Rose

Book of Fire {a poem}

Photo: Rey Seven

To you
hurt in the crossfire
of my confusion
I’m sorry

To you
harmed in the chaos
of my coming out
I’m sorry

To you
hit by the clamor
of my clarity
I’m sorry

To you
for telling me
to take up all the room
thank you

To you
for emboldening me
to be my own witness
thank you

To you
for bearing witness
when I was so frightened
thank you

To you
for believing (in) me
when I startled awake
thank you

To you
reading these words
stand in your own bold knowing
stop beating yourself up
apologize
and make right what you can

Let her go
who holds you hostage
in a room with no doors

Let him be
responsible
for his own growing

Trust yourself
and stay close
to the places where sustenance
comes easily
the woods
ice cream
the voice
of that one friend
who always answers

Accountability
and self-forgiveness
have their own fan club
for two
check under your door
for a personal invitation
today only
and tomorrow, too
and the next day
as long as it takes

The keys
the answers
the way

These are in you
as sure
as the air
you breathe
and the poison
you exhale thirty thousand times
every day

To you
who waited
and watched
and loved me
as I learned to be still
thank you

I will return
this gift
even as it dissolves
into daylight

I will practice
listening hard
looking closely
laughing freely
and raging
with reason
on your behalf

We are not the same
you know
but our roots are tangled
together
deep
beneath
the frozen winter ground

Somewhere
there’s a book of fire
a desert
a crossing
a circle of dancers
a tribe of scholars
a place where
we stood
before the earth
shifted and we had to choose
sides

Somewhere
the broken spaces
where borders became
perilous thresholds
still remember
our suffering
and our joy

To you
who wakes
with a glimmer
of memory

To who
who makes
coffee the night before
and brings it to your lover
in bed
to you who longs for
a lover
to you who left your lover

To you who said I can’t
to you who said I won’t
to you who said no more
to you who said I’m sorry
to you who said I’m not sorry
to you who said nothing
and regretted it later
to you who said nothing
to save your life
or another’s

Somewhere
the embers
remember
you

Rose

Being a Grownup

giving to all her questions just one answer: 
In you, who were a child once–in you.

~ Maria Rainer Rilke, from “The Grownup”

Being a grownup means not doing it just because everyone else is doing it. It means recognizing that in truth we have little idea what anyone else is really doing or how they’re doing it. It means understanding that we all have so many selves, so many layers, so much that goes unknown and unseen.

Being a grownup means taking the pressure off.

Picture an open wound — blood that won’t stop. Yes, absolutely, applying steady pressure can be a necessary and even lifesaving measure until the paramedics arrive to take over.

But when you’re still applying all that pressure years later, long after the wound has closed and the ridgeline of scar has become simply part of the landscape of your body, of your days, that is when you can step away. Slowly left your hands and see the miracle of what has repaired itself over time. To be a grownup is to remove your hands. Don’t hide the scar; it is the topography of your soul now, mountainous here and cavernous there, with long stretches of nothing but sand, water, and sky.

Grow up and see that all along, you contained answers only you could discover and decipher.

They lived in you like so much starlight that had to travel for many years to reach your heart, your consciousness. Grow up, and learn delicate art of listening for these answers that appear when you least expect them, that don’t discriminate between cityscapes and lush forest and mountain stream, splendor and squalor.

The answers within you can slip out anywhere. Be aware.

Beware those who insist that for a sum, they’ll lead you somewhere you’ll never find on your own. No one else has the map of you. Run to those whose clues make you light up in recognition, cry with relief, or feel you’ve found your place on this earth.

Find the silences where you can hear your own voice echoing off the rocks. Whatever your element, spend as much time as you can there. And when you find yourself in exile — which you will, when you’re a grownup — trust that your longing will lead you home.

Have faith that you will get to return to the place where all of the answers greet you, like the beloveds you lost along the way. Grow up and see for yourself: You belong.

Rose

Eleven Things I Learned in Physical Therapy That Relate to Writing + Life

childs-poseI started physical therapy last week for the first time ever. It’s probably long overdue; I’ve had some lower back stiffness and pain on and off for nearly a year now. My first appointment with a kind woman named Rebecca resulted in a little worksheet with drawings of a person lying on their back — single knee to chest stretch, double knee to chest stretch, isometric abdominal exercise for core stability.

Today, I went back for the second time. For 45 minutes, I enjoyed the novelty of focusing on a single thing: My lower back. I could practically hear my body thanking me for listening. I made some mental notes during our session. Now it’s later, and I’m sitting here in the yellow chair that is probably not great for my back, the sun streaming in through south-facing windows warm on my hands over the keyboard.

Here’s what I learned today during physical therapy, that I’m pretty sure I can apply to writing and life.

1. Be honest.

Rebecca: How’d it go this week? 
Me: Well [looking down]… I didn’t really do my homework.
R: Thanks for telling me.
Me: Reminds me of writing, or anything, I guess. It’s easy to make excuses, when really, I just didn’t do the exercises.
R: Well, let’s get started and see how today goes.
Me: Great.

That was it. She asked, I told her. And now? We added a few things, and it’s up to me to decide how important this is to me and what will help me commit. Lying about what I did or didn’t do is certainly not going to alleviate my pain.

2. Pay attention and slow down.

Rebecca: You might want to hold each of these stretches for about 30 seconds.
Me: Wow, that makes me realize how fast I’m usually going.
Rebecca: Exactly.

