The Girl Against the Wall

resistance

In Sixth Grade I refused to wear boots to school in the snow.  Reason:  I wasn’t interested in spending an hour on the cold snow covered playground at Fairmount School.  Our teacher, Mr. Venner, had all the boys scrimmaging football out there every day.  Since I wouldn’t wear my boots, I was “punished” by spending my recess time leaning against the rust colored brick wall of the school, alone.  My resistance made me happy.

This morning I awoke to the nightmare news that a cartoonish, racist, homophobic, misogynistic rapist had been elected President of the United States.  My first thought was to move.  Run.  I am, afterall, a gypsy at heart.  I’ve had no real physical home for two and a half years.  That’s the lifestyle I have chosen.  I have been lucky and privileged to have financial savings and devoted friends and family who have offered me shelter.

While the notion of moving to Western Canada or to Paris or London dominated my thoughts and seemed appealing, I thought of friends who do not have the same luxury I have, the ability to move.  I have friends who are afraid today for good reason… because they are gay or Muslim or black or ,,,,,or…..or….. And I know in my bones I can’t run.  I know in my bones I have to use my voice now more than ever.

I used to be the silenced one.  My memoir tells my story of childhood sexual abuse and adult domestic violence.  It tells the story of perseverance and strength.  I see now that regardless of how long it takes to publish my book, there will ALWAYS be a teenage girl or a woman in her 30s or 50s who will need to hear my message, the message of so many of us who have survived misogynistic violence.  We are not alone. You are not alone. You can survive too.  One story can offer hope, can reveal a path forward.  And we have so many stories.

Growing up in the Vietnam era, I remember hearing: America, love it or leave it.  But I have never believed that statement.  I have always chosen: America: Love it, or change it.  I awoke today in a country where the majority of its citizens are now in serious danger. After a few hours of lethargy, after reading inspiring facebook posts by Jesse Chandler, Chalet Seidel, Anna March, Pam Houston, Beverly Army Williams, Lidia Yuknovitch, and Kelly Sundberg, I am ready…I am re-charged to stay awake and focused and active.

At the moment, I don’t feel the inner satisfaction and power and joy of my twelve year old self, that girl against the wall, but I will. I have three amazing nieces who deserve a better world than this.  For them and for the countless millions in our country who woke up today in fear of their future, I will resist.  I will do what I can to counter-act any U-turns the next phase of government plans to undertake against the most vulnerable among us. Doing so, resisting policies of racism and sexism and homophobia, will bring me purpose and joy.  Let’s do this together.  Together we are strong.

Take the Long View

santa monica

I don’t recall being taught to ride the waves.  I was tossed in.  Sink or Swim.  Learned to kick my legs to keep my head above water.  Learned to not panic if I swallowed water. Learned to tread water when I was too terrified to move forward.  Taught myself the back float, so I could leave my body and hover serenely in the clouds.  It’s a long way from tide pools and riptides, from churning waves and undertow,  to the soft, calm beach of Malibu.

Santa Fe and Questa were background work for my trip to Los Angeles.  Three months of New Mexico winter, of the push-pull between complete isolation and the community of small towns and old friends.  Los Angeles began with reconnecting to a friend and family I knew well 30 years ago in the early 1980s, when I lived and worked and dreamed in West Los Angeles.  Where I counted money at Crocker Bank with Niloofar.  Where I partied at Club Lingerie with Shabnam, danced in mosh pits at the Hollywood Paladium swallowing little black pills strangers passed around (Don’t try this at home, kids).  Where I ended up mugged several times with my “friend” Kerry.

Whenever I looked back at those years in LA, I felt I wasn’t capable of taking care of myself.  But returning to Los Angeles, I learned that I can, I have, and I do properly protect myself and I have for years.  Armed with that knowledge, I burst on the city with full enthusiasm.  In the process, I reclaimed myself.  I took buses all over town.  To Santa Monica, to Beverly Hills, to West Hollywood, and downtown.  I was inspired by every neighborhood I walked through.  By Sunset Blvd at night and Malibu by day.  By old friends who had changed and remained the same in similar ways that I had. (Of course, I’m still me, which means I lost my wallet my final day in town…but the Universe was kind and a wonderful man from Virginia returned it, with everything intact.)

