Thursday, January 23, 2014

softening, guts, allowing

I was a kid, maybe six, when my aunt first called me mantequilla, butter. I had spilled a glass of milk and an older cousin went into this "oh great, again!' rant that crumpled me into tears. My aunt squawked "You're mantequilla, you melt for no reason!" After that, whenever I cried she'd call me butter. I hated it.

I've been thinking a lot about the layers I've built up through the years. I've always been sensitive, my feelings close to the surface, empathic. My first few years it was fine, I was in a safe environment, fully loved and supported. When I cried I was comforted, or I took my tears out into the garden, climbing the tree outside my bedroom window. Or I'd lay belly down in the grass and contemplate the lives of the ants. I'd disappear into staring at the sky. The nature world soothed, was balm.

I have memories of the specific instants that I started hardening the soft, vulnerable parts of myself. Protection, no doubt, for a world and humanity that doesn't have room for what is perceived as weak. I wonder when we started classifying experiencing emotions as weakness.

I'm softening. After a lifetime of hardening, of building up protections and walls, I'm letting my emotions back up where they belong, close to the surface. I discovered that I was softening during  my morning meditations, I'd come back from trance in tears of joy. That joy, that awareness has been staining everything in my life. There are times in my day when I feel like I'm on some strange drug, I can feel myself in the world, if that makes any sense. I'm present. Alive. All the tears keep showing up and I'm not too afraid of them anymore, they don't signify weakness anymore. I can't even tell you or explain when or how that shift happened, but it did. All this allowing, yes. I dance in public. I have this music inside that won't let me stay still.

I taught a new group of students yesterday. Mostly young men of color. They were great, alive and electric, hungry for attention. I had them do a fairly basic writing exercise, compiling lists of certain things then I gave them open ended statements where they could plug in items from their lists. They bit right in. Of course, getting them to share was a little tough but I had a couple of students who were eager to show me what they had created. This one line killed me, I barely remember anything else he said because of this: home is not safe, I have to hide my sisters. To. The. Gut. And, as much as I am softening I had to breathe back my tears. Bit by bit, yo.

All these cycles. I'm in a period of intense work. Busy as a bee. Up early, all day on ladders, home late. When I get home H and I cook and eat and talk. We spend hours laughing and contemplating, considering and talking out plot points, poems and the rest of our lives. These are the hours that feed me, though the rest of my days are pretty wonderful as well.

My writing has fallen off. But again, cycles. It will swing back around. I have moments of brief panic but I recognize them, I say hello panic, I remember you, you can't stay. And it goes. I'm torn between which book to work on. I'm studying a lot of history for the one, which I know is feeding the work, even if the work hasn't yet landed on the page. And the other one, ay. I need a little ass-kicking. But what good did rushing ever do creation? I'm sure someone has a snarky answer. I'm not worried.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

clean, then not, then clean

I've started the new year out clean, as I try to do. No alcohol, red meat (though a client made me a steak sandwich the other day and I felt obligated to eat it), early to bed, early to rise, a certain amount of physical movement. The holidays settle around my belly, a jolly layer that makes my pants hard to button and frustrates me. I'm not body obsessed by any means but I know where I feel best. Luckily, blessedly, strangely, I lose weight quickly. Cutting out the alcohol isn't big deal either, even though I do really really really enjoy a glass of red wine in the evening with a book. H is still in Canada so the dedication to my cleaning ritual is a little easier. Last night I was in bed just after 9pm and slept deeply until just before 6am. Ahhhh.

While in the Pacific Northwest I read a could of fantasy books that were a wild romp. The characters were funny and compelling, the plots were twisted but not so twisted that I was confused or turned off. The writing was clean and the storyline required a great suspension of disbelief that paid off. But one line, man, one line can really crap it all up. It may have been in a character's voice and in context but there was a line about how a book would have been considered for a national prize if (paraphrasing) some immigrant narrative didn't come out and win the prize instead. Heart. Thud. Belly. Sick. Really? Take your latent racism and suck it.

It reminded me of a conversation I witnessed once. An author who had suffered and overcome a hell of a lot of violence and chaos gave a reading. The work the author read was hard, but gorgeous. After the reading a young man  who came from considerable privilege went up to the author and said something along the lines of "I'm so jealous you have such a great story to tell! I wish I had a story I could tell like that!"  The author was gracious but those of us standing around were pretty dumbstruck.

I know, I'm judging. Not kindly or gracious but there has to be room for rage, frustration then the clearing of it. I don't want to wear rage anymore than I want this fanny pack of fat from the holidays.

The morning outside my window is foggy. I can barely see the palm trees. The sun is a white light in the gray. I have to go to work in a few. Crows are calling out to each other, the fog makes their cries louder. A friend of mine who lived by the zoo once told me that on foggy morning he would be awakened by the calls of howler monkeys. If you haven't heard a howler monkey, click on the link and imagine waking up to that.

I know this song is for kids, but I love it. It makes me cry.