Monthly Archives: August 2010

WW: we are all learning radical self care

Igraffiti -- "thank you" inside a heart, drawn on the metal of a bridge t’s a Tuesday; I did my morning write in my notebook this morning, which felt very good — me, the candle, the pen, the blank pages filling up (just three to start, and then I ran over to four). No music, but the sound of snoring from the next room, which was good and soothing. As I do more of my morning writes directly into the computer, sometimes I forget how good it feels just to be on the page with no direction.  Being in that space–just writing, no other goal–is good self-care for me.

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Here’s a prompt from last night’s last Summer ’10 Write Whole workshop:

First, take a couple of minutes and write down the things you do to take care of yourself (or the things that your character would do to take care of him/her/hirself, if you’re working with fiction) — include the things you do every day and the things you do only sometimes.

Then, take another couple of minutes and add to your list the things you wish you did to take care of yourself: are there self-care practices you wish you could afford more often, or had more time for, or…? Write those down, too.

Now let yourself choose a few of these — at least three — and describe the day in which you or your character get to do all of these things for and with yourself (and in the workshop, we each wrote a couple of our own ideas onto 3×5 cards, and then each picked one without knowing what it was, so we got to add a surprise-practice to our write) . Let yourself imagine, and then write out, the day when you (or your character) do several things that are really good for you (or them).

Here’s my response to this write:

We are all learning radical self care. I don’t mean just in this room. I mean all through our communities — we apologize over and over and then we radicalize fiercely, we claim space and silly television shows and bad food, we claim thick sweaters and soup-making with friends and laughing on our backs in Dolores Park grass –

This is what my self care looks like: writing every day, taking the stairs at work, turning the computer off on the weekends.  That’s the bare bones. But that’s not this self-care day I’m thinking of.

I want a writing retreat at the oceanside, with private cabins and communal kitchens with morning writing prompts and then yoga and then time to write and hen time to swim. I want to feel the water move over my body after the words have moved through it. I want other people there only sometimes.

I want a couple of massages (this is my self-care week!) and I want to let the tears come while the pressure is on and I want that to be ok, for the masseuse to be comfortable working with traumatized bodies; I want for hir not to shut down or encourage the tears but just let us both be present with great sorrow and release.

What about a full day of quiet: silent writing, reading-on-the-beach time (reading some excellent or excellently-trashy novel I pick up off the cottage’s shelves), then time to prepare a delicious meal just for myself, alone in the kitchen, listening to some public radio, familiar and surprising. I saute onions and garlic and spices, I stir in rice and red lentils and water, bring the water to boil then cover and simmer while I chop tomatoes, jalapenos, what else, maybe cooked sweet potatoes — mix all that into the lentils with a tablespoonful of fresh berbere — then dish my meal into a handthrown pottery bowl, take up my stained wood chopsticks, pour a glass of water, open my book again, and fill up lush and ripe with time and emergency, read and eat and look out a quiet evening window — hear humans somewhere, hear the ocean throb in its consistency, hear my own heartbeat, and let myself feel drawn toward bed only and yet exactly when I am tired and ready to go, knowing I can get up tomorrow in quiet and reckless solitude and breathe in exactly the right sort of day again

Here’s an invitation to you to do one thing today (at least one!) that’s just about self-care– what would that be for you?

Thank you for your words and your work in this world. You make a big difference; you’ll maybe never know how bit, but you do.

not the future: just tomorrow

graffiti art-- Dream with a heart and layers of color and other words...

marthalever.blogspot.com -- check out her etsy shop!

It’s a Monday, and I have so much gratitude today: a weekend of connection, reconnection, rest, and work. Yesterday’s workshop with Sassafras, Queers Surviving: Telling our whole stories, was a powerful gathering of writers, and some good pieces got begun, I think.  And the Kicked Out reading on Saturday opened me, again, to the power of working with our stories: no one else is going to tell them for us, and if they do, they’ll either get them wrong (and/) or use them against us. (Who said that first? It wasn’t me…)

And then some good, strong Inverness time with the Mr. and my heart, some fall planning, and hours of just-reading time. Whew.  Thank you.

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I’ve got a prompt for you, today, for the folks at yesterday’s workshop and everyone: this is one I offered at the Write Whole Monday night workshop a couple weeks ago: create two lists by drawing a line, horizontally, down the middle of your page. At the top of the first list (either side), title it Things I Dreamed (or Things She Dreamed, Things He Dreamed, Things You …).  Then spend about five minutes, writing down your dreams, either from last year, five years ago, 20 years ago… what did you/your character imagine/dream of/hope for?

Then, give yourself five minutes for the next list: Things I/She/He/You Didn’t Dream. What didn’t you imagine (again, either just a few months ago, a few years ago, when you were a teenager or a child)? What didn’t you dream of?

Then take a minute or so to look over the lists, noticing which items you put there call to you or are drawing your writer’s attention.  You might move back and forth between the things dreamed about and the things not dreamed about, if you want.

Here’s my write from that prompt:

She didn’t dream about getting free. The tenor was like that. This was After. Before, she’d dreamed about being an author, and that was nebulous, kind of involving books and words and how someone had to put strings of the latter together to create the former, and actually got paid to do it — and about being a marine biologist and this involved way more marine than biology, this ream — more, she thought about how being a marine biologist meant she could be under water all the time.

