Posted by: scintillatingspeck | April 17, 2016


I’ve been circling this idea, this belief in my outsider-ness, for the better part of a week.  It’s about time I commit some thoughts to pixels, I think.

A friend of mine pointed out that in my telling stories about my life, he was noticing a pattern: that I see myself as an outsider in almost every context.  He suggested that I might need some healing around that, this sense that I don’t belong and don’t fit in, before I get drawn into any geographic relocation.

Maybe I was particularly receptive to hearing it that day, but it struck me rather forcefully.  I mean, the truth of it.  It’s a big part of my personal narrative.  I’m feeling like I need to peel back all the layers of this “outsider” role and see what’s there, what parts of it could be softened and made malleable, what parts give me strength, what parts hobble me like a ball and chain.

On the one hand, there are aspects to relish about being an outsider.  I don’t feel beholden to lumbering, fossilized notions of what constitutes a successful, meaningful life.  I’m free in ways that many people aren’t.  I’ve chosen to reject certain well-trodden paths in favor of maintaining my own sense of integrity and authenticity, even if that often comes at a high price.  Being on the outside of various established systems, institutions, and hierarchies allows me to have a perspective that “insiders” just can’t have.  It’s one thing to be a reform-minded soul immersed in a less-than-optimal system, and quite another to be a radical, on or beyond the fringe, refusing to accept cultural norms and structures as a fait accompli.  This kind of outsider-ness is not something I’m willing to give up.  I want this freedom of movement and action.  I want this access to varieties of knowledge, dangerous knowledge, intuitive knowledge, that is not available in the prescribed doses and formats.  I want to honor this part of me that snarls at the notion of questioning being an “outsider,” that growls Do not cage me.

On the other hand,  I need to delve deeper into the ways that believing in my “outsider-ness” hurts me and keeps me isolated.  I don’t think it’s an unmitigated boon to see myself as a misfit.

Obviously, to some degree, I’ve internalized the messages of industrial civilization which would necessarily paint someone like me as weird, crazy, and unworthy.  The baggage is old.  It’s all entangled with childhood wounds around wanting to be liked but also feeling incapable of adjusting to various expectations.

Earlier this week I wrote little notes to myself about outsider-ness, and one of them reads: Maybe I belong more than I think or feel I belong.  Maybe what I tune into so much is other people’s feelings of isolation, weirdness, ill-fittingness, not-belongingness.  It’s not just those feelings, though—it’s all the feelings.  It’s not that hard for me to find the shared ground with others, to empathize.  And yet I ricochet between feeling deeply and universally connected and feeling withdrawn and alienated.

It’s a habit for me to flee.

To be continued.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | April 5, 2016

Why Relationship Anarchy?

Relationship anarchy has been much on my mind of late.  What is it, and why is it so compelling to me?  What is it about RA that feels more fitting and comprehensive than a concept like polyamory?  Why does it feel important, even urgent, to keep seeking out a relational philosophy that feels congruent?

I’m not sure when I first came across the term “relationship anarchy” but I think it was sometime last year.  Since then, I have been reading more about it, in bursts.  (For a good introduction to the concept and further reading, try  RA is not all that amenable to a snappy, brief definition, which is one reason I like it.

So why does it draw me so much?

It’s not rule-based.  Contrary to popular opinion, relationship anarchy (or any kind of anarchy) is not the equivalent of chaos.  Instead, it explicitly rejects the notion of setting rules as a basis for interaction.  Each relationship is allowed to naturally and organically express its form and to change over time.  Consent and boundaries are still important, but these are not expressed in the form of rules or contracts.  I’ve seen some people argue that polyamory is rule-based; for some, it certainly is, but for others, I don’t think that’s the case.   But in poly circles, there isn’t consensus about the necessity or desirability of rules.  I have encountered some poly folks who have insisted that rules and contracts are absolutely necessary in all relationships, and I disagree with them entirely.  RA helps me to clarify my stance in this regard, but I still think it’s possible for someone to be both polyamorous and a relationship anarchist.

