Into the Woods

Earlier tonight I read a post by another Slice of Life Story Challenge writer. It was about getting lost in the woods. And it reminded me of a moment during my writing retreat last fall when I, too, got lost in the woods.

I will say up front that, in the moment, it felt less like I got lost and more like the woods tried to absorb me. It wasn’t a good feeling.

In September, I went upstate for two gorgeous and glorious weeks at an artists residency. I had a beautiful studio, a lovely view, gourmet meals, four amazing artists and writers to share my dinners and down time with. It was heaven.

There is a small wooded area behind the house where I stayed. “Small,” in that it doesn’t stretch on for hundreds of miles or something dramatic like that, but large in comparison to my day-to-day encounter with woods. As a child, I spent my summers in the Adirondack mountains. I was in the woods every day and felt entirely happy and comfortable there. I have spent the last 30-plus years in this huge, clattering city, and my time spent in the woods would be … nil.

Add to that what I’ve realized is a creeping dread I’ve developed when it comes to the woods, a dread that has formed slowly enough for me not to notice it until it was suddenly in my chest, fully formed.

But I was determined to go for a walk in the woods. We’d been told there were two trails, a red trail and a blue trail. We’d been told that the blue trail was the better maintained, easier trail (this turned out to be 100 percent not true). We’d been told that there were blazes painted on the trees and we just had to keep an eye out. Yep.

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That picture is the trailhead. See the nice arrows pointing toward the blue trail and the red trail? See how easy this walk in the woods was going to be?

The moment I entered the woods, I questioned the wisdom of my decision to head out, alone, without telling anyone I was going into the woods. I didn’t turn back. I set out on the blue trail because I am not brave in the woods. The blue trail immediately disappeared: path completely overgrown, not a single visible blaze after the first one. So I turned back and stopped at the trailhead and decided to take a chance on the red trail, the steeper trail that would be harder to follow.

I follow the blazes — so much easier to find than on the blue trail — and walked along trying hard to convince myself that I had no reason to be getting a stomach ache over being alone in the woods. I followed the blazes and started up a small hill. I saw a blaze ahead of me, and another a ways ahead of that tree in front of me, but I stopped walking. I stopped because I wanted to listen to a bird song I’d never heard before. It was a strange, almost hollow sound, and I looked up to see if I might spot the singer. I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t turn around. I just stopped walking. I looked up into the trees, but didn’t see what bird might be sending out that strange hollow call. So I stopped looking up at the trees. I brought my gaze down …

And there were no blazes on any of the trees in front of me. Not one.

I pretended to be calm about it. I took a few steps forward, telling myself that the blaze I’d seen would, of course, magically appear once I was closer to the tree. Of course that didn’t happen. There was nothing on that tree or any of the others.

I turned around to walk back … but I couldn’t find any blazes on any of the trees behind me, either. I walked back to where I’d looked up for the bird then tried to walk back out on a different route. No blazes, and the path I was walking was totally unfamiliar. I went back up to the spot where I’d stopped for the bird then tried again to get back out of the woods. No blazes and the path I was walking was not the path I’d walked in either of the other attempts at escape, nor was it the path I’d walked to get up to that point on the hill.

The thing was, I knew I wasn’t even ten minutes from my door, knew that the woods would clear somewhere very near where I was standing. But I was pretty certain I wasn’t getting out of those woods.

Okay, so here I am writing about my experience, so you know I got out. I stood on the trail for a while, refusing to go back up the hill only to find myself on another wrong path. Finally, I saw a tree whose half-fallen branches I had fought my way past on the way up the hill. And I could see the path running in front of that tree. I pushed and shoved my way through an overgrown area to get to the tree, refusing to walk back up the path and think I could find the way to walk down to that tree.

When I reached the tree … I no longer saw the path. I’m not kidding. But I did see another tree I remembered and cut across some more overgrown business to get to that tree. And then I found the path and found my way back to the trailhead and got my citified self out of those woods.

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This is the entrance to the woods. Doesn’t it look like the entrance to a magical kingdom? Yeah. Magical. Kind of like the Hotel California.