She spent hours making up stories, endless soap operas that involved teenagers and unrequited love and missed opportunities and brutal girls and sensitive deceived boys with she herself at the center of it all, of course, like Jane Eyre or something, pretty, tight lipped, understanding, and, eventually, blissfully, perfectly understood, requited –

but she never dreamed of getting free, being away from the man her mother had married.  She didn’t imagine a part of a time in her life when he wasn’t holding some essential part of her in his hands, her breath or breasts or heartbeat — when did she come to understand that going far away to college wouldn’t make any  difference, that distance wouldn’t stop him, that she wouldn’t be free of him?

This isn’t a remembering that happens easy: it requires that she climb back into the brain that lived both under his control and outside it, requires that she push her fingers back into the body that couldn’t ever say no.

This isn’t the story I want to tell.  What I want to talk about is the way that she still dreamed about tomorrow — not the future: just tomorrow. Just the fact that another day was coming, no matter how bleak and painful and ridiculous the one she was living, still she held some part of herself open for the  day that was coming. That’s the part that pulled her through.  It didn’t dream. It just attended to facts. No matter how awful this minute, the second hand on the clock on the side board or bed stand or wall is going to keep on moving. He can’t stop time. He may be able to do everything else, but he can’t stop time. No matter how bad his badgering or beating, and the badgering was always worse, and no matter how long, eventually, it would stop. These weren’t dreams. These were facts. The sun would come up and she’d have to get dressed for school.

This is where she learned about escape as fragmentary, as both momentary and whole. This is when she let go of dreaming and held on to the second hand with everything.

Thank you for being there, for reading, and for writing — it’s big work that you’re doing. Be easy with yourself this week!

being willing to fiercely hold power

graffiti: three figures, pulling and pushing together at the bars of a barrier, so they can get out

Only together...

Good morning and happy Friday!  It’s almost time to take a book to the beach and read while leaning back up against a rock, listening to the waves pounding, maybe, too, there’re kids screaming and laughing somewhere, but mostly it’s sea gulls, sea lions, and water. Right? Yes.

So, on Fridays I wanted to write about workshop-business stuff: such a strange thing! I am a Pisces and a survivor and an introvert*, and it’s a strange thing to find myself at the helm (helm?) of something like writing ourselves whole, a strange thing to find myself working to grow a business, an organization, paying attention to things not only like writing exercises and holding workshops and making sure there are enough snacks, but also tax forms and accounting records.  Over these years, I’ve slowly learned (with lots of friend-/love-support, of course!) to trust myself enough to hold writing ourselves whole as it grows beyond just me.

I’ve wanted to write for some time about being both a survivor and someone running/holding an organization, about the ways that I’ve struggled with power.  Holding writing ourselves whole means being willing to fiercely hold power, because I believe in what we do together and how we do it. That’s taken me a long time.

“Power is the ability to take one’s place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one’s part matter.” -Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing A Woman’s Life.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 1988, p. 18.

I’ve had to learn about owning my power in a positive and empowering way. For a long time, I didn’t want anything to do with power: to me, power equaled abuse. But we are all imbued with power, we have deep knowledge and skills to share, information and creativity to be shared and learned from. Power in and of itself is not abuse. The question is what we do with our power: Do we use it to attempt to control other people, or do we stand up in it, understanding that our power is our strength to speak out, to work with others to effect change, to sensitively hold space; do we behave with blind entitlement or do we hold ourselves accountable, ask others to hold us accountable, believing ourselves to be entitled to respect when we give respect, entitled to generosity when we are generous, entitled to kindness and space to offer our wisdom.

It’s early and I’m not writing about this the way that I want. Here’s something I wrote back in the beginning, about my struggle with power:

The erotic writing groups that I facilitate are not therapy groups. They are non-clinical TLA writing groups, in which I, as facilitator, am also a participant. This is a role that requires a good deal of ongoing negotiation and soul-searching for me: I have responsibility for keeping the group flowing and structured, yet I abdicated the role of “leader.” Together, we who participate in these groups engage in the creation of a safe space that allows for risk, performance and play. As a participant, I struggle to make clear for the rest of the participants: I will take the same risks you will. I will trust you to cherish what of myself I offer, and I will be open to your feedback.  I have something at stake here, personally, just as you do. This, in my experience, allows for a leveling of the power in the room–which is transformative in itself.  It is also fraught with its own difficulties.

I have, since, reconsidered this abdication, have stepped up to more fully meet the role of facilitator, which means leading sometimes, holding us all our agreements, naming things that need to change in order for all to be held, and being present with folks who are testing the limits of our method or who seem to want something different from the group.  The struggle for me has been wanting always to be different from the therapist group facilitator, first, because I’m not a therapist, and second, because I came into this work with such anger, still, at therapists and their power/impotence, given what my stepfather was able to do as a therapist in his community back home. Yes, I washed a whole community with his actions — I’m still undoing that in myself. Now my sister is a therapist, and so we can have different conversations about holding power, about being accountable and about boundaries and engaging in the holding of spaces where we and others can risk, together, and also find ourselves in safety and change.

There’s so much more to say about power (and em-power-ment), but I’ll stop here for now.  Thanks for your fierce work, your extraordinary power, the way you’re living your life like it’s golden

* Folks tend not to believe me when I say I’m an introvert, because I can be outspoken, because I perform publicly, because I can be big and loud and gregarious and effusive. None of these negate the possibility of introversion, however: I’m someone who likes a lot of time alone, and for whom big crowds can be draining — I like to replenish with time alone after being with large amounts of people (c.f., having to take last Saturday morning to myself after being at the Femme Conference on Friday, and with people all the rest of the week); I like to call it being on people-overload. It isn’t about not loving people, but about how I get fed: I get fed/replenished after interactions with just one person or small groups, and with time alone.  Then I can do big groups again. I resonate with this definition: “Extraverts feel an increase of perceived energy when interacting with a large group of people, but a decrease of energy when left alone. Conversely, introverts feel an increase of energy when alone, but a decrease of energy when surrounded by a large group of people.”

