a girl named hannah
with the intent to hurt,
was once very successful.
i don’t know what kind of darkness inside
would lead a person
to form a goal
to hurt some poets…
of all people,
but i imagine it is a person who is
wounded with bitterness
afraid of connection
and who fills her free time with cruelty instead of creativity.
someone who is probably hurting deeply herself.
she mostly sat silently in the back
of the twice-monthly open mic.
though a few times
she stood in front of the crowd to share her poems too,
poems which used the word ‘cunt’ a lot.
and then she went home.
little did we know
she was harboring hatred and anger
towards people who had also
simply had the courage
to stand there
and share what they had written too.
some were lifelong poets
but many were new to the art.
some had only just written their first poem the week before
but they were all welcomed
by myself and others who stood in support of creativity,
creativity at any level,
twice a month
in celebration of words.
and it was they
that she lobbed her arrows at:
the brave and unsteady
who were trying something new
she spoke of them harshly,
calling them hacks
calling their words amateurish
laughing at their still-developing writer-voices.
a girl named hannah
with the intent to hurt,
was once very successful.
she didn’t have the courage to stand in front of us
and say her words aloud
so she published them
as a contributed editorial
in our small-town newspaper
and she hid.
she never showed her face again
at our twice-monthly gathering
in celebration of poetry.
but her words reached us still.
her words hurt those she aimed her vitriol at,
and they hurt me,
who had created the gathering
offered the opportunity
offered my words
offered space and time and money and encouragement
in celebration of creativity.
many years have passed,
and i’ve written many words since then
(some of them were even poems)
and i’m sure all the others have as well.
and i wonder if hannah is happy today.
i wonder if she remembers fondly
she aimed poison arrows
at those who had the courage
to try something new
to put themselves out there
in the name of
the appreciation of life
and connection with others.
i wonder if she is still thinking of ways to hurt poets.
perhaps she has moved on
to clubbing baby seals
or plucking rose seedlings from the earth
or stealing milk from babies
or pissing on the sacrament
or farting near old people in wheelchairs
or bullying gay middle-schoolers
or telling newlyweds they’ll be divorced soon
or tripping kindergarteners as they run by
or telling teenage girls they are fat and ugly
or spiking diabetics’ food with sugar
or stealing sandwiches from homeless shelters
or throwing puppies into raging rivers
or funding tyrannical and oppressive world leaders
because the kind of person
to hurt poets,
to silence poets,
is the kind of person who
probably has a dreamless sleep of fear inside her heart.
and who probably hasn’t changed much.
and who probably needs poetry the most.
I wrote this piece for a writing workshop that was led by novelist Bernice McFadden. Our prompt was to write in third person about something we were ashamed of. At first I said, “I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done! This assignment isn’t for me.” Turns out, I actually was a bit ashamed… of something I hadn’t done.
“A year without poetry”
For years she was known for her words. She was known for her ability to knit syllables, sounds and meanings together in ways that led people to feel, think, imagine, and be moved by emotion. Her poetry did what E.L. Doctorow said all poetry is supposed to do — not simply describe the rain, but give the listener the feeling of being rained upon.
Once, her poetry made a man lose his motor skills; while listening rapt to the river of words flowing from her mouth, he lost his grip on the 16oz pint glass in his hand, and his microbrew went crashing to the floor of the bar. People driving by in cars would pass her on the street and be compelled to hang out the window and call out, “Poet speak!” Whether for intimate gatherings of 10, or enormous halls of 1000, there was no stage she was afraid to stand in front of and speak her poetry for. She wrote constantly and prolifically, scribbling on napkins while at red lights and speaking into a hand recorder while going 70MPH down the highway. She was a poet, the poet, the person that people told her they thought of when they thought of “poetry.”
