Occupational Hazards of a Storyteller (you will change your own life)

How do you know when a story is done? For many writers and creators, there are no bounds to how much you can write, edit, re-write a poem, scene or chapter. Four years ago, I finished a collection of poetry (The Erasable Woman) for my master’s thesis at York. Although my supervisors encouraged me, I never pursued publishing. I felt like something about it wasn’t done, something was missing. I didn’t know what. That version was exactly what it needed to be in the moment, but I knew in the long run, it wasn’t it. My supervisor told me that there is always more to add to a collection, but at some point you have to let it go. So how do you know when that moment is? When have you written a story, section, phrase, line, word that encapsulates the deepest, most naked bones of it, the heart of the energy wanting to be released, enough to let it go? The answer is when you’ve created something so true that it changes your life.

The Erasable Woman is a story I needed to write in order to make sense of pain I hold in my body that I don’t understand the origins of. To make sense of my emotional, mental and relationship patterns, of grief, self-sacrifice, craziness and heartbreak that were bigger than myself. To seek resolution for un-met needs or unanswered questions that have been seemingly floating around for lifetimes. I wrote to remind myself what I needed to know most of all: that I am here. The Erasable Woman turned into an exploration of historical trauma shared by generations of brown women; conversations between myself, my mother, grandma, great-grandmother, and many other women in my family who I do and don’t have names for, whose stories I have and haven’t heard, who are physically alive and/or passed on. I was right to let my collection of poetry rest after I finished grad school. Instead I returned to my first love – the stage – and through exploring these same stories in performance I found new, exciting and replenishing layers of my story that I could only have found through movement, dance, voice; allowing my body to find a marriage with my words in its own way. Through performance, and as I grew up out of my 20s, I discovered with a physicality that trauma is not the only thing passed around through generations, but so is joy, passion, sparkles, sassiness, peace, protection and awareness. The Erasable Woman was now a story about the all the legacies I/we inherit from our ancestors, and to simply know they are here.

In 2013 I began putting together all the different elements I had created within this story, developing it into an interdisciplinary One Woman Show. However, for most of 2014, what with an eviction/unwanted move, exhaustion, sickness, overworking, I spent very little time directly working on this play. Instead, it was flowering somewhere underneath the surface of my consciousness as I committed to myself in intention and action, that everything I do must be rooted in love. Then, one day a few weeks ago, without planning this at all, I sat down and wrote the whole, full, finished script in six days. It blew my mind – I didn’t expect that this story could be this ready: it was exactly what it needed to be, what I needed it to be, and what I always dreamed it could be. This meant that I knew I was ready to return to the original collection of poetry as well, and re-shape it with new layers that I now could access. After six years of living with this story, I knew a path had been illuminated. It was finally time to commit to that last push of pregnancy, to release both dimensions of the story as a published work and a full production.

Then, just last week, the insomnia I have already been struggling with became even more aggravated. Multiple nights in a row as I lay in my bed drifting off to sleep, my bed shook back and forth. I wasn’t imagining it. During either the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning, there was no construction anywhere, no earthquake reverberations reported on the news. The house my apartment lives in was completely quiet, my cats and partner were fast asleep and still. But, for hours on end my bed gave me a gentle but persistent shaking that ebbed and flowed in its urgency. It was like something was using my bed to shake my shoulders and say, wake up! pay attention!

Now, I am a person who has never before in my life been able to physically sense ghosts. True,I am an astrologer and tarot reader, but those practices are more about interpreting symbols, telling stories, making sense of the planets in a birth chart, or images on a tarot card to counsel people, help them through struggles and find their life path. I don’t make contact with the spiritual realm (at least not knowingly). I do know many people who have been/are aware of ghosts on the regular – but this has never been me. In fact, when I was a kid I used to say, “yeah I believe in ghosts, but they don’t believe in me.”

So yeah, this bed shaking thing? Scared me shitless. I spent a good amount of time freaking out, crying, asking for support from loved ones (thank you loved ones, you know who you are). As well as complaining to the universe: like, I know when I talk about my play I describe it as a story where my character learns how to talk to ghosts – but I meant metaphorical ghosts!! I didn’t ask for this!

But the truth is, I did ask for this. I’ve been asking for so long.

After receiving a lot of insight and advice from my people, after witnessing Asian Arts Freedom School’s drag musical Eat Pray Love, after remembering myself and everything that I’ve been through, there is no way I could resist or deny the power of storytelling, the transformative nature of connecting with your truth, your body, your ancestors. A new door of awareness in the universe has suddenly been opened for me – of course I am okay with it. I haven’t been okay without it.

