first justwrite after my rape, 7/2/08

I’m moving to Massachusetts in 2 weeks and my childhood home (where I’ve been living with my mom for the year since I graduated college) is for sale, so I’ve been going through everything from my whole life to get rid of stuff and figure out what I still want.  I found my writing notebooks from high school, including those from the last year of high school after I was raped over the summer on a vacation to the beach.  I always thought I’d never addressed it in my writing, but I definitely did in many of my justwrites from that year, although I don’t know whether or not I was aware of it at the time.  I’m starting the early processes of writing a conversation between me then and me now on my healing journey.  This is the first stream of consciousness justwrite I wrote in my notebook after I was assaulted.  July 7, 2008.


First steps into
arms opened like vines
that grow toward
touch and away
from gravity.

She plucks flowers from their safe shadows and throws them into the wind… Hiding in the closet from the monsters outside, I clutch my magic wand to my forehead to give myself a brain, or at least an oily potion so I can walk, with my joints set free and my braids swinging back and forth, brushing my neck to remind me that I am alive, like the time I fell on the stairs and didn’t expect it, and I watched the blood creep from beneath my skin, watched it curl into caterpillars crawling down my knees, their jaws against my skin, wishing I were a leaf or at least a tree that would grow leaves eventually. I told myself that story once, and she looked at the stairs, didn’t believe me because they were glass and would have cracked, but I didn’t tell her that I floated back then, that I was elegant and beautiful once and when I fell I didn’t fall at all. So she danced down the hall while I swept her footprints into my dustpan, let the sand they became fall into the carpet on my walls, and I didn’t realize then but now I see that there are vines growing from the shadows, and I open my arms to let them in my veins, to let them feed the caterpillars that I’ve only met once but are gnawing at my bones, are searching my soul for greenery but only find fear and wishes and a rusty doorknob into which my name is carved. If I open the door, we’ll all be free, but she won’t tell me if that’s what I want.

last night justwrite

Tidied sentence amongst the rubble of my poetry, words hurling themselves to my feet, half-finished sentences piling up in this room.  Soon it’s too tight and I escape to the outside, out, out, up, away.

I’ve dreamed of hot air balloons since I was a girl, thought of nothing but floating, nothing but air and color.  At summer camp I went on a zipline from a three-story tree.  Stepping over the edge, everything in my body screamed stop.  I flew.

On days like this the whole world is one tear on a pale cheek, one seed in the palm of my hand, one seed warm and brown, one seed I set down and forget.  There are men I can’t remember parachuting off of my heart.  I feel their footsteps and don’t know what to call it besides pain.

Other men walk into my head in the middle of most thoughts, just three men who stepped a boot heel on my world and have never lifted their foot again.  I feel it grinding my bones against pavement.

Soon I’m dust, white chalky dust that dries your lips but never makes your lungs ache.  I am so used to aching that I call it yearning; this bruise?  It’s not a bruise.  It’s a gap, a missing piece, a forgotten face and will you please, please fill it with your voice, or mine if it’s still in this world.  I think it left though, left this body because it didn’t know how much was corpse and how much life.

I can feel my cells moving again, my skin stirring in the spring air.  I’ve been waiting, waiting for you, waiting for this voice, waiting for the missing piece, waiting to fly and forgetting I already have.  I spent so much time looking up at the sky that I forgot it’s all around me, forgot I breathe it every day.  I tell you this, and you look at me with empty eyes.  I tell you this, and you look at me with your whole heart.

Justwrite 101: a tool for writers and survivors

I often feel trapped by the sorts of writing prompts typically given to young (in my experience, but maybe age is irrelevant here) poets and writers, which tend to be things like “Write a sonnet about someone important to you,” or “Write about your favorite place,” and things of that nature.  I always found these prompts too cerebral and would spend too much time in the logical part of my brain, which is not usually the part of me who’s writing.  I wanted to offer an alternative to anyone who feels this frustration, or to anyone who wants to enter the world of writers (or write privately in their own world) but is feeling intimidated, or, emphatically, to anyone who is suffering or lost.

My favorite type of freewrite is one my high school creative writing teacher taught me 8 years ago.  She calls them “justwrites” because you “just write” and they are “just right.”  A million of hers can be found on her wonderful blog, along with some of her more polished writing.  They are 10-minute “stream of consciousness” writing experiments which start from a kind of unusual place.  The idea is to begin with a random phrase such as “On the blue” or “Barring unusual circumstance” or really anything, depending on your preference.  You continue from there, writing whatever comes to mind without stopping, self-editing, or correcting anything.  They are wonderful experiments, great to do in groups or by yourself, and quick enough to easily do every day, more than once for many people.  It’s great to just see where they go, and they’re wonderful tools for overcoming writer’s block, finding images and ideas that you want to revise into larger pieces, or discovering your personal style.  I have read or heard justwrites by dozens of people over the years, and they are always unique and surprising, and always contain something of value.

