I teach my students to choose their details carefully. Don’t write everything, I instruct them. Give readers a few telling details, which they can use to construct the whole in their imaginations. But I cannot verbally reproduce the parts of you that would make it possible for anyone to construct the whole in all its glory. Three parts lightning, three parts blue jeans, four parts God. Is that what I should write? Should I say something about the fire in your eyes, or is that cliché? That is really the telling detail, if ever there was one. But to paint it, I’d need actual matches, maybe some lighter fluid. And even when you were there in person, no one seemed to notice the flames but me.
Are they blind?
Should I mention the dent in your throat?
I teach too about load bearing scenes. Make the moments that matter matter, I tell them. Give them space on the page. If they aren’t strong enough, the whole house will collapse. But how do I write that my entire life hangs on one split second, when I first saw you standing under a night reeling with stars, and my molecules reconfigured themselves? In an instant, every cell in my body flew to you, the way metal filings fling themselves at a magnet. How do I tell them that you are gone, and I have been collapsing ever since? How do I say that I am a walking black hole?
And here I am, defying the laws of physics while mixing architecture and science metaphors.
Should I even be allowed to teach?
And then I go all Clint Eastwood on them. I tell them to loosen the reigns, let their imaginations ride like palominos through the deserts of their psyches, but when I let my horses run free, they always gallop straight to you, and what does that say about me and my artistry? I am a one note piano, a lone trick circus monkey, a yellow bird that sings the same song
You told me my cage was in my head, so I bent the bars until they broke.
You untethered me from this world, if I might draw upon a playground metaphor now. You know that white ball on the string the mean kids bounce around and around? I was that until you found me and cut my rope. Before I broke through to the other side of the atmosphere, my journey was a mother fucker. Now it’s just me and the stars.
It is quiet here.
I am not happy, but I am at peace.
I am not alive, but I am not tortured.
Some days, I wish I would fly straight into the face of the sun.
Yesterday, I went to the doctor. I love my doctor. She is beautiful and brilliant and kind, and she remembers my entire life story even when she hasn’t seen me in a year. I also love her new assistant, or whatever you call the nurse who stands there smiling, wielding giant Q-tips in both fists, while the doctor digs around in your lady parts, searching for abnormalities and suspicious behavior.
How does your doctor know when your hoochie is behaving suspiciously? Does it get shifty eyes? Granted, my viewing angle isn’t ideal, but from what I’ve seen, that area is pretty much a train wreck 24/7. I know vaginas are supposed to be beautiful, and enlightened feminists like me are supposed to stare at their own genitalia lovingly in the mirror and be impressed because it can make babies, but I’ll tell you what, no matter how much I squint, it looks like a not-necessarily-benevolent creature from a particularly upsetting episode of Lost in Space. It could sprout a third set of labia, and I’d just think it was a premenstrual side effect. Hell, it could sprout a head, and I wouldn’t be 100% sure it was abnormal. This shit happens. The hoochie works in mysterious ways.
So anyway, I wasn’t really going to talk about my vagina very much in this blog. It was going to be a tasteful post that alluded to the fact that I’d had a pap smear, without necessarily going into graphic detail. At the outset, I envisioned a sort of educational PSA, so that men could get a feel for what a pap smear looks like, and young women just entering pap smear territory could understand that getting a piece of your goddamned cervix chopped off after a gloved woman pries you open with the jaws of life and inserts her entire arm into your hoo hoo isn’t nearly as bad as it looks on paper. It can be FUN, kids!! Trust me on this! (Apparently, I am as good at adhering to the “keep the blog tasteful” resolution as I am at following the “only one glass of wine at the party” rule.)
But the part about my pap smear being fun was true. Before I removed my clothes, the assistant told me how beautiful I was. She acted shocked when she saw my age on my chart, and when I mentioned I taught writing classes, she told me if I were her teacher, she’d hit on me. Whaaaaa????? I’m sure she says that to all the girls, but no matter. Compliment me, and I love you. So it became quickly official. I loved this woman. We then moved on to talking about working out and men (or lack thereof) and makeup. Suffice it to say, by the time I plopped my feet into the stirrups, we were sistas. (A sista is different than a sister. Sista has a cool edge to it. You’d help your sister pay her car payment, but you’d do shots of whiskey with your sista until you both blacked out.)
