On Discernment, Activism, and Being Difficult

I organized a #writersresist event in January at our local bookstore around the time of the inauguration. We set the date in April, the weekend of the Earth Day and Marches for Science. Election night still loomed in my consciousness like the last remnants of a virus. I have always had a precarious relationship to activism because it’s not my nature to confront or to tie myself to trees or lay down under tanks. I have often felt that by not doing these things I didn’t care enough, and then I felt ashamed and privileged. And then this election happened, and I went to local meetings and I gave all the money I could to everything — the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, ProPublica, Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Resources Defense Fund, KNAU, PBS — and then in February I found out I had colon cancer and by early March I was in a hospital in Scottsdale recovering from having 8” of my colon removed and a malignant 5 cm tumor excised. All I could do was get well. All I could do was step out of fear and into love. If I was afraid of my cancer, I’d be at war with my own body. If I was afraid of what might or might not happen next, I would be at war with the very nature of being alive. If I was afraid of change, I would be at war with our only constant. I cannot resist the reality in front of me because I now know my finite energy, and if all my energy is spent resisting I have none left for alchemy, and it’s within alchemization that my own activism and power lies.

I am not willing to engage in conflict with my body. I am not willing to be at war with the future or with the past. I’m no longer willing to invest in fear as a motivator for doing anything. And as I lay in the hospital listening to my IV drip beeping and my vital signs buzzing I started to reconceive my activism. #45 and his cabal of fear will not take my life from me. I will not allow him to make me ill or anxious or frightened. I don’t want to wake up each day, click on the NYTimes or Washington Post or turn on NPR and hear the fear and take the chaos into my body. I can’t afford to do that. My body has made that clear. But I also will not do nothing. I will not stand by or claim blissful ignorance or stand in my privilege-bubble of being less impacted than others due to dumb luck of birth.

So what can I do that will matter? What can I do that is my activism, that allows me to maintain my health and keep getting stronger, but still impacts the direction of the country? Come to find out, it is my best thing — my only and forever companion — my words. Stories and poems and songs and essays and articles have always shaped the world’s cultures. These writers have been jailed, executed, censored, exiled, feared — not because what they do is irrelevant, but because it is profoundly important. It turns out the direction of the human heart can be altered through a poem, through a revelation in a novel, through an insight in a memoir or a piece of investigative journalism.

Fear contracts. Love expands. These were words my father wrote to me in my 9th birthday letter in 1977 after his first heart attack. Most of you know he has been long dead, and I have wanted to talk to him so much these past months as I relearn how to be in my body. But I can talk to him because he wrote to me. And when I read those words 30 years after his death, I learn more about who I am.  If I have gleaned anything so far on this cancer journey it is to hold nothing back. Give it all away. Do not die with your best thing still in you.

The first group of oncologists we saw wanted me to start on chemotherapy and radiation several weeks ago. My surgery had been successful. There is no metastasis at this time. My margins are negative. I told them no and they responded chaotically, with fear, with judgment, with contraction. When I looked at these doctors I knew in my bones they would not treat me. They could not help me. They attacked a label. They didn’t address a human. When we crossed the threshold of their offices, I got an instant flash of myself as a girl, in my favorite red dress and red Stride Rite sandals. I was crouched down with one hand over my face and the other hand, palm out, pushing away. I would listen to her. I would pay attention to my intuition.

I went to another doctor who consulted with my surgeon as well as a third oncologist and they all agreed that chemotherapy and radiation would be ill-advised at this time. “Instead,” the doctor said, “let’s build a biosphere and an ecosystem in which the cancer cells cannot thrive. Rather than blast them with an inexact weapon, let’s change the very expression of your body so the cancer cells won’t find nourishment.”

And within that framework, I move forward not only as someone managing cancer, but as a writer who is an activist, and my approach with my writing is to create an ecosystem in which the fear and duality and division of 45’s whirling dervish of chaos cannot thrive. This is what art does. Art changes the soil of our universe.

It may seem like we are doing nothing, scratching away on paper in our rooms. It may seem like our readers can’t find us or that our work lands in an empty canyon. It doesn’t matter. Write anyway. The very act of writing changes who you are. The very act of writing makes you more human, more open, more alive and more empathetic. Word by word, writers, we change souls, starting first with our own. Word by word, we write a new narrative for our bodies, our country, and word by word, if all of us do our work, these new narratives supplant the old ones. Write the stories that will till the soil of our planet for all of us to thrive.

Some of us have the gift of surgeon’s steel or a scientist’s gaze. Others are farmers, finding new ways to healthfully and sustainably provide sustenance and others still are engineers working on renewable energy technologies. What if they stopped just because the world wasn’t interested right now and the grant funding ran out? They won’t. And we won’t either because our work transcends us.

Our work is the ashes we leave behind for others to use to kindle a whole new world. Let’s leave them seeds that nourish all beings. Let’s leave them love, and when it’s time for us to go, we will have showered the planet with everything we were given to share, and when our eyes close for the final time, the covers of the book of our life, we will know we have emptied and can fly on.

