I have no words… so I write

There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. — Toni Morrison

This quote by Toni Morrison, one of my favorite, popped up in my Instagram timeline this morning. When I read it, tears already at the surface, once again overflowed. The only thing I know to do when my emotions are too big is to write.

For most of my young adult life, I’ll admit I was unaware and uninterested in what was happening in the rest of the world. Or even in other states. In other communities.

Then I had a baby.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

We are at war. My daughter has been born into a time of war.

It scares me that my little girl will grow up in a world of conflict, a time of terror. It makes me panic, not for me, but for my daughter. My little innocent daughter, sleeping in her crib, and the world is on the brink of who knows what. My stomach turns at the thought of it.

In Baghdad dogs are barking, startled by the bombing. How real that makes it! Here my dog lies, ears perked up at the sound of his fellow creatures on the other side of the world. Dogs and people will be killed.

Please God make this stop, for the sake of all the parents who love their children.

A war anywhere on this planet suddenly felt too close to home. How could I ever possibly protect this tiny, vulnerable being?

But to imagine that war was outside the door every single day? I can’t. I cannot imagine having to live knowing I couldn’t protect my children, knowing everyday could be my child’s—or my—last.

Last night I stood at the kitchen table, tears streaming down my face, telling that now-seventeen-year-old “baby” about the journal entry I wrote when she was one month and one day old. When I wrote it I never could have imagined how that “time of war” she was born into would evolve.

Iraq war. Afghan war. Terrorist attacks, domestic and non. School shootings. Church shootings. Nightclub shootings. An accused rapist elected to the Supreme Court, another to the Presidency, a would-be-king who is emboldening neo-nazis and white supremacists, and glorifies violence. An increase in hate crimes against Muslims, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Jews. Children locked in cages. Women’s bodies policed and voices silenced still. A recession. A world-wide pandemic.

And now, cities on fire and peaceful protesters tear-gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, beaten in the streets as they call out the latest murder, maybe the most blatant yet, of an unarmed black man — George Floyd — by a police officer. And in the midst of it a president who calls for their violent dispersal so he might walk to a nearby church for a campaign photo op (holding the Bible upside down, btw).

To say I am horrified doesn’t even begin to express what I am feeling. Anger, helplessness, fear, guilt, sadness, disbelief, rage, devastation… there aren’t words big or complex enough to contain this storm cloud roiling in my chest.

I am writer. For me, this loss of words reflects a loss of hope.

What can I do on a cool, bright spring day in Vermont, where such violence is rarely, if ever, seen? Where, today, there are no fires, or gunshots, or righteously angry people calling out for their rights and freedoms and lives. Where, although threatened as everyone else by a virus that knows no boundaries of space or person, my children are relatively safe. Where, due to the color of their skin, discrimination is not something I need to worry about each time they leave the house.
What can I do? I’ve donated to an organization who knows what to do. But what else?

My words seem pointless, even self-serving, in the huge scheme of things. What do they matter? I truly don’t know. My personal reaction to what’s going on will make no difference at all.

But silence seems a worse choice.

So I speak. To show my support, to send a message into the ether that in my heart I am with everyone who is fighting for their right to be seen, to be heard. For their children not to be killed.

And although I don’t quite understand how my disjointed thoughts and inadequate words help in this moment, I choose to believe Toni Morrison, choose not to be silent, choose to believe that to “do language” is how civilizations heal.

I can’t heal this world for my daughter who was born two years after 9/11 and a month before the longest running war in U.S. history began. I can’t heal this world for those marching in the cities. For those communities who are scared, scarred—grieving for every one of their own who has been harassed, threatened, beaten, killed.

As I cried last night I told my daughter I was sorry there is so much hatred, so much fear, and so much pain. Sorry that the world of war and corruption, of racism, sexism, jingoism, toxic capitalism, and every other kind of ism she was born into is the only one she’s known.

