After the Purge

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Sitting down to write this post took an enormous effort of will.  I finished an online creative nonfiction course a few weeks ago and I stopped writing regularly as soon as my final essay was complete, so it’s been maybe two months of unexpected and welcome relief.  For the last two years, writing about my experience in the prison has been a release of sorts.  It helped capture my thoughts and feelings, although it’s unclear whether it helped me release either but probably not.  Nothing short of a complete separation would have accomplished that feat.

Today, I’m close to eight months away from my last day at CCCF.  Most of these last eight months have been spent de-toxifying from my time there, and learning how to operate as a normal human being again.  Those years, combined with the years of stress and uncertainty preceding them had turned me into an anxious, brittle, and fearful woman.  I had some success hiding just how anxious, brittle and fearful I had become, but I was never able to hide it from myself.

Those years ate my light; they consumed everything I knew of beauty and grace and joy and spirit.

Lately though, the writing has been pressing on me, memories lingering in my consciousness.  The stories of my time there, my relationships with the women I taught, and observations about the system constantly break the surface, jarring me with their presence.  I can shove them back under, but they are still there. I’ve asked the non-intellectual part of my being to grieve and celebrate this enormous transition and it’s been thrilled to comply, so I’ve been processing mainly through art these several months.  But as much as I love exploring drawing and illustration for emotional release, I cannot tell these stories through that art.  Words are my medium, and the words are softly demanding my attention.

I just don’t know how to start again.

Being away from all that pain and suffering makes it less immediate, and reduces the feeling of urgency.  That voice that demanded, constantly, that I let people KNOW and do my part to change the system has quieted.  It rouses occasionally, but it is lackadaisical, at best.  I’ve stepped away from all the information sources that used to stimulate my awareness,  deliberately choosing to set all that pain to the side.  It is a position of privilege, but I cannot bring myself to feel shame or guilt about this choice.

I feel light and happy and safe. Work doesn’t feel like much work, it’s a delight to do something less fraught, where a mistake won’t mean drastically increasing someone else’s suffering.  This new path is a great gift, and all I want to do is enjoy the days, do art, and drift.  Even thinking about writing that story feels hard.

I’ve realized that almost all the writing I do is somehow related to suffering – to trauma and oppression and the misery of the world.  When I think about writing a memoir, whether it’s about CCCF or not, my thoughts focus on the sad and miserable things that brought me to where I am today.  How do I write about all of those things – feelings, events, circumstances, choices – without putting myself back in that grueling, grunting space?  It’s not a matter of self-judgment, it almost feels like self-preservation.

How do I stay connected to this precious gift of light and space and relief if I’m writing about those pain-soaked years?  I know they are part and parcel of who I am, but I’m ready to write a new story about myself.  How do I hold this new facet, and gently touch and release the old?

Figure vomiting words

Give It Up

Doubting the Reality

Blergh, Corrections, Novelicious, Obstacles/Challenges, Random Observations, Uncategorized, Writing

Recently, I’ve spoken with a couple of former colleagues about our experiences at CCCF and have found those conversations a mixed blessing.  As time goes by, it is harder to remember how crazy I felt, how unwell and frenzied.  It also becomes easier to doubt my experience, to think that maybe I was being hypersensitive and over-reactive, that it wasn’t that bad.  But typing the sentence “maybe prisons aren’t that bad after all” feels like a joke.

Prisons are terrible places.

But maybe they were less bad than I made them out to be?  It all seems so fuzzy now, so distant and small.  I’m starting to question why I ever thought it was bad enough that I needed to write about it – why I ever thought this story would capture people’s attention.  Maybe if it were more horrific, if I had witnessed all kinds of horrible violence and aggression, maybe if I’d been more scarred and torn up – maybe then it would be worth telling.  But it’s not about any of those things – it’s about watching my students struggle against their internal odds, battle their demons and self-doubt, and win – time and time again, they won.  They succeeded in ways they’d never imagined – big and small – and experienced themselves as confident, competent, and valued people.

Trying to write the section about DOC has shaken my confidence tremendously.  Writing only about my experience is proving much more difficult than I realized it would be.  When I went back over the material I’d already written, it sounded like the rantings and complaints of a disgruntled person, an unhappy and bitter person.  But how to write about a system that’s so awful when the immediacy of the emotion is gone?  I’m not subject to that toxic environment every day now, and it’s hard to summon the motivation to be thoughtful in my observations.  I wonder if the rest will be this hard.  I wonder if the rest is worth writing at all.

sylviaplath-doubt

Walls

Blergh, Novelicious, Obstacles/Challenges, Uncategorized, Writing

I’ve been absent from my blog for the last several weeks, but not from writing.  I started writing Morning Pages (essentially a journaling exercise), documenting and observing in my beautiful Moleskine notebook, creating unexpected art, and (of utmost importance) have been writing The Book.  It’s NaNoWriMo and I’ve been riding that energy, but yesterday was awful.  Although I have completed 1 section (there are 5 total) I was arrogant (read: stupid) enough to think I could get the whole book drafted this month.  I thought this until I’d sent the first section to some friends for review and sat down to start the second section.

The chirping of crickets filled my ears, my head, my soul, accompanied by the BWAHAHAHAHAHAH of the inner critic, and the absolute truth that what I was writing was total shit.

This is the first time I’ve ever hit this particular wall, and I am now fully aware of why it’s so cold and heartbreaking.  That self-doubt (I can’t say this well, my writing is crap, this story is stupid, I’m an idiot, other people will be hurt/mad/whatever) carried over into every aspect of my life.  My interactions with people were yuck, I bailed on an event I’d paid for, and tried to fall asleep at 7:30 in the evening to avoid having to think.

It was horrendous.

Today, I’m facing the reality that I will not complete all five sections by the end of November – I have no idea when I’ll complete them.  The sense of urgency to finish – to get the work into the world – has only increased, but I feel like my capacity is diminished.  I’m also taking the opportunity to thrash myself a bit for wasting all this precious time.  “You’ll never have another opportunity like this!” say the voices.  “How many people get the luxury of time between jobs to create?” say the voices. “This topic is so relevant, so timely, HOW ARE YOU NOT DONE YET?!” scream the voices. “What makes you think that what you’re saying is real?  What if you’re a delusional psycho?” whisper the voices.

I’ve had similar experiences in other areas of my life, and I have to believe the same axiom holds:

pass1

That last bit isn’t traditional, but it’s honest.