But after a time, the weight of this role — the never-ending expectation of openness and creativity — began to get to her. And she wanted to know how people would relate to her if they didn’t have their opinion of her as a poet to influence them. And so she moved far far away, and in her new city she put her poetry in the closet. The words stayed in the pen. The voice stayed in her throat. The blank books stayed empty, and eventually they stayed on the store shelf, never coming home with her at all. She still journaled and did her morning pages to keep her sanity. Processing life still required putting some words on paper. But less and less of those words could be called poetry. And then the journaling itself slowed to a crawl, a slouch, a stop. Her year without poetry became two, then three, then four.
Then, at the start of one big beautiful new year, the journals also met their end. Eaten by flames and let go in the spirit of release, they all burned. Eighteen years of journals devoured by fire. This was not done with sadness, anger or bitterness. To the contrary, this was done with appreciative release and happy non-attachment. She was pleased about the openness that this release created in her life. She was excited to step into a new life that was undefined by the experiences of the past.
And still, she wasn’t writing poetry. By now she was hardly writing anything at all. Psychics and shamans and tarot card readers all independently identified her as a poet, but still, she refused to write. Strangers approached her and asked if she was a performer, a singer, an artist, a writer, a poet — they could see the creator within her, but still, she wasn’t writing poetry. She told some friends she was taking a break. She told some friends she was writing a little. She told some friends that her interests had changed and that she wasn’t interested in poetry anymore. All of these things were both true and lie.
She felt proud that she let herself take a break from writing when she had wanted to take a break. And she felt ashamed to be wasting a gift that at one point had given her life, and the lives of those who heard her words, great meaning.
So she started writing again, in tiny bits, tiny poems, tiny ways. And damn, was she rusty. She was embarrassed by these shaky compositions, afraid that other writers and poets would judge them as worthless amateur bullshit. There would be no indication that she was once great. She feared that she had let her gift wither away, and maybe it was gone for good.
She felt that she could hardly call herself a writer anymore, because you see, the word ‘writer’ implies present tense…it is ‘one who writes’, not ’one who used to write.’ The word ‘writer’ implies that the writing is happening now, the same way that in this moment, you are a breather, a reader, a listener, a blinker, a thinker. It felt harder to “come out” as a poet now, than it did to just exist as a poet then. But still, despite the shame and the fear, she continued to wonder. Wondering if, with practice, it would return. Wondering, if she went back to her well, would there indeed be water to drink?
Yeah I guess you could say I slowed down. Two months away from posting and it feels like a lifetime.
In the last eight weeks, I slowed down my digital connection and deepened my nature- and relational- connections. When I saw Charlene deGuzman’s short film “I Forgot My Phone”, it made me take an intentional step back from being online and plugged in, pulling me even more off the grid than I already am here in the jungle of Hawaii.
But in a way, I missed something too. I missed the creative spark that I got from writing blog posts, posting photos and short poems. I missed the interaction with my blog followers, the strangers and friends who seem to appreciate these tidbits I share. I missed feeling like I was building something, making something, on a regular basis. And the time slipped — no, flew — by.
It was a quiet blur of a hiatus. And I’m kinda glad it’s over.
It’s been beneficial to sit with my own thoughts. I mulled over the life-improvised lessons of the Self-Love Endurance Academy and felt free to jump into spontaneous road trip adventures sans technology (I even left my ipod and camera at home). I saw wild dolphins leaping and dancing at sunset and a lightning storm over the ocean. I camped on gray sand often visited by sea turtles and snorkeled with black and white striped fish over brilliant pink brain coral.
And I have no evidence of any of this, except the vibrant memories in my own mind. Experiencing something without documenting it is a silent, cellular integration. You can truly feel the moment as it rushes by in slow motion. That’s right..rushes by in slow motion. Feel it. Without a camera, pen or video, you record the experience with your every atom, not needing to share your attention with buttons and dials and LCD screens. It’s a good thing to do every now and then.
But with the start of this new month, I’ve been feeling really drawn to come back to this blog with fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. I’m open to discovering new things to share, and have made a new commitment to my writing practice, my art practice, my creative practice.
