The Petroglyph Practitioners are four women — Jeanie from North Carolina, Melissa and Katherine from Houston, and Sally from Rome, Italy — who write, alone and together, following the rules of Writing Practice. They tell the story of how they met and what their group means, in a post titled Alone Together – The Beginning of The Petroglyph Practitioners.
What follows are four writing practices, one from each member, on the red Ravine writing topic I Want To Let Go Of…. These raw practices — which, per one of the rules of writing practice, are not edited for punctuation, spelling, or grammar — show how a single topic can lead individual writers to very different places.
I am reading a book called Romancing The Shadow and am reminded that in that darkness hides my secret shame, my poison arrow. During midlife, the shadow rears its ugly little head, it finds me; I don’t have to go look for it. The first half of my life was creating work, love and developing the shadow. Now, I am involved in creating consciousness in those areas that have been neglected or ignored, a time for romancing the shadow, a time for letting go of what doesn’t work anymore.
The shadow wears the camouflage of physical symptoms. I may deny but my body doesn’t it. In March when I decided to go to Peru I woke with a severe pain in my right hip that tortured me up to the day of hiking the Inca Trail. With its disappearance, I strutted through the streets of Taos until I strained my tendon in my right heel. After podiatrist, chiropractors, acupuncturist, I finally listen to the pain. I see myself flat on my back with a golden fiber optic beam shinning from my feet through my head making the connection of my dissected parts into a sacred wholeness/holiness. What I don’t see, is where the rod comes from or where it goes when it leaves my head. I wonder, what is my body trying to say, what secrets are being revealed, what betrayals?
The shadow dances through my dreams revealing feelings desiring discovery. During one haunting dream, I am visited by a cape draped person who knocks at my door. I do not invite; I ask what is wanted. My visitor walks away. I call out. Who is this that appears in my night life and what is wanted?
Shadows begin in families and make us who we are. In doing shadow work, I find who I can become. I remember my daddy finding fault with my mother. He would come home late at night from cooking in a hell hot kitchen and she could do nothing right. I saw him as having the power. If I had a choice, I would rather be like him. Her life didn’t look very appealing. His Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde improvisation kept me vigilantly on the lookout for the family soul. He was a cook and the missing ingredient was soul, the container for connection, deepening and acceptance. In this family, the space for soul shrunk limiting my authenticity and vulnerability. So I face my shadow. My “heeling” begins with shinning a light of reconciliation on what was sacrificed in my family of origin and playing out in my intentional family. I step, heel first, into letting go of the “sins” of my mother and father to reclaim my family soul. In my own family, I assume my father’s role of power. My second step of “heeling” is to move from power over to power with. The next step is then to let go and forgive my many missteps.
What I want to let go of.
My first answer without really thinking about it would be nothing. This has been the year of losses for me: my mother, a husband, a good friend — all of whom I loved very much. It was a bad year. I know the biggest loss was of course my mother. She was 92 and passed away November 30th of kidney failure brought on by congestive heart failure. That disease is a miserable one. You watch a person grow weaker and weaker until something gives: the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, or the heart, that red beating muscle that controls everything. My mother was in many ways the heart of my life. I believe we bonded intensely when I was born because my father walked out on my mom and the four of us kids when I was only five weeks old and it broke her heart. In fact she never quite recovered from it. Never remarried, never dated. She was only 43, but she was a survivor. She went back to school and got her teaching degree in music education and taught in high schools until she lost her job after seven years of teaching. I only know this: she had trouble controlling her kids. I can see that in her. She was always soft spoken and in some ways intensely shy. She never went back to the public schools but instead began teaching privately in her home. She also was hired as the organist for the Champion Methodist Church in Champion, Ohio. She stayed in that position for 25 years.
My fondest memories of her are listening to her teach yet another 7 year old child the beginnings of piano playing. I would come home from school and hang out on the couch reading quietly until she was finished at 7. I learned how to walk lightly through that house so as not to disturb her. The floors creaked because we had a cellar below us. None of this concrete slab housing I live in now. We lived in wood clapboard house that my great grandmother was born in. I have no idea how old the family homestead house is, but I know it is at least 150 years old or more. My great grandfather was a doctor who visited his patients in a horse and buggy and his office is on the property. I used to love going in there to play until the place got too dilapidated. My mom’s cousin totally restored it and now it is a historical landmark in Bristolville, Ohio. So what does this have to do with loss? I don’t know. Maybe I feel loss because the entire family I grew up with in that town are now dead or moved on. My grandparents passed when I was in high school. My mother’s only sister died of alcoholism, as did her husband, as did her daughter, the only living cousin I had. When I think of that small town in Ohio there now, there are renters in the homestead house and the rest of my family is in the graveyard. And the four of us kids scattered all over the country and the world (a brother in Australia).
