One of my favorite tools for unblocking the flow of creativity and releasing pent up energy is active imagination. Active imagination is a technique developed by Carl Jung, used to bridge the subconscious and conscious mind in order to integrate, understand, and heal all layers of the self. At its core, I see it as a shamanic practice of healing. If we can immerse ourselves in that nebulous space between dreaming and waking, we can process emotions and energy that we may not be consciously aware of, yet still experience in our bodies and minds, below the surface of conscious awareness. One way to do this is through stream of consciousness writing, or free writing, which opens the inner chambers and unleashes that which lies within, waiting to rise to the surface. The act of pen to paper, foot to dance floor, or brush to canvas, without the involvement of the ego’s cries of “What does this mean? Am I doing it right? Am I wrong for feeling or thinking this? Does this make any sense?” is a way of activating those deeper aspects of the self that yearn to be acknowledged and set free. I wrote the poem below during a time when I was processing a heartbreak that shook me to my core. One day I was perusing old photos of my Grandfather’s cousin, Madge Bellamy, a beautiful and talented silent film and stage actress. I found myself sinking in to her experience, entering a sort of meditation, envisioning her life through my own lens: a woman, an artist, whose life was imbued with a certain wild glow, as otherworldly as she was human, traversing light and shadow, beauty and struggle. I started writing without thinking, simply letting the words spill onto the page. I imagined that she was addressing me in a letter, speaking of her own heartbreak, and the spark and grace she embodied that carried her through. What unfolded revealed a well of bottled up energy within my own psyche, and what was at first a puddle of words and images and emotions became this poem: an imagining, a healing.
And in honor of the real woman, Madge herself, without my own romantic projections, her words at age 87, “I’ve avoided all my life the romantic stuff which novels and movies are about. Never went in for that mush. Of course, I’ve missed what most people would call the ultimate human experience. But then, I’ve remained my own person, which at my age is a very satisfying state.”
For Emily, Love, Madge
Arouse them, my darling
Arouse them, but don’t please them.
One day a star will collapse at its core
after billions of years of trying,
and you’ll see that sometimes, love,
it’s wiser to blow up,
and then slink quietly out the back
before they notice what’s missing.
I long begged the sky
for a warm reprieve,
but diamonds are colder in space, my dear
than anyone ever told you.
The summer roses are dead,
and there’s no preciousness left anymore
to water my mouth.
The truth is as smokey as whiskey
and as smooth as the dust
on his letters,
the ones he wrote me like a ghost
long after I had stopped waiting by the window,
shining those pennies at dusk.
I took a fondness to the key
that opened the basement door,
where under the floorboards
I kept the stash of primal laughter,
the kind that felt so good
it turned my guts inside out,
the kind so sweet and slow,
it felt like the first bit of sun
warming early morning lace.
Late at night,
I still walk down the steps into darkness
and pull up the floorboards,
digging for hours,
giving myself a pretty little dirt manicure.
Oh honey I don’t have time anymore
for the nonsense of red polish,
and my lips are stained with stories I never told,
so I scratch and I claw and I howl
and I play my favorite records,
love notes burning
and embers crackling towards the ceiling,
like lovers tumbling together
into perfect illusion.
And on special occasions,
I pull that box of laughter out,
adorning myself in the jewels
of everything I can’t change
but can only cackle about.
I watch myself
as a little girl,
walking along old dirt paths
in thick Texas air,
fireflies dancing like nothing
had ever ripped out their wings.
Toes reach stagnant water,
a whirlpool erupts underfoot.
I go in with wings and prayers,
singing songs at the river
at the top of my lungs,
dirty white dress and ecstatic delusions:
A child just believes what she’s told.
I wanted to leave,
and I did, as much as I could,
angel of the stage and silent screen,
singing silly demons back to sleep.
Truth in her crown,
drunk and dancing,
came and rushed me away.
What ridiculous lines we try to walk.
Arouse them, my darling
Arouse them, but never please them.
Nothing will satisfy the vultures.
They have a job to do,
just give it to them.
We all have a role to perform,
and roadkill makes delicious fodder for
mad dogs and foolish, foolish girls.
I hung my feathers up in the doorway
and reveled in my power
on a stage I built myself,
where no lights
would ever be bright enough
and no man could ever be warm enough
(but oh, my face could sure light up a room!)
I was no foolish, foolish girl.
Stop crying, darling,
spill your emeralds on the ground,
bathe in the poison that rolls off
the false Queen’s wicked tongue,
it’s the antidote to sinking.
Pull yourself together.
The roses are dead,
and everything’s fine.
You said what you needed to say,
even if it was never enough,
you said it.
Sweet girl, you are wiser than you think.
You are stranger and you are stronger
than you let yourself believe.
Be joyful in the wild wood
at the edge of glory:
beautiful and breaking.
Wholeness is a story they tell you
so you keep on trying.
I never wanted to tame
the eager effervescence,
because love meant passion
and passion is a cousin of war.
Walk the tightrope honey,
that funny line that separates
the mad from the sane.
Anyway, what sane person
needs to prove themselves so badly,
they’ll up and steal my key
to the basement door?
It’s not theirs to take.
Some things are yours,
don’t forget it.
They’ll fool you into thinking they know
what you’ve got stored there,
under the floorboards.
But they will never really know.
Take that stash of frenzied laughter
Use every last breath,
bellow every guffaw
like a spitfire pixie,
Like the sullen organist
who played on Sundays,
whose wife left him for the grocery boy,
I just kept on playing.
I kept coming,
with boisterous music
the kind of tears that burn
No one can use my key
to open their door,
skeletons like their own closets best.
Say what you need to say, baby,