Monthly Archives: September 2010

it gets different (doesn’t it?)

"If I die, you die" -- black spray-painted graffiti on grey concrete

Found in Cambridge, on Mass Ave: the text reads, "If I die / you die"

I’m thinking this morning about the kids who are killing themselves, the kids bullied and done with it, the kids who are either gay or who someone decided must be gay and who got teased, relentlessly. One boy tried to hang himself and was found unconscious in his backyard, another boy hung himself, one boy shot himself, one young man jumped of the George Washington bridge after his fucking roommate secretly used a webcam to video-stream him having sex with another man. That’s just this month, and that’s just the stories that are making the news. We aren’t getting many many other stories, about kids who’ve killed themselves rather than endure one more fucking minute, nor about the kids who are still going through it.

This isn’t about kids not being tough enough, not being able to “man-up” — this is about a terrible hazing, a constant, multi-lateral, multi-faceted hazing into american adult society that we’ve set up and chosen or been forced to participate in, as the bullied, the bully, or the bystander.

Today I feel helpless and sad: gender-based violence isn’t ending, not for folks who have been assigned to “woman” and not for folks who’ve been assigned to “man.” The borders of each of these genders is so violently patrolled; no one has to be gay or queer to get bullied because someone thinks they’re not acting like a real man, or like a real woman. When are we going to stop? When are we going to quit using faggot and pussy and ladies as slurs that all mean weak and worthless? When are we going to start calling out our friends and family, our kids’ friends, our own kids whey they use this language,when they treat other people like shit? Do we have to wait until our own kids die?

And I want to know why we’re surprised that kids are killing themselves, when we’re not stopping the violence of the world they’re coming up into. We’re not helping.

There’s this campaign going on, Dan Savage’s It Gets Better. He’s asking gay adults to share their stories on youtube, so that young queerfolks can hear our voices, can have a visceral sense of not being alone. This is an important project, and I’m glad that so many people are participating. (I think about doing something like this for kids who are currently being sexually or otherwise abused, too: videos by folks who made it out and through, reaching back, throwing our voices back through the fire.) And I don’t want to get all Pollyanna-ish with our kids, either: and let’s face it, they know better, because the kids who are harassing them learned their behavior from the adults around them. Our kids know that adults aren’t always safe and sane, either because their parents aren’t protecting them, the adults at school aren’t helping, and often those adults are aiding and abetting the torment. The bullies get kudos for their behavior. They’re rarely held accountable, they’re rarely (ever?) put in a situation where they’d rather kill themselves than face the shame of their behavior. Why should the bullies be ashamed? They’re acting like good americans.

Here’s what I want to say to the kids who are getting ready to get on a bus where they’ll be trapped with assholes, or already walking to the school where they won’t get any peace, or waking up to a family who would rather see them dead than gay or not the right kind of boy or the right kind of girl: I’m sorry. And I want to say, too, that it changes. Some things get better, but this situation that you’re in right now won’t always exist.

And this, too: We other/older queers/people know that you need us. And we need you. The work you’re doing right now is hard fucking labor, and you shouldn’t have to do it at all, much less alone.

There may be options available to you, is something else I want to say. Folks are passing around resources, places you can call or go. A friend reminded me/us of Kate Bornsein’s book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, which every fucking school should have several copies of, in different places around the library. There’s the Trevor Project, where you can call if you’re thinking of killing yourself.

Junior and high school mostly were awful, for me, not because I was bullied (I did find myself teased in junior high, but I learned about isolating pretty quickly, both inside and out, and I maybe wasn’t different enough for those kids to keep it up) but because home was so horrific. School was better than home, for me, even when there was teasing (which wasn’t bullying at all, in my case — the bully in my life lived behind my front door and called himself my guardian). Often, the only thing I could hold on to was a trust in the fact that the next minute wouldn’t be the same as the one I was currently living — eventually something would change. Sometimes I could help make something change. Often it was just about the movement of time. The moments I had to live through were awful, and I’m grateful to be here, now. I have sometimes has been overwhelmingly sad as an adult, but I have never felt like I did when I was in secondary school. It’s different, and, often, better.

