -- every time that voice comes in -- it's a little wedge in the door, reminding me that it's okay to stay open.   And this action -- this staying open -- it made three things happen:

(1) It led to a big meltdown.  I cried, and I panicked.  I mean, I really panicked.  I mean a think-I'm-dying, can't-find-the-oxygen, can't-move-my-body sort of panic.  I mean three days of joint pain, just because my body was so flooded with stress and inflammation sort of panic. 

(2) It complicated the issue tremendously.  Because I did not shut down my heart, I stayed open to the possibility of connection and perspective.  In my next interaction with that person who made me feel hated and wrong, I was able to really listen and hear her heart, and's the thing.  She thinks she's doing the next right thing.  She really does.  For her, these steps -- these steps that I know are wrong and hateful -- they seem to her like the next right thing.  She is hurting.  She is angry.  And all she wants is to do the next right thing.

(3) I allowed myself to be not alone.  In fact, I allowed myself to be more me.  It's scary.  And it's hard.  But it is less scary and hard than the scary, small, stepped on feeling.  That is important.

At church today, our new, amazing intern minister spoke right to my heart in ways that took my breath away.  Among other things, he said something about how we can stand in the truth while still standing on the side of love. Honestly, I lost the context around it, and I didn't hear him afterwards (sorry, Anthony), because I was so busy really hearing that phrase.

We can stand in the truth while still standing on the side of love.

By staying open, I can stand in the truth of feeling hated and wrong.  I can stand in the truth of feeling small, and scared, and stepped on. 

And, by staying open, I can also still stand on the side of love.  I don't need to sacrifice my truth of hurt in order to do the next right thing.  It doesn't have to be either/or.  It is hard....but it can be yes/and.  By staying open, I don't need to do the hard things alone.  By staying open, I can let others stand with me on the side of love.

And this, I think, is the only antidote to feeling hated and wrong.  This is the next right step forward from feeling stepped on, and scared, and small.  When we let others stand with us on the side of love, there are so many right steps forward. 

Thank goodness I keep learning that we don't need to do hard things on our own.