__________

You can read the not-at-all-creepy post that inspired this memory here.

And you can read my retelling of other times I’ve been lost in the woods:
Into the Woods, Part 2
Into the Woods, Part 3
Into the Woods, Part 4
Into the Woods, Part 5 (the final part)


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to.
Or … it’s not too late to join in!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

La Impostora Has No Bedside Manner

I’m two days out from knee surgery. It’s hard to realize I had surgery Monday. That seems both like forever and five minutes ago. How am I home so soon? How am I home alone? How am I — for the most part — just fine?

My nausea is gone, which makes everything seem leagues better. And I was able to lie down to sleep, which also made today so much better than yesterday. Obviously, I am far from well, but I no longer feel as though a steamroller has just mashed me into the pavement. A clear improvement.

My friends have been trying to help me since I got home. So many people asking what I need, asking me to tell them how they can help, looking for ways to get my recovery off to a well-cared-for start. And that’s lovely. That’s what one should hope for from one’s friends … so why haven’t I taken advantage of a single offer of help?

Here is a place I was not expecting to find La Impostora. But here she is, standing between me and some quality TLC. Here she is, telling me that I don’t need anyone’s help, that I can’t ask people to help me because …

  1. My house hasn’t been vacuumed.
  2. It’s not as though I’m sick or anything.
  3. I live too far away from everyone, and it’s not fair to expect folks to come out here just to bring me milk or clementines.
  4. If I had done a better job preparing for this homestay, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself without milk and clementines.
  5. Everyone is too busy to be running errands for you.

Okay, it’s true that my house hasn’t been vacuumed, that it is filled to bursting with wafting clouds of cat hair. But does that really mean I don’t deserve a little help right now? Why is it (still) so hard for me to ask for things I need, so hard for me to admit that I have needs I can’t necessarily take care of by myself right now? Why is La Impostora here telling me that, even when I’m two days out from surgery, I’m not worthy of my friends’ care?

Ugh.

She doesn’t want me to forget. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for changing my surgeon’s mind about the procedure I needed. So of course here is my forever-nemesis to rein me in, to make sure I appreciate just how much of a crybaby I am, to remind me that, because I pushed for the more invasive operation, the struggles I’m having now are my own fault, and I have to deal with the more difficult recuperation on my own.

But … I don’t have to listen to her. I can, instead, trust my friends when they say they want to help me. I can accept their offers of help and make these first days out from surgery a little easier. And maybe, just maybe, by saying these things “out loud” on this page, it will be easier for me to actually do this tomorrow. Perhaps just for the pleasure of pissing off La Impostora.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Down at the Crossroads

I find myself at a curious moment. Curious in that I didn’t see it coming and would never have imagined myself here. Curious, too, because I don’t know how much is real and how much is La Impostora seeing an opportunity and seizing it.

Last week I attended an adult education conference. Three days immersed in my field. I’ve attended that conference several times. I’ve presented there a few times. I like it there. I feel at home there. I learn a lot there. I feel invigorated when I come home, re-energized for my work and ready to get moving.

But not this time.

I struggled every day of the conference. Struggled mightily. People presented interesting and important things. People shared good data. People brought up issues that are important to me. People shared excellent anecdotes about the work and the kinds of outcomes they’re seeing from their participants. People in the workshops shared their passion and determination. People came with their questions and ideas.

And it left me … cold. Uninspired.

How was that possible? How could I feel so disconnected from everything that was happening those three days? From the very things that have been the focus of my career?

There are some things going on with me right now that may have helped to  create that difficult experience. I’ve been trying to think about what can/should come next for me professionally. There’s a lot of potentially exciting stuff happening at my job right now, opportunities for my work to get different and interesting. I’m feeling energized by those things, but I’m also wondering how much longer I can be working in this particular world. I’ve been here four years, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also run headlong into many walls, and I’ve been halted in my tracks by systems I find I can’t work around. No one’s pushing me out the door, but I’m started to feel more acutely how much this isn’t the area I should be working in. Right field, wrong seat at the table, possibly the wrong table.