It deliberately breaks down hierarchies.  The language of polyamory, in the relatively short history of the idea, includes such concepts as “primary” and “secondary” and even “tertiary” partners, with all kinds of embedded assumptions about what that means.  Not all poly people adhere to hierarchical patterning, but it seems to be a relic of the hegemony of monogamy, marriage, and the ownership model of relationships.  RA addresses this head on and declares that no relationship is inherently ranked over another.  This includes not just “partners” (usually defined by the mainstream as the presence of sexual intimacy), but also friends and the full range of relationships that humans can have.  In this absence of ranking, there are still limitations of time, energy, and attention, so it’s not expected that everyone will be treated identically—however, the deliberate dismantling of hierarchy is a priority.

It’s tied to other manifestations of anarchy.  Relationship anarchy is an extension of hundreds of years of thought, inquiry, and action about anarchy in general.  As people become curious about RA and how it can help them move towards increased freedom and integrity, it can be an organizing philosophy of practice to extend to all areas of their lives.  If we question the oppressive systems that dominate how we conduct our relationships, and realize that we can decolonize our minds in this regard, what’s to stop us from decolonizing our minds about all oppressive systems, economic, educational, governmental, religious, etc?

Sex is not the ultimate marker of intimacy.  This is a crucial point.  Hand in hand with dismantling hierarchies of relationship is the notion that the presence or absence of sex is not a determining factor of how intimate a connection is.  This is not a condemnation of sex at all; sex is still a beautiful and meaningful expression of intimacy, but it’s simply not the only way to express intimacy.  A relationship is not more important once some magical line gets crossed when sex happens, if that line ever gets crossed—there doesn’t need to be a line.  There doesn’t need to be a relationship escalator.  We can adore and have intimacy with friends, and not reduce it to “just friends,” regardless of sexual activity.  We can stop privileging romantic couples as the ultimate expression of fidelity, commitment, and fulfillment.

It’s radically inclusive.  One of the things I like the most about RA is the idea that I can include all my loves in it.  None of them have to identify as anything.  They don’t have to have the title of “partner.”  They don’t have to sign on the dotted line.  They don’t have to carry a card.  They don’t have to wave any banners.  If they become inspired by the philosophy of relationship anarchy, great, but they don’t have to.  They don’t have to be poly, or mono, or hold any particular sexual orientation, or be anarchists.  The practice is more important than the labels.  All that really matters is the love.

That’s what it boils down to.  All that really matters is the love.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | March 22, 2016

Depression and ADD as acts of resistance to the Culture of Busy.

What if depression, ADD, and a whole slew of other “disorders” or “illnesses” are, in fact, our bodies’/minds’ wisest attempts at resistance and reintegration?  I know there are many who would vigorously reject such a notion, pointing to the obviously painful and maladaptive aspects of these conditions.  But my readings, thoughts, and experiences are guiding me in this direction.

I’m focusing on depression and attention-deficit disorder (ADD) at the moment because of my own long history of depression and the fact that I suspect my daughter Lily would qualify for a diagnosis of ADD.  For that matter, I might qualify for it myself, at this point.  I don’t know, and I’m not inclined to get either of us tested and processed by the psych-pharma-industrial complex.  And in part, that’s because I’m not convinced that these are Problems That Need to Be Solved.

There are plenty of Problems, to be sure.  Like the fact that we live in the Culture of Busy, which is my shorthand for the Culture of Unmitigated Insane Behavior, including but not limited to: fomenting greed, competition, isolation, oppression of all sorts, soul-killing, poverty, hatred, polarization, violence, biosphere destruction.  Must I continue?  I really don’t want to spell it out every time.  But spell it out I must, if it’s to provide the needed contrast to pointing fingers at individuals for their own misfortune, claiming that if only they were happy enough, or relaxed enough, or focused enough, then everything would be fine.

But underneath, we know it’s not fine.  We’re supposed to get with the program, fall in line, jump through the hoops, adapt to the Way Things Are.  But what sense does it make to adapt to conditions that are fundamentally wrong?  To be able to say, “I didn’t rock the boat; I didn’t cause problems for others; I fit in, sort of; I didn’t have to confront my fears or move towards my own liberation”?