Yes, I was crying for her, but she—thank God—is safe. So I was crying too for every person in our country who isn’t. Every peaceful protester, every reporter, medic, store owner, and bystander. I was also crying for every person who lives with the threat of danger every day of their lives.

And most of all I was crying for every mother, father, sister, brother, friend grieving their loved ones lost to violence, lack of health care, incarceration. And now the pandemic too, shining a glaring light on the disparities between the haves and have nots, those who are served by society and those who serve—and run its registers, and collect its garbage, and clean its hospitals.

And I was crying for this country. This broken country.

My heart is broken too. It has broken so many times over the last twenty years. I have shed many, many tears. But I have never cried so hard as I did on December 14, 2012, November 4, 2016, and now June 1, 2020. These days will live with me.

Where the cracks are, so the story goes, is where the light gets in. When something breaks, we humans look for the meaning, we hang onto the hope that disintegration leads to renewal, to change, to transformation.

But…

Nothing changed after Sandy Hook.

Everything changed after the inauguration, but not for the good.

Will anything change after this?

Can we look for the proverbial phoenix to rise from these ashes? I can’t say I feel very positive right now. There are military vehicles driving into D.C. as I write. But could this be the new 1960s? Are we on the edge of positive change? I hesitate to hope. But that and prayers are the only things I have.

Meanwhile, all I can offer are words of love and support and gratitude to those fighting for change. And a message from my younger self:

Please God make this stop, for the sake of all the parents who love their children.

Let the river take me: Learnings from facilitating an at-risk group

I originally wrote this article for Chrysalis, The Journal of Transformative Language Arts (which is currently under maintenance), April 2016 

 

Let the river take me,  a compilation poem

Let the river take me —

Even when it hurts, it breathes with the joy of laughter, undulating.

I choke on life, I’m really here in the world.

I keep trying. I am a survivor.

Manipulate the truth; truth to be heard.

The road to hell is as slow as molasses.

Sometimes it feels like a web of pointlessness — all shit.

I keep trying. I am a survivor.

Let the river take me, to be free.

I’ve come to acknowledge that… my life has been heavily influenced by broken relationships, terrors of my past bad influences or bad teachings from my childhood. Breaking free of the twisted mold of my childhood is no easy task. Knowing, acknowledging, and a desire for change is a beginning. – Grant, “Write to Recover” participant

I can’t deny it: I’ve lived a sheltered existence. I have seen only glimpses of the tougher sides of life – a couple screaming at each other as they walk down my street, an addict sitting in a car on my corner before the dealer’s house was busted, the child at the street fair asking for more free cotton candy because she’s hasn’t eaten all day. 

Continue reading

It is nothing but the first

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of three participants who were writing on the prompt, “A gift…”

sunrise

First sun —

Primal shine of first —

Floating in a pink paradise,

It will always be the same sky.

.

Trapped in my own mind,

Silence covers everything.

I push back, rush forward;

Expecting mind be gone!

I am fearsome!

(Not fear-more or fear-less.)

.

Nuggets of joy, nuggets of time,

It is nothing but the first.

Happeningness

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of three participants who were writing on the prompt, “This I Know…”

flagstone

I am an insoluble riddle,

A caught thought.

A merging, a happeningness.

.

I am the strong and aware one

With a solid world view of the river.

I am strong among the crazies.

.

But at mind’s length, I am a

Wandering consciousness.

I flounder,

I have fear.

I am solid fluidity, a skin sack of ego;

Multiples of movement in an

Entanglement of influence.

.

Abundance?

Let’s find out.

Realize the truth.

Authentic Voice Project (revisited)

This is the first of series I started five years ago (to the day). A lot has changed for me personally and in the world since I wrote these posts, so I’m curious and excited to re-visit them.

For redefinition, I was thrown back to myself, to my inner knowing… Marilyn Sewell, Cries of the Spirit

Words.