Bullying and gender(ed)-violence is a queer issue, and it’s not just a queer issue: it’s not only queer kids who are killing themselves because the kids/adults around them think they’re gay, and kids are bullied for other reasons, too. And the people who need to change aren’t the kids: it’s the adults around them.  We can teach kids to treat each other with respect, we can give them all the sesame street we want, but when they see adults treating each other disrespectfully and then gaining ground, gaining in respect and status in the community because of that bad behavior, what do you think they’re going to learn? When a boy is beaten and shamed by his father or shamed and beaten or raped by his mother for acting like a faggot, where do you think he’s going to take that rage? He’s either going to put it out onto the body of someone else, or he’s going to hold it like a rock of slugs in his belly. If a girl is raped and shamed or beaten for acting too proud or for looking like a dyke, what are the layers of human behavior that she learns?

All we teach, over and over, is violence. That’s our prevailing modality in america: shame and violence. We need to stand up with the folks who are speaking/working/struggling for something different. We need to stand up with the people who want a different possibility of humanness for their/our own children. We need to stand up with peace and say, this is america, too. Or, this is america, instead. Our children aren’t just dying in wars on foreign soil. They’re dying in this war over gender-policing here right outside their front door, or in the garage or in their bedrooms, or inside their bodies. Why do we accept this?

This isn’t about strengthening hate-crime laws, or getting the cops to arrest 6 year olds who assault their classmates with rocks or their own bodies. This is about something bigger than jailing bullies. Those kids who set up a webcam to humiliate a young gay man by streaming his sex: they learned that that was acceptable human behavior from somewhere. All these bullies aren’t sociopaths. They’re not bad kids. They’re good students: They’re our children, and they’ve learned that either you’re the bullied or you’re the bully– you’re either with us or against us. This isn’t about legislation — this is about us deciding that every human life is worth saving, even if the body containing that life looks different from what you expected or what you’d prefer. This is about, over and over, each one of us teaching something different. Being a different model. If all of us who said we believe in peace actually walked that hard road out in the world, our kids would have a different option to choose from. If we showed a strength that wasn’t about violence and belittling and power-over: what would our america, what would this planet look like?

I don’t have any prompts for today, except maybe for you to write your story of bullying and how you came through, how things are different/better now from when you were younger. Except maybe for you to write the story about how you’re still being bullied, whether you’re a young person or an adult, and to share that story somewhere, anonymously if you want, but to share it — we need to hear these stories. You can share it here if you want. We can hold your stories with you while you’re finding your way through.

Thank you for your words today, for the work you do to remain alive that no one will know.

understand what poems and lusts live under their tongues

crabapples dripping after a night's rainGood morning! Today’s Wednesday, which is technically a Declaring our Erotic day, I think.

Why do erotic writing workshops matter? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your body? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your honest self, your heat and desire?

Today, honestly, I want to write something sexy — I’m in that still-heart-beating aftermath of the conference,where what got sparked was a desire to know everyone, to get into their bones, to understand what poems and lusts live under their tongues. (That can happen at the Power of Words, like at other conferences, maybe: I’m just warning you now.)

I spent some time, afterward, writing about the erotics of learning, of growth. I know lots has been written about this space: the erotic space between and connecting teacher and student, and I don’t (necessarily) mean sexualized space, I mean a place of openness and sharing, of longing for more knowledge, longing for new integration, the fear that fills us when we don’t know if we’re ready to stretch enough to take in this new thing that we’ve just met.

(I don’t know if I’m awake enough to do justice to this right now.)