Depression slows us down, causes us to turn inward, ruminate, not be able to function like “normal” people.  I’m hardly a fan of the suffering aspect.  I don’t want to suffer, and I don’t want others to suffer.  But it gives me a modicum of consolation to think that this could be an action of last resort in the realm of resistance.  No, I don’t want to play this game.  No, I don’t think all the false positivity is a good and healing thing.  No, I don’t want to contribute to an economy that primarily serves the most wealthy rather than everyone.  No, I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not.  No, I don’t want to set aside my grief over real losses.  No, I don’t want to ignore the travesty of the air, water, and earth being poisoned and killed on a daily basis.  No, it can’t wait until I do something productive.

I see Lily and her defiance of schedules, timing, and efficiency in a different light than I was raised to believe.  She knows how to tell time.  She doesn’t want to, though—she doesn’t want to monitor the clock, develop that ingrained, automatic response that says I must bow to the agenda, probably someone else’s and not mine.  She relies on me to manage our scheduled activities.  I tell her it’s still important to respect the time of others, to be on time to meet friends and attend events, and that in the future I can’t always be the one to do this for her, that she will have to learn to do it herself.  I don’t want to shove it down her throat, though.  I’m more reluctant every day to insist, to nag, to get upset and anxious when she drags her feet and wants to play-act a scene from the latest chapter book she’s been reading.  We have enough leeway in our schedule, as unschoolers, to allow for flexibility.  It doesn’t come without anxiety on my part.  I started reading a book about how to manage ADD without drugs, using behavioral interventions, but they all seemed mostly geared towards kids who are in school and having them adapt to that environment.  It seems like the mainstream goal is to have compliant, obedient children, that they will be happier and learn more if they can just fit into an environment that many find artificial, confining, and geared towards meeting the goals of others rather than one’s own intrinsic strivings for meaning and success.

But I’m raising a revolutionary, and I’m not sorry.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | March 5, 2016


I’m having a kind of big problem with this classification of “single.”  I’ve been putting it on and taking it off like a bodysuit with one sleeve, no leg holes, and no neck hole, and I think it might be time to say that this thing doesn’t fit.  Not that I’d prefer a straitjacket, mind you—I yearn for more nuanced language, or more understanding, or less default assumptions.  Yes, I know, my bar is always set too high.

Single.  To be truthful, I want to claim pieces of this, the parts that actually make sense.  I want people to understand how much of my time is spent alone or only with my daughter.  I want people to know that I am not “taken.”  I want people to recognize that there is no romantic partner living in my home or offering contact on a daily basis.  Also, it’s important to me to be seen as my singular self, an individual, not an appendage to a predefined relationship.

And yet, this label is also driving me a bit mad, like all the other tidy, commonly understood labels—it feels cruel in its erasure of all the other pieces that are also true.  It feels unfair that I can’t be like wide swaths of other people, who can claim words like “single” or “married” or “divorced” or whatever, and have one’s relational identity all neatly encapsulated without any need for further explication.

Why do I always seem to require further explication?!  That’s if I want to be understood at all, I suppose.  I hold back daily, it seems, to spare myself, to spare those I love, and to spare the uninitiated the confusion of having to wrap their heads around something unfamiliar and potentially upsetting.  The problem is, it’s not really sparing myself the angst of feeling misunderstood, lacking adequate support, and being rendered invisible.

Maybe it would help if I go ahead with the explication:  I am single.  I am married.  I am separated.  All of these things are true.  I love my husband.  We are quite certain that living separately is what’s best for us as individuals and as a family, and yet we are strongly committed to one another, probably more committed than ever.  We are together.  We are not together.  We don’t own each other.  Our lives are entwined.

Also, I have a long-distance love, although what is “have” in such a context?  We don’t “have” each other.  We love each other.  We are together.  We are not together.  Even in the midst of uncertainty and unassailable obstacles, our lives are entwined.

Also, there are my platonic loves, who are not loved any less than the others.  I won’t refer to them as “just friends.”  They are my heart, on the same level as my aforementioned loves.  To rank any of them is anathema to me.

