Saturday, February 25, 2017

Un-writing Violence, Love

This is Essay #8 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

One of my dearest friends just had her heart broken. And I'm not talking teenage breakup heartbroken. More "I gave you the soft vulnerable gift of my heart and you lifted it up and brought joy to my soul and then threw it down into the earth, smashed it, trampled it into the dirt until there was nothing left but traces of stardust on your boot heel".

I don't know the details of what happened but I know that she is shell shocked. Destroyed.

I wouldn't wish this on anyone.


The camps at Standing Rock have been vacated and ceremonially burned. Destroyed.


What is violence? Merriam-Webster's first definition is: the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy

The other night, Lidia Yuknavitch, gave a reading at Rutgers New Brunswick. I talked to her briefly beforehand, while we waited for the event to begin. Of course, we talked about writing and I mentioned that I was doing this weekly essay challenge. She brightened up right away; she had just worked with Vanessa some weeks ago at the Tin House Workshops. I told her I was having a little trouble with this week's essay --my mind being all over the place, particularly in light of the recent developments with Standing Rock (along with the rest of the shit show called the US government). I couldn't focus on just one thing. She assured me that what she was going to read would spark something for me. She also said something that perked up my ears, something of which I only got a portion, but I think I got the main idea: un-write what we mean by violence.

I've been thinking about this for a few days. What does that mean? To un-write something? And then to apply it to violence? Does it mean the opposite? To write about peace? I don't think so. For me, I think it's about examining what we understand violence to be --and it can be many, many things-- and how we can try to undermine its power through language. Though, it's tricky. Language can be violent in and of itself. So how to un-write that?



Definition 4: undue alteration (as of wording or sense in editing a text)

I hate when people shorten my name.

Especially the moment immediately after I introduce myself as Leslieann. Uh, did you not hear me tell you that my name is Leslieann? Who the hell are you to presume a kind of familiarity? Who are you to impose your power on me by violating my name? Truncating it is a kind of violence. You don’t know me. You don’t know my relationship with my name. But you don’t need to know. You just need to show respect.

Tatum Dooley wrote this terrific piece, "Word Perfect", on the politics of the pronunciations of names and what implications are made. Two of my favorites: "What I know for certain is that pronouncing a word properly is a work requiring care and attention; the words that individuals choose to apply their labors to demonstrate a power imbalance that lives outside of phonetics."

And: "Mispronouncing a name becomes purposeful — it tells the other person not only that you couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge their identity, but you intend to subject it to your own."


"Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It's not 'I love you" for this or that reason, not 'I love you if you love me.' It's love for no reason, love without an object. It's just sitting in love, a love that incorporates the chair and the room and permeates everything around. The thinking mind is extinguished in love." (Ram Dass, Be Love Now, p. 2)

That last sentence. The thinking mind is extinguished in love. A kind of violence, no? But this feels different. Destruction for something better. Destruction for spiritual unconditional love.

Is this how to un-write violence? Through love?


After she read a shorter version of “Weave”, Lidia talked about emotion as energy. That instead of dwelling in it, we need to move it. We (and I might be getting this wrong – my notes don’t make sense) can see emotion as a portal to our souls with writing as a way in or a way to radiate out.

Did you know that physiologically speaking, an emotion lasts ninety seconds in the brain? That's it. A minute and a half. The reason it lasts longer is because we feed it with our narratives, with the stories we attach to the emotions. If we just breathed, acknowledged it passing through, like a wind through the trees, then we'd be good. No ten-year-old anger or grudge. Just undisturbed calm. (I know: easier said than done! But it all begins with awareness, right?)

When there’s emotion, I always write.

It's my way of moving the energy. It is a space for me to process, to be messy and untethered. That is, if I’m doing “right” - i.e. not hiding. Even now, after all these years of writing practice, I still find myself, at times, falling into old habits of hiding the truth in oblique language. During those times, I have to coax it out with love and trust.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And yet, I persist. I continue to write.


Make no mistake about it — enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” (Adyashanti, spiritual teacher)

Even enlightenment is a kind of violence.


So what are we to do? What am I to do? How does one un-write violence? I don't think I've come any closer to an answer. This essay feels fractured. (Can we even call it an essay?) Perhaps this is my attempt -- to break violence into pieces of something that feels like love but sounds like brokenness.

To love the broken that once was whole. To love it unconditionally.

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