Manifestations of our thoughts. Creators of our internal messages. Words have and continue to shape history and people – not always positively and sometimes with devastating consequences. Words have an affect on us, more powerful than we can rationally understand. The words we have heard all our life, depending on the context in which they were originally and/or continue to be delivered, shape our emotional response to them.

If a word has a negative effect on you, it is time to change it. Change its personal meaning — change your (unconscious) emotional reaction. Make it have authentic meaning for you.

So, with the dawn of a new year I am announcing a new writing project: The Authentic Voice Project.

Every two weeks, I will write a post based on a word, starting with A and proceeding through the alphabet. The words will be “trigger” or “loaded” words (or phrases in some cases), either according to society, women, or to me personally. I will attempt to sum up the general or accepted “meaning” of the word and then re-work it to be more personal, more positive, more helpful, more meaningful and authentic — in my own voice.* (And if you have suggestions for any of these words, please leave a comment.)

Obviously, my personal take on a word or phrase will not speak to everyone. But my hope is that it will get you thinking about your own definitions of words you may not even realize have an unconscious affect on you. Please feel free to comment with you own reactions and re-definitions (or possibly guest blog here or in response on your own blog)- every person’s experience is different and equally important, and may resonate with someone else on a level I may not have reached.

Please join me on this quest for Authentic Voice!

* This idea is loosely based on Kathleen Norris’ book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

This is not a political post, it is a processing of grief

This morning I woke to find that the nightmare developing when I finally went to bed at 1AM, the one where the map turned increasingly red, was real. I immediately broke down sobbing. I haven’t really stopped since. My children have never seen me like this; it scared them. I tried to gain control of the whirling weather-map of emotions surging through me, but they were too much.

So, I will try, now that I can see through my waterlogged eyeballs again, to break down these various emotions:

  • Sadness

For my country, for those who had so much hope that “Love Always Wins,” and for those who believed we were finally going to see a woman in the White House. That people have experienced rifts in their friend and family circles during this election.

  • Shock

That which I, and so many millions in this country and around the world, couldn’t even conceive happening, did.

  • Despair and Disillusionment

That half – half! – the population of this country voted for a man who has been shown over and over again to be a crappy — and dangerous — human being. That many of these voters (other than the ones who supposedly voted for him because they felt they had no other choice) don’t believe in love or compassion, don’t believe in equity, don’t believe in diversity, and instead believe, as a bumper stick I saw the other day declared, that what makes America great is God, Guns, and Guts. People who favor above all their whiteness, their sexually-aggressive maleness, and their so-called Christianity; those who prefer a leader who parrots their worst fears back to them and, like some orange fairy godmother, tells them their greatest dreams will come true.

“The charismatic or hypnotic leader who successfully rallies his followers… exhorting Americans to go out and battle the ‘heathen and immoral humanists, feminists, and communists [or socialists or liberals or Muslims]’ — whom they blame for all our world’s ills.”**

It is in despair (and utter bafflement) that I witnessed a man stand in front of the world spewing hatred, fear, and lies, and have his repulsive, illegal behavior excused away or completely ignored by even the smartest of his supporters. I despair that people I know, who I know are fundamentally good and not stupid, can vote for a person who could well take our country to war while denying people healthcare and equal rights — human rights.

  • Fear 

That violence will rise. That hate crimes will increase. That white supremacy will surge. That our Middle-Eastern and Hispanic friends and neighbors will be targeted, including the Syrian refugees who are arriving in my town soon. That families will be separated through deportation. That our gay friends, friends of color, our liberal friends will take verbal or even physical abuse.

“Elites of fascist and communist totalitarian state hierarchies … impose [their word/law/ideology] by force or the threat of force… Obedience and conformity are the supreme virtues. And in both, violence is not only permitted but ordered if it is in service of the officially approved ideology.”**

Fear that our children will see a rise in bullying and name-calling. That our sons will grow up continuing to believe females are inferior and objects for their enjoyment. That sexual assaults will continue to be dismissed as female over-reaction to a male’s right.