 

#cancergift, #persist, #sisu

 

Robot Kisses

Eva! Well, this is Pixar’s EVA, but my Da Vinci robot was named for her. #nastywoman

You’re separated from your family at 5:30 am and taken with a group of six down a wood-paneled hallway into an older, darker portion of the hospital. You’re assigned a bed and given a plastic bag for your clothes. You have to take your third pregnancy test in three days because, why the eff not, even though you haven’t had anything to eat and very little but Gatorade mixed with Miralax in three days in preparation for your second colonoscopy in two weeks and the major surgery, and besides, you haven’t felt very sexy since December. You wonder if men have to take a fertility test before surgery. Seems only fair.

You tell them your name, again, confirm your birthday, again, and they scan your barcode on your ID bracelet, which is next to a wristband that contains the numbers for your blood vials, which are stored somewhere in this building should you need a blood transfusion, permission for which you had to give 48 hours previously. Your allergies are marked on a red band, and now you have three bracelets.

Judy the ostomy nurse comes in and you like her, but you’re afraid of her because of what she means. She tells you your belly is perfect for a colostomy bag as she puts two blue dots where the bag would go, and since it is, you won’t need one, but you know she must say that to all the bellies, all the days, before all the surgeries. Still, you like her and very few people have said your belly was perfect. The anesthesiologist comes in and you again confirm your name and date of birth and she scans your barcode and tries to assure you that she — that they all — have done this before. She tells you what they will be giving you, how they will be monitoring you, but you do not have a medical degree and you have no idea what she is saying.

Your doctor comes in after you’re hooked up with your IV and your various other medicines that you don’t understand but you put in your mouth anyway because those are the rules. Your feet are strapped in compression socks and held to the bed in automatic compression sleeves, which squeeze your calves every sixty seconds. They are tethers to the bed. Tethers to the earth. You hate anything on your toes, but you don’t want a blood clot, and they don’t appear optional, and you most definitely want the tumor out — you’ve already paid for it — so you don’t say anything.

They told you you would be slightly upside down, with a ventilator tube, so that the belly would be most exposed, most available to Eva. You don’t remember the ventilator tube, but you felt the rawness on the roof of your mouth like they told you you would. You have never worn a bikini. You have never worn a belly shirt. But now everything depends on your opening up your most yin side — your most vulnerable parts — to fluorescent lights and strangers in masks and gloves. And you have to open. You have to welcome in the robot so that your body won’t be afraid. So that when this is over and Eva is done, your body will grasp itself with love and rebuild its muscles because it knows that we’re in this together–for the long game. My beautiful, beautiful body.

Whatever they give you upon leaving pre-op kicks in before reaching the operating room and you never see the room. Never see the floor-to-ceiling robot named Eva who will be doing the cutting and the sewing and the biopsying. You are glad her name is Eva and you are glad that you are with people who would name a robot and you are sure your surgeon has done this before and all will be well. But you don’t think any of that in the operating room because you don’t have any awareness there.

You wake up in post-op. First thought: You are not dead. Second thought: Is there a bag? Your hand goes to your belly and feels only your flesh. Your body is wracked with pain from the gas they blew into your belly so they had room for Eva to work. There is nowhere for it to go. It has to take its time. You have to wait it out. You’ve felt very little physical pain in your life, and it is strange that the body takes its own way without your mind to stop it or control it. You can’t roll over because of the compression socks and there’s a strange tightness in your belly as if you didn’t really believe they were going to cut it open, or if they did, that the belly wouldn’t remember.

You watch your body contract and expand, trying to shift on the tiny bed, which has your feet held prisoner in the ever-compressing compression sleeves and you have a moment of clarity in which you realize that you are calm, even as your body screeches. You float inside of it. You are not it.

You’re hot, so they bring you ice. You’re cold, so they take it away. Someone wipes your mouth with a swab because you’re so thirsty but you can’t drink anything yet. You think you’re a horse, baring her teeth for a brush. You press your morphine button because you can. You don’t really see anyone’s faces. Only their hands. The 10,000 hands that are always with us all.

You wait in post-op for six hours until a room is ready. You are regaining some lucidity and you are ready for a different gown. A shower. A fucking cheeseburger. But there’s none of that. You’re sweaty and your hair is matted to your head. But there is no colostomy bag. You have a catheter and a urine bag, but that is OK.

You are alive.

And there are 10,000 hands.

They take you up to your room and just like in the movies, six pairs of hands, three on each side, lift you on your sweaty sheet onto the new bed. They roll you onto one side and pull the sheet out. They roll you onto the other and straighten a new one. Your room has two windows and a bathroom, but you remain tethered to the bed with compression sleeves, a catheter, and an IV drip for food and a morphine drip. You can’t eat. You want to. You want to sleep. You want to roll into a ball. You want to storm the castle and say hell, yes, I am here. But all you can do is hit the morphine button, which doesn’t do much except make things fuzzy. You don’t like it. The pain is better, so you start to wean yourself off the morphine and on post-op day two, they take it away, along with the catheter and the urine bag and the IV feeding tube. You remove the compression sleeves because you hate them and you hide your feet under the bed when the nurses come in. You massage your legs yourself. You walk around the hospital on your own. You are over it.

You get to move from clear liquids to full liquids, which is essentially ice cream, which is not really that good for you, and you feel that you have too much sugar too fast. It’s been five days since you have had solid food. The next day, you get to move to a low-residue diet, which you’re still on, which is mostly bananas, white bread, eggs, processed pastas, and clear liquids. You want your resection to stay together, so you buy foods you’ve moved away from over the years as you’ve pushed toward eating more healthfully. You’ve already lost 15 pounds since the first colonoscopy. Maybe you’ll write a weight-loss guide and finally get to meet Oprah.

