Tag Archives: silence

My First Book’s Coming Out. Cue Panic?

OYHH Front CoverMy first book releases March 31st. This isn’t the post I thought I’d write about such an occasion, but then– this isn’t the book I thought I’d write, either. 
Here’s a confession. Publishing this book is easily one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Writing it involved excavating and articulating stories, fears, and beliefs that I’d never let anywhere near my songs. Or even my own head. But over the course of a couple years, a poetic practice crept into dark corners and reported back what it found. Some of it is comprehensible. Some of it is recognizably nameless.

Some of it is photography. Michael Wilson and I have talked for years about creating a book together, and when these poems began piling up, they seemed to beg for a Wilson-ian counterpart. Perhaps less for illustration than for a haunted (and haunting) camaraderie, for a shift in conceptions of violence, of peace. For a break in the patternless pattern.

When the manuscript was complete, I was thrilled (as any writer is) to have the book accepted by a press. I signed a contract and made preparations. Logistics, aesthetics, repeat. And then the press settled on a release date. I was excited. I posted on social media. I texted my family. And then I fell into the most severe depression I’ve experienced since the illness sent me out of full-time music and into another life.

There were other factors; book-publishing doesn’t happen in isolation. Still, these poems pull on lovely, bloody threads strung from real bodies that move and feel in a real and volatile world. This isn’t to say that the book is (entirely) autobiographical, but it does expose and implicate. I don’t know how it couldn’t.

Of course, as it turns out, we keep things silent for reasons. I’ve spent the last several months tripping on mine: I’ve thrown up, cowered in bed, stopped for deep breaths while teaching, cried weirdly (and not soundlessly) in public spaces. I’ve berated myself for being given a great opportunity, only to cringe whenever it’s mentioned. I’ve steeled myself for congratulations, and tried to feel them in my bones. Sometimes I do.

I’m fortunate to have found support, and I’m getting steadily better. I’m more and more proud of the person behind the words in this book. I’ve begun to feel empowered by her movement from silence to conversation, or at least to nice-sounding works of word. Music-less songs.

I’m telling you this both to confess a terror and to dispel my lingering (irritating) sense of the shame of depression. This illness is, of course, less a signifier of personal weakness (or strength) than of personal intersections with chemistry, biology, time, and perhaps an uncanny, relentless sense of the possible. Perhaps none of these. Ideally, one simply learns over time to better live with depression—to move her body through the thick space of it. She learns to feel the shape of it in her mouth, and say it.

I’m also telling you this because, for the past several years, I’ve made my life’s work about the movement of silenced stories into public discourse. I’ve spoken urgently about the negative health impacts of individual and collective repression, about the necessity of the arts in helping us tell our stories. But if I needed a reminder that silences are bulwarks, safehouses, that they often serve vital, bone-deep purposes, this book has been mine. I’m re-learning the sense of fragility that often precedes the powerful ownership of one’s history; the fluctuating, feverish means by which secrets become strengths. I’ve questioned again whether it’s worth it.

I believe that it is.

 …The only recourse / is to name one’s self, and hold the margins / wide enough to walk in.

//

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either way

“all affairs…
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not…

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.”

Wasliwa Szymborska

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(Paris Shaking)

Shepherds of our silence, give yourselves to other men. You struck the rock with your staffs, and where the water flowed (if it did) we shuddered thinking it might wash over us, take something of us with it. Not just the sin or stain of having been in the presence of the human but the human in us too, the bones and sinews, muscle, blood that made us tangible in a world gone prostrate (and then lax) before your heaven.
In the streets of Paris we walked with mouths agape as if in some dream, considered all the bodies tailored, hustled, swarmed into those buildings and their mundane jobs their mundane lives, or is the bread and wine enough to make their streets a dream for them, too? But of course I’m swayed by Émile Zola’s tale, the alley of Pont Neuf, a suffocating sympathy for Mlle. Raquin.
And then there are the things we’ve put into the future: how we wait for life to start once such and such has happened, some Life/Career Exam that’s either make-believe or silent (the same things). It never speaks Arrival.
So you shepherds, here are these bodies, these brains with their vignettes motives beats and fatal blessings, nowWhether the molecular manifestations of some need, disease, abuse, or holy will, they are a middle finger to your herding, your safe-shoring. If only in their waking, eating, waiting out the end they are a panting at the back of you: a cumulative shaking.

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Joshua 6

Let there be complete silence

Not a single word from any of you
until I tell you

 

 

 

from Joshua 6:10, New Living Word
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Joshua 1

I will be with you. I will not
abandon you or fail to help you.

You need only obey
to the letter every law.

Think about these laws
every day and every night.

Be sure to obey all of them.

 

 

from Joshua 1:5-8, New Living Word
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breaking it

You won’t come spinning out of the madness as if nothing happened.
They say you will.
You won’t make their promise true by needing it.

You slid out of a womb already breaking.
You make all your decisions
via hints the madness left.

When you speak, it’s with the madness
in your throat. You move with whatever it bequeathed
to your bones.

When you live at all, you’re the wreckage of the world
the world intended
when it first opened its mouth.

The rains came down, and the floods came up.
You won’t return to anything
but dust.