And my sidekick, my most frequent companion, my inspiration, my beloved child!  How could I ever consider myself “single,” i.e., alone, when so much of my life is filled with her?

And what of my conviction, despite all of my lifelong mental habits, that the idea of a separate self is an illusion?  What sense does “single” make in that?  Even if I had no loves, no family, no friends, am I not still part of this astonishing web of existence?  How could a human, a type of animal so defined by social behavior, be single?  Where did we get hung up on this terminology?

In the marketplace, I believe.  The necessary opposite to “single” is “taken,” right?  Why do we want to know such things?  We want to know who’s on the market, who’s “available.”  This, to me, seems part of the tyranny of compulsory monogamy and its insidious effects on how we view ourselves and relationships.

This terminology erases all the nuances of relationship, ignoring the importance of community and networks of non-sexual relationships.  It reinforces the hierarchical belief in a romantic, sexual, exclusive dyad as the ultimate goal of human relationship.  It promotes the language of ownership, of commodities, of economies.  If one is “taken,” one is “off the market,” unavailable.  We are a culture of people mostly seeking to be unavailable.

I think this way of thinking does as much, if not more, damage to self-identified monogamous people as it does to those who are ethically non-monogamous.  It’s not just the realm of relational minorities/radicals to question this; I think it’s perfectly possible for those who identify as entirely monogamous to also dismantle such false and oppressive hierarchies.  I think we are capable of discerning the difference between how we prioritize time and energy (which necessarily limits the scope of how many people we can interact with) and how love itself is not subject to any artificial economy or restraint.

I don’t want to be marked as a participant in a relationship marketplace; I want to opt out of that system.  At the same time, I want people to know that my heart is open, that I am essentially available to the extent that my boundaries and interests allow.  In that sense, “single” could be a useful label to wear: “I am available.”  And not just to potential lovers, but to friends.  It troubles me that I even need to make that distinction.

And while I’m available, I want people to know the depth of feeling, commitment, and connection I have to my current loves.  I won’t disavow them for the sake of protecting anyone’s preconceived notions of “true love.”

I’m home alone, but true love is all around and will soon be springing up like violets.

Photo on 2016-03-05 at 20.50

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | February 21, 2016

The pattern of fragments.

My friend Dave just introduced a revolutionary thought to me… what if I stop trying to write a cohesive narrative, a long-flowing piece? What if I make the whole thing a series of essays? Necessarily fragmented? Because, for fuck’s sake, I’m a single homeschooling mom and it is well-nigh impossible for me to write a normal book? (That’s me saying that last bit, not him.)

It makes sense to me. It also brings me a wave of relief. Could I really do that? I already have so much material I could use. I’d need to write more, yes, but I could do it in bursts rather than try to construct a grand, hyper-organized chronicle. It could be a good meta-reflection of my circumstances and process. My writing, along with my inner and outer landscapes, will necessarily be turbulent. I want the reader to understand my bewilderment through direct experience.  I’d still need to edit and organize and shuffle and re-shuffle. I’d still be looking for patterns, and prefacing, and couching, and whatnot. It’s taking some sort of disjointed shape in my mind.

Here’s what I see.

I grew up and live in the Culture of Disconnection, of Separation, of Competition, of Keeping Busy, of Achievement.

So much of my life for the past 10-15 years has been about deliberately dismantling every habit and assumption I’ve had, based on that culture. I’ve dismantled my approach to politics, realizing that I’m an anarchist. I’ve dismantled my approach to work and money, moving away from hierarchical institutions, learning non-monetary ways of exchange and subsistence to the degree that I’m able, steadily reducing my dependence on the conventional economy.  I’ve dismantled my beliefs about learning and education—I, a lifelong admirer of scholarly work, groomed for the Ivy League, thinking/hoping I might squirrel myself away in the Ivory Tower, directing my energy into graduate degrees and becoming an academic reference librarian, have largely turned away from it. My child and I are unshackled learners, wandering in feral patterns through the woods, through the libraries and museums and cafes when they suit us, through art, through books, through spontaneous conversation, through our bodies, through our breath. I’ve dismantled my beliefs about relationships and families; I think the nuclear family model is too insular and isolating, and the narrow restrictions and expectations of systemic monogamy are a choke-hold on my self-actualization. I won’t privilege a unitary, vacuum-sealed, idealized, romantic relationship over my child, my friends, my solitude, the full, rich panoply of realized and potential connection with others in any form it might take—sexual, intellectual, quiet, playful, intimate, serious, frivolous, light. I won’t allow others to define marriage or commitment or fidelity for me. I won’t wait for The One. WE are the One. Fuck the oppressive, enduring mythology that women are property, that, by extension, we are all slaves to this insidious System, that we should accept the insult to our souls that we are anything less than free to love.