You have to hold your IV hand outside the shower door because they left the tubing in your hand just in case, but still you take a one-armed shower all by yourself and you are the fucking bomb. You brush your teeth in a sink, not a plastic tub. The nurses say you can have either Oxycodone or Tylenol and you laugh. Is there nothing in the middle? But there isn’t, so you take two Tylenol at 350 mg each and call it a night. You use your aromatherapy oils from your massage therapist: Release and Trauma. You put on your chakra balancing music on your iPad. You hold your belly in your hands and tell it she is the most beautiful thing. That your whole body is the strongest, most beautiful thing.

The next morning you want some more Tylenol and the nurse says you’re only allowed one Tylenol and you laugh and tell her you can walk across the street to CVS and buy Tylenol in 500 mg tablets and take ten of them, and just last night they were offering Oxycodone. You call them fickle and everyone laughs. You like your nurses. They like you. You are not interested in staying here. You are not interested in being identified with your surgery. You are interested in rebuilding.

You talk to them and make jokes and they start to tell you about their lives and you sit in the hall together and look at the photographs. One of them tells you about her own cancer scare. Another tells you about the death of her daughter, and you just sit together on the bench, a picture of Bryce Canyon in front of you. You miss them when you leave.

You walk out four days later. No Tylenol. No prescriptions. Five robot kisses on your belly, a large incision above the pubic bone, and two perineum incisions. As you prepare to leave your room, 2611, you give thanks to it for holding you in the dark, for all the machines that beeped and compressed and fed and drained you. You write a thank you note to the nurses of post-surgical oncology, and a note to your surgeon.

Your tumor is gone. There is no cancer in the lymph nodes. You are the luckiest woman on the planet, but not because the outcome was so good. You are the luckiest woman on the planet because you touched the 10,000 hands, and you said thank you to them. You felt, especially in post-op, that no matter what is happening, all is well. You felt the eternal part of you–the part that one day will be stardust–and you now know in your body what you have observed as you’ve watched the illnesses and deaths of others.

You are not alone. There are 10,000 hands. Everywhere.

You felt it. So you can never forget it.

 

Post-op Day 1: Morphine and apple juice.

Post-op day 2: No morphine, but chocolate ice cream!

There are five robot kisses. They look much better now. This was post-op day 1. The blue dots are where the colostomy bag would have gone, had I needed one.

Post-op day 4. Walking out of Honor Health Shea.

The Transcendent Music of the MRI

My cat & I set off to the underworld!

You don’t find light by avoiding the darkness.

S. Kelley Harrell

The MRI machine is a miraculous merging of prehistoric sounds and 21st century technology. It captures and records images of ‘you’ that are nothing like what you conceive of yourself as, which allows you to let layers of illusions about “what” you are fall away into stardust, and it does something even more wondrous and unexpected: It offers you time to let go and journey into its world. My mantra from the first awareness of the tumor has been to embrace it all. Befriend every part of the experience. Do not use my energy to resist what is coming. Instead, step into whatever comes, and when its usefulness is over, shake its dust from my socked feet and say thank you. I preserve my energy for healing.

I named the MRI Ganesha, the Hindu diety, the Elephant God, remover of obstacles and lord of new beginnings, companion for all new ventures. (And incidentally, associated with writers!)

Ganesha’s mantra is Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha, which we can loosely translate to: Yo! Wake up Root Chakra energy of transformation so I can move through any obstacles in my life. Hooray!

___________________________

Dear Ganesha,

When you lie on the ‘plank’ to go into your belly — the womb of the machine, they wrap you with straps. One of the straps monitors your breathing and heart rate. Like an umbilical cord, it sends your vitals back to the mother behind the glass. You hold a rubber “panic” button so you can send a signal if you’re needing to leave the machine. It feels like a stress ball, comfortable and solid in the hand. You put bright yellow ear plugs in and then you enter the tube where you are unable to move, so your only choice is to let it all go, give it up to the solid plank beneath you — the plank that represents not just this technology, but the 10,000 hands of all the people who have helped you in your entire life, living and dead. The 10,000 hands of the helpers you have yet to meet. All that is.

You close your eyes because they blow air on your face and the machine starts a slight low shake, which takes you back to the churning sea and the forced air is the dance of the wind and then the first sound begins. A sharp alarm sound, followed by the low pinging of a submarine deep in the darkest parts of the ocean — you see octopus and squid and dark fluorescent things — followed by the knocking of a bird’s beak against a tree, followed by a chirring sound and then a siren. You count five sounds, but there could have been more or less. Each sound you associate with a character — a co-creator in the symphony that the machine makes. You think of the film “Arrival” and wonder what language this is — this ancient song wrapped inside the arms of modern Western medicine.

It’s a beautiful song, and soon you hear the rhythm and you stop wondering what each sound correlates with and instead let the music take you down the shamanic tunnel of your mind. You move into the most recent series of dreams you’ve had since learning of the tumor, and you begin to unpack each image, asking questions of it, learning its purpose and its place. You want something to write on so you don’t forget, but you can’t move, so you just keep watching the stories unfolding in your mind with each shift of the rhythm of the machine.