Anyway, there’s a thing that happens where we all fall in love with each other, we may fall in lust, we’re in a place of connection, newness, joy, stretching, reaching, wanting: it’s a liminal space, ok, but also something concrete. There’s something that can happen at a retreat, a conference like this one, where we’re all in our own worlds all the rest of the time, each of us building something new, and then we come together and see and feel that we are not alone: how good it feels to be seen and heard and groked. It’s an erotic experience, can we be honest about that, can we acknowledge how good learning feels, how good it feels when we finally open when we finally stretch our boundaries, when we let something else in? A welcoming, a penetrating, a welcoming, a transgression, a commingling of what, just before, was divergent. Of course we all feel like making out — sex is the clear we way we americans have/know of channeling the erotic. (And an awfully good way it is!)  A dance would be nice, too, like with some good house music. And a black light (sigh). (Hey Council! Next year, maybe, let’s have an informal dance, after the closing circle!  We’ll all be exhausted, I know: someone could plug their ipod into the sound system, let stream out some Jill Scott, some good old Chicago house, some remixed Verve standards, we could just be there all night, letting our bodies tell each other the rest of the story, the stuff that no one has found words for yet. Someone, Naila, she talked about and practices the language of dance: let’s go there.)

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I want to tell you more about the erotic writing workshop that we did at this year’s Power of Words, but that will have to wait for another morning. People talked about how liberating it felt to bring the erotic, bring sex, out from under the bed and into the light; they talked about setting and holding boundaries; the talked about the mixed joy and sadness of doing this writing at the conference when they can’t engage with sexuality in their daily work. It was a super joyful session. I wish you could have been there.

Here’s one of the writes I did during that workshop: I had us do this prompt again, the one where we write a letter to the editor, extolling our virtues as lovers. I love this exercise — it brings out a powerful, strong writing voice, a voice that is clear and honest and, too, bigger than life. It’s fun to play with that voice, see where it takes our writing.

Dear Sir: She doesn’t tell you about my fist, does she? I mean the soft long handed way I could fit myself inside her when she said more could never be filled, when — how can I explain this — when what we had was only our two bodies in a twin-frame bed the bedroom of the apartment she shared with several others, and we filled the spaces between her roommates’ silences and the tread between the cars outside on Mass Ave with her urgent cries and shouting.

Girls learn good things to do with their hands and I know them all, not just the caressing but the careening, how fucking feels different when it’s just you I mean her, so full beneath me, her legs far flung, my shoulder burning but its worth every ache to feel the tight clutch of her hard wet all the way around my hand, and you reading this letter, I want you to imagine the jubilation of being as full as possible, retreating into, then away from, an unspeakable kind of hungry, letting someone put their hand all the way into the night of your morning and pull out the joy that you need.

Be easy with you today, ok? and please keep drinking water, if it’s so hot again where you are. I’m always happy to read your writing: thank you again for the work that you do in the world.

there was glitter, poetry, rage and song

white spray-painted heart on red background, painted on Mass Ave sidewalk in BostonGood morning!  I’m back from my travels, and, as you can see, I didn’t manage to get any blogging done while I was out in New England — there was just too much happening! Now I want to tell you about everything that happened, which would require less of a blog and more of a book.

(Wow: it’s nice to be back here with you, though! I missed this space/time with you –)

What’s true is that I got to spend five days doing transformative language arts (TLA): thinking/talking/wondering about it, being with other folks who think/talk/wonder about it, visioning its possible futures, considering the next year of the Transformative Language Arts Network (of which I am the new membership coordinator — expect to hear a lot more about TLAN around these parts), all the while also practicing TLA.

This year’s Power of Words conference was, again, a gathering of phenomenal artists and cultural workers, social change workers and medical folks, spiritual folks, and healers of many flavors and practices.  The Power of Words was another opportunity to continue to engage with and expand what “transformative language arts” looks like and means: writing workshops, intentional conversation, theater practices, storytelling, spoken word, folk music, blues, choir, community mobilizing to help someone in trouble, using TLA to change our relationship with our health, writing about sex, video creation, Body Eloquence, poetry (period), ‘crazy’ as a story, so so so much more.

