While at 27 Powers this past week, I was lucky enough to get to sit in on one of Laurie’s Wild Writing classes. How the class works is Laurie gives a prompt, reads a poem and then gives a line or two to spark the writing, which is 15 minutes of never letting your pen leave the page, seeing where it might take you, and she offers three rounds of the practice per class session. On this day of rest, I’d like to share a bit of what I wrote.
At the start of the second session Laurie read us Maya Stein’s poem, this is how you do it, and gave us the lines “this is how you do it” and “you were trying to save the world, that’s all.” I wrote,
This is how you do it, tender imperfection and fierce compassion and the dirty dishes and the bills and the way he looks at you and the burs and slivers and stickers that need to be carefully removed, the broken bits to be swept up and tossed or glued together depending on how precious the piece or how much it feels on this particular day like you need it, even if it is only a shadow of whole.
This is how you do it, you get on the plane, rent the car, show up in space, come in from Colorado or Monday or a dream, you show up, you are present, and when it’s over, you go back home. You kiss the boy, then the other boy, you leave the bag packed in the corner, eat dinner, go to bed, get back to work the next morning, digging in the bag for what you need right now, but still not unpacking.
This is how you do it, you get back to practice — you pull a card, write the words, sit and follow your breath, walk the dog, move your body into the poses. You show up, return, let go and come back, again and again.
This is how you do it, you write the content, edit the pieces, code and publish, answer the questions, troubleshoot the issues, get paid.
This is how you do it, even though you know the deal, impermanence, death is real, you’ve lived with it, been there, let it in, let it go, even thought it’s like stripping naked and handing them the sharpest knife, this is how you do it, allow it all in, to touch you, beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible, the mess, the dirt, the stink, the blood, the light, the laughter, you let it warm you, burn you, destroy you.
This is how you do it, bird by bird, every day, every moment, showing up for when it’s brilliant, for when it’s sharp, for when it’s the same old shit again, you show up, you stay with it, even when it makes you want to poke your eye out with a pencil, to run away screaming, to smash something, anything, to be anywhere but here, you show up, you stay, you keep coming back, letting go. You are trying to save the world, that’s all, and this is how you do it.
In the last round, Laurie read Maya Stein’s poem trash mandala, and the prompts were, “let your pain become a trash mandala” and “what’s torn away can steer you.” This round, we were running short on time, so we only wrote for 10 minutes. I wrote,
Let your pain become a trash mandala. So, unlike some who build a shrine, a dwelling, or worse yet a home or a fortress from what’s been lost, what hurts, who move in and live there, nail “no trespassing” signs to a fence made from bones and knives and broken liquor bottles — not like that, not that way, but rather pick up the pieces, what’s torn, the bits of what is lost, what is left, what you’ve found, and arrange it, shape it into something that heals, the kind of thing that wouldn’t have been possible without the broken bits, the left behind, the lost. Make what only you are able to see, looking in the cracked mirror of your grief.
Let your grieving meet the shoreline, walk into the water and let the waves knock you down, then get back up. If you keep practicing, it will get easier, you’ll get stronger. Pick the pieces the waves offer you, what calls to you, sparkles when the light touches it, pick them up and put them in your pocket, keep walking, keep collecting.
What’s torn away can steer you. Your life, all the struggles, what you see as obstacles, this is the path, this is the stuff to work with, this is your material, this is the trash, the treasure.
Let your pain become a trash mandala. Maya will make a bike, you could string together a trash ukelele, someone else might grind it all up and make paint, or medicine. See what you see, offer it and let it go — don’t move in and live there.
I hope you go to Maya Stein’s website and read more of her poetry, kind and gentle reader. She’s amazing.