You think you feel heat from the radiation on your belly, but you’re not sure. It could be the contrast dye. It could be something awakening. The submarine pings, the woodpecker knocks, the siren calls, the alarm sounds and the chirring rustle starts to remind you of a jungle in the dark. Your soul is dancing. She is safe and held and the sounds are an ancient home, a music from long long ago.

It’s over before you’re ready. You have more layers in which to journey. But you have emerged with key questions for exploration, and new insights into energetic blocks and old dust that still clogs your field. That is more than enough from one trip, one meeting with the machine. You go into the lobby beaming and you tell your husband, “This trip is just the most amazing thing.”

E = mc (squared). Basically, energy is all there is.

____________________________________________

Update on treatment: I am going into surgery at 7:30 am on March 10. They will remove the tumor and resect the colon to the rectum, where they anticipate I will not need a colostomy bag. If at all, it will be temporary.

There will be robots (!!!) doing the surgery, who I have envisioned as helper monkeys, with of course, my super-amazing Keezel-monkey as the one in charge. See, the doc is even wearing monkey green! I will be in the hospital a few days and then on Family Medical Leave until April 5.

Isn’t that freakin’ wondrous?

Prior to the surgery, I have worked with an acupuncturist, massage therapist, energy healer, my long-time teacher and multi-faceted healer/writer/yogi extraordinaire, and an ayurvedic doctor, and after the surgery, I will continue my work with them and will be meeting with an alternative cancer doctor who is both a board certified medical doctor and a naturopath.

I don’t know what else I may or may not do, traditionally or otherwise, and I cleanly and lovingly request that you withhold additional suggestions or concerns regarding my treatment choices and options, as I am integrating many different things at this time. I am keeping an Evernote file of all the resources people have already sent me, and I am practicing discernment and patience with it all. I will ask for what I need, and I have lots of varied, rich sources to draw from. I intend to use my time on Family Medical Leave to journey inward, so please don’t take lack of communication or a delay in a response to your notes as anything personal. I have been given a chance to do absolutely nothing but listen to myself. That’s extraordinary.

It will be just a little over two weeks from awareness of the issue to surgery. Goal one has been to prepare my body, GI tract, and soul for the challenge of surgery so that I have the least resistance to it and fastest healing. Goal two is to remove the tumor, and goal three is to make the best, most healthful and integrative choices for my whole body afterward.

I am not in a panic or a rush. My primary guide is my own body and its intuition, and I am ridiculously excited about the messages it is sending me. I have so much new work to share with you all very soon. This has been a wonderful opportunity to cast off what no longer serves me, and I am very grateful for what I’m learning. I will walk into the hospital with arms and soul open to receive the gifts that fall under their highly specialized area of expertise. They are no less wondrous than the healing work of other modalities. I will walk out of the hospital with gratitude and leave its energy at the door. To every single person who has helped me so far, from the receptionist to the scheduler to the lab tech to the surgeon, I have said, “Thank you for helping me.” That is what each of them has done. Strangers. Helping me reconnect.

Thank you profoundly for your love and concern. I have been overwhelmed by your notes and comments on Facebook and in my non-virtual life. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your stories of your own journeys with illness and your thoughts on the writing in my blog. Please keep doing that.  My request to you above is only regarding unsolicited advice on my personal treatment decisions. Setting this boundary is essential for self-care.

Your stories are helping me shape questions for the next piece of creative work for me.

I am well. This is simply a necessary step forward into what is next for me.

With love and monkeys,

Laraine

Hello! It is I, Keezel! Do not worry. I got this.

#sisu #cancergift #persist

“Whatever comes, good or bad, don’t make a move to avoid it.”

Maurine Stuart Roshi

I think about the ways that we construct a reality. I think about how we absorb emotional experiences, intellectual information, challenges and mythologies – cultural, familial, personal –  and determine a ‘view’ for the world we inhabit. This view is only ours, and it is subjective, limited, and perilous.

I think about how what is simply is, regardless of whether we have integrated it yet.

On Tuesday, I learned that I have colon cancer. When I woke up that morning, I reminded myself that whatever I learn at the appointment already is. The cancer didn’t just arrive at 2:15 that day. It had been building for a long time. My awareness of something in my body being imbalanced began several months ago, but the imbalance began long before my awareness of it. The groundwork for its manifestation began a long time ago.

There’s the micro-second between sleep and waking up where I have forgotten, and then I remember, and the remembering settles its downy wings over me. This happened the morning after the election. And the next morning, and the next morning. It happened the morning after my dad’s death. And the next morning, and the next morning. This is part of the grieving process. The old view — the default — is still a residual part of the burgeoning view. It has to reshatter each morning as it reconstructs itself. This is part of integration.

I have spent most of my life working on grief and loss and transitions in academics, in practice, and in art. My first thought after I received the news was that this will transition into some fantastic art. It will give me the next layer of my teaching and my writing. It will forge my soul into its next thing, and what I learn I can bring back to others through my books and classes.

Absorbing this knowledge of cancer is a slow process. It’s like pouring water on the earth. A little more awareness seeps in each day. A little more integration. But the cancer was there before I knew. That’s the first piece to address holistically.