This is a space, the Power of Words conference, that’s working hard every year to walk its talk: doing TLA (yes, and other work!) to create this space where folks gather and think about TLA. I’m grateful for those doing the work behind the scenes, the folks I get to work with on the TLAN council: thank you thank you.

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The fall workshops begin next week! (Can it possibly be that next week is October?) Write Whole (our Monday night workshop open to women survivors of sexual trauma) is full, and Declaring Our Erotic (our Thursday night erotic/sexuality writing workshop, this time open to queer survivors of sexual trauma) does still have a few spaces–if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, please send a note! I’d love to answer any questions you have about the workshops… (Bayview Writers has no one signed up yet — if you want to do the Wednesday morning writing-ourselves-from-our-dreams-into-our-day workshop up here in the North Bay, please let me know soon: otherwise we’ll postpone until January 2011.)

Oh: and October’s Writing the Flood is on 10/16 — come write with us!  It’s a great chance to test out the way we write together, if you’ve been thinking about joining one of the multi-week workshops but been nervous or curious about the process.

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I want to tell you about this past week:

  • the exquisite tenderness of spending time with deep, true friends (the people who have known most of my me’s, and who love me nonetheless);
  • the power of driving around VT and NH in the fall, that transition time that used to be the time of returning to safety from the terror of being home; the turning of the trees’ tides, that shift from thick layered summer green to brash splashes of red, yellow and harvest gold, orange, all amid still the full green push of pine and the deciduous that had yet to turn–leaves fell all around us even as we moved through a heat wave on the Goddard campus;
  • a full day of conversation with people consciously and conscientiously engaging transformative language arts in their daily lives about what TLA means and could mean in the future;
  • my first ever board retreat, with the Transformative Language Arts Network Council (talking funds, growth and sustainability, who we are and who we want to be);
  • the deepening of connections with folks I get to see every year at the Power of Words conference, and the opening of new resonances with folks I just met but carry with me now into this daily life, folks I certainly hope to get to meet again next year –

and I carry, too, a sleep-deprived several days with someone who, how do I want to say this, someone who wasn’t exactly present in the same reality I am — that’s not exactly right, she was present in this reality plus another, or more. It was my first experience of someone outside the bounds of sleep, slipping and reveling into communication with someone or someones not visible to me, hearing things I can’t hear. I’m carrying her words, how I got to see her straddling this fence, this slim line or particular consciousness that we all agree to and call ‘reality,’ how I got to be with her, and also became aware that perhaps I wasn’t with her as far as she was concerned: that manifesting and presence-ing of our always-multiple realities. There’s more that I want to say about this part, but right now it’s this, to her: please rest easy. please be well in your heart.

Please know I remember you said daughter, you said god’s creation, and we got to look into each others eyes.

There was glitter and there were songs that moved me over and over into that breaking wet space of tears, there was the phenomenal gathering of women in our Blue talking circle, there was the sharing of poetry and practice, there was deep laughter. There were more people I wanted to have true, thick conversation with than I got to. There was the absolutely amazing group of folks at the erotic writing workshop, where we considered and then dove into the liberatory possibility of engagement with erotic story and writing: there were our powerful powerful (and, yes, hot!) writings. There’s how much I still want to thank you all.

I come back full of song and words, prompts and poems, connections in real life that will carry over, for this year, into the electronic realm, and that sense that there are so many people out there who know/grok what I mean when I say I do “transformative language arts,” and, too, that there’s so much space beneath that umbrella term for the social-changing work so many of us do in the world with story, with song, with words. I bet you fit here, too, if you’re wondering about that.

Prompts to come later this week – thanks for being there, for the breadth of your work in the world, and for your good words.

not of the carnal kind, but of the cardiac

graffiti -- sacred heart: stylized heart, wrapped up and burning...

(check out more of Marshall Astor's photography by clicking on the photo!)

