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.