At the main event, AWP writing conference, I forced myself to attend workshops and sessions that I normally might avoid.   Workshops on short non-fiction; on magazine writing; and on website writing for venues of interest to a variety of readers.  In addition, I learned that my memoir can be accepted by an agent without being completely finished and polished.  Creative non-fiction can sell with a few strong chapters, a solid synopsis, and an annotated Table of Contents.  NO MORE WAITING FOR PERFECTION!!!!

And so, like the distant mountains and beaches of Malibu, I arrive one arm stroke at a time.  My steps now are clear; they were laid out in front of me by the wisdom of published writers and agents.  All I need to do is stay present in inspiration, keep my head above the waves,  and trust that the water will carry me along: one image, one page, one query letter at a time.

 

Into the Work

desk

(Today’s writing desk….above the Rio Grande Gorge )

AGONY!!! (from “Into the Woods”)

“Beyond power of speech, when the one thing you want, is the only thing out of reach.”

Agony.  That’s exactly what the creative process feels like sometimes.

It’s good to make plans, to have a vision.  To have an intention and an idea where you want to go, what you want to create, do, or become.  But despite all your management, life will intervene.  Maybe Larry’s friend Mike will drop by to chat for an hour while you’re sitting and writing at the little iron cafe table outside your Questa guest house.  And you’ll talk about 400 years of Questa history, of the land that was originally covered with plum and apple orchards, of the local mining work he’s done, the fact that so many couples come to Taos only to split up.  You’ll talk of social security and Syrian refugees and his reservation home in Arizona.  And you wouldn’t want to give that up, even though adrenaline is rushing through your veins, crying: WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.  You’ve learned it isn’t just the land here that’s beautiful, but the people too.

If it’s not neighbors dropping by, then it’s when you’re just sitting down to your log desk, excited to begin the latest writing and editing approach you’ve discovered, only to have the phone ring, and you find yourself on the bed, crouched on all fours, shaking your head, squelching mournful groans as your sister says, “Mom passed away this morning.”  And your voice won’t work but the noise in your head refuses to stop rationalizing,,,,but she just had a birthday, but we just spoke, but she can’t,  but… but…..

And you find yourself that way for days, but now the agony had found its way through your vocal chords and you wake up in unstoppable, breathless sobs. You haven’t written in days, and if you stay in the house, you’re floating on the ceiling, hiding from the body’s pain.  Talk about life imitating art….talk about you, the out of body girl, still relying on her old coping mechanisms.

So, how do you do it?  How do you get back into the writing? The morning you sit down to try, your computer has decided it no longer understands how to read your documents…..so off the laptop goes through the mail to magician Michael Kaplan.  And Jesse reminds you, despite your contract with the universe, the universe has its own plans, and you need to honor the process.

And you realize the only thing left to do is go back to basics.  Back to pen and paper, back to the large unlined sketchbooks you’ve always loved.  And if you find yourself on the trail down to the junction of The Red and Rio Grande Rivers without your notebook, you use what you have with you to write on…an old grocery store receipt.  And rock and paper become your writing desk.

And because your heart aches most days, and your mother hasn’t visited your dreams yet, you read Joy Harjo’s book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.  You come across this line: “What will I do without you? How will I find you again in the woven story of dark and light?”

And the next morning you awake….from a dark place in space, from a raven croaking, from your mother’s voice calling your name…Joyce, joys, joy.

 

Expansiveness and the Writing Life

rio g b

You stand in the center…..you gaze below….you give thanks for the solidity of the railing.  You know how easy it would be to fall, or, in the old days, to jump.  To fly free…oblivious to the consequences.  Today there is no wind…nothing to shake you, nothing but awe and joy and “OMG” rapture repeating in your head.

Pictures do not offer justice to the depth, the sharp canyon crevices, the width, the sound of water, the smell of clean air, the sound of children giggling and cars slowly passing.  The bridge straddles the deepest gorge I’ve seen since the Grand Canyon.  With camera in one hand and car keys in the other (not a very smart idea, btw!!), I breathe deeply, exchanging stale breath in the lungs for new, fresh air…rejuvenated breath to fuel and strengthen my purpose in being in the southwest.