I am not fighting this cancer. I will not be at war with my own body. I will not hate it. It is a tremendous body, and it has done good work. I do not like the language of illness most of Western medicine uses and I will not use it. I will not stand in a place of aggression towards myself. I will not “beat” this thing. It is not a villain to be destroyed. It is not an invader. It is my own body’s response to too much inflammation. It is, ultimately, a gift to be unpacked.

I will alchemize it. I will integrate it and I will transform it into something else. I will not kick its ass or blast it away. I will not put my emotional energies toward destruction and I will not let the dualistic language of medicine turn me against my own flesh.

I will extend my hand to this gift and I will put my energies toward reconception. Rebirth. Renewal.

This is not passive.

I am actively seeking help from a blended group of sources. I am meeting with a surgeon on Wednesday and I will have the tumors removed. I feel like this step is the equivalent of first putting out the house fire so you can understand underlying structural issues. The ‘fire’ must first be contained. But there is more. I do not want to rebuild the same structure. This is my opportunity for new architecture. I have several incredible healers in various modalities in my life who I am privileged not only to have in a professional role, but also in a deep-love space. From my Taoist yoga writer friend Cain Carroll, to my acupuncturist Traeger Stertzbach, to my massage therapist Carolina Morton, to my genius Jungian therapist Dalena Watson — I have help.

I am grateful to have access to top surgeons down in Phoenix. I am grateful to have a flexible job and loving friends and family and cats. I am grateful for health insurance. I am grateful for my panel of alternative healers and my background in psychology, grief theory, trauma and mythology and story.

Everything I do in my life revolves around writing and teaching. I am at the threshold of the next door, and I will not look away.

“In the heart of the fire lies a hidden spring.”

Giun

feel free to share

#persist #sisu #cancergift

Art the F&*k Out of Your Life

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.”

–Arundhati Roy

Don’t get tossed away.

Don’t chase each outrage until you are spinning like a top.

Don’t overcommit or undernourish yourself.

As I mentioned a bit in last week’s blog, the nation is in chaos under the narcissist-in-chief (like you needed me to tell you 🙂 ). If you’ve lived with a narcissist, you know first hand the challenges. In this time of (what he thinks to be) unquestioned power, combined with instant communication, it is easy to feel so overwhelmed you reach for that first shot of whiskey before you fully wake up.

What today? What now? He did what? And then the list of incredibly important issues and happenings scrolls by and you know they ALL NEED YOUR HELP. And then maybe you just want to go back to bed and curl up until 2018 at the earliest. But then you remember that you need to fight for the country you want, and maybe you don’t have training for that, or maybe you didn’t see it coming, or maybe you thought it couldn’t get this bad, or maybe you think you’re only one person and it’s just you.

It isn’t. We have gone beyond party preferences. Gone beyond the ideological differences that reasonable people can have. America — people — will always have reasonable disagreements. That’s important to a vital society. But we’re so far from that I’m afraid we’ve lost the map back to sane.

There is quite frankly one right side of history in this battle, and if you need a check in, it’s the side that’s advocating love and tolerance and acceptance and freedoms. It’s the side that believes our Constitution did some cool things — like separation of church and state, freedom of (and from) religion, a free press and freedom of speech. I know it’s a flawed document. I know many of the founders owned slaves. There were no women present. And on and on. But it is that document that has ensured that over time we have stretched our rights and ideas of what an American is, and though it’s been rocky, and not a very straight line, we have nonetheless always prevailed on the side of more equality, more tolerance, more acceptance, and more compassion. (And if you don’t think EPA regulations are about compassion, think again when you can’t see the sky and you can’t breathe at work and you’re settling in for a home remodel with that new lead paint.)

And it’s the side that is not endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis.

And it’s the side who thinks you probably shouldn’t be talking about national security issues at dinner with a bunch of folks with phones. But her e-mails. Goddamn, I know, right? Whew.

I have found this site helpful in navigating the noise. You can sign up for daily WTF happened today e-mails. They are consolidated, from multiple, respectable, vetted sources, and are calm. You can check in one time and know what happened or didn’t and not be clicking madly through your day, elevating your heart rate to an unsustainable rate.

Survival Tips

Tip 1: The Narcissist wants you to click madly through your day. Then you have wasted your day and exhausted your energy. Then you can’t make your art. You can’t do your job. You can’t maintain your relationships. Don’t give him that power. Don’t step into the swirl he is making. Stand on the outside and make conscious choices for your action. Otherwise, the gale-force winds will send you soaring.

Tip 2: Know when you’re being gaslighted. 45 can’t tell the truth. It’s blatantly obvious. When challenged, he will try to force you to question your own direct experience and direct observation (YUGE crowds…bigly! Massachusetts bused in 3 million voters to New Hampshire! Sad!) You might take photographs. Keep a notebook. Record what you’re observing and feeling and check back with it. Reasonable people know they can make a mistake, and this is why gaslighting works so well for narcissists. We start to question ourselves … maybe I didn’t see what I thought I saw … and the Narcissist is so freakin’ happy that you’re spinning in his hall of mirrors he goes on a Tweet-storm at 3 am to send you back to the click-bait storm he wants you swirling in.