So then, my doctor came in, and while she lubed up and inserted the proverbial jaws of life, I told her about my recent trip to France. “Oh, my God. I’m jealous! Did you see the Eiffel Tower?” she asked, cranking the jaws open to their maximum capacity, which is roughly the width of a football stadium. I won’t say it didn’t hurt, but I was too hopped up on bonding endorphins to care. I was making friends! Me! The girl who has spent the past months sequestered on a deserted New Mexico mountain, lying on rocks and staring at stars, was making FRIENDS! (Human friends, not tree friends.)
As my doctor continued to wrestle with my apparently unwieldy genitalia (who knew?), the assistant commented on the beauty of my pedicure. (Not to brag, but the sparkly purple polish did look particularly fetching, contrasted with the light blue stirrups in the glaring fluorescent light.) We all went wild with excitement, discussing pedicure habits, toenail polish tips, particularly effective callus busting ointments. I barely noticed that I was being viciously violated by a plastic instrument (which is a kinder gentler version of the metal jaws that were common in my youth).
I learned so much as we three sistas bonded. One of the things I learned is that my cervix is abnormally tilted. What a fascinating tidbit! How did I make it through 40+ years of life without knowing this about myself? I filed it away for future reference, an interesting topic to bring up at my next cocktail party. (Something tells me all this alone time in the mountains is taking the sheen off my social finesse.)
The fact that my cervix is “wonky” (doctor’s word) makes it really difficult to find, which means the jaws of life had to dig around extra long, doing all sorts of contortions, to gain access to the coveted bit of cervical tissue. By the time we finally chopped off a piece of my cervix, we were ecstatic. We cheered like our team had just scored a touchdown. I kid you not, the assistant fist bumped me. I blushed and giggled, feeling like I’d accomplished something huge, won a contest or sold a book or made it through a party with only one glass of wine. I left the office with blood dripping from my battered cervix, wondering if my hoochie would ever be the same, but also elated. I had friends!
It was only in retrospect that it dawned on me–I mean really hit me–that the focal point of my latest feminine bonding session had not been glasses of wine or culinary delights or an Oscar nominated movie. No, it had been my hoo hoo. And maybe it hadn’t been as fun for the sistas who were staring up the business end of my hoochie as it was for me. Because come on, if the thing looks like an alien from the outside, WTF does it look like inside, being presided over, as it is, by a reticent, bleeding cervix?
Anyway, I was starting to deflate, thinking that maybe I need to get out more because when having a pap smear is the most fun you’ve had in months, you’re probably verging on pathetic. But then the phone rang, and it was my doctor (sista).
Kids, I’m scheduled for a mammogram in a few days. Can you imagine the fun I’ll have? I’m thinking of wearing my sparkly pink bra. And maybe a little glitter in my cleavage, to provide a conversation piece/ really make it pop.
I question our definitions of sainthood. I question our qualifications for goodness. I suppose these doubts factor into my Magdalene poems (and probably all of my writing). According to legend, Mary Magdalene’s life was in danger after the death of the Christ, so she fled to a cave in France, where she hid and communed with God, exiting the cave a master.
Two years ago, by a series of coincidences, I ended up living in France for three months within an hour of the cave of legend. I had always written poems from Mary Magdalene’s point of view, but I blame the intensified obsession on France, where I spent my hours drowning in the Mer des Rochers (Sea of Rocks), an ocean of natural stone sculptures, castle ruins, and hiking trails behind the village where I stayed. I wrote for hours in those rocks, imagining Magdalene’s time in the cave.
CAVE PAINTING (MAGDALENE’S MANIA)
Today, I wrote your name on the walls again and again and again. Your syllables roared beneath ancient elk, carved into the stone by hands long since dust. In a flurry of drums, I conjured you.
