I returned late on Sunday, and I am been thinking about it so much. What was it? It was too much and it was not enough. It seemed like everything and not one thing I could accurately describe. Was it just what I needed? I don't know what I needed, yet I do know that other people's stories save me over and over and over again. In reading and hearing them, I am reminded that mine, too, is worth telling.
It was in the shower this morning that I realized that for so long, I thought what I wanted was to tell my story to you, but really, what I am attempting is to tell my story to MYSELF. I want to hold it in my hands and say, "Here, I did this. I did this part of my life and I tried to makes sense of it and see myself more clearly." There is a difference, I think.
I write and share in the hopes that someone, anyone, might think, "Me too!" or, " I've never thought of it that way", but really when it comes down to it, I am simply trying to tell myself what happened and how I felt in the most honest and clear way. I get in my way all the freaking time with fancy adjectives and ulterior motives of blowing up the wrong thing when it was that quiet little thing that really got me and steered me onto the next right path. Life and writing are fraught with tiny landmines to avoid. I think, if anything, I am learning what I have been avoiding.
The women on this retreat have a private Facebook page. Before the retreat, we tiptoed gently into meeting each other a bit. Now we are chatting away, postulating, groaning, reaching out, encouraging, scratching our heads collectively- what was that?
I don't know. I don't know.
Jen Pastiloff is not a fearless leader. She is fierce and loving and daring to ask questions she asks herself. Her story is full of pain and fighting and she is teaching what she needs to be reminded of every day. She lets fear along for the ride and strives to do her heart's desire anyway. She loves to dork it out with dancing and atypical music choices for yoga. Yoga, for her, is the lesson. Be in your body. Be present. Feel where you are in this space in this time. BP. Be present. I will write it on my wrist for days to come. She likes to get in your face because she can't hear and eyes don't lie. It's hard to hide or lie about feelings when someone is looking at you with love and an expectation that you will say your truth. Tears filled my eyes and the snot flew as I headed into downward facing dog while Hold On (please listen! no shame in eighties cheese!) blasted away on the speaker.
"What's stopping you?" she challenged. "How much longer will you let IT run YOU?"
The combination of yoga and disparate music and swearing (I loved the swearing!) and questions and writing prompts opens up a body and a heart if you let it and I tried. It felt terrifying. Sometimes I was a mess. I don't always do this emotion in the real world. I make coffee and pack lunches and write and fold laundry and cart kids and buy groceries and pray for sleep and scratch my head in confusion when someone hurts me and then I get up and do it all over again.
Emily Rapp was our writing instructor. Her own story is full of pain and so familiar with it, she knows what a writer has to do to get to the good stuff. And that hard part? The part you can't seem to do? That is where the magic is. She asked me to capture images of my feelings through memories. Using sensory details, describe a memory that illustrates happiness, sadness, anger, sexuality. It was hard. I felt overwhelmed. Anger was the most difficult for me. I guess I haven't done anger. I have felt it, but I haven't named it and I certainly haven't embodied it.
This became even more clear when Jen asked me to hi-ya it out- release some anger. Get loud! Get angry! Use my body, my voice, and release! I tried, but it was just sort of all sitting there. My movements were limp, my voice soft. I was profoundly uncomfortable. The alcoholic brother who took my mom from me, the lost babies, the postpartum depression robbing me from my kid's lives, the family betrayals, the death of loved ones, the unemployment, the sick sickness of anorexia. That's a lot of shit. That is a life. Anyone who lives has pain.
I do buts a lot. But I am not lying on the dirt in a Syrian refugee camp. But I am not burying my parents. But I am not staring at a spouse who betrayed me. But I am not fighting a losing battle with cancer. But it could be worse.
But, but, but, but.
Stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff.
So now what?
That was the final question posed to me. If I do not like how I feel or where I am or what I am doing, now what?
I am a stuffer? Unstuff!
I am scared? Do it anyway.
I am a writer? Write.
I don't know all the answers of how I can do these things or when or why, exactly, they need to be done.
I guess if there a take away it is this: I don't know AND it will be ok.
Life, I think, is far more AND than but.
This retreat was everything AND not enough AND just what it needed to be.
***As a scholarship winner, I am filled with gratitude for the space and time and gift that this experience was. Had I not won, I do not think I would have had the courage to attend. To be willing to open up in front of strangers and to yourself is not for the faint of heart. It will be a long while, before I figure it all out. I look forward to the discoveries.