Standing above the deep crevice, I found myself filled with an expansiveness of experience.  I felt a sense of how wide open and large the world is..with its forever horizon, its long distance mountains, those cartoon clouds, the flat prairie of sage brush, and the jagged cut of the gorge itself.  I realized in that moment that my writing is lacking that sense of wide open possibility.

My plan of making three passes through the memoir by mid March was forcing me to believe that my direction on Pass #2, which is where I am at now, should be an attempt to make the narrative perfect…except for minor proofreading edits.  But twirling in the open air far above the quick flowing river, I realized that my current writing requires expansiveness.  Round one of the writing, which I completed just before moving into Questa, had me simply telling the story…providing the facts, the events.  I knew Round 2 required development…but I’d meant to keep it controlled.  As of yesterday, I have given myself the necessary permission to go WILD!!!  Gypsy Wild!!  To write and write and Overwrite!!!!  To include all the sensory details I can recall…to add snippets of fairy tale and inner monologue, retrospective voice, dreams and flashbacks.  To create the color and sound and richness that a true story demands!!

I’ve now given myself permission to have fun, to make my writing process a daily adventure, to allow the book to become 600 pages in this round of writing, if need be!!  Make it big; make it full!!  Then Round 3 revision will be about cutting to the bone…..but I can’t write to the bone!  I have to expand, to jump trampoline high, and touch the ethereal gossamer of clouds.  In that way, the writing will be done with gypsy joy, with a rebel abandon, and with anticipation of every euphoric sunrise!!!

Paradise and Panic

imageNoche

For four days, I held my breath. For four days, I stared out windows

at the endless cobalt sky, at the snow crusted mountains, at the two

white buffalo, the black horse.  For four days, I kept expecting a siren,

a knock, handcuffs, a police car!  Surely this would disappear!

What’s that Springsteen line:  “You’re born with nothing, and better off

that way, soon as you got something they send someone to try and take it away.”

 

But every morning, there were the animals, there was the mountain, there were my two feet on Mexican tile.  From Sunday through Tuesday, I told myself I had to write for 6 to 8 hours every day.  Every day for the next two months. I told myself I could only go into Taos once a week.  I had to keep my nose to the grindstone, fingers on the keyboard.  I could explore the area only once a week.  Other than that…eyes on the screen…ass in the chair.  And when by Tuesday afternoon the 6 and 8 hours weren’t yielding the results I hoped for, panic crept into my bones, shame clawed up my spine, doubt snarled I told you so repeatedly in my ear.  Somewhere not far off, Marley’s chains were clanking!

I knew instantly what I had to do:  Contact Residency Writer Extraordinaire, Laura Didyk.  Lucky for me, I didn’t wait a week or two to do so!!!!  I told Laura my predicament and she instantly informed me that my expectations might be a bit beyond reach!!  She told me that everything I do during my day: hiking, staring, reading, dancing, journaling, watching a movie, will only help me with my writing…will only feed it!  Hallelujiah!!! I didn’t have to be so miserly with myself!!!

When I awoke this morning, I was reminded of my first six months in the Catskills, in the fall of 2000, as I finished my MFA.  I wasn’t working any actual jobs….I was spending all my time reading poetry, writing poetry and critical essays, fashioning a manuscript.  But I wasn’t JUST doing that.  I was exploring the area every day.  I took hikes every day with my dog, Magic.  Not just down the road.  We drove to Hunter Mountain, and Slide Mountain, and  North/South Lake.  And I stared at deer out the kitchen window, three times a day.  I cooked good meals; I sat for hours over topo maps of the Catskills.  I watched all my father’s favorite westerns.  And I finished my work.  It all got done, I was 100% productive, and Magic and I enjoyed everyday.  Everyday I was generous with myself.

As Laura said to me:  Whatever else you do….it is not wasting time….It is medicine for the soul.  Once again, I’m back at my desk, back at the laptop….reading, re-reading, adding notes to early chapters, and generating new stories to include in the memoir.  I’m working…as Jesse advised:  into the doubt….through the doubt…despite the doubt!  I’m doing as Leah and Bev suggested:  I’m eating the elephant one spoon at a time!!!

