writing into this new reality

Jen wearing a light-colored mask

My mom has been sewing masks for us. Here, I’m getting ready to go to the post office – I’m smiling under there, you just can’t see!

Hello hello hello –

Hey, I have a new book out! I’ll tell you more about it at the end of this post, ok?

I have been thinking about you a lot these days – you writers and readers, you survivors and healers. How are you sustaining yourself through this strange and difficult new time? I hope you are taking good care, and I hope those you love are safe and sound. If you are sick, or you’ve had sickness in your community, I’m sending all the good thoughts and energy that I can.

How are you holding the anxiety, the worry, the fear, the grief? Are you being gentle with your good and struggling self?

I’ve been baking. A lot. I’m exploring new recipes, using up what we’ve got in the pantry before the move to the East Coast this summer. The puppy and I take walks in the woods most days, enjoying the company of hawks and turkeys.

I’ve watched closely the family life of the mourning doves that have nested in a hangin

My companions over these weeks…

g planter outside my front door: already they’ve hatched one clutch of young, who were up and flying within a week of hatching(!), and now the parents are nesting again. I write letters to my beloved and postcards my nephew.

photo of adult morning dove next to two chicks in a nestphoto looking down a grassy hill, across a cityscape and out to a bay

I’ve also been watching a lot of tv.

To be honest with you, I’ve been moving through many months of not being so gentle with myself. I may be moving through to the other side. I have my fingers crossed, hopeful.

Between releasing the workshops (and sinking into a slick, grey burnout) and spending several hours each workday commuting to a new day job, I found I had little-to-no energy for writing. Or much of anything else. I couldn’t reply to phone calls or email messages. I made popcorn for dinner (with brewer’s yeast — that’s protein, right??). I didn’t want to read anything at all. I felt drained, not not at all sure how I was going to fill my cup again.

(I still had energy for self-recrimination, though. Why is it that, no matter how exhausted we are, no matter how much we understand why we’re feeling the way that we’re feeling, we still have some energy left over to beat ourselves up?)

And now we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic.

My sweetheart started her new job as CEO of the amazing Fenway Health in Boston, MA, at the beginning of March, right as many folks in this country began to grasp how dangerous this new virus is and started taking action. I was with her the first week of March, and returned home just before the San Francisco Bay area instituted the shelter-in-place guidance. I spent one week commuting in to UCSF, where the hospital had been treating COVID-19 patients for several weeks, and then was sent home to telecommute, thankful that I have the sort of work that can be done from home.

My beloved and I have not been together for over a month now. Did you know that the word quarantine comes from the Italian quarantina, meaning forty days’? It feels almost like she and I are being quarantined from each other; it’s going to be more than 40 days before we’ll get to share the same physical space again. We are planning our cross-country move while we are cross-country from one another. Maybe that makes a weird kind of sense.

I am both struggling with and grateful for this time of isolation; maybe some of you introverts out there know what I mean. It’s just me and the puppy at the house these days, and this sheltering in place has made space for me to go back to the beginning with my writing – to spend mornings with candles, tea, and a notebook. Slow writing. Remembering myself into and through the page.

For the last many months, since last fall at least, I’ve felt profoundly disconnected from my writing. I’d grown tired of what no longer felt like an authentic voice, yet I felt trapped in that voice when I wrote pieces that I wanted to share with others. I struggled with feelings of failure (do they ever go away for good?) and old grief, a certainty that I would never succeed as a writer (and what does that even mean)?

candles, tea, and peanut butter bar on a plateEarlier this year, I started setting my alarm for the early, early hours, which also meant that I had to go to sleep early early; there were nights I was in bed a couple of hours before anyone else in the house. But I needed to retrain my body to those dark morning hours, 4am, 4:30am. I needed the candle and the quiet, the writing time that is wholly unobserved by anyone else (well, maybe the puppy, but she slept through most of it, curled into a ball in her chair).

I needed to go back to the beginning of this practice – just writing to write. Not writing-to-blog or writing-to-self-promote or writing-to-brand or writing-to-Patreon or writing-to-publish. I’d lost touch with the sense of joy and urgency, the play and curiosity that had once upon a time me when I sat down at the page.

For awhile I’d been afraid that it wasn’t working, that I wouldn’t be able to reconnect with that deep love of writing. I wrote, in a letter to my sweetheart, that I was afraid it was like after I quit sucking my thumb as a child: once I’d broken myself of the habit, it was like a spell had broken. When I put my thumb in my mouth, it was not soothing, not enjoyable — it felt weird, a little silly, wrong.

But something has shifted for me this week, and I’m feeling new growth in this writing place of me. In the midst of worry and fear, I’m also feeling a quiet hope. I’m trying not to make too big a deal out of it, to leap ahead, to make big plans. Just keep writing, Jen, I say to that eager self inside. Just keep writing.

Maybe you are taking some of this time to reconnect with parts of yourself that have felt quiet or absent or lost. Whatever you are doing to get yourself through, into this new normal, is the right thing to do. We have to be gentle with ourselves, don’t we?