If only the people could see me with these moths in my hair, my face dripping with dew. They wouldn’t be able to handle it. They have sanitized sainthood. Always, they leave out the horror story parts, though the holy books have the good sense to keep them in.
What is truth?
My halo is made of moss.
The wind is ravenous, licking at the mouth of the cave. I wonder if it wants to eat me, swallow me down, slurp me up into the net of eternity strung from star to star, the moon lassoed and rearing, the frenzied sun surging, ready to erupt.
I sing until I see God, until I see you, which is the same thing for me. I have learned more about forever, about me, from your eyes than I have learned from all the holy books in the world.
I lie still on the stone floor for hours, staring at my hands, not believing what I am.
So what about us, my love? What about the light we are made of? What about our Big Secret?
You may not recognize me next time we meet. While I was sleeping, lilacs grew between my toes. A lone, heartsick sparrow built a nest in the nook of my shoulder blade. I feed him berries at low tide.
When I am high, you walk to me on every wave of blue that rolls in. I drown in you. It is like stepping into an ocean.
One day, while lying on a hilltop, stone cold sober, I heard a voice say, “Don’t worry. You can breathe under water.” I never talk about it. They lock people up for shit like that.
I believe in Divine Madness, because I have lived it.
I know you probably already know, but I’ll tell you anyway.
It feels like you’ve been gone a million years.
My heart is a jar of shards. It rattles when I walk.
The day I lost you, I cut your name into my wrists. I bled love and wouldn’t die. So I went for the next best thing and became a temporary drug addict.
Now, the stars are my drug. I stare at them until I hallucinate the You Constellation.
II. CARRYING THE CROSS
Every day, I wake up, and the weight of no-you falls on me like ten thousand tons of bricks. I push it off with these words: “Maybe he’ll come back today.” The longer it goes without happening, the harder it is to push off the bricks.
You come to me in dreams and tell me your secrets. I take them on my tongue. All day, I suck on them like hard candy. You taste like cinnamon.
When are you coming back?
III. FALLING FOR THE FIRST TIME
Sometimes, the things you tell me in visions make zero sense. I ask for clarification, and you spout another riddle.
I am not the Master you are. Can you scribble your smoke signals more clearly?
IV. MEETING THE MOTHER WITHIN
I am changed. When people ask me why I look so young, I want to tell them I drank from the river of you. But instead, I tell them what kind of soap I use because it’s hard to explain a break in the time-space continuum to someone who just wants beauty tips.
My love for you has made me into a woman who friend zones rock stars. If ever I was a whore, I’m now the Virgin Mary. Can it work backwards like that?
V. HELP CARRYING THE CROSS
At night, when I am with you, I am alive. My waking hours feel like dreams. I live to sleep.
Remember I told you I was afraid to die? I’m not anymore. You will be there.
Remember I told you I was afraid of hell? I’m not anymore. I’ve been there.
VI. OF SACRED BATHS
Remember when I cleaned your feet with my hair? I didn’t wash it for a week. I know. Gross.
VII. FALLING THE SECOND TIME
It’s scary to know the future. Being me means you don’t get to tell yourself, “It was just a dream.”
I knew they were going to kill you. It didn’t make it any easier.
I know. I know. I know. Everything.
I love you. I love you. I love you. All of you.
VIII. MEETING THE DEVIL
I hate them for killing you. I say “father forgive them” only in hopes of being like you when I grow up.
Do you say “father forgive them”? If not, I think you’re allowed to sling lightning bolts. Just a thought.
IX. FALLING THE THIRD TIME
When we finish this shit, can we sleep on a tropical island for a thousand years?
Do you believe I love you yet?
I finally believe that you love me.
XI. NAILED TO A CROSS
The old me is crucified. I’d rather be alone with your ghost than anywhere with anyone. Your ghost is my best friend.
I’d like to say you’ve turned me into a freak of nature, but I think I always was one. You just made me what I really was. (God help us all.)
