Linear is not my first language. I cried my way through my writing assignments in ENG 101 and 102. Sweating and shaking and cursing and crying was what happened when I would, after procrastinating until the very last minute, finally sit down to write my assignments, but write them I did. If you’re wondering how I got through high school, the answer is… I didn’t. I earned not one single credit at any of the three high schools that I mostly didn’t go to. I’m a high school dropout and a beauty school dropout. I eventually got my GED and I went to college, because I loved to learn and to read and I had a feeling that education was important for my survival.
I managed to pull through these classes with A’s, but not without a struggle that none of my classmates seemed to experience. My whole life had been about survival and my mind was a vigilant protector, seeking safety by flying around creating worst-case scenarios and then conjuring masterful escape routes. Getting my wild mind to sit and stay was like trying to tame a monkey on crack, and because I possessed no tools for taming other than my steely will to survive, I directed this fire-power towards cramming my crazed monkey into the small specified spaces in my writing. I had to take care of myself, after all. I needed to get a college education so I could get a job~ so that I could feed myself~ so I wouldn’t die and so on. I eventually became an ASU drop out too, finding my way into yoga teacher training school, and then somehow several years later to a career as a registered nurse who teaches yoga, meditation, and writing practice.
I’m a long story ☺
I have always written, but I haven’t always called myself a writer. I used to scribble stories on the back of my mother’s many grocery lists that she left on the kitchen table, each story starting with, “One day I was walking down the street…” and on I wrote myself into some adventure like a Jewish horseless Pippi Longstocking. I wrote letter after letter to my best friend who was put in a mental institution when we were thirteen, my hand racing across the page detailing the intoxicants I had consumed the night before, the possibility of pregnancy, and how life seemed to be just a big fat waste of time without her. Those letters sustained me during a very dark time. Somehow I survived my wonder years, and as an adult I filled notebooks with my mind as a way to decompress, to puzzle together my wacky world and to understand the mystery that was me. But I would never have called myself a writer, (BTW, I know you’re “not supposed to” start a sentence with ‘But.’ But, I don’t care. ☺) even though I wrote every day. I wrote just for me and I never shared my writing with anyone.
About seven years ago, a wise and insightful friend told me I should read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I guess he thought I was a writer since I was always writing. I read her book, the stars aligned and a few weeks later I found myself at a weekend intensive in Sedona where she was teaching. Natalie Goldberg is a writer, teacher, and Zen priestess who teaches writing as practice. You know, like meditation practice, like yoga practice, like something you show up for no matter how screamy your monkey is kind of practice.
It was on the Autumnal equinox that I arrived at a high school in Sedona, armed with “Bones,” a notebook and fast writing pens as advised. I sat in the front row of the auditorium, cause I’m that girl who sits in the front of class so she won’t miss anything important that may one day save her life. Natalie sat on stage and casually sipped a kombucha as she told us about her high school teacher who one day turned off the lights in the classroom and asked them to
She told a story about her dear friend Allen Ginsberg, then she led us through a seated meditation, and then through writing practice. Natalie gave us a topic, “Something red…” looked at her watch, and said, “Go!” My mind sprang loose and I wrote and wrote and wrote like a hungry animal digging into a pile of yummy. After a few writing prompts, something shifted. Something settled. I felt the kind of calm that usually cost me at least an hour of vertical hiking or deep breathing and sweaty yoga.
Natalie gave us permission to, “Write the worst shit in America! Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation, or even logic! Keep your hand moving! Go for the jugular! Don’t be polite. “
This practice has taught me to be intimate with my mind. I have developed an awakened relationship with and an acceptance for my mind as it is showing up in the moment. Writing is a relationship with the mind. To trust my own voice and to share it has been revolutionary for me, not just as a writer, but more importantly as a human being. Writing through the layers of anxiety, doubt, excitement, chocolate cravings, ex-boyfriend obsessing, job hating, or whatever else is going on settles my monkey. I then have access to the deeper, slower, and quieter voice that informs my experience and my writing with wisdom. I am more awake in my life. I am more loving and available to others, because I am more loving and available to myself.
All of myself ~ my screaming monkey too. I now lovingly call this part of myself Miss Apocalypse. (Thanks Pam)
Miss Apocalypse still gets a bit buzzy when I sit down to write in straight lines, but I’ve been practicing long enough to develop a deep trust in my process. I mostly don’t cry, but when I do it’s usually because I’ve tapped into my heart, not because my nervous system is certain I’m about to die. I’ve learned to stay with my experience no matter what. I write through to the other side. I keep going.
By practicing yoga I have developed a strong physical spine and through writing practice I’m developing what Natalie calls a strong writing spine. I’ve always been a writer, but it’s taken years of practice to develop a spine that’s springy and bendy and twisty enough to support the authentic and full-blown expression of this one precious human life.
This practice is eternal.