We who are survivors of trauma know very well the sense of dislocation that arises when we move from one normal to another. We know what it’s like not to be able to “go back to the way things used to be,” to be forced to adjust to a new way of being and seeing and interacting and engaging. We can help those around us who are struggling with that reality. We have wisdom and deep experience to share, in whatever way we choose to do so.

~~ ~~ ~~

Stack of Write to Restore booksLast month, Mango released my new book, a guided journal that’s meant to be a companion to Writing Ourselves Whole: Write to Restore is a guide through an eight-week writing practice, with new exercises and readings (and illustrated with my own photos!).

As with Writing Ourselves Whole, Write to Restore is for individual practice as well as for writing groups or other collectives, and is available in hard copy and Kindle formats.

For some of us, writing is the way that we find out where we are, what we’re thinking and feeling and dreaming, and the way we play with the stories of our lives. Write to Restore can accompany you on this journey, if you choose…

The last Writing the Flood meets on December 21!

Comfy blue couch in front of a bright orange wall; on the wall hangs a painting of three hummingbirds
Writing the Flood

Open the gates and let your writing voice flow
Third Saturday of every month

The last Flood Write meets this Saturday, December 21, 1-4:30pm
Come write with us!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $75 (sliding scale available). Spaces limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Workshops held in downtown San Francisco in an accessible office space, close to BART and MUNI. Pre-registration is required — please write to Jen with questions or to register.

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a widely-published freelance writer. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University, has led writing workshops since 2002, and writes with folks about trauma, sexuality, and so much more.

Writing the Flood meets this Saturday, November 16

photo of notebooks and a cup full of pens on a table in front of an inviting couch
Writing the Flood

Open the gates and let your writing voice flow
Third Saturday of every month

The next Flood Write meets November 16, 1-4:30pm
Come write with us!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $75 (sliding scale available). Spaces limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Workshops held in downtown San Francisco in an accessible office space, close to BART and MUNI. Pre-registration is required — please write to Jen with questions or to register.

Can’t make it this month? Mark your calendars: The last Writing the Flood of 2019 will meet on 12/21.

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a widely-published freelance writer. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University, has led writing workshops since 2002, and writes with folks about trauma, sexuality, and so much more.

Writing the Flood gathers this Saturday, October 12

comfortable writing room - a rocking chair, couch, and other chairs circled around a table with notebooks and pens resting on top
Writing the Flood

Open the gates and let your writing voice flow
Third Saturday of every month (except when otherwise noted, like this month!)

The next Flood Write meets October 12, 1-4:30pm
Come write with us!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $75 (sliding scale available). Spaces limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Workshops held in downtown San Francisco in an accessible office space, close to BART and MUNI. Pre-registration is required — please write to Jen with questions or to register.

Can’t make it this month? Mark your calendars: The November Writing the Flood will meet on 11/16.

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a widely-published freelance writer. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University, has led writing workshops since 2002, and writes with folks about trauma, sexuality, and so much more.

Writing the Flood meets again this Saturday, September 21

Photo of three pairs of crossed legs, on which notebooks are resting and pens are moving
Writing the Flood

Open the gates and let your writing voice flow
Third Saturday of every month

The next Flood Write meets September 21, 1-4:30pm
Come write with us!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $75 (sliding scale available). Spaces limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Workshops held in downtown San Francisco in an accessible office space, close to BART and MUNI. Pre-registration is required — please write to Jen with questions or to register.

Can’t make it this month? Mark your calendars: The October Writing the Flood will meet on 10/12 (note we’ll gather on the second Saturday next month!).

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a widely-published freelance writer. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University, has led writing workshops since 2002, and writes with folks about trauma, sexuality, and so much more.

Writing the Flood meets this Saturday, August 17!

photo of a sheet of water falling over rocks
Writing the Flood

Open the gates and let your writing voice flow
Third Saturday of every month

The next Flood Write meets August 17, 1-4:30pm
Come write with us!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $75 (sliding scale available). Spaces limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Workshops held in downtown San Francisco in an accessible office space, close to BART and MUNI. Pre-registration is required — please write to Jen with questions or to register.

Can’t make it this month? Mark your calendars: The September Writing the Flood will meet on 9/21.

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a widely-published freelance writer. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University, has led writing workshops since 2002, and writes with folks about trauma, sexuality, and so much more.

Hell hath no fury… (Night Hands now available!)

I am beyond delighted to share the news about a new e-publication with The Massachusetts Review’s Working Titles series! – Jen

“Groping hands have been in the news a lot lately: Unhand me, Sir! Hands off! Keep your mitts to yourself, buster. These hands are mostly predatory, and mostly male. Jen Cross writes about a young woman, Tüz, who lives in a village dystopia where the focus is on female hands and the dangers they’re thought to represent.”
-Elizabeth Harries, from the Introduction to Night Hands          
a story by Jen Cross
with an introduction by Elizabeth Harries
In Night Hands Jen Cross creates a dystopian world in which women’s hands are the focus of social organization and gendered oppression. Exploring themes of agency, sexual liberation, and domestic violence, Cross weaves together fantasy and realism in a strikingly modern fairy tale. Cross’s originality in both plot and form marks Night Hands as unique and enduring.
 