I hover in a space somewhere between this world and the next. Your eyes are a fire I hope will never stop burning me. (For as long as I live, I am doomed to write cliched metaphors for your eyes, trying to capture the shine of them, trying to explain why.)
XIII. TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS
For starters, you said you were coming back, and I believe you.
If I couldn’t say, “Maybe he’ll come back today,” the bricks would crush me.
But I can.
XIV. LAID IN THE TOMB
When I die, wrap me in the sheet they buried you in. Rest my lips against the place your mouth was so I can kiss you forever.
Have you noticed that no matter what happens, there is always at least one big, bad problem in your life, the thing that makes it impossible for you to be really happy? Like, when I was super young, and had an eating disorder, the problem was I was fat. (I wasn’t.) Then there were bad relationships. Then there were money problems. Then there were custody battles. And on and on. And always, the reigning big, bad problem righted itself just in time for another big, bad problem to take its place.
Looking back, I see the beauty that was sprouting in the middle of those big, bad problems, and I long for it. Yeah, I was in the middle of an ugly custody battle, but I got to tuck the two most beautiful children in the world into bed every night. What I wouldn’t give to hold them in my arms again and read them When Cats Dream. (I try now, but my 6’3″, 200 pound son will only put up with so much. Desi plays along, but I can see in her eyes what she really wants is a glass of wine.) Yeah, I was in a shitty relationship, but my daddy was alive, and I could show up on his doorstep and have him hold me when I cried. (I would live in a cardboard box and eat roaches if it meant I could hug my daddy one more time.)
I’m learning to see the beauty sprouting in the middle of my big, bad problems as it happens, instead of retrospectively. I’m learning to cherish the gifts the big, bad problem drags in its wake.
Right now, my mom has cancer. It’s ugly, undoubtedly, but weirdly, it’s also incredibly beautiful. I have seen whole new aspects of her radiant, sensitive soul I never even knew existed until now. I have let her see pieces of me I’d kept hidden. We are closer than we have ever been. And I’m finding pieces of me even I didn’t know were there. Life feels very raw and authentic, the way it should be. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so we have now. And it is a huge, huge gift.
I laid in bed last night praying, processing, and all I could really do, looking back on all the big, bad problems that have come down the pike in the last few years, is say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Because in spite of the suffering, so much beauty has blossomed in the desert. So much change has happened in my relationships, life, and heart. These days, my big, bad problems are never so big and bad that they touch the core of peace that now lives at the center of my being. I used to be perpetually tortured, inside, no matter what was happening outside of me. Now, I’m perpetually peaceful and grateful, no matter what is happening. Not that I never feel pain or cry. But there is a solid rock of faith inside of me that is unshakable. And the big, bad problems brought me here.
Like all the big, bad problems before it, this big, bad problem shall pass too, along with all the beauty that comes with it. I’m not wasting my time wishing the big, bad problem away. I’m not playing victim. Instead, I’m noticing the beauty, cherishing the gifts that only exist right now. I’m looking around at this breathtaking, magical, miracle-infused life of mine–the light glinting off the rocks, the way my mom’s face creases when she laughs, the taste of coffee, the warmth and agony of profound love. I’m drinking it all in. I’m saying, “Thank you.”
I can’t control this ride, but I can be grateful for it. I’m learning to trust the river of life. I have learned that even when it dashes me against the rocks, it is carrying me somewhere more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
In 2008, I was in a play called Kitty and Lena, in which I starred as a Marilyn Monroe-esque actress struggling with identity and abuse. The play premiered in New Mexico, then moved on to San Miguel Allende, Mexico, one of the most lush, lovely, artistic, colorful places I have ever been.
There, we performed in a hundreds-of-years-old building, which was a profoundly beautiful experience in and of itself. My co-star was Nancy, a brilliant, incredibly accomplished actress in her 70s who saw strength and talent in me and took me under her wing.