So I guess the loss I feel as well is that of home. My grandparents beautiful rambling yellow Victorian house where my grandfather who was once a supreme court judge in the State of Ohio was sold long ago. I remember people coming to my grandparent’s house when I was a kid still asking Judge Carter to do small legal things for them. When I think of going home, there is no where to go. My brother lives in a suburban house in Cleveland which is like a different country compared to small towns in Northeastern Ohio. So yes that’s it. I feel like I’ve lost my home. Now I have to make a home for myself again: New friends, new connections, a new love. The idea overwhelms me in the middle of my life. So do I want to let go of anything now? No, I want to hold close to my heart all that comes my way.
I want to let go of life as I knew it. I lived a life for a very long time –- it is over now -– but it wasn’t the sort of life I wanted. I’m going on a track here that I’m not sure I want to follow. It’s a beautiful day, Sunday, November 4, and I’m sitting the celery green chenille armchair in my bedroom in Siena. Outside the window, across our field of olives, I have a perfect and clear view of the town itself, its’ medieval towers, the Torre del Mangia that we are planning to eat underneath today at lunch.
There, I feel grounded now in a place and time, I have roots down to the earth sucking up nutrients, feeding this writing practice.
I want to let go of …how can I name it, what is it I want to release? Needs. A need. Yes, I see it now. It’s a need to be fed by others. Now that we’ve brought up the question of roots, I’d like to totally and completely feed myself. I’d like to let go of any need for approval, for my husband to give me some signal that I’m OK, that he admires me. That’s an old story, you see that weakness inside me, speaking, yet it’s almost gone, I’m almost there, I feel such strength inside.
‘I banish all dis-ease from my body.’ I heard that on a meditation tape by Deepak Chopra that a friend lent me and when I said it to myself it blew me away.
So here we have another circle –- I’d like to be free of dis-ease, unease, discomfort, a feeling of lack in myself and in others and I’m almost there.
Yesterday we all worked together –- my two kids, my friend Vicki, her two teenage daughters, my husband, me, to save the capanna. It almost burned down two weeks ago when a fire spread through the fields. After the firemen left, we went to check on the capanna –- the hay barn –- and found the wooden door still on fire. It was full of hay. So yesterday we cleared it out, burnt all the overgrowth, the brambles, forked out the hay, pulled out the detritus of that old abandoned structure.
And it felt good. No aches and pains like I’ve had in the past, for once upon a time I was very ill.
I banish illness from my body.
I wanted to let go of that –- at the very end and in the end, it was only a concept –- and I did it.
I want to let go of my urge for an outmoded version of perfection. I want to glorify my flabby, feminine thighs — to praise my fat butt — to thank the divine spirit of creation that my nose, by American (hell, by any) standards, is too big — with it I can smell better all the scrumptious foods that will help my thighs progress towards my new and better version of self.
How much time I have wasted, how much time, trying to be a better me. Better looking, smarter, funnier, kinder, more soulful, more intellectual, more athletic, more assertive, more feminine, more gentle, more vivacious, more sophisticated. Phooey. I was a full time project, a first class procrastination from the real work that needs to be done, the work that is not focused on changing myself but instead on accepting myself and those around me as we already are.
All this time — and there I was already perfect. Yes, perfect — I snort when I laugh too hard. What could be better than that? I’ll tell you: I cry at weddings, funerals, movies, plays, symphonies, graduations, museums, anything that moves me at all. I burn dinners. I can’t do math, not even to average fgrades. I have no uterus — gone. I break up with everyone I’ve ever been with once every three months, like clockwork, and then usually I take them back. I can’t remember what I walked into the room for half the time. My daughter often has to advise me to be cautious, because at ten, she is already more sensible than I am. And, for all of this I am thankful, for it is my particular, messy, glorious version of life.
It’s not just what I want to let go of — it’s what I need to let go of — the idea that perfection is perched, like some kind of shimmering trophy, on a shelf just two inches higher than I can reach — that perfection is solid, unchanging, and just almost attainable — that perfection is something that I should or do desire—
Because it’s the imperfect stuff I like best — my retarded, cross-eyed cat Cosmo who can’t hear well and can’t even leap from the floor to my desk without slipping and dragging down a pile of papers on top of himself — I love his overbite and the snaggle-tooth that keeps his lower lip permanently indented. I love, even adore, his imperfection.
And the imperfection in the world — I love the crooked smile, the fattest puppy, the pink rose that accidentally got mixed in with the red, the kid with one brown eye and one blue—
Time’s up — I’m going to practice my sermon — to let go — no clean conclusion, tied up like a bow, no final answer, no perfect statement condensed to an aphorism — just the end of a ramble, not even pucntuated — spelling for shit — beautiful