That the advances we’ve made in women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, healthcare, etc. will be over-turned. That we will be looking at a country (once again) governed by archaic patriarchal/religious laws. (Sound familiar, Sharia-law fearers??)

“The first policy priority in a male-dominated system has to be the preservation of male dominance. Hence, policies that would weaken male dominance — and most policies that offer any hope for the human future will [i.e. reproductive freedom and equality for women] — cannot be implemented.”**

Fear that this presidency will lead us to war. World and/or civil. That the gun culture will make our country a tinderbox.

That the “hoax” of climate change will endanger our planet to the point of extinction.

  • Anger and Frustration

At all the above. (Plus some at the DNC, the non-voters, the 3rd party voters, the uninformed voters, and those who wanted the country to go to shit to prove some point. And a lot at the electoral college which have gave us a president the majority did NOT vote for.)

  • Love

In times of group grief, love surges. I am so in love right now with the people of my “tribe” who are reaching out over social media to give virtual hugs and inspiration, who are meditating for personal and communal peace, who are taking this as an opportunity to speak out from a place of compassion. A friend on Facebook, after I had posted of my despair, wrote, simply, “I love you.” In those three words I felt the circle of connection tighten, my heart lurch. I began crying all over again but this time it wasn’t out of desperation, it was because of love.

  • Hope

I believe what has happened today is the death rattle of a mindset/heartset which is will no longer be tolerated. The fear-focused individual has a heart in which love cannot flourish. For a long time the worst of these fearful ones have been hidden away. But Trump has drawn them out and legitimatized their fears and hate. They are out in the open now.

While we have been living for a few decades in a world of advancing rights for minorities and human-beings in general, what the majority of us have been able to deny or file away as the point of view of a few disturbed, angry individuals, is staring us in the face. And we are not going to ignore it.

Women have bravely risen up to tell their sexual assault stories — by the millions. People are demanding their human right to healthcare and freedom to make their own choices regarding their body. Women are determined in their right to career options and advancement, and equal pay. The working class are asking to have a living wage and students to be able to be educated without drowning in debt. Activists are working on the behalf of the incarcerated. Bernie will continue to lead us in a fight for social reform and environmental restoration. I could go on and on.

The point is, inequities created in our society by old, tired patriarchal, religious, aggressive-capitalist ideals are no longer tolerated by the majority. As a friend, who just stopped by to give me a much-needed hug, put it, the boil has festered into a pustule. It will burst — and that’s when the healing begins.

Our world is changing. Indeed, writes Riane Eisler in Chalice and the Blade, during a historical period of greater gender equality, when “women obtain relatively more freedom and greater access to education… one of the most telltale signs that the pendulum is about to swing back is the revival of misogynist dogmas.”

Apparently it took a major, uncomfortable kick (and it might be a longer lasting and more painful kick than we would like under the inflammatory rhetoric of our new president) to jump start actions that will get that pendulum swinging the other way. But swinging it always is.

According to Eisler, Cultural Transformational Theory shows that, “following a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption,” when there are unstable states, “a shift from one system to another can occur.”

“What may lay ahead is the final bloodbath of this dying system’s violent efforts to maintain its hold. But the death throes of androcracy [form of government in which the government rulers are male] could be the birth pangs of glylany [partnership society based on gender equality] and the opening of a door into a new future.”

And in that frightening yet hopeful assertion by Eisler, I will hold my hope — a tenuous silver lining — that today wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of a new one.

 

*This isn’t intended as a political post. However, I will say this:

I love Bernie. I supported Bernie. I trust Bernie. Reluctant as I was to have to support someone else, I trusted he knew what he was doing despite any corruption which may have/probably forced him out of the race. And to see a woman as candidate, was, despite my love for Bernie and his message of change, inspiring and exciting.

