"For me a brain tumor and its treatments are not a pause in the adventure of life, but instead a part of the adventure of life." Mary has survived big hair, a brain tumor, coming out, distressed bowel syndrome, hallucinations, radiation, and a car wreck. Here Mary takes us from public transportation horrors to the joys of sharing life with you. Though you probably won't want to have a brain tumor; you will wish that you could see the world through Mary's eyes. Sister Jen
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
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.
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
Lao Tzu said, "One must know when to
stop," and Osho ends each of his talks with "Enough for
So thanks for being here. You mean a lot to me.
Enough for today.