Tip 3: Reasoned arguments will not prevail. Problems cannot be solved if there’s no agreement on the nature of the problem, or if we can’t acknowledge there is a problem (example 1/1000: climate change is happening – GAH!!!). We can’t have a reasoned dialogue with 45& Co. They are not interested in governing. They are ideologues and they’re after their own interests. This is a kleptocracy teetering quickly toward dictatorship. We have to figure out what they can hear, which seems right now to be SNL, CNN, the New York Times, and the protestors (which for the love of all things are NOT paid). I hate conflict. So. Much. Yet here we are. Don’t waste your energy talking to someone who will not hear you. They are hoping we fail. They are hoping we exhaust our resources and our hope. We will not. Everything is at stake.

Tip 4: Double down and go deep, if you’re getting exhausted, rather than trying to go broad. We’re not facing an assault only on women’s rights, or on LGBTQ rights, or the environment, or freedom of the press, or healthcare, or the working poor, or the minority religions or POC, or education, or fair labor practices, or international partnerships, or the very promises America has held out of welcoming refuge to those seeking a better life. We’re facing it all (and I’m sure I forgot some!) So as one person, what to do? Ask yourself which issues are most vital to you. (I know I know they all are!) Choose one or two to focus on. Others will carry different ones. We can’t hold up the whole sky, but we can damn sure hold up our own cloud (full of #nastywomen and #badhombre snowflakes). You will feel like you’re accomplishing more and being more productive and you’ll experience less burnout. We’re not robots, even under crisis. This is a long long long game. Keep your eye on the prize.

 Tip 5: Art, art, art, art, art the fuck out of your life. Write it. Sing it. Dance it. Film it. Paint it. Sculpt it. Consume art like the fuel that it is. Draw on those who’ve been down this road before (Sweet Honey in the Rock and Nina Simone have been helping me!) You don’t have to “high” art it. Low brow it with the best of us. Just Art The Fuck Out Of Your Life.

#resist #persist #werk

Nevertheless, She Persisted

(Warning: language/possible content trigger/& a rant)

So can we finally say that sexism is a thing? That misogyny is alive and well–it’s got the best health care plan, after all! Can we finally say, after Mitch McConnell told Senator Elizabeth Warren to sit down and shut up — following, by the way, the script of every abuser: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” — that there are still some parts of this country that have a hell of a hard time with a woman who dares to speak?

Women are hysterical. Wild-eyed. Out of control. And need we mention that an old white man told a woman to shut up while she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King to try to prevent the confirmation of good-ol-racist Southern boy Jeff Sessions during Black History Month? And that Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he could only “hope that if Coretta Scott King were still with us, that she would support Senator Sessions nomination.” I’m a fiction writer and I can’t make this shit up. (Should I give points to Spicer for knowing that Mrs. King was deceased? I mean, I guess she and Frederick Douglass could be having a Skype call right about now  discussing the carnage of the Bowling Green Massacre…#strangerthanfiction)

The ancient Greeks gave us the term “hysteria”, which means literally ‘wandering uterus.’ And if the way the old-man GOP congressmen have understood how women’s bodies work in the past still holds true: a shut off valve to prevent pregnancy in cases of rape; women don’t need gynecological care after 50, and my favorite — we apparently get pregnant all alone, but heck…I’m just a noisy bitch don’t listen to me, and I’m not a 10 and I’m old, so really, as the esteemed Nebraska state senator Bill Kintner reminded me on Twitter (the GOP’s new means of transmitting important information) But her emails! Sorry, damn, I keep digressing-– that the marchers were too ugly to fuck anyway, it’s likely they think that our uteruses (uteri?) have just gotten a little unhinged, running amok among the ‘down there’ parts that are just messy and disgusting and there only for the pleasure of their tiny tiny …. (right. hysterical bitch. shut up. sit down. breed a baby or two while you’re there. what do you mean you didn’t take his last name? and don’t wear pants, by the way. dress like a girl.)

I’m still framing my thoughts around the trauma that the election of 45 has triggered. The ‘sharking’ he did of Secretary Clinton during the debates. The bullying. The name-calling and the ranking of women. When a sexual predator is President, the whole country becomes his victims. When a narcissist is President, the whole nation spins in his chaos.

I don’t have clarity yet on the work for me around the trauma being released by this election. I feel there’s the potential for lots of healing, lots of working with the unspoken and hidden–in myself and with others. We’re headfirst in the unacknowledged–our country’s deep Shadow work. We have buried our secrets for far too long, and as James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” And that’s where we find ourselves now, #woke and furious and looking at a whole lot of our buried shit trying to find the seeds of a new way.

Right now, 45 and the GOP are the bullies I have faced-down my whole life. The ones that told me to be quiet. The ones that told me to let him go first. The ones who told me that I needed to stop raising my hand so much in class. The ones that told me I was not, in fact, a 10, and the ones that, in a workshop in graduate school, told me to remove a scene from a work-in-progress because it was utterly unbelievable that a husband would rape his wife. And the one in particular, who told me that if I ever left him, he would kill my family. But that’s a story for another time.

What I’ve got to say now is this: She persists. She resists. This is not the good ol’ boys club anymore (though yes, clearly we play one on the reality TV show that has become our government). Our biggest challenge now is to not get tossed away in the chaos. Our biggest threat to them is our long, long, long history of watching them. Of learning how to navigate their world so that we could get a foot in the door and a seat at the table. We–the marginalized who have been shut out of your club: the women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, the poor–have been watching you, and because you did not see us, you will remain forever surprised that we are here and are coming for you. Because we were invisible to you, you did not know our superpowers.

