I wrote a note today to a 6th grade friend who made calls for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and thought I’d post it here.
Thank you for the brave work you did in calling strangers and encouraging them to vote for Hillary Clinton. Even though she didn’t win the election, I hope you know that your work matters and it was not in vain! I keep learning in different ways that every time we stand up, we give permission to others to stand up, too. It is a burden to be an every day leader (as you are) but it is so incredibly important to harness our voices and our courage, and to stand up and speak. You never know who you reached the other day with your calls, whose ready heart you have inspired to action. We have so much work to do. But with sisterhood, we can do it.
You are an inspiration!
“Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.” –Cheryl Strayed, “The Love Of My Life“
A stunning and exceptional book from Graywolf Press
I’m so grateful that my dear friend Melissa Tinker gave me a copy of Maggie Nelson’s amazing and gorgeous work of humanity otherwise known as The Argonauts. I adore this book, for about a million reasons. I have so much to say about it, and will, when time and thought allow. For now, here’s what I have stolen from the book today.
Sometimes as a writing warm-up, it’s useful to type up someone else’s well-written words. Today I typed up from p. 98 of The Argonauts. As someone who has struggled all my life with equivocating and unnecessary apologizing, this passage speaks to me.
Maggie Nelson writes:
“Afraid of assertion. Always trying to get out of ‘totalizing’ language, i.e., language that rides roughshod over specificity; realizing this is another form of paranoia. Barthes found the exit to this merry-go-round by reminding himself that ‘it is language which is assertive, not he.’ It is absurd, Barthes says, to try to flee from language’s assertive nature by ‘add[ing] to each sentence some little phrase of uncertainty, as if anything that came out of language could make language tremble.’
My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have no excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later an slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.
At times I grow tired of this approach, and all its gendered baggage. Over the years I’ve had to train myself to wipe the sorry off almost any work email I write; otherwise, each might begin, Sorry for the delay, Sorry for the confusion, Sorry for whatever. One only has to read interviews with outstanding women to hear them apologizing. (Monique Wittig). But I don’t intend to denigrate the power of apology: I keep in my sorry when I really mean it. And certainly there are many speakers whom I’d like to see do more trembling, more unknowing, more apologizing.”
—Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 98
Here are some words that arrived as I was waking up this morning. So I wrote them down.
I am from You don’t get to name me. I am from Give me enough time and I will name myself.
I will turn over all the stones and I will find what I need for the naming; I will find the paint and the bones and the breath. I will find the nest of flowers and I will find the eggs.
In the hunting-places it is so quiet that you can put your ear on the ground and hear nothing, hear forever. You don’t need to speak there; you don’t even need to keep your eyes open.
You will read my name in my hair. You will wind my shed hairs into a lute and play the song that is my name. I will shed hairs and weave a web and write my name in my sleep.
Purple prose, to be sure.
His music was the color of the sky of my coming of age. His potency and unapologetic thrust toward LIFE made room for us to do the same…and by “do,” I don’t only mean do the nasty…he named things we could only stumble through feeling, back in our half-formed days…he was able to let the quivery bits of being a vulnerable human shine through, but refused to let that vulnerability stop him…when I think of the iconic flirtation in the geometry of his mouth…he was such a beautiful gamester…I don’t want to make him into a messiah…but there’s something about a world where Prince’s style of shiny permission-giving could be part of my teenage life so casually, so almost accidentally, that makes me believe there COULD be a messiah like Prince…
I made this.
My essay “Hot Thing” (about menopause) was published last Sunday on The Rumpus. (You can read it here.) In the literary community, The Rumpus is a big deal, and I’ve never had anything published there. And to any woman, writing an essay about something as personal as menopause is a big deal. (Theme emerges; to me, this whole event is a big deal.)
(I’m grateful to Zoe Zolbrod and Martha Bayne, editors at The Rumpus, who asked thoughtful questions and helped me fortify the essay and say what I meant to say. May all writers have the experience of working with such helpful editors along the way!)
It’s also a big deal because they chose to use my original art alongside the essay. I was glad to be asked what I wanted them to use. To answer, I thought about the essay, extracted themes and images. Flames, visibility and invisibility, beauty, mess…The day before I sent the final revision, the image of Venus rising appeared. When I should have been working on edits, I printed the Venus image. On tracing paper with a felt pen, I sketched her lines and contours, placed the paper over various backgrounds, finally settling on a painting of the moon which I made decades ago. And from a photograph of autumn leaves torn from a discarded Glen Helen calendar, I cut flames. Pieces arranged but not glued down, I took a photo and sent it. I felt self-conscious about presenting the art (because I’m an amateur) but blazed ahead anyway. That they chose to use this image validated what I tell my students: Trust your instinct.
So that’s part of the story of this essay.
Another part is that that publication of “Hot Thing” inspired a 2:30am craft essay about writing the essay, which I am now hatching. Not sure where it will end up, but I’m holding on to the tail of the kite.
Another—maybe most important—part is of the story is that I am claiming this new phase in my life. As I put words and images into the world, I am no longer practicing the art of invisibility.
This was a real thing I saw in the Glen…frost in the center, moss on a cut stump. Eternal.
With certain kinds of new endeavor, I often feel completely unprepared (=like a fraud). But this day, as I quickly prepare for the next new work, I realize I have everything I need. I have worked for years to prepare the ground; the green tendrils peek from the soil. It’s all there, always been, breathing, waiting to stretch…