And now, apparently, I’m dismantling my beliefs about what a writer should be, how she should work, how her narratives should flow, what timetable she should be working on, how she will be perceived by her readers. There are writers who have time to write, and money to work with, and editors to lean on. There are writers who have someone doing all the housework. There are writers with no children, or with children who go to school, or whose children are grown, or with children who are attended to by anyone but them. I am not one of those writers. I will have to write differently from them. I will have to change my expectations. I will have to demonstrate that the creative and relational impulse that is Writing is not purely the domain of the privileged few. If my writing seems fragmented, that’s because it is—because it reflects my broken heart and mind, still whole and alive despite all the cracks and fissures. And my broken heart and mind reflect the fractures in the world: our badly damaged cultures and psyches, our landscapes torn apart, our air and oceans modified in grotesque ways, our tribes scattered the length and breadth of the globe, our entrenched, erroneous beliefs that we are separate, that we are not related.

Here is reality. I’m finite. There are luxuries of time and support I will not have. I want to write anyway. I want to accept myself. I want to cease trying to be perfect. I’m at the point of tackling Perfectionism to the ground, that cruel, relentless beast who would sooner muzzle me than offer genuine help—I won’t hold a knife to her throat, though. I’ll kill her with kindness.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | February 20, 2016

Thawing and healing.

Why is it that healing so often feels like pain?  It’s like a frozen toe, anesthetized by fear and defensiveness, beginning to thaw, and in that thawing comes the terrible fire.  How do we know that it’s a healing pain and not a thoroughly destructive pain?  How do we hold onto the knowledge that all this work and suffering and hanging on will carry us over to a healthier state?

I think, often, we’re too afraid to find out.  We shy away from confronting it.  We keep ourselves numb.  That’s what I do, anyway.  I don’t know about you.

No.  That’s what I did.

Past tense.

Something changed.  I can’t think of myself as numb anymore, even if I’ll surely continue to confront all the behaviors that seem determined to keep me in the deep freeze.  I know all those self-defeating behaviors are attempts to keep myself safe.  But I actually want to thaw, damn it, not shoot myself in the foot.

A friend of mine suggested that I read the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.  I’ve only just started it, but it’s been touching me deeply.  Then tonight I decided to find out if Tara Brach had any talks I could listen to online, and came across this.

Apparently Tara Brach knows all about how to make me cry.  And cry, and cry, and cry.  That talk I linked to is about an hour long—guess who cried without stopping through the whole thing?  I suppose it helps that I’m in my house, by myself, overwhelmed by the human world, primed for emotional release.  I cried huge, splashy rivers.  I might not be done yet, although I’ve seized this pause to attempt to write about it.

Such miracles can happen in simply pausing.

Tara speaks of the trance of unworthiness, and how deep it goes, and how damaging it is.  She describes some ways to move towards self-love and self-compassion.  She suggests that we can pause before the self-hating voice kicks in; we can pause to recognize that we are suffering.

What happens when I pause?  when I commit to witnessing myself?

I see that I’m showing up for myself, in my spindly, coltish manner, practically a newborn when it comes to offering myself all-encompassing love.  I see the anguish of internalized cruelty.  I see the terror that’s kept me in a vicious cycle of trying to whip myself into being barely adequate.  I see how sorry I am, how helpless I’ve felt, how heartbreaking it is.  It’s only right to feel one’s heart break in the face of it, bursting forth rivers.  I see the shadows and teeth of shame.  I see my deepest longing, the universal love that claims me as its own, pervading the space where nightmares grow, reaching its verdant tendrils to softly caress.