It’s good to be back.
Get ready, people. Tonight has given birth to The Self Love Endurance Academy.
The last few weeks have been a doozy. There was a false start to a beautiful relationship (now entirely defunct, as in, no, I don’t want you to email/call me ever again), coupled with battling the demons of insecurity screaming I-don’t fit-in-with-anyone-and-btw-have-I-ever?
I felt like I was about to lose my mind so I took myself on a solo trip across this big island. I spent three consecutive days submerged in the salty beating/bath of the Pacific Ocean, asking for some divine and powerful help. I took note of the fact that on every single day of that watery journey, a sea turtle came to visit me, and I’ve since looked up the meaning of sea turtle as a spirit guide…wowza. That feels special.
And in those aching appeals, I knew that I most needed to remember was that I mattered to the universe, and part of that was remembering that I matter to myself. I asked and I asked and I asked for a sign, some proof that my calls would not go unanswered… that I wouldn’t have to face this healing alone…some validation that someone was listening on the other end of the line.
And when I looked at the sand directly under my hand in the shallow ocean bay that I was floating in, I saw this perfectly heart-shaped stone/coral right under my hand. “Self-Love,” it whispered. “All you need is (self)love. And it’s right underneath your fingertips.”
It seems that the way out of the darkness is always lit by the light of self-love.
Salty tears mixing with the salty ocean, I accepted the invitation. Exuberantly. Anxiously. Willingly.
I’ve never been the kind of person prone to self-loathing or anything, generally thinking “yeah, I’m a pretty awesome person,” but this is different. This is a step up to never saying “God, I’m really fucked up” when I fuck something up. Not feeling permanently broken when my communication skills fail me in one particular conversation. Not feeding the Beast of Unworthiness when someone else fails to see how magnificently worthy I really am.
Over the last three decades, I’ve been a spotty self-lover. The good juju has been there exuberantly on good days, …and a bit harder to locate on days that bring tears and sad songs — y’know, the days that need a hearty mugful of self-love THE MOST.
The Self Love Endurance Academy is a reminder that just because we mess things up, it doesn’t mean that we are messed-up people. This is a reminder that we’re to speak to ourselves in the same words that we would want someone to speak to us with,…like, when we were 5 years old. Gently, lovingly, compassionately, and with loving as the main motive for any redirection, correction or change.
It’s a reminder that practicing self-love can sometimes feel like an endurance marathon training session, and that’s ok, because this kind of love, baby, is for the long haul. So, yes, it needs endurance training.
LOVE OF SELF 101.
If there was ever any subject worth committing oneself to studying, practicing and mastering, it’s Self-Love. And I am enrolling in that ish tonight.
There’s plenty of room for new students. The classroom is everywhere we are. The required reading is right there, alive and pumping inside your chest. The tests will come, and they will always be pop-quizzes, so you better practice so that you’re not knocked you on your ass when those icky surprises come. Class is starting and there’s an open seat right next to me….want me to save it for you?
This new moon brought me to like Michael Jackson said, looking “at the man in the mirror” and facing the precipice of a change that I’m laying seeds to grow in my life. Nothing like a dark night of the soul to illuminate the path…
Cosmically right on time, a friend shared this terrific article by Jeannine Hall Gailey entitled You Are Not Tethered to Darkness — and other advice on how to survive hard times. In it, Gailey helps those of us stumbling through a dark time to see that a way through is to remember what tethers us to light.
“…realize first you don’t have to drag all your bad news around you, like a heavy cast iron piece on a rope, all the time. Leave the cast iron piece at home. Untie the rope…”
By sharing personal stories on what and how she’s been through lately, her article was an easy (and timely) reminder that everyone goes through the darkness sometimes…but it doesn’t mean that that’s where we have to live. Thank you Jeannine for the encouragement and inspiration!