Good morning! It’s a Monday — how’d that get here so fast? I’ve got decaf espresso on the stovetop (and yes still the magnet on my fridge, bought long long  before I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee, that says, “Decaf Espresso? What’s the Point?”). Mmm — espresso w/ cardamom and lemon zest, and a bit of sugar.

In a couple hours, I’ll be heading out to the airport, getting on a plane, flying East, for the Power of Words conference. First I get a day in Boston, with the Lady Miz M & her Lady, and then an early morning drive up through NH and VT to a day-long conversation about what Transformative Language Arts is and could be. Then, on Thurs, the Transformative Language Arts Network Council has its annual meeting. Then the Power of Words conference starts Friday — I get to talk about the liberatory power of our erotic story. I get to introduce Kim Rosen‘s keynote, and then, too, I get to facilitate a panel discussion about the ways that transformative language arts work can be social change work.

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I will work to post at least once or twice from New England — it would have been smart to set up a few automatic posts (huh? like Jianda’s been tellin’ me. *sigh*), but I haven’t done that yet.

When I get back, we’ll have one more week before the Write Whole and Declaring Our Erotic: Reclaiming our Sexuality workshops start. We’re about half-registered for DOE, and almost full for WW. Please do let me know if you’d like to join us, and please pass the word about the workshops if you know someone who you think might be interested! Most folks who come new to the workshops heard about them from someone they know…(thanks for that!)

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Oh: I did it! I went swimming! (I wrote, a week and a half ago, that I’d go swimming once last week. Then I got sick and though I probably wouldn’t do that after all. but by the end of the week I felt a lot better, and woke up on Saturday with an urge to move through water. I headed up to the Terra Linda public pool, here in San Rafael, for the adult swim. remember when the Adult Swim was the super-boring time at the pool, cause all the kids had to get out and let the adults just go back and forth across the pool, in straight lines, like that was something fun? well, that was us. And it was fun, after all. This was the last weekend that Terra Linda’s going to be open this year, so now I gotta check out the Marin Y.

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I have a write I want to share with you, from this past weekend’s Writing the Flood. We did the exercise where you start writing with a phrase (In this case, it was “In the palm of your hand…”), and then after a minute, I through out a random word that you have to, right away, put into whatever it is you’re writing. I do that for the next four minutes: every minute, I say a new word, and you bring that word into your writing. Then, after the five minutes are completed, you pause a moment, and keep on writing for another 10-15 minutes, following your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. (You can do this yourself by writing the words on 3×5 cards, turning the cards over, and every minute, looking at one of the cards and using that word right away.)

It can take us to writing we’d never imagine doing, this prompt, sometimes something surreal and very different for us. Here’s what I wrote in response:

In the palm of your hand, I put the bald story of my heart, in all its plastic anguish, in all its grief, in all its weight. In the palm of your hand, teeth dig in and around the flesh, angry and swollen (the teeth or the heart?), gnawy and hopeful and hard. In the palm of your hand, I put heart’s background, prescient and timely, orange and dangerous, cactus-spined with sadness and also with wanting. Sob out all yesterday’s angries, sob out the places blue and pushy, the places still ratcheting like pulses inside your mouth. Blue out all the angries. Write what hurts, first.

This waving, this hardying, this shore, this hesitation — this is what I’m talking about. How the palm of your hand is this conductor, holding forth the light, asking for more from my heart than just grief,l asking for the weight history to bleed out–

In the palm of your hand I put the hot weight of my heart and let you fold your slim fingers around its heft, cradle it like it’s something worth tendering to, push maybe now and again against its tough meat. And it’s your job, now, this carrying, the way you have to do the work of your day while still holding on to my heart, soothing its crusts and anguishes even while you go about, one-handed, making your oatmeal for breakfast, or texting, one-thumbed, the clients who need to hear from you.

And what about how your heart is in my palm, the way we bloody ourselves for love, the way I settle myself into your gush not of the carnal kind, but of the cardiac — how I soak in what you’d come to believe no one would ever even want to see.