Posted by: scintillatingspeck | February 19, 2016


I’ve been unwinding the skeins of story lines.  They are long, and tangled, with bits of woolen fluff flying off of them.  I’ve been reading words I’ve written, transcribing notebooks, and reading thoughts like runes in my blurry memory.  There’s this Book, and I’m feeling my way into its guts, before I can speak-write it truthfully.  It takes so long.  I’ve heard it said that we teach what we need to learn; we write what we need to read.  I think it takes this long because it’s not just a Book (even with that gargantuan capital B that should be a hundred stories high)—it’s the map I need to live from this point forward, to see where I’ve been, what I’ve been pointing towards, where I need to go.

There are words, images, themes that spiral around insistently, repetitively, demanding my attention.  Lately I have been circling this word, this idea of Tribe.

Who has a tribe, these days?  in the Culture of Alienation?  We’re supposed to disavow our origins as primates who evolved to thrive in bands of 50-100 souls.  We’re supposed to identify with being part of a society of millions or billions.  Even more, though, we’re supposed to see ourselves as strictly unitary, individual, a massive conglomeration of separate Selves, mostly in competition with others.  We speak of communities.  We say we belong to this or that workplace, or school, or religious institution, or town, or nation— but what of the tribe?  What of family, blood and chosen, of being connected body and soul, of a commitment, a belonging that goes far beyond the conventional lip-service given to such?

The only sense I can make of “tribe” is that it will never exist in the way I most want it to, with me and my child surrounded, in person, by the people that matter most to us.  The only way I can see it, visualize it, is in fragments scattered around, like a dream that exploded colossally, its pieces still glinting and shivering in isolation, seeking re-assembly and wholeness.  I see myself dashing around, touching these pieces, these people, these parts of myself, my heart.  I’m still here.  We are not separate.  I know we are in pieces, though.

The forces that keep us in pieces are profound.  They are woven into the stories, the myths, the beliefs in which we place our bedrock faith.  People don’t take kindly to their bedrock getting blown up, after all the other blowings-up of this culture—what ground is there to stand on?  Is it not understandable that we want to feel contained, safe, oriented?  It’s understandable.  It’s also the most dangerous thing I’ve ever heard of.

I have a tribe.  It called me to jump into a roiling river, to relinquish the banks, to swim for my life and theirs.  I have to touch them, be with them, in any way I can find.  We feed one another.  We survive because of one another.  They are people who haven’t lost track of what matters.  Our shared fidelity isn’t based on institutional structures and demands and hierarchies.  We look within, and there we are, dwelling in the One Heart.

That’s my home, right there.

Photo on 2016-02-19 at 14.55


Posted by: scintillatingspeck | February 17, 2016


I’m buzzing and floundering in thoughts that refuse to coagulate neatly.  Why should it matter?  Why am I expecting myself to make sense right now?  I guess I got it in my head that I want to write a blog post.  I see that it’s been one month since I wrote the last one.  It feels too long.  As if I’m on a schedule.

I told myself: Go ahead, you disorganized blob of fog.  Why not.

Um, because I’m supposed to appear coherent?  Because I should be producing perfect little gems of polished wisdom, gleaming like chalcedony?

Since when?  Says who?  Can you give it up, please?  You and your perfect chalcedony—you will end up surrounded by mirages of unexpressed treasure without a peep of an authentic word. 

Bah.  This is always where I end up.  Fine.  FINE.  Displaying my inner arguments.  I’ll claim it’s all for the greater good; somebody, somewhere, will feel less foolish, or at least less alone, for their ongoing internal tussles.

Topics that insinuate themselves into my fingers include:

  • How to deal with homeschool anxiety attacks (because clearly I have experience with this)
  • Why relationship anarchy is an ever-more appealing term to me than polyamory
  • Why I try not to care about identity labels but they seem to keep mattering
  • How any relationship finds its own equilibrium, eventually, whether it flourishes or withers
  • How getting friend-dumped can be a decent catalyst to clarifying one’s relational priorities

….and then my brain spins off into eddies that are about doing laundry, and remembering to replace the horribly deteriorated windshield wipers on the car, and flickers of erotica, and rowing madly toward a drowning bit of thought that surely was important except it’s gone now.

