May 2, 2017

May 2, 2017
Mary with collage and clutter

Saturday, January 4, 2014

What I Want My Words to Do to You

Last night, Ann and I watched the film, What I Want My Words to Do to You, a film about Eve Ensler's (The Vagina Monologues author) work with women in a New York maximum-security prison. For four years, Ensler worked with these women who had murdered at least one person and had traumatic stories of their own. She held writing groups, and these women shared their stories with one another, culminating in the reading of their work by actresses (Glenn Close being the most famous) in a performance for the prison community. 

My newest yoga teacher, Stephanie, told me about the documentary when we met for coffee on Thursday because I had told her about my interest in using writing to work with small groups who were dealing with trauma, perhaps from illness (like I am), or imprisonment, or GLBTQ discrimination, or immigration status or….

I loved the film. The women seem to range in age from 25 to maybe 60, and their stories are true and painful and sometimes funny. My favorite story was from a woman named Betty who wrote about taking her 25 pills twice each day, and about slowing down the line at the dispensary as she takes them.  Though Betty seldom spoke in the seminars, the camera often showed her large, brown, engaged eyes in a dark black face. The only time I remember Betty speaking was to connect with someone else's pain and to say, somewhat flatly, that she had killed her mother. After the actress during the performance read Betty's story about taking all of those pills, the camera panned to Betty as the crowd laughed. You could see that Betty was talking to someone beside her, pointing her thumb to her chest and saying, "That's me." She was laughing. 

I was relieved to see this story because I experience--and have read--that sharing stories is one effective way for people to deal with their own trauma, but my reading in Osho/Lao Tzu recently made me start thinking that perhaps it was time for me to be silent. Perhaps I was, as Osho said, simply unburdening myself with my talk and not really connecting with others as I intended.

Perhaps it was time to put the kibosh on this blog, I was thinking, and on the as yet unfinished books I am writing. Perhaps it was time for silence--or at least for poetry, which speaks through its silences as much as through its words. I know that wise people keep silence, sometimes for days or weeks or even years. 

Elie Wiesel was silent for years after his experience in a Nazi Death Camp. (During that silence, he wrote a 900-page memoir about his experience and then whittled it down to the 100-page masterpiece Night.) My professor Bonnie referred to her daughters' irritation with her vague, somewhat spacey smile after a week's silent retreat, and Bonnie seems wise to me. (A decade or so ago, when my first yoga teacher Denise still published her newsletter on paper, a student wrote an article about a miserable week at a silent retreat where, aching for words, she snuck into the boiler room to read and re-read the warning label on the hot water heater, the only words she could find at the retreat center. That's how I've always imagined such a retreat would be for me.)

One of my favorite poems, Pablo Neruda's "Keeping Quiet," instructs me (and you) to be quiet as a way to peace, and the poem has calmed me in my roughest days. He writes, in part: 

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

After my last post, before my partner Ann had read it, she asked me what it was about. I said, "A lot of talkin' about not talkin'." After she read it, I asked her what she thought. She usually has some insightful and encouraging thing to say. This time she said, "A lot of talkin' about not talkin', " and then she said, "It's interesting what you choose to do with your break. Most people would choose to do something mindless. You read philosophy and poetry."

Yep. Though I've begun meditation in the mornings, mindlessness has never seemed that relaxing to me. Not even in that good way. Perhaps when I am wiser--or at least on that road--I will be ready for a quiet mind and silence, so in the mornings I'm practicing silence, breathing deeply in my core in yoga and meditation, but mostly for now I think the words help me understand myself and connect with others. I'm not ready to give them up. Additionally, my friend Steffany's (no I didn't misspell her name: this is a different Steffany) response to the post assured me that she feels connection through the words, so perhaps there will be a time for silence, but for me that time is not now. 

I'm a thinker. A slow thinker. I think first with my body. Often the thoughts stay there, lifting my shoulders to my ears. I think of my thoughts like oil in shale, not like a pool of oil to be dredged but a dispersal throughout my body that would require fracking to dislodge. (Perhaps, like the oil, I should just let them stay there.)

And I'm a person of words, but not so much a talker. In college, at the end of a class discussion one day, I spoke up. (When I did speak, it was generally at the end of a discussion.) My friend Sara was angry and exploded with, "Why do you always do that? Let us talk the whole time and then you speak at the end…" I think she thought I had some pearls of wisdom that I was holding back, but really I had just formulated some thought by listening to everyone else. 

My friend Lori has a lot to say, but she can't speak because of her cerebral palsy. I can speak but generally would rather listen. I have often mused with her that it's not right that the one who is a talker cannot talk, and there I am, able to talk but silent.

For some reason I talked quite a lot last quarter in my Death and Dying class, especially the last class, so that after class my professor Bonnie said to me, "You're a fast thinker." I'm not sure why I had so much to say, but I suspect my wisest Self was silent, and this was my chatty self. Maybe I missed being the teacher. Maybe I ached to connect. Maybe I was hiding from my own thoughts. I dunno. 

I talk more on the page--in this blog--than anywhere else. So I'm asking myself the same question that Eve Ensler asked her students: "What do I want my words to do to you?" I'm not sure this is the right question for me, however. For me, it's more like, "What do I want my words to do for us?" 

I want my words to help me understand myself, and I want them to draw us, you and me, into a soul connection. I may know you, and I may not know you. You may comment in my blog, on Facebook, or via email, or you may not. Still, it seems to me that we are all connected in a soulful way, and being aware of that connection inspires me with the feeling of eternal connection. 

Lao Tzu said, "One must know when to stop," and Osho ends each of his talks with "Enough for today." 

So thanks for being here. You mean a lot to me. Enough for today.




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