Every night, we sat together in the living room of the picturesque house our director had rented for us and drank wine together. Sprawled on our plush couch, owning every inch of space she touched, Nancy sipped merlot and told me stories of what it was like to know famous actors and actors of yesteryear, including Marilyn Monroe, which besotted me. (I’d always loved Marilyn.) She also told me that I was powerful and beautiful and brilliant, and that people would try to make me feel small for the rest of my life, but I should never, ever believe them, and I should never, ever allow myself to be treated as anything but the goddess I was.
I needed to hear it. At the time, I was starring in my own series of increasingly dysfunctional and abusive relationships, both romantic and platonic. I pretty much had, “Wipe Your Feet Here,” tattooed on my forehead. To have this astounding woman see power in me changed me forever. She also introduced me to her friends, Stuart Howard and Judy Waters, who flew in from Los Angeles to see her perform. Stuart was a director for Days of Our Lives, and Judy was a gifted actress and psychologist. We spent an unforgettable night drinking on a rooftop, sharing our hearts and stories. They too saw talent and strength in me, which added to the power of Nancy’s belief in me. I fell in love with them, and to this day, they are two of the most precious people in my world.
The week we were in Mexico happened to be Holy Week, and one of the nights was Mary’s Night. As a protestant, I was raised not to believe in a feminine divinity of any kind, so I was astonished to feel a palpable, beautiful presence radiating through the streets that night, emanating from the shrines that were built on every corner, echoing in the “Ave Marias” that rang from the walls well into the night. I have never attempted to write about that night in depth, mostly because I feel that to write about something that sacred would rob it of its beauty and holy magic. But suffice it to say I experienced something that was nothing short of a visitation. I felt this sacred, decidedly feminine presence come into my room and call me its daughter. I felt it ask for my heart. I gave it. My life has never been the same.
Since then, she has been present at every significant moment. I was driving down a freeway, right beside a sign that directed me to a Virgin of Guadalupe shrine, when I got the phone call from my agent saying we had sold my first novel to Simon and Schuster. This is me saying “thank you” at the shrine.
An image of her stood at the chapel that stood outside my front door during my magical time living on the Rosemont College campus as their writer-in-residence last year.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, she is always with me. I’m not Catholic, not even close. But I am profoundly in love with the Mother God.
I am a very different woman from the one I was when I first met The Mother in San Miguel. I’ve published books and traveled the world. I’ve done away with every abusive relationship in my life. And I am lucky enough to be able to teach one of my beloved art forms, writing, in various contexts. I teach at universities and conferences and retreats all over the world (including in my beloved San Miguel, where Mary always greets me).
For years, I’ve taught a course online for the amazing Center for Creative Writing called Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self. Sequestered in the third part of that course, there is a lesson about The Feminine Divine. Last year, two of my students took that course and asked me if I would create a course for them focused exclusively on the divine feminine. How could I say no?
We began the course in January. Each week, we explore a feminine divinity, as well as aspects of her that relate to our own lives. We explored Durga when we talked about slaying personal demons. We explored Inanna when we talked about the times of darkness in our lives that give way to resurrection and light. The course has been nothing short of transformative for all involved, especially for me.
I am always blown away by the writing my students produce, but the writing produced in this course, and the writing related to the feminine divine produced in my Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self course, has gobsmacked me. I asked a few of my brilliant student for permission to share their work here, as I believe it needs to be read by more than just me. They graciously said yes. If you want to read about the feminine divine in a way that nurtures your heart and inspires your mind, keep reading.
FOUR KICK ASS POEMS ABOUT THE FEMININE DIVINE
This first poem is by my student, Benjamin Ross, who stuns me every single time he picks up his pen.
