Blog

You do not have to be good

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

—Mary Oliver

 

These words of the late poet Mary Oliver have been my comfort and my companion over many years. I have whispered them to myself in searingly painful moments, read them aloud in writing workshops, and shared the poem they come from, Wild Geese, with countless friends.

I think the reason I find these words so powerful is because they are the antithesis of what we have been taught as women. To be good always. To be good girls.

And because they are the opposite of what we have learned, they strike like lightning, right at the heart of us. They burst through glass, leaving jagged shards, into our closed rooms. They may cause us to take a deep and shuddering breath. They might make us cry.

We have been taught to be kind and nurturing and easy to get along with. We have been told to tamp down our fire and to disavow our anger and to not have emotions that make other people uncomfortable. We have been instructed to try harder and be better.

But Mary Oliver’s words encourage us to be simply human. To be ourselves, not what others want us to be or have said we should be.

“You do not have to be good.” What a revelation. What it means to me is “You can be yourself.” What freedom.

When we have the freedom to choose, when we have the permission to not be good, what is our path forward?

Why don’t you take a few minutes right now and use these questions as a writing prompt? Grab a notebook and pen and gift yourself 10 or 15 minutes to write about this.


What else is available to me if I don’t have to be good, if I don’t have to act in a certain way, if I don’t have to be what other people expect or desire? 

What do I want to feel? What do I want to express? What do I want to imagine and live?


To quote Mary Oliver again: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

With heart,

—Renée

ps. If you’d like to engage in conversations like these with other women and are looking for an opportunity to connect deeply with yourself, I offer a space called Write From Your Heart. These are virtual and in-person gatherings that may help you feel not so alone, especially in trying times. Find out more and hear what other women say here.

Upcoming dates (click for more info):

Monthly Zoom Call: Wednesday, March 17, 6:30-8:30 (Atlantic Standard Time)

Afternoon Gathering: Saturday, April 17, 1-4pm (in Halifax)

Day-Long Retreat: Sunday, May 2 (beautiful seaside location and an early bird price until March 31!)

I hope to see you!

💛

What Are You Choosing?

As we collectively closed the door on 2020, a month ago now, I told myself that I needed 2021 to be different. Tired of feeling like a madly ricocheting pinball constantly being batted about, I

Read More

Not Myself Today

A few weeks ago, when Covid-19 began keeping us all home, my partner Malve dug an old mental health button out of the junk drawer. It said “Not Myself Today.” In case any of us

Read More

A Time to Trust

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that time has a very different quality during this period of isolation. It’s more than not remembering the date or the day of the week. There seems

Read More

Writing What Is

This morning, I woke from a lovely dream. I was at the beach on a sunny day. There were kids and friends and sun-warmed bodies, lying close together. There was laughter and warmth and playfulness.

Read More

A Unifying Event

Nine days suddenly feels like a lifetime. Nine days ago, I sat in a room with 15 other women for an in-person workshop. We wrote with our elbows nearly touching, we laughed, some cried, we

Read More

Writing Your Life

At workshops and retreats, in emails and phone calls, and over cups of tea, many women have told me they are interested in writing the story of their life. But they also admit they’re terrified. And

Read More