I don’t want to leave New Mexico with just a finished manuscript….I want to leave, if I must!, with a wealth of new adventures to write about.  I want to leave with a smart phone overflowing with pictures of the area, of people I’ve met, of places to which I will always want to return!  I want to leave here having fallen in love with EVERYTHING…..not simply 400 pieces of paper, of words on the page.

I want to follow Noche’s example: he doesn’t just stand in one spot all day…he peruses the many pastures….visits nearby horses, sniffs out the different meadows, hangs in the shade of the biggest cottonwood.  And if someone tosses him an apple, he’s heads-up ready for it!!!!

 

The Questa Phase

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Questa, NM:  a dream come true.  Saturday I moved into a guesthouse (located behind that big red barn!) that I have visualized for 3 months. My goal in finding a small house to rent in NM is to finish my memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which takes place in Espanola, Taos, and Santa Fe, in time to pitch it at The AWP conference in Los Angeles in late March.

Through a friend of a friend I was lucky enough to be connected to this wonderful secluded spot with white buffalo and a black horse on the property.

Today was to be my first full writing day, to begin the second phase of revision.  However , I found myself walking around the 3 room house in a gratitude daze, settling in, setting up altars, gazing out windows and feeding 2 feral cats.

As of tomorrow I plan to begin a daily writing regimen in order to complete this project on time.  Please join me on this journey… Where I will share the joys, frustrations, and insights of completing my book.  Please subscribe if you haven’t yet… And follow me through the dirt roads and mountain shadows of Questa, as I report every day or two on what it takes to finish a book!!!

Landing in a Familiar Place

persephone

“The Call”…Ex-voto painting by Joyce Hayden 2012/oil and acrylic

Black Mesa, Sanctuary de Chimayo, Tesuque Village Market, Jackaloupe, Maria’s, Santa Fe Plaza, Marliss, huevos rancheros and sopapillas…..  I’m grateful to be back in Santa Fe!!!

In 2012 I began creating ex-voto paintings…paintings done in gratitude of a tragedy averted.  The above painting refers to the many times in my life when I’ve found myself having to dig out of deep darkness, an ability many of us have cultivated by necessity since childhood.  One of these times of darkness occurred when I lived in New Mexico in the 1990s and felt stuck in a tragically unhealthy relationship.  With the help of books, friends, and the endless New Mexico horizon that offers every possibility, I was finally able to end that relationship and move forward on my own.  Leaving my abuser has probably been the most pivitol choice of my life.  Everything I wanted became possible after that.

I’m back in Santa Fe now to finish the memoir I’m writing that focuses on the last year and a half of that relationship….the story of how I landed in that life and how I was eventually able to leave it.   Returning, now, after over 20 years, has allowed my heart to soar, the way it did, way back when, as I first moved here, hoping to turn my relationship in a more positive and loving direction.

For years I wrote my story as a novel.  For years I revised it as fiction.  It wasn’t until I broke my collarbone, followed immediately by my wrist, that I had time to step away from the writing and realize that the reason I was having so much trouble making all the pieces work, is that I needed to tell my true story.  To own it.

And I am so grateful I did.  To not have done so, would have been a tragedy.  I am still in the process of transforming the novel into a memoir.  In the process I have learned to forgive my abuser, to own my actions and hold myself accountable for my role, and most importantly, to forgive myself.  None of this was happening when I treated the material as fiction.

I haven’t been at peace as deeply as I am now, in a very long time.  I know that nothing can stop me from finishing this book by my March deadline.  Nothing can stop me, not even myself.  Because the forever horizon; because the comfort of close friends; because the Sangre de Cristo mountains; because the snow and mauve canyons; because my feet planted on terra firma…in a way they never were when I lived here in the ’90s.

These days, instead of ex-votos, I’m working on Ad Astra paintings….paintings that celebrate the difficulties we endure and for which we give gratitude.  I have nothing but gratitude at the end of this year, nothing but hope for a future built on the bricks of acceptance, the bricks of truth, the bricks of clear-eyed vision, rather than my old bricks of denial and wishful thinking.

Landing in a new, but familiar place is bringing closure to a wound I’ve carried deep inside for decades.  And this new, yet familiar place is also opening a deep interior canyon to light and love and everything possible.