And then there’s La Impostora. Every time I start to think of what could be a better direction for me, she swoops right in to remind me that there are no good jobs for me because I’m not actually qualified to do anything, that it’s only dumb luck that has enabled me to last in my current job as long as I have.

Gotta love her.

Part of me hears that and knows it’s not true. Only a small part of me. The rest of me looks at job postings and can see nothing that would actually make sense for me. And when I see jobs that sound wonderful, their details — what degrees and experience candidates should have — confirm that my application wouldn’t move far in the selection process.

So yes, Impostor Syndrome is my constant companion, but she’s not the only problem staring me in the face.

And then I found myself feeling restless and frustrated at the conference. Going there seemed to shine a brighter light on my malaise.

I’m slated to attend a larger adult ed conference in a couple of months. Am I going to have this same disconnect, this same feeling of being removed from what’s happening around me? I certainly hope not. I have work to do, some stock-taking of my professional self. I don’t know if I’m talking about planning or a full-scale career change (at my age?!), but something’s got to give. I’m sick of this “off” feeling, and whatever needs to happen to get rid of it will surely be worth it.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Adventures in Fear and Procrastination

Today I had a writing date with two wonderful women. It’s the first time we’ve gotten together in a while, and I was looking forward to it. First, of course, I love them both and love spending time with them. Second, they are both really productive writers, ad that energy helps me, fuels me.

And finally, they are responsible for the essay I published on The Rumpus last year. They pushed and prodded me to not just post it on my blog but to submit it for publication. They helped me write my pitch letter and followed up with me to make sure I actually got it done. And I’ve been feeling the need for exactly that kind of writing support these days. I’ve fallen back into my old, familiar rut of not even thinking about sending out work. What is that? (Other than supremely annoying.)

They each gave me an extraordinary gift today. They each mentioned that their partners keep asking when there will be new comics to read.

Such a small thing, right? But so not small. So not small. The idea that anyone is thinking about my comics, that anyone is wishing there were more comics than those first four tentative ones from forever ago.  That is HUGE.

 

So, um, where are my comics? Good question. I’ve felt, not stuck exactly, more like frozen. And I’ve been this way for quite some time. I let the enormity of the project get in my head and scare me. I’ve had flurries of activity in the last couple of years — writing scripts, signing up for an online comics class, thinking about comics … but I haven’t really imagined myself working anything through to a place that looks like completion.

The closest I came to getting somewhere was a draft of a mini-comic. I sent my panels to a group of beta readers and got some helpful critiques back … and then I put all of it aside and did nothing. that was more than a year ago. More than a year.

This project is important to me. The discovery of comics as a form I could work in was huge. I thought I knew who I was as a writer, and then suddenly I was seeing a whole other way of being. And it was resonating with people. And it was fun. And it felt freeing and full of possibilities.

So why haven’t I thrown myself in and gotten some solid drafts written and drawn.

Yeah. That would be the question. Yes, I can fall back on blaming La Impostora. She’s a handy foil, to be sure. And yes, she’s surely at least in part responsible for me stopping myself every time I make even the least bit of progress in this work. But this feels like more than Impostor Syndrome.

Adventures in Racism, AIR, truly is huge. And that’s daunting. When I thought I was writing a graphic memoir, working on a series of mini-comics, the work seemed, if not easy, at least do-able. Even the longer stories I’d planned to include weren’t all that long. There were a LOT of them, but the idea of the whole endeavor still seemed manageable, like something I could hold in my hands and see my way through.

When I had the realization that I wasn’t writing memoir but was using my memoir stories as frames for a series of essays about racism, the size of Adventures suddenly ballooned. When, out of curiosity, I wrote the script for what I thought was the shortest of the essays, I wound up with an outline for a 25-page comic. Twenty-five pages … when I’d thought it would be, at most, eight. How in the actual fuck was I going to make it through all the essays I’d mapped out?

