So, you’re feeling porous, shot through with holes. Everyone’s psychic winds seem to blow your way and you feel like you’re built out of sticks. That’s okay. Not to worry, this is not uncommon. You’re a poet, maybe, and aren’t we supposed to leave ourselves cracked open so the muse can get in? Jack Spicer practiced automatic writing. According to Kevin Killian, he would often go to bed drunk, wake up in the middle of the night and take dictation. When he woke up in the morning, he wouldn’t remember writing any of it. Sounds a lot like being drunk, but I buy it. If Spicer says Martians spoke to him, I’m game. Ezra Pound said, “The poet is the antennae of the race.” If that’s true, I’d like to advocate for ways to crack oneself open to let the starlight in other than getting shitfaced. I’d also like to talk advocate for sealing the crack back up when necessary. Let’s talk about it.
I’ve been thinking about containers. I want to know how to tell what’s mine and what’s yours. I’m not actually that interested in defining what a poetry community is, but I do think it is some kind of container that many poets I know put a lot of time, energy, love, trust, thought, care and risk into. I was talking with a woman who describes herself as a shaman recently about how I had come to be burnt out (on teaching), how I had the hardest time separating my own emotions and energies from those of the teachers and students and administrators I worked with. How there was so much trauma we were all carrying around inside of us, and some of it leaking out and exchanging at any given moment, creating a palpable buzz inside these massive school buildings that would often set off waves of vertigo as soon as I stepped inside. I didn’t (don’t) know how to have healthy boundaries around other people’s trauma. I experience it in my own body as anxiety and physical pain. And this woman said that she worked with several women who were former teachers who, though they felt called to teach and work with young people, maybe even especially traumatized young people , because these teachers were “sensitive”, they had to stop working in public schools. “The school system is a broken container,” she said. Yes, definitely.
So, if I know and can recognize a broken container, how can I begin to form containers that will be able to hold something as sacred as learning or art or just shared experience with other people? How can I be a better container myself, so my stuff doesn’t go flying off into other people when I don’t intend it to, and how can I let people have their stuff and create a buffer around myself so that I don’t take on whatever isn’t going to serve me well?
These series of posts act as a kind of container and I’m not sure how sound they will be. I’m a novice when it comes to self-care and certainly when it comes to any of the strategies I’ve decided to share here. I wrote to a friend about this piece, hoping to quote them and they aptly named my own anxiety around writing this post by expressing their apprehension about being named. They felt that would be “coming out’ around woo.” Woo meaning all that “hippy shit” to borrow a phrase from a dear poet friend of mine–energy, tinctures, trance, tarot, spells, the concept of chakras, etc. The further away you get from The Bay Area, the more things fall into this category–yoga, acupuncture, meditation. Basically, phenomena that can’t be explained empirically or measured scientifically, but whose effects can be experienced and studied. I realize I feel safer gathering friends around me by name here to show that I am not the only poet experimenting with “woo”. So, I’ll call on the aid of a few friends, some by name and some anonymous, but you should know, as you probably already do if you live in California, you are either likely surrounded by believers in “woo” or are one yourself. In either case, welcome.
Lara Durback, a poet and person I like very much, told me something about energetic boundaries a few weeks back that I think relates to the idea of containers. We were sitting at a picnic table in the back yard of a pair of poets with my partner Steve Orth, and another poet who we had just helped move out of an unsafe living situation. Earlier in the day, in that same back yard, I sat with about twenty other people, cis and trans women and non-binary people, mostly poets, talking about what the hell we were going to do about all of these recent incidents of sexual assault and intimidation that had surfaced involving poets in our community either as aggressors or survivors or both. Of course, incidents of assault, abuse and intimidation are unfortunately going on all the time, but this recent eruption had brought some people together out of a sense of urgency. We wanted/needed to talk. We formed a circle, said our names and the meeting began.
After the meeting, I felt a bit blown apart. I badly wanted a cigarette and bummed one off of Lara. We talked with another poet about our varying relationships with boundaries, as so much of what we had discussed in the meeting had to with women’s boundaries being transgressed often violently by men. It is a misguided kindness to think that people who commit consent violations or other abusive acts are all suffering from some aspergers-like inability to read basic social cues. Unfortunately, I think the problem is often simply a real lack of interest in the needs or desires of the person or people they abuse. Maybe it’s a mix. Some aggressors may struggle to understand boundaries while others just don’t care. We wondered aloud about how difficult it can be to assert our boundaries, when we often have difficulty recognizing them ourselves. We talked about self-defense classes or more empowering versions like Girl Army, but I can’t help feeling a conflict there, both hopeful when I see so many cis and trans women and non-binary people choosing to protect and defend themselves, and incredibly frustrated that we’re the ones taking classes to reinforce our boundaries. I would love to see men in our community, poets and otherwise, seek out classes that would train them to respect other peoples’ boundaries, how to manage aggression, maybe just an all around workshop on how to recognize misogyny and patriarchy. There are workshops that I could (and should) take that would train me to recognize white supremacy and work against it. Maybe this is a job for The OMNI. Somebody start writing a proposal!
People who are socialized as female tend not to get much training around boundary setting. Like poets, we are supposed to remain open. I picture a Norman Rockwell painting of a rosy-cheeked white lady in a house dress and apron standing in the doorway of a cute little house with her arms spread wide open, as if to say, “Come on in!” So, if you’re a poet who was socialized as female, you might be exceptionally good at picking up vibes in the ether, maybe very empathetic, and maybe exceptionally bad at filtering any of this information and protecting yourself from its possibly harmful effects.