The phrase-type of prompt is ideal for me, and ideal for justwriting, because it offers a kind of inspiration that is generally unbiased, individual to each person, and results in endless possibilities for where the writing journeys and ends up.  If you, like me, don’t like thinking of your own prompts, try out this random word or phrase generator which I like because it has individualized settings for things like the type of words in the phrase (noun, adj, etc) and how common they are.  I usually don’t like the first one, but I’ll regenerate them until I feel a “spark” and then I…. just write!

The most important thing to remember with justwrites, and all stream of consciousness exercises, is that criticism (particularly self-criticism) is generally not helpful when writing or considering them.  What is most helpful with justwrites is to focus on the positive, the one or several images, phrases, or ideas that surprised you or resonated and that you would like to use in a revised piece of writing, or just cherish in that moment.

Not only are justwrites fun, but, in my experience, they can be incredibly healing; my journey as a rape survivor began in the justwrites I wrote daily in my senior year of high school.  I think allowing your mind to speak whatever comes to it can be helpful for anyone, not just writers.  I didn’t realize how helpful they were at the time, but after recently finding my high school writing notebooks again, in retrospect they were one of the only concrete tools I had for dealing with my trauma and its varied effects for a year and a half after it happened.  I encourage all trauma survivors (and really everyone because life is often traumatic even when we don’t define it that way) to experiment with justwriting or other types of writing they find approachable.  I don’t think the power of writing can be understated for people who have lost their voice or themselves and are trying to better understand their experiences.  I never intentionally wrote about about the rape and what it did to me, but looking back it permeates all of my writing from that time; although I didn’t realize it then, justwrites definitely helped me sort through things subconsciously and begin my process of feeling like I could tell someone what happened. This type of writing is a powerful tool, and I hope someone finds this post helpful!

free write, 3/19/14

My fist writes letters to my ribcage but never remembers to send them.  Sometimes it writes love notes, but even these are angry.  Fingertips burn my skin but no one can see the scars unless I tell them–Look.  Here.–but they are still unsure, squint at my face like I’m the sun at two p.m.  I never hear an answer.  My fists think they are forgotten because they hide so often.  They storm to my ribcage and pound on the door, knocking loose hinges so breathing squeaks for years.  They forget they are the same as my ribcage, that it, too, shudders in the night when it feels the world is an empty bowl, wind sweeping through it and taking even the dust.  There is no word for it, this total emptiness, but my fists feel it and so do I, pounding skin on skin to see if I am really here.  Walking beside the road on a Thursday afternoon, I think suddenly–Am I awake?  The trees seem like fog and I can’t tell where my body ends and the air begins.  Searching for me, my fists berate my ribcage.  Hello, they yell, Is anyone here?

been a while, justwrite

The year after graduating from college is, at least for me, busy and confusing.  But I’m back to writing every day and am posting my daily(ish) stream of consciousness writings, starting with today’s.

Crazy enough that my skin ties itself to the ground so I don’t get lost, put my map folded in my back pocket and forget to look at it ever again.  I study the stars and pretend they tell me where to go, or at least tell me where I am right now.  I think they’re beautiful but I feel nothing.  There is a smaller self hidden within myself.  She has hands like oak leaves in the fall, dry but smelling of rain, landing softly on green-stained rocks and seven broken china dolls, cracks lacing their cheeks like tears have carved a canyon in their flesh.  I hand you this and expect you to answer.  I hold your wrists and pull your gaze to mine and say ‘feel this.’ but how can you when I am barely a noise, barely one star’s light in the noon sun.  See me.  See me.  Can you see me?
Nothing answers.
My heart echoes in my hollow core.  My bones creak like an old porch swing holding two lovers at midnight in the spring, the spring which is coming, the spring which was here two days ago and left again without warning.  I ache for you at night, a yearning which seals itself against the dark and hums until my eyes go blurry, and I am crying and I say “what is this?” because it’s been so long.  Sweet sister, gentle friend, my fingers search for nothing but yours.  They find each other instead, weep into the night until I am so empty my voice is gone and my mind is full of static and I wake up eleven times before morning, each to a different word I think is you.  If I awoke tomorrow and you were standing in my bedroom I wouldn’t be surprised.  If I forgot your face and never thought of you again I wouldn’t be surprised.

a mother holds her baby

the room is as still
and noiseless as a winter midnight
as she stands between these steadfast walls
and holds him to her chest.
her heartbeat hums a lullaby,
a quiet song against his ear.

     hush my baby
     don’t say a word

she places her fingertips
against his palm, a lily blossom
open in the static air.
she places her lips
against his forehead and breathes
in the closeness of his scent.

     sleep baby sleep
     your mother shakes the dreamland tree

she rocks on her sore heels
like a tree leans against a strong wind.
she cradles him, small, round, quiet,
in the crooked branch of her arm
then lays him back on the pale blue satin.
footsteps echo in the hallway then fade.