It’s late where I am, on a Sunday. Outside, the evening is quiet — no birds chirping an odd night song, no owls, no turkeys announcing their victory over our November feasts. No sirens, no voices of neighbors, no train whistles, nothing. The only sounds are the clicking of these keys under my fingers, the quiet music streaming from my laptop, and the slow, persistent tick-tick-tick of the analog clock I have sitting up on the bookshelf behind me. Oh, and there goes an airplane overhead.
What are the sounds where you are right now? If you close your eyes, take a deep breath and then pause, what can you hear?
Sometimes I have to go back to the beginning. In the aftermath of this election, this might be one of those times to go back to the beginning. To go back to where I started with writing, to go back to the page, the pencil, the play. There’s supposed to be play in there somewhere, isn’t there? To return to writing as a place of radical self care.
In the beginning, I wrote my body. I wrote from the five senses: what I saw, what I heard, what I felt, what I smelled, what I tasted. I wrote what was immediately around me. I wrote what was on my table in the cafe, what the people at the next table were saying to one another, what the room smelled like when the back door opened and a blast of winter blew in; I wrote the concrete physical details of my immediate present.
That is to say, I could come back up from the details of the past into the reality of the now, could move through time on the page.
What are the smells around you right now? What’s the last thing you tasted?
Going back to the beginning means returning to writing as a place to be free, a place to explore and play, particularly when the notebook has become a site of hazard and panic, when every time I sit down to write, I think, I've got to say something Important! I have to write out the hardest story now. I have to tell a real truth. I have to get into the pain, the anger, the hurt, the confusion, the ache, the loss, the panic, the fear… and after too many days, weeks, months, years of expecting that sort of writing from myself, I get less and less inclined to sit down at the page. You might not be surprised to hear that. Instead, I want to watch something ridiculous on tv, or take my dog for a long walk through the live oak grove up the hill a ways, or make another loaf of bread. Anything but write more hurt.
The trouble is, there’s a lot of hurt to write these days: my own, my communities’, my friends’, my country’s. And so I can get to a kind of impasse.
Do you ever find yourself in a situation like this, where the thing you’ve done to take care of yourself, the practice you’ve turned to for solace and clarity starts to feel somewhat radioactive, less like a space of invitation and creativity and more like a have-to, a should, an ought?
Radical self care is a phrase I first heard in activist communities, for those of us who have been convinced or who convinced ourselves that self care is for the weak, or is indulgent, or maybe is ok for those folks over there but we, well, we have to finish this grant proposal and then write those last three poems we said we’d send to that community chapbook and then put the finishing touches on the podcast we promised to do for our friend’s organization and then do our shift at the crisis hotline and then and then and then … when the revolution is won, then we can take a break for some self care.
When the revolution comes, what sort of life do you want to be living? What happens if you take the time, at least once a day, even for just a few minutes a day, to live that life now? How will you work? How will you play? What if you set a timer for ten minutes and wrote—try not to think too much about what to say, try not to censor yourself or edit or make yourself write it “right,” 'cause there's no such thing here—about what that life will look like, feel like, smell like, taste like, sound like?
Be easy with you, ok? And thank you, today and on all the days, for your good, good words.