Hi there! First of all, thank you so much for reading these words of introduction about me. But really, thanks for reading all of the words offered here in this amazing community!
I’ve always believed that when a group of women come together to share the truth of their lives, selves, and histories, it opens the way for personal and collective shifts.
Staying silent or invisible as women slows the evolution of all women. So, I am very honored to have the opportunity to share a few of my stories with you here this autumn and to maybe even encourage you to connect to your own.
I’ve been a writer and story-collector my entire life, and now, I am a college writing instructor, working to help my students hone their skills and find inspiration within the academic sphere. I also teach a course, Writing the Body, which I created to connect women to the stories of their physical journeys and body experiences.
The sessions have been truly transformative and I’ll be teaching Writing the Body at several retreats and workshops in 2013 as well as mentoring a limited number of women individually (online and via phone) each month, starting this fall.
I’m currently crafting Writing the Body into a book full of dynamic writing exercises and prompts, while simultaneously completing a novel manuscript as I work to finish my MFA degree.
I am also a creative-wanderer, unusual-mama, book-enthusiast, loyal-friend, bathtub-devotee, friendly-introvert, curious-adventurer, and fiery-romantic who just can’t wait to share stories of connection and body/life experience with you.
Please consider yourself officially invited to comment and link your own reflections on any writing prompts I offer here this season so that I can read along with your story-explorations of self. xo
Connect: Website | Writing the Body Individual Mentoring | Facebook
(This beautiful photograph of Delia was taken by Jenica McKenzie.)
With the Tide: a Tribute to Tears
I imagined my tears held molecules of grief and took on an uncommon energy, that they drew the moon across the ocean so it could be seen and felt at this moment by every girl…
The first time I can remember my tears causing me trouble I was six years old and away from my mother for the first time – a knobby-kneed, scrawny girl in a plaid Catholic school jumper – completely hysterical by the time the growling yellow bus dragged me away from home, spewing smoke behind us and imposing a sudden, terrifying distance from the one who loved me best.
Trouble, because my tears made the other kids laugh and regard me strangely, like I was some perplexing spineless creature washed ashore, awkward and exposed in my grief. Trouble, because it was the first time I understood that crying brought with it a fierce and insistent shame.
My tears that day landed me in the principal’s office, the epitome of trouble. But, the stern, dour nun who ran our elementary school, Sister Helena, took one look at my red, bleary face and gestured for me to sit in a massive black leather chair across from her desk, where she proceeded to offer me butterscotch hard candies from a lustrous cut glass bowl and tell me about how when she left her mother for the convent she’d wept for four months straight. I nodded like I understood the depth and scope of her separation when all I really knew was that we were two people who’d cried over wanting our mothers. The butterscotch coated my tongue with honeyed sweetness and her words comforted me enough to get me to class. I landed back in her office day after day, our candy and talk of our mothers a mysterious ritual – a secret sisterhood of tears.
I cried every day though it deeply shamed me, though I promised myself I wouldn’t, though I knew the teachers called me hypersensitive and the other kids called me crybaby.
Tears rose through me in waves, unbidden, as predictable as the tides. Hypersensitive, crybaby, sissy, wimp, whiner, pushover, weakling, coward, and of course, girl. All of these words and then some have been lobbed against my thin-skinned heart. Along with, grow up, get over it, deal, shut up, knock it off, keep it down, tone it down, control yourself, and of course, man up.
The fact is, crying has implications related to gender – boys don’t, big girls don’t – the message being that if we are mature enough and strong enough and good enough, we won’t need to. Tears become the currency of the weak, and they breed self-doubt and critical judgments.
There have been a few situations in my life where I forced myself to hold back from crying – to keep it down, to control myself, to toughen up, but I know it didn’t improve or enrich me. One intense example of this came about because I was raised by not just the mother I so fiercely clung to, but also by a dysfunctional, alcoholic father as well. My father’s scorn for our tears was so severe that he routinely staged what my younger brother and I would learn to call “freak outs.”
In this exercise, my drunk father would force my brother and I to physically fight each other until the loser cried and was then hit with his belt. Even now, thinking of this, I can taste the metallic traces of rage, fear, and sorrow in the back of my mouth. I remember the way it felt to hit and kick my brother—to pull his hair. I remember his nails digging into my skin, leaving trails of bleeding scratches down my arms while my father sat with his whiskey and waited.
In these moments, I never, ever cried first.
Time has passed, and my father has been sober, though largely out of my life, for the better part of twenty years. But, my relationship to crying is still incredibly complicated and packed with intense emotion and humiliation.
I cry easily and often – and I apologize and am infuriated with myself every single time.
Beyond the mistreatment in my own past, there is an undeniable gender bias in society deeming our tears feminine and, therefore, in some way worthless or shameful.
Women are made to feel irrational, senseless, and ridiculous for crying. Men are made to feel as if their tears will leave them emasculated and powerless. This imposed rationing of our reactions and moods does a disservice to all of us.
Over the past year, I’ve battled a severe thyroid and metabolic disorder that crippled me physically and emotionally. I’ve had radical shifts in my connections with the people closest to me, some disappointments in relationships that ran onto shaky ground, and some heartbreak thrown in for good measure.
When my sickness and imbalance was at its height, I plunged down into the depths of self-loathing, inferiority-complex, envy, paralysis, fear, and self-destruction. I almost lost my life and then, suddenly and unexpectedly – I lost my mother. We buried her on a cold day last December, frost crystalizing the blades of cemetery grass and a part of me that I can never again get back.
Oceans of tears with their sharp undertow – I’ve cried so much my body’s terrain has eroded to drought, dry and bleached-bone, shadows under my eyes from the constant presence of salt water on skin. Though I am still submerged in the depths of this mourning and the unfamiliar landscape of my heart, there have been unexpected gifts here in this saturated, tear-strewn place. One gift is empathy for others who are desolate and grieving—especially other women who have been told that their tears are a sign of their weakness and fragility.
Another gift is a deep awareness of inhabiting my body for the first time – of watching, without judgment, how my sorrow ebbs and flows through my blood to my eyes, with that bittersweet sting just before tears fall. I am learning not to fight it, not to shame it, just to let myself drift into the currents of what I’m really feeling – awash with the ache and the possibility of redemption.
I do not want my year of tears for you, but I do want a burgeoning intimacy with other women in your life and a deeper kindness for sorrow.
I want you to be able to sit with a crying friend or lover and not try to fix it or escape it, but to just let it wash over you and be present. I want you to do this for yourself. I want you to feel how distress or regret floods your body, letting it course right through you and move on. I want you to allow the rising sentiments to claim you and trust that crying is a valid and acceptable part of the process of healing. I want you to find the words to express what your tears signify and how they connect you with others experiencing that same sentiment in that same moment.
Take to the notebook page, to your blog, to these comments, and tell of the way it feels to cry—the way it feels to release your suffering—the way it feels to greet your own personal high-tide times with bravery and swim on.