I was thinking that perhaps this whole blog is about me talking to myself and trying to scrape up an ort of sense by doing so.  Or perhaps it’s my sacred practice of shame-busting via vulnerability.

“So, what exactly do you do, Jen?”

I’m a shame-buster.  I’m a meaning-sniffer.  I’m a nurturer of bodies and souls.  I’m a bullshit-detector.  I’m a miner of my own intuition and sometimes yours.  I berate myself.  I berate myself for berating myself.  I practice loving myself and it’s fucking hard.  I take a child by the hand and pray that my love outweighs my mistakes.  I get thirsty for people to be real with me.


Posted by: scintillatingspeck | January 17, 2016

It matters.

Recently I’ve had occasion to become vastly re-motivated to gain momentum with writing my book, you know, the one based on this Kickstarter project and the cross-country trip I took with Lily in the summer of 2014.  I want to explain how this re-motivation came to pass, how I’ve gained inspiration from other writers, how I’ve done some crucial, time-consuming, emotional labor, and how I’ve created a plan for moving forward.

I think I reached a nadir last year.  Some of you will remember that I had a bit of a freak-out in August, a crisis of confidence in just about every area of my life.  At that time I reached out to my Kickstarter supporters in a fit of despair and offered everyone a refund.  Nobody took me up on that.

And I’m glad, because my work isn’t done.

Emotional Labor

Nobody told me that the hardest part of writing would be when my fingers were not on the keyboard.  Nevertheless, that’s what’s been true for me.  There are tricky logistical challenges to writing for me, as well—not to dismiss those, especially carving out time and energy as a single, unschooling mom without enough external support.  Despite those real challenges, by far the dominant ones have been dealing with my own messy thoughts and emotions: insecurity, fear, panic, feelings of worthlessness, melancholy, deprivation, dread—oh, what a list, and such words will never adequately describe the particulars of what I’ve experienced.  I had particular blockages that needed to be sat with, cried over, kept company.

Patience is a much-lauded virtue.  It seems palatable enough when it’s counted in days or weeks rather than years, or when you can see an obvious end in sight, even if it’s far-off.  It’s a more grueling call when you can’t see or even grope your way forward.  Sometimes the only way forward is to be absolutely still, to realize the merit of stasis.  And along with that, to realize the merits of loneliness, of absence, of emptiness.  If you avoid your Shadow it will always come around to demand its due, I’ve learned.  I’ve spent a whole lot of time with my Shadow in the past several months.  I’m not sure if we’re friends, exactly, but it’s a hard-won intimacy.


There was a stretch of time when all that was keeping me going with my book project was a sense of obligation and sheer stubbornness.  Running a crowdfunding campaign is insidious in that way; it can start to feel very transactional, a tit-for-tat arrangement in which I-promise-you-this-in-return-for-your-support.  But writing, and creative expression in general, does not necessarily fall in line with this essentially consumerist approach.  I’ve learned that a solid motivation for creative work cannot be born from obligation alone; it sucks all the meaning right out of it.  I had to re-connect with my original pursuit of meaning, had to ask again and again, “Why am I doing this?  Who is this for?  Why did this feel important, originally?  Why does it feel important now?

At a pivotal moment, I read this essay by Rebecca Solnit, “Men Explain Lolita to Me.”  Aside from being a fantastic description of the phenomenon of mansplaining, what moved me to tears were these words:

“You read enough books in which people like you are disposable, or are dirt, or are silent, absent, or worthless, and it makes an impact on you. Because art makes the world, because it matters, because it makes us. Or breaks us.”

It matters.  That’s what hit me.  It matters, because women matter.  Because women writers matter.  Because little girls matter.  Because mothers matter, and children, and anyone who cares about life and sanity matters.  Because sexual and relational minorities matter, and radicals matter, and self-emancipated wild-minded feral earth lovers matter.