Ten years ago, I was devastated, confused, lost, destroyed, when a loved one died. I would have given anything, anything, to find a way to keep him with me. Like, remember in Buffy when Dawn tried a spell to bring her mom back to life, and didn’t care if the only way she could do so was to make her mom a zombie? I would have done that if I could. I would have happily welcomed unexplained bed-shaking in the middle of the night. But I couldn’t find any connection to the spirit realm, I didn’t know how to sense someone’s presence if they weren’t alive, and it killed me.

Fast forward five years, catch me on a really bad downward spiral. October 23 2009 was one of my lowest points I can remember. It was the last breaking point of a 2-year abusive relationship. I remember lying in bed at 4am not knowing how to live, not knowing how to die, not knowing how to sleep, not knowing how to get up in the morning. It took rock bottom to seriously commit myself to a journey of recovery rooted in healing the deepest wounds. Writing the first version of The Erasable Woman, the book of poetry, was part of what helped me get out of the riptide I was caught in, only by acknowledging and surrendering that I was in it.

October 23 2013 was an eye-opening day. This day last year I went through another hard break-up. But unlike 2009, I realized that it didn’t break me. I knew how to get up the next morning. I knew that I could accept that things come and go, but we keep love wherever we make it and need it. 2013 was also a year that someone close to me died. But instead of feeling bombarded by all the things that end with death, I was made aware of all the things that continue. This death was about the need to re-build and re-figure a relationship in a new way, not about losing someone completely.

I guess I had to be in this place for the ghosts who shake my bed to know I was ready to be aware of them. Even though I know I need to effing move slow. And I know for damn sure my freak outs and need for support around this process is not over (hear that, loved ones!?)

But October 23 2014 seems like a good place to start. With the new moon in Scorpio coupled with a solar eclipse: a new moon is always a beginning, a seed, a mystery. A solar eclipse is like a new moon on steroids, unabashedly calling us toward new beginnings that serve our soul’s purpose, and that take us toward our higher truth, our reason for being here in this lifetime. In Scorpio, a sign that lives in the epicenter of intensified grip and release, breaking and healing, of naked exposure and unbreakable empowerment; the sign that knows you have to go in, in order to get out. That in order to transform, you need to arrive at the place you are all at once terrified and not turning back.

So last night, Oct 23 2014, I sat in this place, cross-legged on my bed. I burnt sage, and lit candles for Kali Puja (Diwali), the goddess of destruction and creation, death, rebirth and transformation. I took a deep breath, and I talked to my ghosts.

Hello family. I know you are here, all the time. It might take a while for me to get used to this new way of knowing. I ask you to be patient and gentle with me. But I want you to know that I always know you are here. You don’t have to convince me, or remind me. I won’t forget.

Thank you for giving me life. Protection, strength, joy, for keeping me on my path. Please always give me this protection, because I’ll always need it.

I also need to sleep at night. When I come to bed, maybe we can all relax and rest during these times.

If you have any messages for me, I am gladly open to hearing them. If you could tell me in my dreams, I will make sure to listen. It may take me a while to figure it out, but I will be patient if you can be too.

I also need your help in carrying this pain, worry, anxiety, fear, loss, anger inside of me, and to take care of all the things that have not been resolved. I can’t hold this alone and I need your help.

I also want to heal and transform the worry, anxiety, sadness we all have been holding. I want to be a part of healing and transforming this for all of us in my lifetime and beyond.

I offer this water to you. Please protect my babies and my family, our family.

Thank you for being here.

1 thought on “Occupational Hazards of a Storyteller (you will change your own life)

  1. It helps so much to read this… In my 20’s,30’s, 40’s, I would be a little drunk at parties and a reading would come through me for some stranger and I would just walk up and say the thing. Spirits love the spirits, it is said. I had no control of it, it would come and go and then it lessened over time. I had my pain for sure, but maybe just enough good things to keep me from going very deep, which is to say I guess I only stayed half awake. Even though you wrestle with it all I admire how you showed up to embrace the unknown. I am trying to finish a book I’ve started that I can’t seem to get back to… yet. It looks like I may have to go much deeper to be blessed with the frame of mind, spirit, soul- to get there, to the words for an authentic soul expression. Thanks for the inspiration. Jan

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