The sensations and movements, like the learning itself, are so subtle sometimes you could miss them altogether if you rush through. Awareness of what’s happening requires slowing down — something that comes as a revelation all over again.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had on Sunday; at one point, I asked a question and then launched into a story, only pausing when the person I’d asked pointed out that I had said I wanted to hear her thoughts. I wasn’t paying attention. This doesn’t have to mean I was too much, it just means “push pause.” Undoing shame around this is a practice itself.

3. A little is more than nothing.

Me: I always tell the people in my writing groups that some words are more than no words.
Rebecca: Right. It’s like that here, too. Some movement is more than no movement. 

Will I do ALL of the exercises today and tomorrow, before my next appointment on Thursday? I don’t know yet. But I will do some. And that will more than before, which was none. Enough said. More words is more than no words. Five seconds is more than no seconds. Seriously, it is that simple.

4. Most things don’t happen suddenly.

As we were talking about various yoga poses this morning, I flashed on classes I took as long as 15 years ago, when I would avoid certain back bends or find myself seeking relief in child’s pose. Why? My lower back ached. I also remembered feeling that same ache after a long day of walking in NYC or Boston — as a teenager.

In other words, it suddenly became clear to me that no single injury, incident, or accident had landed me in Rebecca’s PT office.

My natural (hyper-extended) posture + two pregnancies + running + not much core strength + time = pain that had finally become chronic enough not to ignore.

How bad does something have to get before it warrants your time and attention?

5. It’s nice to have help.

Oh, it felt so good to lie on the table, even on top of that paper covering that gets all creased and makes that papery sound. To let her bend my leg, her hands on my knee and heel respectively, yielding completely to the movement she initiated. It felt good to be learning useful things.

It felt good to be doing something about something that hasn’t been working — and to have some guidance about how to do this safely and effectively in ways I could take home.

It felt good to have help.

6. You can’t know in advance.

My hope, of course, is that working with a physical therapist and learning what I can do on my own will pay off with pain relief and greater strength. It’s likely that I’ll get out of it what I put into it.

This reminds me of something Krishna Das said at the Kirtan we went to last weekend:

“We want to know what chanting will do — to us, for us — before we chant. And there’s no way to know. You can only begin and, in his words “keep singing.”

It is so simple as to be obvious that this applies to not just chanting, but… everything. No matter how many people before you have walked a given path, there is no precedent, ever, for your own lived experience. The deeper you go, the more your own body and mind and heart and choice and voice may surprise you.

And the fact remains: There’s no way to know in advance how it will go or what it will “do” for me, no matter what “it” is.

I don’t always have the most disciplined track record. When did I stop stretching? I asked Rebecca at one point (as if she’d be able to tell me). But what I didn’t do doesn’t matter. And while there’s no predicting how this will go, I’ve signed up to give it a shot and see what happens. My job is to keep singing, er, stretching.

7. no one else can do it for you.

Unless you live in some kind of cool sci-fi world where people have actual body-doubles, there’s no surrogate for you. I am the only one who can take  the time today — five or ten minutes at a pop, say — to take care of my body. Nobody else is going to do it, nor could they even if they offered.

Whether it’s on the yoga mat or the blank page, there’s no substitute for the ordinary yet radical act of showing up.

8. change happens. so does inertia.

If I go to physical therapy and do my homework, I may see changes in my body. My hope — my expectation — is that these will be positive changes. Improvement. I’ve defined this as less pain, more mobility, and greater strength and endurance.

If I don’t go to physical therapy, or I go but don’t do jack shit at home, I may also see changes in my body. My guess is that things will at worst, worsen, and at best, continue to go the way they’ve been going — a little something we call inertia.

In this case — where there is actual pain — I am essentially inviting more pain but doing nothing. The changes that will happen may be negative; they will hurt, they will limit me in some ways, and I will have to adjust other things in my life around that.

Inertia is not an inherently good or bad thing, but it is a thing. And it is, to some degree, a choice. 

9. don’t wait.

If you’re hurting — whether it’s your body, your heart, or your mind that hurts — don’t ignore yourself. I say this knowing full well how easy it is to put stuff off, to say we don’t have time. In fact, I said that to Mani last week — on my way to PT, no less! I believe our exact dialogue went like this:

Me: I don’t have time for PT. 
Her: You don’t have time for not PT.

(Wise, that one, isn’t she?)

If you don’t know where to start, start right where you are. Write something down. Make a list of symptoms, whether they’re physical or emotional, specific or vague. Tell a friend, cast a line, or make the call.

10. trust yourself.

Always. Both with doctors and teachers, I’ve had experiences when I pushed aside my own experience and deferred to the “expert.” Every time I’ve done this, it caught up with me. I “paid” for not listening to my body or not taking my own instincts seriously. Just because someone has professional training does not mean they know more about you than you do.

At the end of the day, only we can know what it feels like in there. (May we encounter practitioners who value and respect this dance.)

11. the world needs us whole.

We can do so much more from each other when we’re tending to our own pain rather than lobbing it at each other or hobbling around hurting and unable to deal.

**

These insights may not be life-changing or new. But more and more, I find that it’s revisiting the small things that makes for big changes in my life — all of it, the loving, the working, the writing, the having a body thing. One knee lift and one word, at a time.