It isn’t right that the voices that get heard or even make it to the point of being expressed at all tend to fall into a narrow band of what’s considered Worthy (mostly Straight-White-Priviliged-Guys™).  It isn’t right, either, to expect that other non-Straight-White-Priviliged-Guys™ are going to do the speaking and writing for us (although there are many, and they are worthy of being listened to and read).  There are real, daily consequences because of this.  It’s about survival: not just in body, but in spirit.

It clicked for me, and keeps clicking, that if voices that matter need to be heard, then I’m damn well going to have to value my own voice and make it heard.  I might not have the reach of fame or stature; I don’t have any MFA in writing, I don’t have a literary agent, I don’t have any writerly connections—none of that.  But that’s not what matters.  What matters is making my life, my art, visible, to the best of my ability.  It can’t be nipped in the bud from the outset by all the issues that plague the less-privileged: lack of time, lack of money, lack of confidence, fears of mediocrity and vulnerability and humiliation, old traumas trying to pull the strings and keep me safe.

It doesn’t matter how far this book goes or who reads it.  It doesn’t even matter if I think it sucks, or more likely, that I think it won’t be or isn’t good enough, or is purely embarrassing.  What matters is that I write it.  What matters is that I’m birthing myself all the time, and for some reason Writing tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Here’s your medium.  Here’s how you, Jennifer Hartley, give meaning to your life.”  And there will be one more book in the world that says, “You are not disposable.  You are not dirt, or silent, or absent, or worthless.”  I’m still making the world I want to live in, and it’s my sacred duty to encourage others to do the same, directly, and by example.

Moving Forward

I’m almost done fleshing out the outline for my book; I had been playing with a number of structural ideas for a long time, but I’ve settled on the idea of a largely chronological narrative of the trip (including the events preceding it, so roughly a year’s worth of my life, from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014), interspersed with topical essays that could also stand alone.

I’ve also come up with three overarching, overlapping themes to help me organize my thoughts: 1.) the radical prioritization of relational being and intimacy, 2.) the reevaluation of notions of risk and safety and consequent impacts on living life fully and facing mortality, and 3.) confronting the culture of alienation.

I have a bunch of content that I’ve written since the trip concluded, and I’ll be examining it and seeing what fits and what doesn’t with the above frameworks/themes.  And of course I’ll be doing a lot more writing.

It would appear that there’s a light over yonder.

Photo on 2016-01-17 at 13.03

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | December 29, 2015

This is work.

I’m in my house, listening to the clock ticking, as if it could measure the length and breadth of life.  I’m alone.  The strange warmth of this late December has been replaced by sleet and ice.  I’m trying to shake off the ragged remnants of Insomnia that has been plaguing me for weeks, along with her compatriot Melancholia.  I might have a foothold, now, after finally getting a solid stretch of sleep last night.

There are things I want to get done, you know.  I have a book I’m writing.  I have a house I’m rearranging, organizing, trying to make it feel more like home, even though I’ve lived here for four years.  Even though I don’t want to be here.  I have a child I’m mothering, although she is elsewhere for ten days, and her absence is stark; I’ve told myself now is the time to sort through all her books, organize all the art and craft supplies, plan field trips, finish setting up her new room (we just transferred all her stuff into the guest room/Tom’s former bedroom).  There’s no lack of stuff I want to accomplish.

Still, my heart has conspired to turn my attention away from the tangible work, away from anything I can present as Results.  Heart doesn’t care how I come across to others right now, or if I visibly accomplish anything.  She’s quietly insistent that I slow everything down and deal with my emotional and spiritual being.  Maybe she invited Insomnia to the table, to force me to confront stuff.  Maybe she invited the literal ache pervading my head and limbs.  She says it can’t wait.

This is work.  Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible.”  That’s why I’m writing this, making it visible, to myself.  It’s arduous, real, and hurts.  Most of it happens in the dark, inside me.

I work to understand more thoroughly, on a heart-level, and that means dismantling illusions as best I can.  The illusions circle around and around, flapping and making a great ruckus, like a bunch of uppity roosters, trying to make their case for existence.  Sometimes they get mean.  They don’t want to end up as soup.

I hold onto the commitments I’ve made to see things through.
I’m not going to give up.


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