So yes, the length of each piece made the idea of the entirety of AIR seem impossible. This is a classic way of freezing my process. The whole feels too big, I can’t focus on the pieces and plow my way through them (sort of like how my apartment is still full of boxes almost a year after my move).

The other impossibility is the fact that AIR is a comic. These crazy-long scripts are daunting because I will be the one who has to figure out a way to draw each of the panels. Me. I will have to do it. This woman who is one of the slowest, most unsure artists in the history of comics-making. I will be the one who has to draw these panels.

Now here, maybe, you’re thinking what so many friends have thought and said to me: I don’t have to be the one who draws this comic. I can write and, and I can work with an illustrator. That is 100 percent true. Except that it’s not. I could work with an illustrator, and the final product would be great, might even be spectacular. But it wouldn’t be right. When I see the finished comics in my head, they look like my little line drawings. And, too, this work is so close to me, I am greedy and selfish with it, want all the aspects of it to be mine, to come from my hands.

So, yeah. There’s that. Stubbornness. Absolute stubbornness.

 

All of this is read. The project is huge. And insisting on doing all the artwork myself will make it take that much longer to complete. All of that is true.

It all also feels like excuses.

Why am I really not doing the work? What am I afraid of that’s fueling my procrastination?

 

Over the summer, I got a push in the right direction. I stumbled on a call for writings that specifically asked for graphic work in addition to prose. And the theme of the journal matched the theme of my beta-tested mini-comic. Of course I had to submit.

I dredged up the critiques from last year and set about revising. I drafted new ideas for panels and figured out how to draw them. And then, just a couple of days before submissions were due, I realized there was a hole in the work, and I needed more panels. six to be exact. It didn’t seem possible that I could draw six panels in to days … but then I did. I got the thing finished and sent it in.

That was an enormous step for me. Completing a full comic — script and artwork — was something I hadn’t done since I’d worked on the memoir minis. And seeing that I could draw more quickly than I’d imagined was good, too. And actually submitting it to a journal? That was most astounding of all.

Okay. So lot’s of good stuff. What happened?

What happened was … I reverted to being myself. I sent my comic out into the world and behaved as if I could do not one thing more until I heard back from that journal. And I didn’t even realize I was doing that until I talked about it today with my friends — see how important writing dates can be?!

Even if, in some crazy version of the world, it make sense for me to refrain from submitting any additional comics until I heard back about that once submission, that certainly shouldn’t have meant that I needed to stop writing and drawing all together! And yet, that’s what I did. I haven’t looked at or thought about a script since that submission went in at the end of July.

What the hell?

Yeah. What the hell. And, never mind the possibility of creating and submitting new comics. I could have sent that one completed comic other places. They journal I sent it to stated very clearly that they were fine — as they should be — with simultaneous submissions. And yet I’ve done not one thing with that comic, haven’t even thought about other places that might be a good fit.

 

Despite my claim that whatever is going on with me has to be more than “just” La Impostora, I am beginning to see how absolutely this mess has her fingerprints all over it. How better to hold me back than to make me see my options as narrower and narrower still? How better to stop me in my tracks than to create random and nonsensical rules about when and how often I can send out work?

I procrastinate. It is perhaps the things I do best of all the things I know how to do. And my procrastination saves me from proving La Impostora right. If I ever get Adventures written and drawn, she never gets to pint and laugh and say, “I told you so,” when it isn’t perfect, when it doesn’t find and audience, when the world asks me to please sit all the way down with my delusions of being a comics writer.

Ugh.

Having my friends tell me their partners have asked — more than once — about my comic is an indication that La Impostora might just be wrong about me. That is a gift beyond measure.

 

Time to claw my way up out of this pit of procrastination and get back to work on my passion project. First up: submitting my mini-comic to a few other journals before I head home for Thanksgiving, rock La Impostora back on her heels and then dive into script-writing again.

 


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Human Touch

In physical therapy, as I’ve written about a few times in the past, you have people handling your body, rubbing, patting, stroking your body. It’s a constantly strange truth.