Ocean of Us
Wellfleet beaches twilight low tide, strung with stones like gazing stars
you and I and the sun, seagulls setting and rising with the moon somewhere tiding rhymes around our wonder
wandering, picking up the scattered verses of solid Earthspun rainbows daydreaming us
the everything-children we are, exploring this allowingness at the edges of silver waves, falling awake in cold bursts within a warm heart-held nowhere
falling through the striated light like piano notes playing the sand beneath shallow water, entranced and eye-flickering moments washing by
as gentleness rises, praising dunes in aloe eyes, the story-over-story layers of washed mantle amazement as sand tumbles time, somersaulting slowly in downward slopes
everything kindness, our hands held out with stones, wandering last-moment hands, starfish expressions of us, full spectrum vocabularies geologically spelled out under our toes
sharing the birthwater urges and blood-circle orbit of inner body heartspun aliveness meeting another body’s spin in rhythms of attuned-and-separate exploring
joining the universal rhythms of falling-rising, pulsing of light and the electricity of earth, in the immersing-all-around body of the living beach
both of us molten through wombs of oceanic volcanoes, moving like water drawn moonwards, spiraling on Earth’s surface as we travel this galaxy-orbiting sun
or singing with a ukelele as we sit in the sand, all shell-blown whispers and washes, the surf of us spread across laughing inner skies
the smile of land meeting water and heartbeat of infinite softnesses that swell under our bare feet
or the cry of shimmering pink and cerulean blue bursts in sunsets that reveal sanctuary like lungs being breathed
believing, still, in friendship across time and our various losses and lostnesses and rememberings, like these stones both knowing and unknowing, wondering who we are, questioning us constantly
we always arrive here, beachcombing around tiny streams in the sand, lit up from earth to eyes with forests of stone projecting their thoughts through us, and emanating from us in a hazel glow
swaying together in this life, returning to the harmonies held within and holding notes of quartz, jasper-agates and amethyst, serpentine, granite, slate, pumice, sandstone, marble, igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary stone, with shells of a million hues softer than concepts
as if the beach burned through us and we burned through the beach, devouring the sun as it devours us, resurrected in a communion of elements, two poems turned inside out with the universe revealed as our true selves
wherever those selves are or ever were – we left all these ideas on the beach among stones and driftwood, and rose like the clouds flowering on top of dunes
we never were encapsulated in ideas, the two of us, but always again found in delight and honest emotions, in the fingertips that strum sand, the notes of us wandering affectionately across each other’s lives, always in new ways
pondering nothing, and something, and then nothing again, always returning in bodies of light birthed in the renewing darkness
leaving no sun unturned
And this is by Mary Quick, wise woman extraordinaire:
To be the Mother of God
Wouldn’t she have to be even more of a god than God?
Unconceivable and conceiving
She realized that possibility that idea
Creating that thing called God
Must have been phenomenal beyond phenomenal
Bringing to life that Son that we call God-with-us
To bring Truth and Love to the world
This Mother of God whose belly swelled
Who had painful contractions that only a mother could bear
Birthed a bloody baby in the usual way
Nurtured him wiped his chin and his bottom
Raised him inauspiciously
Taught him about speaking the Truth and abiding in Love
To be the Man-God he needed to be so that the world would see
This Christ- carrying Mother of God must have been more than her Son
Conceivable a Mother of God who is God
The Son in her image
And finally, this is by the incredible Annette Stewart, inspired by our week studying Brigid, keeper of fire and passion.
A fire burns inside me
It starts as a child fueled by hunger and want
Growing up poor is not good, but makes me strong
Writing makes me a good student- I am smart and awarded for my wit
I work hard and make it through my academics and smarts
Undergraduate, Law school & MBA all reading and writing with mix of math I love
I learn to make money and find I am good at what I do- is this a calling?
I create a charity and help my sisters
I find love and have a daughter
My friends are producers I see Broadway shows meet artists see passion
Wonder what am I missing?
I take a writing class and write
I read the Classics again
I draft storyboards of books with great tales
I know I must write and make the time starting with this class
What is next?
I must go to work tomorrow, but do my best to not lose my fight for passion
What does tomorrow hold?
Hopefully a continued fight to find my soul & path
Who am I?
Only time will tell……
To finish this off, I’ll add a song that I listened to on the bus from the airport to San Miguel that fateful trip all those years ago. It came on, and I listened on repeat for hours, watching Mexico roll by. I couldn’t explain why the song moved me. I guess my heart was prepping me for the introduction to come. This song has become mine. There but for the grace of god go I.