Later, around the picnic table, Lara explained that she’s learning to set better boundaries for herself by thinking about the space her aura creates. “The aura is 18 inches, the aura is 18 inches,” she repeats to herself. Almost as if saying, “This is my container, this is my container.” She’s also learning to distinguish between her energy and the energy of others by visualizing it in terms of its color.
This reminds me of Hannah Weiner’s “The Fast”? Have you read it? Weiner catalogs each day of a fast lasting about two weeks. She tracks the way energy collects around objects in her apartment, and in her body. Green and red pool in her joints and cause her extreme pain. She can only use wooden tools because metal implements collect too much of the red and green. She spends much of her time in the kitchen sink running water over her body to wash the colors away, or at best bring them to a mellow blue. A purple person walks down the hallway outside her apartment and the whole day is shot. On her birthday she undertakes an epic journey across the apartment. To make it to the kitchen sink, she must wrap her feet in paper towel and tie them with pink silk ribbons before she can make slow steps across the concrete floor, fending off torrents of colored energies as she goes. Hannah Weiner’s body was such a sensitive instrument that it picked up information not just from other people, but from objects as well. After this fast, and what many describe as a psychotic break, she would begin seeing words in all different shapes, sizes and fonts, and would write her famous “Clairvoyant Journals”.
What swathes of colored energies must have flown and spun around that backyard gathering of poets, I wonder.
I called Lara today and she explained a practice that she uses regularly to help parse out the energies present in painful interactions. First, she visualizes a rose between she and the other person. The rose hovers outside of her aura (“The aura is 18 inches, the aura is 18 inches.”), absorbing all of the charged energies of the exchange, those coming from Lara and those from the other person. She gives the rose color and detail, maybe taking a mental photograph, explodes the rose in a burst of gold dust. Once the rose has burst into bits, she sends those bits of dust that belong to the other person back, not good, not bad, just neutral, and most importantly, not hers, and she picks out the particles of dust that belong to her and absorbs them back into herself. The toughest part for her, she says, is to keep the rose outside of her aura. “It’s hard not to feel like someone else’s stuff is not my problem, not my responsibility.” Visualizing what is theirs and what is hers in a recognizable, physical form, can help separate those energies.
About two weeks after that first backyard meeting, I sat at a cafe on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland with about five cis women and non-binary poets preparing to attend an open meeting of the OMNI collective, a new collective of collectives housed in a huge building on Shattuck not far from the cafe. We planned to present the OMNI collective with some information about a recent incident of rape that included one of their members, the aggressor. The OMNI collective had generously made room for us on their agenda and we had discussed the issue with some of its members prior to the meeting, hoping to set a clear intention and clear boundaries in terms of what we would and would not discuss for instance, we would not share the details of the survivor’s story, because we did not have her direct permission to do so. It would be a tough meeting, emotional for many, especially shocking for those who were not previously aware of the incident. Nico Peck, one of the poets sitting at the cafe, as we got our ducks in a row, offered me a tincture called Guardian Flower Essences made by Dessert Alchemy. Nico explained that the Gaurdian Flower tincture helps fortify one’s energetic boundaries–perfect for a meeting like this in which emotions and energies of all colors and shades would likely be vying for our conscious and unconscious attention. I squeezed a dropper-full into my iced tea and glurped it down as we headed for the door. I looked for a description of the tincture on their website, and didn’t find it but I did find one ironically called, “Nice Guy Formula”, which unfortunately is not a cure-all for assholes that we could dump into the water supply, but is instead for those who might be susceptible to the powers of the asshole in question or for those of us who have trouble setting boundaries. From the website:
Nice Guy Formula is Indicated When:
• I often feel unable to say no to requests for help, even though I later feel used or angry.
• I sometimes compromise my integrity to do things that others want me to do.
• I tend to offer help before I think about whether I can realistically do so.
• I tend to want to rescue others.
• It’s important to me that others see me as nice, even if it means that I have to do things I don’t want to.
At the beginning of the meeting, poet Sara Larsen volunteered to facilitate the meeting. Her first act as facilitator was to lead the group, seated in a roughly ovoid shape, in a grounding. She asked us to close our eyes and take a deep breath in and exhale it back out. We did this once or twice more. As I remember Sara, back straight, voice steady and strong prompting us to breathe, I am reminded how good it feels and take deep breath too, in front of the computer screen. Throughout the meeting I looked over at Nico a few times, noticing that during some of the most tense moments of an otherwise very productive, thanks to Sara’s excellent facilitation skills, Nico sat quiet, back straight, taking deep breaths with their eyes closed, reminding me to remember to breathe too.
We are all trying to build better containers already.
I realize as I write that the mortality rate for readers of this post might be pretty high. How many people stopped reading at the mention of the word “energy”? How many at “rape”? How many just stopped short at the title? Who’s still with me?
As I write this, another instance of a male poet assaulting a female poet is brought to my attention. A woosh, like a gust of wind, blows through my head and I momentarily lose my sense of equilibrium.
My own body struggles to hold a mixture of competing energies. I feel a tightness in my chest. My right shoulder aches. The third finger on my right hand is beginning to tingle. My container wants my attention. Time to stop.
- LINDSEY BOLDT
Lindsey Boldt is a poet, performer, editor and educator living in Oakland. She is the author of the full-length book, “Overboard”, and the chapbooks, “Oh My, Hell Yes” and “Titties for Lindsey”. With her partner Steve Orth, she co-edits Summer BF Press and writes, directs and performs plays in the style of “Oakland Poetic Realism”. Recent productions include “Dating by Consensus” and “The Reading”. She is also an editor with The Post-Apollo Press.
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