I imagine that, for some people, it isn’t strange at all. For people who have been allowed to grow up without any unwanted, uninvited touch, without any body shaming, without any violence, the intense, intimate touching of PT must just feel … harmless? Helpful? It must feel like what it is: therapy to help you recover from an injury. I have no idea what that could feel like, to be able to let someone touch you so freely, so thoroughly, without flinching away or drawing into yourself. I still fight against my therapists’ hands, still fight my startle response and my inclination to jerk back, harden myself against that touch.

*

In Jamaica, in the town where I like to stay, there is an American massage therapist. I had my first massage with him in the summer of 2005. It was much more intimate than what happens in PT. I was covered with a sheet, but under that … nothing but panties. Before I got undressed that first time, we had about three minutes of conversation about what kind of body work he would be doing, about any particular aches or irregularities I might be feeling, about any health concerns he should know about. Then he left me alone to disrobe and secret myself under the sheet. And then we got started.

And it was entirely fine. Somehow, it was entirely fine. It’s a truth that makes no sense. I didn’t fight him, didn’t flinch away, didn’t stiffen my body in protective protest.

Why not? Why on earth was that possible? And possible each of the additional five times I’ve had a massage with him? How? What does my mind see as the difference between massage touch and PT touch?

And how is massage touch received by people who don’t struggle with PT touch? Does it really just dissolve them into a goopy mass of pleasure sensation? What must that be like?

*

One morning in PT, Jeremy took hold of my arm. I’d been telling him about the pain I’m having in my bicep and along the back upper ridge of my shoulder. I’d been doing some stretches before heading over to his table. I was feeling pretty good, relaxed, happy to see improvement in some of the tougher exercises, pleased to have graduated to muscle-building work.

Jeremy took hold of my arm and tried to stretch it out. My resistance was instant and intense. “It’s me,” he said, patting my bicep gently. “Me, your old friend. Relax. Relax.”

I’m all one step forward, a dozen and a half back. So tense, I could feel my bicep flexing against him. And for the rest of the session, I felt my body resisting him, refusing to go limp again and again and again.

Jeremy – aside from the fact that he’s a little too big and loud, a little too — as I’ve said — BMOC jock dude-bro – could easily be a massage therapist. When he has massaged my shoulder, it’s felt as good as my Jamaican massages. And yet I stay wound tight. And the same is true with all of my therapists – Yu-Lan still exclaims in wonder on those rare occasions when she feels my arm go limp.

I want to say that it’s my body steeling itself against pain. Moving in the ways the therapists try to move me usually means pain. PT these days usually means pain. Isn’t it only natural that I’d flinch away from that? But I know better. I don’t love pain, but fear of it isn’t chief among the reasons for my response to PT touch.

So what do I do with any of this? It’s interesting to realize that I perceive different types of intimate touch so very differently. And it’s interesting to realize that, because not everyone has a history like my history, there are people in the world who don’t have a problem with intimate touch at all. And … what? What’s next? Where do I go with this?

Yes, obviously, to a therapist’s office, but I want something more, something this minute. Yes, a magic bullet that will allow me to relax in PT … but also just a clear conclusion to this mental meandering.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe just recognizing this different perception is enough for now. Maybe I need to sit with it a while before I can start to process it. Maybe.

I am coming to the end of what I hope is just my first set of PT visits for my shoulder. My arm is starting to feel better. I have some of my range of motion back. I am no longer sleeping sitting up. I have moved from the tiny one-pound weight to the less-tiny two-pounder. Progress! But I’m not ready to be finished yet. My arm has a long way to go, and so does my thought process. The things I’ve learned about myself in PT have begun to get deeper. Not sure this is the argument to use with my insurance to get a second round of PT approved!

I’m glad to feel my body getting stronger, working back toward health. I have a very long way to go, but it feels good. For the first time in years, I am out and about without a cane, and I’m no longer wearing my arm in a sling. I’d forgotten how it felt to be so free. It’s scary but also excellent. Just like all the things Yu-Lan and Jeremy are teaching me about my response to touch and my ability to trust. A VERY long way to go. Glad to be on the way.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.