DOE: We want our bodies also to encompass joy

graffiti on broken concrete: make awkward sexual advances, not war

I love this...

Hello Thursday! Turns out I swapped my blog-topic days: Thursday was supposed to be for VozSutra posts, and Wednesday was to be for DOE posts.  (I forgot about the Monday-freewrite agreement I made with myself.)

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Last night was the Erotic Reading Circle: a small group and lots of amazing writing — we had kind of a historical theme last night.  Not planned, but every piece was a recollecting, a remembering, a recounting of something that had happened in the past, whether memoir or book review or fiction. I love that kind of synchronicity!

Here’s what happens at the ERC. Folks bring something they’re working on that they want to share — it can be a piece you’re getting ready to publish, something you’re writing as a gift or a performance. It also doesn’t have to be something you want to share with the wider world, but maybe you’re starting out writing erotic fiction or memoir or sexuality-related essays or anything that has to do with sexuality or erotics, and you want to put it out before some other people.  You want to see if it’s any good.  You want to find out how it resonates with folks, what it feels like to read your own words aloud. The folks in the room will receive your work and they’ll give you whatever sort of feedback you ask for — and just note: we talk a lot about what we like and what was hot about the writing!

It’s also a great place to get inspired, I’ve found — if you’re wanting to get back into writing about erotics or sex, this is a great place for that.  There’s usually at least one person, sometimes more, who just came to listen, not to read: that’s ok, too!

The Erotic Reading Circle meets on the 4th Wednesday of every month, 7:30-9:30, at the Center for Sex and Culture (1519 Mission Street, between 11th and So Van Ness, San Francisco).

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Yesterday, Jianda suggested to me that I might write more about what happens in the erotic writing workshop. Here’s some of why it can be powerful for surivors of sexual trauma to step into these workshops, as a part (just a part) of their work around reclaiming the breadth of their erotics and desire: we want more than to be trapped into the holes that our perpetrators drive us into.  We want more than the body of loss that we become.  We want more than to be that body of loss, want more than for our bodies to be the landscape of our terror.

We want our bodies also to encompass joy — and writing it can be one path to our embodying that joy, before we (or instead of, sometimes) try it on off the page.

You know this already but I want to tell you again what Audre Lorde says about erotics, how it’s more than the carnal (not to knockthe carnal: sexual desire and pleasure is necessary. It’s of us as humans):

The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our work, our lives. (from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984. 53-59).

(Just a note: I don’t believe that only women inhabit or hold the erotic; and, what’s it like for those with other genders to find themselves in the paragraph above?)

In the workshop, we can experience erotic-as-play.  Sex, off the page, can be struggle. Off the page, maybe, I’m dealing with triggers or the possibility of triggers. But on the page, it can be easier for me to be with sex as play.  It can be fun, even if the character gets triggered — I can think about the way she navigates that. I can watch her allow her desire to rise up again and overpower the points of the past, or I can watch her ask for something different.  I can notice how the character wants and is scared all at the same time.

And, too, I can write characters who aren’t triggered — who aren’t wrangling with that part of sex.  Maybe this character is about to try something I’ve always wanted to do — I can write her through it, and in so doing, I begin to embody the experience: I mean, I begin to take that activity, that kind of sex, into my body.  Let’s not forget that writing is a physical act.

There’s a lot of laughter in the Declaring Our Erotic workshops, when folks are reading aloud what they’ve written: sex gets to be funny and fun. We get to talk about the fucked-up-ed-ness and the delightful power, the bad jokes, what goes wrong, and then what goes very (very) right.

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The next 8-week Declaring Our Erotic workshop, starting October 7, is going to be open to LGBTIQ/Queer sexual trauma survivors of all genders. Please send me a note if you’ve got questions about the workshop, if you want to know more –and you can register here!

Thank you for being out there, for reading and for your writing, for your powerful presence in the world

VozSutra: this is just the beginning

Hafiz poem written on a wall: "Even after all this time/The sun never says to the earth,/You owe Me.'//Look what happens with/A love like that,/It lights the Whole Sky"Good morning! Are you already drinking water, Bay Area readers?  Please stay hydrated — I can hardly believe how hot it got yesterday.  We did make it to the ocean, and I got to ride the rip current at Bolinas.

Today’s is supposed to be a VozSutra blog — the practice of voice.  This weekend I got to be with writers at the femme conference and spend a bit of time thinking about femme-survivorhood: what’s it mean to be a femmedyke who’s a survivor of sexual trauma?  How is our femme identity, our femme self, inflected by our survivor self?  How is our experience of being a survivor inflected by also being a queer femme? Enormous questions that could have essay- or book-length responses. We had time for one writing exercise, and someone suggested that I post some additional writing prompts here, so that we could continue our fierce work. I’ve got a bunch more prompts below.

