left to our own devices

summer day under a tree


“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés

As the doors closed behind us last week, we had no idea when we’d be let back in. We were left to our own devices, left the writers to theirs with the arts supplies, paper, and promise to come back when they let us. We sat in the lobby and waited, chatted about the state of the world and how official the CO’s looked. They were doing a fire drill at CRCF and all the volunteers had to be evacuated.

As we sat on the other side of the wall, waiting to be let back in, I thought about what I’d wanted to do with the group that night, what I had expected, and how strange it felt for the small world of the group to go on without us. We’d gotten a letter that evening from a former inmate. She wished us well and thanked us for the safe space. That was the space I wanted to be in. We were doing an art project that night, making paper doll representations of the intuitive voices that guide us. My voice called both from the inside of my chest and the prison, back to the circle of writers while the CO’s mimed fire and the women wrote and crafted.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes would call this wanting a door, my own device to be tinkered with until it revealed a lesson, a lack of presence, the cogs turning in my experience. It is a privilege to want to go in the prison knowing I would be let out, a privilege to be witness to another person’s words and process of struggle and growth. I’ve grown accustomed to the mechanisms of hope in their writing and conversation. I bring paper, pens, a handful words and receive their stories. By the time we were let back in, I was hungry for them, hoping to see what they’d made. We share something as nourishing as a meal in this emergent creative space. We can only make it together and, this time, I was barred from it.

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the voice in your pocket

illustration of vasalisa


I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Last week, we started the story ‘Vasalisa,’ a Russian and global folktale. In the story, Vasalisa loses her mother and receives a doll to keep her pocket. The doll, her mother’s dying gift, is supposed to lead her in her mother’s absence. Through a series of misfortunes, she is alone in the woods in search of fire. She can only seek help from the witch Baba Yaga to rekindle her home hearth. But Baba Yaga is a dangerous character who tests Vasalisa at the constant threat of death. With the help of her doll, whose voice indeed guides her throughout the story, she passes all the tests and returns home with fire, burning up her enemies and lighting her home.

In her book Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes how this little doll is the carrier of the inner voice, the intuition that guides someone when they are positively lost and without a clear path in sight. That’s the situation that Vasalisa is in throughout the story and each of us, I’m sure, can relate to this.

Once, a long time ago, I had a strange and wonderful teacher who gave me a book I could not understand. I spent three hours getting through 16 pages. I went to him and said, “I do not understand this.” And completely unruffled, he replied, “I didn’t intend you to. This was intended to initiate you in the material.” He was planting seeds for a place my mind would someday travel to and cultivate when I was ready.

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