Make no mistake, 45 and the GOP: We are not going away. If we know how to do anything, it is how to persist. May you choke on your last gasp of this obscene indecency that is your privileged, greedy, narrow world view. McConnell. Ryan. Flake. McCain. Don’t think we don’t have the lists of how you’re voting and what you’re voting for. I haven’t reached an enlightened stage of compassion for you yet. I’m not interested in joining hands across the table to sing kum-ba-yah. Maybe it’ll come. Maybe it won’t. But for now, I’m taking my wandering uterus and persisting the fuck out of this mess. “Step by step,” wrote Pete Seeger, “the longest march can be won.”

Maybe we can find common ground again. I hope so. But I know from personal experience with abusers that after staying alive, the next step is to never negotiate with the terrorists, followed closely by get that person out of your house, and right now that house is our White House.

So, I’m sorry the hand towels weren’t soft enough for you on Air Force One, 45. Use one of Ivanka’s scarves instead. I hear they’re going to be lots of them showing up at discount retailers all over the country. Oh wait, the discounters also said #noivanka? Well. Goodwill then. On half-off Saturday. Maybe your family will finally make an honest charitable contribution.

(And PS: Thank you #9thcircuit. Team Constitution!)

#thankyounordstrom #thankyoutjmaxxmarshalls #resist #blizzardofsnowflakes #shepersisted #nastywoman

It’s Time to Uncover What You’ve Been Hiding

She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.

  • Shel Silverstein

I thought I was an engaged citizen. I have voted in every election since I was 18. I have signed petitions and done some marching and called some Senators and Representatives and wrote some poetry and hosted some events. And now, it is apparent that this type of engagement will not be enough for me anymore. I, and many others, are realizing that we are suddenly in the middle of a rebellion and revolution that (at least I) thought were things of the past. America had figured it out. Sure we disagreed on lots of things, but at the end of the day, we had a center that most of us could agree on.

I still think that’s true, as is evidenced by the sheer numbers of protests and outcries. I think the current ruling Kleptocracy is, while very real, not representative of us. I hold to that when I watch, open mouthed, as one day of #45’s actions feels like a year of being run over by a truck.

I’ve had to add daily acts of political activism to my routine, and that has caused me to have to adjust. I have had to (and continue to) dig deep inside to find out what tools I have that I have let go dormant that I can use now to benefit the #resistance. In my 20s, I spoke out against President George HW Bush’s policies, and then again with President George W Bush’s administration. I wrote plays and poems. My work was picketed. I was put on a Catholic Watchdog list. But I had something to say.

I was so certain of everything. So very much rooted in my twenties. And as I grew more, I understood that I was not always right. That shouting was rarely the most effective means of communication. That outrage, unmanaged and left to fly wildly, wasn’t helpful. So I moved away from anything controversial in my public life. I still voted, signed petitions, called representatives. But I didn’t want to offend people. I wanted to connect people.

I don’t think those changes I made were wrong. I was young and righteous and smug and my anger was destroying me. But I think now that I may have gone too far. By attempting to remain neutral, I haven’t always said much of anything. By trying not to incite conflict, I may have inadvertently turned away from something or someone I could have helped.

And here we are in February, 2017, and I have found the rage I thought I left behind in my 20s is still there. I am not interested in fighting. I do not want conflict. But here we are. And the choices we make now will be judged by future generations. This isn’t about one bill or one appointment or one executive order. This is about a full on assault on the Constitutional foundations of America, and as we have seen in the protests, it’s not only Democrats or Progressives who are speaking out. It’s Independents and Republicans. Green Party folks and no-party folks. It’s every country in the world.

And so, with that rage that fueled my twenties, and the wisdom I’ve gained in the thirty years since then, I am reclaiming that fire. I have more tools to use it in a healthful way. I have more experience with communication and conflicts and mediations. But that fire is there, and as I wrote in a post on Facebook in Pantsuit Nation the night after the election, “I promise I will never be silent again.”

Is there something you’ve let go to sleep for awhile that can help you now? This is the time. We cannot say we didn’t see this coming, and I, for one, cannot and will not say that I did nothing.

#riseup

 

 

Within Winter Lives the Spring

Well, oh my goddess, pass the plate and say amen! Weren’t all the marches on January 21 inspiring?

We’re learning to get out of our own way a little bit as we rise up as never before in a generation. And as we move out of our own way, that leaves room for someone else at the table. And someone else. And someone else. And soon the Cabinet, the Administration, the school boards, the local legislative bodies will look like America–all of it, not just the white male parts.

Keep the momentum from the marches. Stay involved. Run for office. Stay vigilant on the phone lines and the front lines. Subscribe to investigative journalism sources like ProPublica. Donate to Planned Parenthood. The ACLU. The Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League. The Sierra Club. You pick. You add your own. None of us can do everything, but we can all do something.

Don’t accept #alternativefacts. That’s spin for lie. And when the naked king tells you he’s wearing clothes and you see plain as day he’s dangling out in the wind, don’t get gaslit. Stay woke.