First, I want to talk a bit about freewriting. Here’s something I wrote last year, for a presentation about transformative writing with survivors of sexual trauma at the Power of Words conference:

Want to write yourself whole? Pick up the pen and start now. Just let the words come. Don’t lift the pen up off the page, don’t censor, don’t make sense. Don’t stop to worry about whether your grammar works there or if you ought to use a comma or a semi-colon or if it’s time for a new paragraph. Give yourself these 5 minutes, maybe 15. Give yourself a lunch half-hour. Give yourself a morning hour, an evening hour, a weekend afternoon. Shut off the phone and turn away from the computer. Follow the flow, the pull of your writing. Set down in ink or pencil whatever words come up, non sequiturs and nonsense and to-do-list reminders alike, stories and complaints, wishes and dreams and frustrations and remembrances. Let it all come and comingle on your page. Let it flow through the boundaries and the bridges that we build within and around ourselves, the containments and separations, the work stuff and play stuff, the now stuff and then stuff. This writing is just for you. It doesn’t have to be shared or read aloud or posted anywhere, unless you want to do so.

Start it now. Do it again tomorrow. Keep up this pattern as many consecutive days as you want, over several years. Continue for a lifetime.

I’m just repeating what I’ve been told, what I’ve read, what’s worked for me. This is the kind of urging that Natalie Goldberg makes in Writing Down the Bones, that Anne Lamott sets before us in Bird by Bird, that Pat Schneider encourages in Writing Alone and With Others. Trusting yourself enough to write freely and broadly and openly and deeply—it creates change.

This kind of freewriting has introduced me to my thought patterns, allowed me to trace out language for experiences that I thought were unnamable, given me meditation and play time. And over time, I’ve learned again to trust whatever my writing wants me to put on the page, and then to share that new, raw, unedited stuff with other writers to revel in the surprise truths my pen leads me to and my peer writers help to highlight for me.

So — given that description and possibility, femme writers (and others!), here are some more ideas. For each one, give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to write –set a timer on your watch or stove or phone so that you can focus on the writing and not on checking the clock! (And listen: if you don’t have 15 minutes, give yourself 5 or 7. Lots can be done in that time.)

  • Write a love letter to your body, or to a specific part of your body; use the second person ‘you’ to talk directly to your body, if that works for you. The tone might be seductive, funny, apologetic, serious, adoring, sad, or all of the above and more!
  • Start your writing with the phrase “If I told you what I’m afraid to tell you …” or “These are the secrets of my body.” (If you find yourself getting stuck, switch from one to the other — or change the prompt in some way: if I told you what I’m not afraid to tell you. These aren’t the secrets of my body –)
  • Create a list of myths about survivors and then a list of myths about femmedykes.  Select one and write in response, or write about its opposite: “This is what they say about me/us, but I/we…”
  • Start with these fragments: I’m  supposed to want… / I’m not supposed to want…. Alternate between the two for a few minutes at the start of your write, and then follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.
  • Begin with this question: What are the erotics of honesty? What happens when we are honest about what we desire (and I don’t mean just sexually) — even only with ourselves?

This is just the beginning.  You can find prompts anywhere — respond to images, songs, dreams. Let yourself pick a book off the shelf, open to a random page, put your finger down, and then start writing from the word or phrase you fall upon.  Everything is a potential spark for your muse.

Please feel welcome to share your responses here!  You can share the writes you do in response to the exercises, or your feelings about/experiences with a particular prompt.

Thank you so much for reading, for writing, for doing the fierce work you do in the world –

people who hold your heart and meet you where you live

street art -- silhouette of woman raising her arm for hawk to land onGood morning — it’s a Tuesday. Today maybe we’ll go to the ocean.  It’s supposed to be hot hot hot again and so I can swim.

I want to write a bit more about the Femme Conference, about the struggle of being with all femmes, being in that girlfriend place that has been so missing most of my life, and how painful it is, what an awful ache.

Since Sunday, I’ve been feeling this kind of throbby warmth in the aftermath of the FemmeCon, like an afterglow. And here’s why, I think: last night, when I was writing about my own transition over the last 6 years, I recognized the breadth of my own femme support system, my circle of amazing femme friends and supporters (some of whom maybe I’m naming as honorary femmes), who’ve walked (with) me through this change from butch to femme, who walk with me as I keep on trying to find sure footing in this girlness:
The women from home: Molly, Juli, Carla, Lisa, Kathleen, my sister

the Dirty Inkers: Dorian, Naomi, Renee G (and not femme but of course Renee R, too, who was so supportive and present with my transition even though it meant she was the only butch left in Dirty Ink!)

The Body Heaters: Kathleen Delaney(again), Veronica Combs/Vixen Noir, Alex Cafarelli, Meliza Bañales, Vagina Jenkins, Leslie Freeman, Celestina Pearl, Nicky Click, Gigi Frost –

The sisterfemmefriends: Sarah Deragon, Tina D’Elia, Rachel Carroll, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
and more local femme role models/writer colleagues than I could name…

I’ve spent, maybe, too much of my life with books, with movies, with others’ stories of friends who show up for you when you’re sad, who open your blinds, who bring you back to life and bring you ice cream or Chinese noodles or a bottle of wine. I hear those stories when I’m at the femme conference, too, stories of bone friendship, friendships mourned over when they’re lost. I envy those stories: the girls who got together easily, or seemingly easily, who meet each other as girls/women/femmes/comrades/and something else, too. Who show up, answer phone calls, hold your secrets, give advice, argue and come back together again (or don’t). I mean people who hold your heart and meet you where you live, under your scars and surfaces, in all of your mess. People who you perform for, maybe, like we all perform all the time, but who can see your performances — can see the edges and the underneath, who know the backside of your smile and your rage.