I was elated that my children would see a woman break the last glass ceiling. And that woman would, I absolutely believe, have continued facilitating positive change for the equal and human rights of women, LGBTQs, people of color, immigrants, children, the sick, the poverty-stricken, the working-class, etc. etc. No, she isn’t Bernie but she is a mother, and an educated and experienced one at that… and, above all, NOT Trump.

I don’t intend this to start a political dialogue. I am too raw to engage right now. But, all other discussions are welcome!

**From Riane Eisler, Chalice and the Blade, which read today like all-too real-right-now prophecies.

 

The next right thing

This poem is the twelfth in a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of five participants who were writing on the prompt, “Opening the door…”

waterfall

Do I laugh or cry?
Sliding down the rabbit hole
on tears of a waterfall,
Into a street of bitterness.

My door shuts.
Big black unknown — cold, blistering —
A lonely place where
I wasn’t allowed to grow.

My fear is in a needle,
I give all hope away.

But morning comes,
The door does open again.

Life keeps moving on,
A simple life that works for me,
One hour at a time.

Now I’m capable of being me,
Not some cheap imitation of me.
So proud of who I am, who I’ve become;
A beautiful blue jellyfish
Melting into a river of love.

Hold the doors open to let more light in,
It’s full of glitter and light.
Life can be good if I allow it to be.
Passion is the key to a colorful life,
Not chasing dragons.

Fear is just a silly word;
Love is calling and cheering me on.
I am never alone and never was —
I am fully connected to my inner child.

I understand me to understand another;
I plant seeds and grow minds,
Creating joy for myself and others —
We learn together.

The miracles are happening and
Everything is possible.
I am onto the next right thing.

I took one step…

These two poems are from a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of four participants who were writing on the prompt, “Dear Traveling Companion…”

friends

I took one step

I knew what to do
I took one step…
It didn’t hurt!
I stepped into my life to
Take a beautiful walk.
I became honest;
I came alive.
A great rhythm
As I trip on, staring up at the stars.
Every step a great adventure…
And free from pain.

 

I was too busy

Why was it your time to leave?
I was too busy?
I thought I saw what I needed to see?
I want to travel together again
Because I see a better life through your eyes.
I want to see the happiness,
To bloom like a spring flower,
To wrap you in the joy I have.
I want to rescue you
Because you bring life into my life.

I am alive and not ashes in the ground

This the ninth in a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of four participants who were writing on the prompt, “To move forward I must…

I have many lessons to learn;
Unlearn things that don’t work,
The too many “shoulds,”
The crazy thinking as a child that has settled
On my shoulders and my heart.

I only get in my way,
A little boy lost in a big wood.
Everything’s discombobulated, but
One step at a time I will move forward.

I have overcome what could have destroyed me —
I am alive and not ashes in the ground!

I have to be upbeat to keep up
And there will be some hellos and some goodbyes.
But I’m able to walk straight,
Leaving the ill-fated voices behind.

I’m the flower lady,
Blooming everywhere.
I have learned to be happy,
The peace I have been looking for…

Never forget me.

I’m strong enough to live through hell

This the eighth in a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of seven participants who were writing on the prompt, “I have learned…”

train

My fear is to melt
Into the status of a nothing.
I’m already quite empty,
There’s just this comfort place inside my head.

Sick people with good intentions
Draw me back into the insanity, where
Behind the smile is a knife,
Under the mean is fear.

Fear’s right in front of me on that
Train back to hell.

I need stilts to boost me into the sky
Where I will not get sucked in.
Thoughts can be redefined —
I can be accountable,
Live without the chase to drugs.

I want to preserve humanity
Build people, walk with them
Connect with everybody,
To be a part of life, a life with hope.

It’s OK to fail –- but I passed.

The day is here and
I feel strong.
I will find peace and make
Sense out of insanity
In the cracks and crevices of my gray matter.

I keep coming back to the best of me.
There is always something better waiting.
I can give myself a break without breaking myself
Because
I’m strong enough to live through hell.