A fierce bright inclusive new day is dawning. Maybe the petulant orange one was the sun we needed for our seeds to sprout. Tend your gardens. Feed your communities.

#springiscomingsayamen

One of my favorite signs from the march in DC:

Stay Sane Inside Insanity

made w/Paper 53

From the darkness of Frank-n-Furter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Columbia sings out, “Stay sane inside insanity!” I’ve thought of that line frequently since the election. I’ve felt like everything that mattered to me–the planet’s health, women’s reproductive rights, the ACA, civil liberties, on and on–has come under attack. I’ve been tossed away with each day’s news, and I’ve felt the fear of helplessness start to silence my work. I grow more afraid as I watch many news organizations start to normalize the gaslighting of a narcissist-on-Twitter. What rabbit hole is this?

What does a novel matter when the world is flooding and heating up and our new government could care less? What does fiction matter in a world where facts are apparently optional and synonymous with opinion? Why should we write at all when there’s talk of registries and walls, privatizing education and repealing health care?

And then I remember Eugene Ionesco’s play, The Rhinoceros. If you weren’t an English or Drama major, you may not know it, but it’s a phenomenal work in which, in a far-too-simple synopsis here (sorry Professor Dunn!), a rhinoceros comes to town and people debate it, ignore it, and eventually normalize it. Then, they become the rhinoceros, willingly abdicating their humanity in favor of the force and power of the rhino. Only Berenger, our protag, refuses to capitulate as the whole world turns rhino.

And that is one demonstration of the value of what we do as artists and writers. Ionesco wrote the play in 1959 as a response to the rise of Fascism and Nazism prior to World War II. The play is still relevant today.

What we writers write in these unsettled times serves many purposes:

1) Helping us, the writers, stay sane (which allows us to show up fully for our families, jobs, and activism work)

2) Providing respite, laughter, and contemplation for people fighting difficult fights (Never underestimate the value of escapist literature in mental health!) Don’t self-censor your stories by thinking they’re not ‘important’ in these new times

3) Providing cautionary tales for future generations

4) Resisting, resisting, resisting normalcy of the rhino with every word in us

The coming years promise unfamiliar ground for many of us. Be vigilant. Take a stand for the rights of others. We all will need each other.

Writers are often the canary in the coal mine of societies’ trajectories. Don’t stop sending the signals. We never know which ones will be heard. Be gentle and compassionate with yourselves as you find the ways of resistance that work for you.

But do not, do not, do not become the rhino.

New Beginnings

Pseudo-Chagall cat I made on the iPad with Paper53. 🙂 I’m experimenting with doodling and daily drawing as a connection to the writing process (making no assertions that I am a professional visual artist — it’s just for fun.)

I want to return to blogging once a week. I’ve missed it and I’ve missed a regular communication with readers, but I’ve struggled over what a blog “should” be, and I fell into the trap that I needed to always deliver “measurable content” and that shut me down and took my voice away. I felt like I had to be teaching to be valuable, but I really wanted to share experiences and struggles. I’m learning all the time. The things I eventually teach in a formal setting came about through lots of mistakes and missteps. Those things that are the underbelly of being an artist are what interests me. The blogs and feeds I enjoy are ones that are talking about the artist’s struggles, not the ones that are offering me 10 Tips to a Bestseller.

I’m always happy to talk about craft, but I do that all day long and that doesn’t push me forward as an artist. I’ve been wrestling with how to manage social media and my writing career for several years, and then the election happened and I plunged into despair. But now I’m regrouping, getting back up, stronger and more focused and more committed than ever to the power of writing and language.

I don’t want to make noise. I don’t want to shout at you. I am a writer. And I’m an introvert. And I’m tired of pretending to be things I’m not. I’ll never shout the loudest, but I can persevere the longest. So I am claiming that here. One of my super-powers is persistence, followed closely by discipline. So hey, silent, non-sexy strengths, welcome aboard!

I’m still sussing out what the blog will primarily be, and it will take time to find its legs, but it will be more personal than ‘how-to’. Perhaps short essays, a poem or two, a piece of flash fiction — and a doodle that connects to where I am in my daily creative process. They’ll be short. Once a week.

I’ve been cyber-stalking @Lin_Manuel, the Pulitzer Prize winning creator of all things Hamilton (and many more!) and his Twitter feed has become an inspiration to me, not a place to feel tense and to fight and to shout.

Above, he tells us a little about his approach. He wants his feed to be a place of reprieve and release for people who are fighting hard fights. He recognizes that he can control what he puts into the world but not the world itself. That’s important to me as a writer and a human.

America has hard fights ahead of it. We each need to use our super-powers to do the work that is ours to do. I think one of the hardest challenges is determining what that work is. It’s easy to mistake the outrage for the work. It’s easy to get distracted by the sheer magnitude of what needs to happen. As Meryl Streep said at the Golden Globes, “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

This will be an experiment for me and my relationship with my creative work and with an audience. So if you’ve read my books and like my work and want to follow along and see what I’m up to and thinking about, please do. You can have it sent to your e-mail or you can find it on FB/Twitter/Tumblr. And if it doesn’t excite you, no worries.

I’m still writing books, and I’m still showing up for the silence of my office at dawn. And I’m always, always using language as my tool for activism and resistance.