The truth is I have been terrified to be so known. I am still. Friends know me better, differently, than lovers do.  Forever, it seems like forever, the people I could be close to, raw and honest with, were the people I was fucking or in a romantic relationship with. That’s an old story that I don’t want to tell it all again, but let’s just suffice it to say that that’s what my stepfather allowed: why would I spend time with anyone I wasn’t about to get into bed with? Friends were a threat to him, of course, and so he cut me out of that possibility. I had people I hung around with at school, lots of guys I liked and talked to, and some girls too and what I’m really trying to say here is that while I had people I spent time with, I walked around inside a wall. As soon as I left school, the wall came down and I was back inside my own personal hell.  We all had one, I know.

When you’re a teenager, you’re supposed to be learning how to relate to other people, how to be a friend and a community member — we learn about drama and interpersonal bad behavior in junior high and high school, but we also learn about solidarity and community and friendship — at least, ideally. Maybe lots of us don’t. I’m one of the don’ts, because I couldn’t. When you’re growing up in a controlling or abusive situation (I know many of you all know this already), you can’t let others in: You’re not allowed to. They’re ridiculed, threatened by the system you live within. In college, once I started trying to make strong emotional ties with folks outside my family, my stepfather threatened their lives — and so it becomes a matter of saving someone else, to disconnect from them. How could it not be easier, safer, then, finally, to be alone? I didn’t learn how to be a heart-friend, how to be that raw and vulnerable, how to see and be so seen.

This isn’t about not having connections with people, having love. It’s about something deeper. How much I missed that experience of best-friends, of endless phone conversations with someone who loved me not just because we were fucking, someone I could talk to about anything. I hated hearing anyone else talk about it. I didn’t want to know about your best friend: it was just a reminder that it wasn’t me, that that wasn’t a world I got to inhabit.

Of course, the truth is, I’d been trained into my own sexual currency; but I didn’t know or believe in my worth as a friend. There’s been a process of unearthing, this letting myself be a friend I could believe in, because, for years, I was the friend you just had to let go of — don’t expect anything from me.  I might not always answer the phone.  I might disappear.  I might lie and hide from you.  My romantic relationship will always come before you. I might not open even though I will expect you to: and then I wondered why I felt so lonely.

Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve become aware that I have the friendships I’ve always wanted: thick-heart-risky-brave connections with women who make me want to be more and more honest and real. It’s terrifying: these are people I admire and ache for, who are smart and brave and risk-taking, who don’t have to choose me but do. But do. Complicated and imperfect; people I’ve gotten angry with and still loved with everything. How can this be?

There’s more here, but I’m going to stop with this: thank you.  I love you. I’m sorry. I’m working. I’m so grateful for you.

And thank you for being there, and for reading –

meeting ourselves where we’re at

graffiti -- girl blowing heart-bubbles up to the sky

a bunch of love from me to FemmeCon2010

Good morning good morning.  It’s still morning, even though the sun is higher in the sky than I’d prefer it to be when I start my morning blog — I like it still to be down lost over the horizon, actually …

I’m taking it slow this morning, this week. After a super busy femme-conferencing, writing-the-flood-ing weekend, this week I’m on furlough from my day job at UCSF, which means I’ll only be working one job this week: writing ourselves whole.  It’s kind of blissful. I got to have a quiet evening in last night with my mr. hubby, eating leftovers and watching Men Who Stare At Goats (which actually I’d like to write about later: there’s a lot in there about masculinity, I think, about the damage our current constructions of masculinity do to men and boys (and…), about the work required to undo that/those constructions, and about how much work is required to hold on to what gets loosed/freed up — it’s a funny-ish movie, but also really sad).

This weekend was the Femme Conference, and I have way more to say about my experiences than I will probably get to today, but then main thing I want to get to is I’m grateful to every one of the organizers and every one of the attendees. FemmeCon, like any ostensibly-single-identity-focused space, is complicated and complicating, gorgeous, problematic and problematizing, and I’m so glad it exists.

If I had blogged on Saturday morning, this post would only have been about failure and loss — and now it’s about failure and loss and friends and hope and gratitude. On Friday I led an hour-long workshop for femme survivors in which I hoped we’d be able to write and then talk about how our femme selves intersect with our sexual-trauma-survivor selves, how each inflects the other, and how we navigate that terrain. In an hour. OK.

I got to sit in a room with a group of fierce femme writers — I wanted to hear every word they had to write and share. And after we got situated, got ourselves into a circle and introduced, and after I described the AWA workshop method that we’d be using to hold ourselves and one another as writers and artists, and the structure that we’d be using to keep one another safe, we had less than half an hour to write and share.  Goddamnit. And so, yes, everyone got to write, and not everyone got to share, and not everyone who wanted to got to give feedback on every piece of writing that was shared.

I felt like I’d tried to stuff a balloon into too-small a space, and it’d burst, deflated. We ran into the wall of the end of the hour just as we were really getting into our work, getting into the writing and the sharing and the conversation.  And yes, I know that that’s the bane of every conference workshop leader — conference timeslots are forever too short for the vast amounts of work we want to be able to do together.

I felt horrible, like I’d asked folks to open something profound and deep, and then tossed them back out into the stream of conference goers, all open and vulnerable and raw. The truth is that I hadn’t centered myself as much as I’d planned that morning, hadn’t reminded myself that we weren’t going to be able to do as much as I’d hoped we could do in our timeslot, and so I forgot to remind the attendees about that.  Not that we don’t all know that there’s never enough time, but still there’s something powerful in the acknowledgment — and, too, it helps us to make informed choices about how we write, how much of ourselves we open.