“It had been Tüz’s eldest sister, Talia, who first explained that she would lose her hands. Tüz had been horrified, but her sister explained to her that this was the difference between little girls and women. ‘You don’t want to stay a little girl, do you?’
“Tüz had shaken her head. ‘But how does he do it?’
“Her sister reluctantly revealed the pale pink opening at the base of her wrist, then she took her little sister’s hand in hers and, with a fingernail, traced in a line around the child’s wrist. ‘Yours will be here,’ Talia said.”
Read more here, or purchase at Amazon, Kobo, or (coming soon) from Weightless Books.
 
Jen Cross is the author of Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Traumaand the co-editor of Sex Still Spoken Here: An Erotic Reading Circle Anthology. Jen’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in over 50 anthologies and periodicals. Jen has facilitated sexuality and sexual trauma survivors writing workshops for over fifteen years, has worked with hundreds of writers, through private workshops and in collaboration with colleges, social change organizations, and other institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the U.S. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and an MA in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College, and has been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Art Center. 
Elizabeth Harries taught English and Comparative Literature at Smith College until her retirement. Her book Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale attempts to redefine the history of the fairy tale in Europe and its role in our present culture. She is currently working on a study of narrative framing.
Available on Amazon, Kobo, and coming soon to Weightless Books!

Finish your book! Join us in Dive Deep

Stencil graffiti -- insert your life story hereHello writers & writers-to-be!

I hope the summer words are finding their way to the page through your fingers…

Just a reminder: Our third Dive Deep trimester begins in September. Read on for more details, and let me know if you can join us!

~ Dive Deep
An advanced, manuscript-centered workgroup
Third 2019 cohort opens to new members in September!

o The *Dive Deep* workgroup is for those who have delved into (or are ready to commit to) the deep dive of a large writing project, such as a novel, memoir, or poetry collection. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, no writer has ever completed a long work alone: Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in and accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support. This group can help you meet your writing goal, and provide community and encouragement as you go deep into a writing project. The fee is $250/month, with a four-month commitment required; the group will remain closed for those four months, in order to give Divers the opportunity to set long-term goals in an established and supportive community.

Join us!

No previous writing experience necessary! All groups meet near BART station and other public transportation options. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! 

Questions or concerns? Write to me at jennifer(at)writingourselveswhole.org.

Writing the Flood meets this Saturday, July 13!

photo of notebooks and a cup full of pens on a table in front of an inviting couch
Writing the Flood

Open the gates and let your writing voice flow
Third Saturday of every month (except when otherwise noted, like this month!)

The next Flood Write meets July 13, 1-4:30pm
Come write with us!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $75 (sliding scale available). Spaces limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Workshops held in downtown San Francisco in an accessible office space, close to BART and MUNI. Pre-registration is required — please write to Jen with questions or to register.

Can’t make it this month? Mark your calendars: The August Writing the Flood will meet on 8/17.

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a widely-published freelance writer. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University, has led writing workshops since 2002, and writes with folks about trauma, sexuality, and so much more.

Is it the same if everything’s different?

graffiti of the words "love your imagination" next to a woman holding an umbrella, apparently floating...

Good morning, good morning. It’s 5:30 and outside it’s windy and active — the birds are talking and the BART shines its whispery greeting beneath their song. it’s early, my eyes aren’t quite working yet.

In an hour, or less, actually, I’ll get in the shower and get ready to go to work. Many things have changed in the last couple of months. I let go of the workshop space in Oakland. I took a job at Book Passage and then I let that go, too. And I’ve gone back to a job at UCSF — yesterday I managed to read a complete novel during my commute (and then while waiting in line to get the photo for my id badge taken and then while waiting for the new employee training to start and then while on the shuttle from Laurel Heights to Parnassus and then again after I got home and before bed — there may not be nearly so much reading time today).

I left my last job at UCSF in 2012— I was ready to ramp the workshops up to a new level, and felt I needed to have all of my time and energy available for that. And then I immediately got a massive back spasm that impacted me for several months, maybe hinting at my ambivalence about the whole project.

It’s strange to be back at something I left seven years ago. Much is the same — I’m working for the same department with many of the same people, which is delightful — and there’s a lot, too, of course, that’s changed. I feel grateful and sad, like both a success and a failure. It turned out — after seven years of very hard work — that the workshops couldn’t sustain me here in the Bay Area, or I just wasn’t able to figure out how to make that happen. I’ve scrutinized it from so many angles, and I’m not going to do that this morning — it sends me down a sad rabbit hole, and I don’t want to do that today.

Because there’s been plenty of success, too…

(Read the rest on Patreon! This post is available to everyone… )