 

 

 

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sometimes, “staying together for the kids” needs to suck it

Note: I’m in a (long!) marriage that I love, and I don’t have kids. That said:

this will be greatMany of my friends are contemplating divorce. And I’ve noticed that, when kids are involved, a super-sized ever-present argument gets touted about how parents should “stick it out for the kids.” If you’ve experienced a more nuanced approach to divorce with kids, hooray. This blog isn’t for you. For the rest of us, imma punch the “stick it out” thing in the face.

The cultural assumption is that, if parents base their divorce decision on what’s best for their children, they’ll of course decide to stay together. Um.

As if kids are only or primarily benefitted by living with the same two people for 18 years, even if those people don’t like one another. Even if, and even if in subtle ways, those people routinely inflict emotional harm on one another. Even if those two people are never able to find fulfillment as human beings, and thus never able to model fulfillment-finding to their kids. As if no positive impact can possibly result from two adults’ divorce and subsequent happiness-finding. (And I’m not just talking about marriages that involve an abusive or addicted spouse.)

HOWDY KIDSI readily acknowledge that some couples consider divorce, decide to stay together “for the kids,” and find later that they’ve fallen in love again. That’s great! But it’s not the rule, so let’s move on. Of course divorce can be bad for kids. But so can staying together, for different – but equally significant – reasons. Let’s not make this simpler than it is.

Ultimately, good models for deep, respectful, fulfilling, intimate human relationships may be the best possible gifts a child can receive from her parents. So here’s this:

Dear Parents Considering Divorce,

Your children won’t be fooled by the fact that you live in the same house or sleep in the same bed. Instead, they will learn what to expect out of a relationship by watching yours. They’ll glean ideas about what they’re worthy of, what they should tolerate, what they’re allowed (and not allowed) to hope for, etc. Because of this, it’s possible that the best gift you can give your children is to model what it looks like to believe you’re worth being loved for your whole self, and not just for the sake of tradition, a promise, or some ideal familial construction. Sometimes, such modeling requires divorce. More than having everyone under one roof, it’s possible that your children will prefer to learn how to respect themselves and their dreams, by watching you do it.

xo,
tg

The ideal is of course that parents can be personally fulfilled and stay together. But when they can’t, we must admit that sometimes, it’s divorce that allows for possibilities, love, and fruitful Life Education for children. Sometimes, the best parenting move is to move on from a relationship that fails to model the potential inherent in human intimacy. Yes, children of toughing-it-out parents get a model of commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice, and this is worthy of respect. But let’s not pretend the “perseverance model” is automatically the one a child needs – or later appreciates – most.

hey kids! we hopeFor one thing, (this rarely gets heard), the choice to tolerate one another “for the kids” may turn into a Great Burden of Guilt that your children take up once they recognize the choice you made (and why). That’s too much for any child to have on her head, even if it takes her years to see it.

Two, the choice to “persevere and sacrifice” may model – disastrously – the idea that a longterm relationship is not a situation in which individuals can or should expect to be fully loved, fully respected, and/or fully themselves – at least not if they have kids.

I’m not saying that by choosing to stay together, parents are always and necessarily committing themselves to misery. In fact, there’s good reason to hope that couples at the brink of divorce can come back from it more loving, more respectful of one another, and able to present even more solid examples to their children of fulfillment, connection, vitality, and commitment. When this happens, it’s beautiful.

But when this isn’t possible, we must admit that children will suffer regardless. If parents divorce, the family is broken and life irrevocably disrupted. If parents instead “suck it up” in a hopeless situation, children grow up in the context of a relationship defined by mere functional co-parenting and personal martyrdom. Let’s not pretend the latter is unequivocally preferable.

The divorce + kids quandary is the grief-worthy result of broken-down love – of lives that shift, evolve, and/or cease to connect. It is complex and imprecise. We have to be wary of simplistic black/white notions of what it means to wrestle with love that isn’t working.

i just love an easy solutionDivorce is not always (or even often) the best solution. Sometimes it’s just the selfish, easy one. In such cases, marrieds should swallow our pride, work hard, get help, and press on. (So been there.) But we must also be willing to recognize when our perseverance isn’t yielding a healthier marriage. And if that sad point comes (here’s hoping it won’t), we must refuse simplistic solutions where kids are involved.

The suck-it-up-for-the-kids message is everywhere, and many parents have swallowed it blindly. So I’m agitating for nuance. Hear me roar. There’s remarkably little said about the negative impacts – on children – of parents’ forfeiture of a fulfilling intimate relationship… And of the positive impacts – on children – of parting ways. So:

I reject the assumption that divorce is always selfish,
that having a parent who actively pursues his/her personal fulfillment is a loss for his/her child (I find this notion particularly heinous),
and that parent-Togetherness is always best for a child.

I suggest that watching a parent esteem him or herself enough to work toward self-fulfillment, respectful intimacy, and a healthy partnership may be the best gift a child could receive. (How else will s/he learn that it’s possible? Or how to do it?)

When love is broken, children will be hurt – either via divorce or via f*cked up ideas about self-fulfillment and intimate relationships. In either case, these children will require healing. Let’s respect their inevitable aches enough to recognize they’re far from simple.

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I want to be numbered among the heretics

It’s the heretic who’s out without her jacket,
skirt above the knees, showing her bruises,
saying, I dare someone to say it’s okay. Try it.

The heretic won’t settle out of court,
dress suicide as martyrdom,
praise the impotence of silence.

It’s the heretic who spits out the communion wine
if it tastes of poison

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