Now, I know that every survivor of every kind of trauma is resilient and creative and makes decisions every moment about how much of hirself to share and open into; everyone in the room made hir own best choices. And still, the truth is that I didn’t do what I wanted to do: hold a space where we could write, share and connect with one another through that writing and sharing.  We were too rushed because I didn’t plan well enough.  And I spent the rest of the day really, profoundly beating up on myself — way too much. Yes, of course: triggered. Look how you do damage to these other people. Who do you think you are to be doing this work? It didn’t matter that the evaluations were overall very good, that I received wonderful feedback from attendees, that folks said they were moved and grateful to have been able to be there (and, yes, would have preferred to have had more time). All I could hear was the self-beating in my own head.  Jesus, that’s hard to get away from.

I had to force myself to stay at the conference, to sit in my own shame (self-inflated, yes) and stay present.  I talked to friends, called the Mr., called my workshop-facilitator sister-colleague-friend Peggy, said how I was feeling.  And the fact that I could do that was profoundly useful: I didn’t stay alone in the shame-dip. (Is it every like that for you?  Like you’re sitting in the chair over the pool of shame and the parts of you that like to tell you terrible things about yourself are standing out in the carnival fairway with the balls in their hands, and they’re throwing them at the red circle with every repetition of the awful things you think about yourself, hitting hard and letting you fall into the sharp cold water below.) I stayed at the conference, sure that people were spreading the word about how irresponsible and awful the workshop was.  (Whew. Talk about spinning out.)

And then I went to the opening remarks and listened to one of the Femme Collective members, Jessica Eve Humphrey, talk about, among many other things, the truth about failing, and the importance of meeting folks where they’re at. She said we will fail, of course we will fail, but we will learn from these failures, and next time, we will fail better. (This from a Samuel Beckett quote.) We don’t have to fail in the same way every time.

Oh, right.  Learn from this, goddamnit, I said to myself.  Not so kind,  yet.  Not quite ready to pull out of the shame dip, to slip off the chair, to go sit on warm hay and dry off in the sun. But I got there, thanks to friends and meeting myself where I was at.  (Here’s the thing: we often have to meet ourselves where we’re at, too.  That’s part of radical self care.) And part of where I was at was overwhelm, not having had any down time or writing time all week.  So I took Saturday morning to write and process, to think about what had gone well (and there was lots that had gone well at Friday’s workshop!) and think about what could be different the next time I try to do something like that during a conference workshop. Then I went to this month’s Writing the Flood workshop and got to write with more powerful scribes, got to set up and have time and space for writing and sharing and snack breaks. Then, and here’s one of the greatest parts: I got to meet with my amazing sisterfemmequeergrrlfriend Alex Cafarelli and assist her with her fantastic number, Super Stud Muffin, at the FemmeCon’s phenomenal Saturday night show, Glitteratti.

I didn’t stay in the shame, but, too, I was present with it and (I hope) I learned. I sat in the fire, which is a concept that came to me some years ago while I was still a student at Goddard and, I think, a group of us were talking abut white privilege and the importance of being present with the truths of our own racist actions that arise out of our ignorance of white privilege (or, sometimes,are being willfully ignorant about): that, when someone tells us we’ve fucked up or that something we’ve done hurts them, we need to sit in the fire of our own reactions, be present with the truth, and learn.

Fail better next time: that means, no one does it perfect, ever. Don’t reach for perfection — reach for excellence; Jessica said that, too. Oh, yeah. Perfection is a trap, and often an excuse.

Sunday I went to the fantastic short-films screening* that Sarah Deragon curated, and got to break open again (again). Celestina Pearl’s film Las Mañanitas (The Little Tomorrows) started the tears: I wondered what it would have been like to be honest about my life with my own grandmothers. And then Indira Allegra’s Blue Covers** (again, again) pushed the tears out and clean: when I can do the work of remaining, the film says.  Yes, the work of remaining.  It’s not just during sex — remaining can take work at other times, too. This weekend I did the work of remaining, and I’m grateful for all the help I had in tethering myself in my present, not whirling off and out into endless shame spirals.

Later, I want to write about how hard it can be for me to be in all-femme space, and how grateful I am for the opportunity to learn how to be a girlfriend, like, sistergirlfriend, in these spaces. For someone who was kept from intimate connection like that during my teenage years and very early adulthood (again, more about this later), it’s so painful and difficult to try and learn as an adult how to be a ‘friend,’ and I can’t even find the language to describe the gratitude I have for the friends who walk with me anyway — I love you.

Thank you all so much for being there, and for reading — really, for all that you do.

*So many amazing films!  Seriously, check out this listing

**If you haven’t seen Blue Covers yet, you need to.  Here’s what I told Indira this weekend:  I think anyone who’s ever been, is currently or ever will be partnered/lovers/sexual with someone who’s a survivor of sexual trauma or molestation needs to see this film — and any survivor, also, is likely to be profoundly affected.  Please find it and give yourself that gift.

what resilience and growth look like

femme conference 2010 -- logo and dates! August 20-22 in OaklandGood morning!  Today is Friday and according to my post schedule-thinking that I did earlier this week, I should/could be talking about writing ourselves whole in general, as a business. WOW-biz or something. It’s going to be a quick post this morning, ’cause I’ve got to get in the shower and get ready for FemmeCon, though, so here’s what I want to say about the business of running a business — I can’t believe that it’s something I’m doing.

For many (many) years, my main work-related goal was to have the easiest possible taxes; my only goal was to be able to file a, what’s that called, an EZ form every April, or to not have to even file the form because I didn’t have anything new or interesting to tell the government about my financial situation.  Now I’ve got this thing that I’m doing for love and for part of my livelihood, and I’m working toward having it be all of my livelihood, this writing, workshopping and talking about all of it.

I’ve been in the midst of this organic growing process (or not growing so much, often), and this year I’ve taken a number of major leaps toward having writing ourselves whole be all of what I do with my work life/time: first, applying to Intersection for the Arts’ Incubator project — as a part of the Intersection Incubator, I get to be fiscally sponsored, which means I’m sort of in this excellent inbetween land of nonprofit and not, where I can have access to grants only available to nonprofits and can accept tax-deductible donations, and also continue to do other social entrepreneurial work, grassroots work — that is, not be tied to the nonprofit model. I’m grateful to Intersection for the opportunity to participate in this amazing program, and also to my friend and colleague and role model, Peggy Simmons of Green Windows Writing Groups as well, who investigated and participated in Intersection’s Incubator program first, and shares continually of her wisdom, her learning, her ideas.

The second thing that’s happening right now is that I’m asking for help. It’s not that I haven’t had a lot of help over the last eight years with these workshops — from workshop participants and friends and colleagues passing the word about the workshops, folks offering space to hold workshops in, making donations, coming out and helping to publicize fundraising events, sharing prompt ideas, and so much more. What’s happening now is a little bit different: I’ve hopped off the “I’m doing this all by myself” train. As I begin to work with Lou Vaile and with Jianda Monique (of SugarMama PR!), and possibly others too (!), I will have grown writing ourselves whole out past the bounds of my own, individual capacity — it’s going to be at a place where I can no longer return to doing all the work myself. (Note that I haven’t been doing all the work myself for awhile — My Mr. helps so much, even when I’m weird about it, and then there’s so much that’s just not getting done.) So that’s exciting and terrifying and I can’t wait and I also want to, a little part of me wants to, just go back to 8 years ago when there was just one workshop and I was just getting started and that’s all I was doing.  But that’s not the way the work works — humans grow and like to expand and learn. Here we go!

What else do I want to tell you?  Today I’m doing a workshop at FemmeCon for femme survivors called Wild Geese  — yep, after the poem by Mary Oliver. One of the things I hope we’ll get to explore is this intersection of identities: femininity (however we wear/live it) and survivor (however that rings true for us).  For me, these identities inflect each other powerfully, and an enormous part of my struggle with returning to/reclaiming a ‘girl’ identity was the fact that, for me, ‘girl’ was entirely born up with victim, vulnerable, powerless. My girl identity and my girl body (and I love that I think of  Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha‘s amazing piece, “gonna get my girl body back” in Brazen Femme, everytime I think the phrase ‘girl body’ now) has everything to do with my trauma, and so I didn’t want this girl body, and stepped into a butch-boy body for nearly a decade.  Not everyone, of course, takes the same path–today, together, we’ll get to think about how these pieces shape and influence each other, all the different ways femme resilience looks like.

And then Saturday’s the August Writing the Flood workshop — can’t wait for that one!  I’ve got new exercise ideas (thanks again to Peggy and others) and poems and and — will I get to write with you?

What’s resilience and growth look like for you today?  I’d love to know what you’re thinking about that –

Thank you so much for being there, for reading and for writing –

voice is a practice

graffiti on the side of a house -- speak the truth, even if your voice shakes

This is the morning.  Today is Thursday, and that means MedEd Writers at UCSF, and it also means a VozSutra post.

(Tea update: the tea this morning’s spiced, again, and today with a little sugar and a little milk — we got milk last night for yogurt, which I made with a little bit of vanilla bean again, to give it some flavor, and which is still setting up.)

Ok: what is VozSutra? (I mean, besides my Twitter-self and the title of our eventual online lit-zine?) For me, it’s (about) the practice of voice. A sūtra is a teaching (from a word meaning thread), an instruction for practice. Voz is the Spanish word for voice or opinion. (And, as an aside, also the Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian word for train!)

I wanted, a year or so ago, to find some language that began to thread together the various workshops I was doing — sexuality writing workshops, writing with survivors of sexual violence, of extreme and ritual abuse, workshops with adults living with cancer and other life altering illnesses. How do these groups connect?

Actually, initially, I wanted to find language to make sense of an organization (writing ourselves whole) that offered sexuality writing workshops and sexual trauma workshops. I think when folks came to visit my website, they could, somewhere inside, understand or maybe grok how these two went together: yes, it makes sense that folks who’ve experienced sexual violence might want to engage with their sexuality through this form of practice, this writing process — and, too, it makes sense that someone might offer both these kinds of workshops.  I worried, though, too, that folks would come to the website to look at information about the sexuality workshops or the survivors workshops and be put off that I offered the other one as well — and yes, in the thickness I worry that someone thinks I’m conflating sexuality and sexual violence. And that’s not what I/we do.

So what I wanted was language that brought together what happens in these varying workshops, and what arose for me after some discussion and play was this combination of ideas, this janky, makeshift concatenation of ideas: vozsutra — voice practice, voice lessons: refinding and holding on to the thread of our own voices.

(I’ll admit here that I have an affinity for Katasutra, the mascot of boingboing once upon a time and a secret agent of the NeoWobblies, and so the phrasing, I’m sure, comes from there, as does the bringing together of culturally disparate yet potentially related ideas into one word or phrase.)

graffiti -- using a bullhorn to shout and holding up love/heart in the other handWhat I’ve found is a desire to bring difficult stories to voice, to practice finding and claiming our (writing) voice, our true and complicated voices, over and over again.

This is the thread: voice is a practice. Over and over, we have to step up into telling our own truth, in poetry, in fiction, in memoir, in slams, in conversation, in action.  Over and over: each time, each day, it’s new again, this capacity we have to be true to ourselves and our desires, our histories and our presences.

I believe in the power of finding voice for difficult stories, the stories that others don’t want us to tell, the stories we most don’t want to tell because they are too painful, shameful, scary, gross, messy, real. Difficult stories are often, in my experience, also gorgeous stories — they are rich with detail and honesty, they are riveted with attention and energy. Dorothy Allison, and others as well, describe the importance of going after the fear in your writing: that’s where the energy is. When I talk about societally-difficult stories, I mean stories we’re afraid to tell because one or more of our communities don’t want to hear them, because they’re stories that complicate what we (can) mean, to ourselves, to our families, to our friends, to our organizing groups, our affinity groups, our identity groups –

VozSutra is returning to that practice of our own voice: telling our own truths, over and over, complicating ourselves anyway in the service of finding our own deep truth, and making that complicated, complexly-human space available, through our modeling, to others as well.

And the thread? What’s that poem that I first heard from John Fox?

The Way It Is
William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

What are the threads for you today?  What are the apparently-disparate pieces that make up your whole?  What pieces are you not letting go of?

Thank you for being there, for reading and for writing –

embodiment: the power and use of writing about sex

heart graffiti with hand and love emerging from the top valves...

image via travelingbeard.com

Good morning!  A morning write, and then it’s off and out into the world — I’ve got spiced decaf this morning instead of tea and why am I telling you this?

This is about getting the words started.  This is about saying whatever will move the fingers across the keyboard so I can get to whatever comes next.  Sometimes you have to write the stuff that will move you to and into what you needed to write — that doesn’t mean that the stuff that you wrote first was bad or  wrong.  In fact, that stuff was necessary: it got you to the other part, the part you most wanted to say.

The people across the street at the concrete place are using a loud mechanical saw already — it’s barely 6:30.  Do they think everyone;s already up and going, or they just don’t care? I think I need more coffee. Funny how I can say that about this little cup of spiced decaf. Today’s spices are cardamom and cloves: add a little sugar (still no milk-like product around the house) and hum.

Ok — if I go with the little  blog-topic calendar I came up with yesterday, that means, since it’s Wednesday, it’s a Declaring Our Erotic (DOE) day. What can I tell you about DOE?  Right now, there’s no erotic writing workshop happening, but this fall, I’m going to be offering the DOE workshop to all queer survivors of sexual trauma — that means folks of many different genders in one room, writing about sexuality and desire, and sharing it aloud with folks who we’ve been trained to believe won’t understand anything about us and our sexuality, because they’re different from us.

It’s not like that belief doesn’t come grounded in some reality or experience for some of us, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.  What I want to talk about is the joy that passes across the room when we open the thickness of ourselves onto the page. What I want to write about is the power and use of writing about sex.

There are times when writing about sex is the only sex I’m having.  Don’t make a sad face for me — that’s often not a bad thing. In fact, it’s often very good: writing has been the way for me to keep hold of at least one thread of my sexuality during times when “real life” sex isn’t possible: when it’s just to triggering, too negative and scary.

Here’s what can be true for me: writing itself is an embodied process. I use my body to do the work, to type the words or move the pen across the page. Writing about sex is rarely triggering for me — and that’s just for me, I know it could be different for others –  but there’s something powerful about the one-step-removed, the I’m just writing this down, I don’t have to do it, the this is someone else’s fantasy and life I’m stepping into right now.

There’s something powerful in writing someone else’s desire, moving into fiction, taking this character and asking, OK, what happens now if we try this? And I get to see what it’s like for her, and wonder (maybe, sometimes, I can let myself wonder), Would it be like this if I did it myself?

Other times I can just write someone else’s story and feel the desire rush through me as I write and not have to move myself into the imagined storyline — it’s enough to let this character have all her desire and her risk and bravery and fear and shame and orgasms (or not) and feel it as I’m writing. Writing sex is sexy, is scary, sometimes, but also powerful and em-power-ing.

If you’re just getting started writing sex, be gentle with yourself — let yourself write into strong sensory detail, what something tastes like, what a certain texture feels like against your or your character’s skin, what a favorite piece of music sounds like or feels like against the ear: that’s all embodied writing.  Erotic writing doesn’t have to be carnal: erotic writing, by my estimation and experience, is embodied writing.  Writing that’s in and of the body — of the character’s body and of the writer’s body.

Here’s one of my favorite exercises to do with a group of writers. Let yourself make a list of first times (and, in this case, I’m thinking about consensual first times) — remember that there are many many erotic/sexual first-times: first crush, their first kiss with a new somebody, their first time with a silk scarf wrapped around their wrists, their first massage, their first time showering with someone, their first time masturbating with a new something or other… let yourself generate this list, and then notice which first is most drawing your attention. It might be a first you’ve experienced or have wanted to experience, or it might be a first you’re curious about but not necessarily something you want to consider outside of fantasy or off the page — for whatever reason, let yourself be drawn to that first and start writing from there. Put your writing in the first person, using I, or in the second, using you, or the third person, using he or she or ze – whatever feels most right to you as you’re writing. Don’t worry about punctuation or verb tense or any grammar stuff: just let the words flow!  Give yourself 10 minutes, say, after you generate your list, to bring this first time out onto the page.  What happens in your body as you write?

Send me your thoughts, if you want to, or leave a comment below (the little captcha thing is weird, I know, but if you click where the text says to click, a cursor will appear above the letters you’re supposed to type, and then you can enter them –)

Thank you for being there, for reading, for doing all the amazing work you do.