What am I trying to get into here? The tenacious stuff of the heart, how I let you take it in your mouth when you need both your hands for other tasks, how you set it down sometimes, how sometimes you forget where you left it., How its easy to say, sometimes love is like this — you, scrambling, searching, asking like you do, not about your glasses this time but, Babe, do you know where I left your heart? and I think, Look in your hands. There it is.

Not a magic trick. Hard labor, thick salty trust, aches of arguments and resolutions, how we, brown-skinned transbutch and paler skinned femmedyke, were never supposed to know the contours, the inner workings, the mechanics of one another’s heart beats, how much is established to keep us from listening, from holding your hand to your ear in the night and listening to the doubling up of a blood swell, your pulse the backdrop to my own, there in your hands. There in the palm of your hand.

Thanks for the gentleness you’re going to show yourself today, and for the ways you’re gentle with others as well, even in your fierce honesty. It’s a kindness, that honesty, and a generosity, too. Thanks for your writing, always.

why it matters to write fiction in the middle of a busy work day

kitties are always in flow...

I still have a houseful of apples — and a freezerful, now, of applesauce packages. The goal for this weekend is to get a couple-three pies into the freezer before I leave for the east coast. Anyone have a good (aka flaky!) gluten-free pie crust recipe?

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So, yesterday I got to talk with Jianda Monique, who does the Lesbian Relationships podcast on BlogTalkRadio, about transformative writing and about the social-change possibilities of writing freely in community and about AWA and the power of a regular writing practice and the workshops and the erotic reading circle. (check out the mp3 of our talk!) At one point, I thought to myself, maybe I should stop talking about this thing (whatever it was) and we can get to some more of her questions; we must have about a half-hour yet, still. I opened the little clock on my computer and it said we only had 8 more minutes! I nearly burst out laughing — how’d that happen? We only got through about an eighth of the great list of questions that Jianda had come up with; I hope I get to talk with her again! (Check out her other shows, too!)

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This morning I’m thinking about the workshops at UCSF, with the Medical Education staff. Our first round of 8 weeks just finished last week, and we’ll start another round next month. What I want to talk about is why it matters to write fiction in the middle of a busy work day. (That is, assuming that writing fiction isn’t your work!)

I mentioned this idea of flow here before. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has several books he’s written about this concept. Flow is a sort of optimal experience that we move into when we are fully engaged in the task at hand (so much so even that we lose track of time), when we both have the skills for the task and are challenged to stretch somewhat to keep doing it, when we have time enough for the task and are able to concentrate on it, when we have clear goals for the task and receive feedback about our progress (either from the task or from outside others). Csikszentmihalyi calls these experiences autotelic: a self-contained activity, one that is an end in itself, that is worth doing because it is so enjoyable and engaging.

I often feel this experience of ‘flow’ when I am freewriting about something important to me (a story I’m working on or that I’m trying to find language for, for example): I will lose track of time, I have the skills necessary for the task and am constantly also having to reach for just there right words (which are, of course, forever just beyond my grasp), I have a clear goal (the story, the telling) and get feedback from the page (amount written, progress) and also from my internal sense of whether I’ve gotten it ‘right’ — I have also experienced this ‘flow’ when working on computer programs, playing around in html, gardening, reading, cooking…

I sometimes experience this ‘flow’ at my day job: when I can cut out the distractions (email, say, or other interruptions) long enough to fully focus on a learning and mastering a new database task, or when I can figure out how to accomplish something that would otherwise be tedious and mindless in a faster, more interesting way (say, only using keyboard shortcuts, or with as few mouse clicks as possible).

But often flow is hard to attain at work: we are, many of us, pulled in lots of different directions at every moment. Multi-tasking has been elevated to a necessity. We have lots of irons in the fire and every one needs tending right now — so we are frazzled and unsatisfied, often, at the end of the day, rather than satisfied with tasks successfully accomplished.

My vision for this workshop with the Medical Education staff is multi-fold (of course, with the multi-tasking still!), but one piece is to give us each one hour in the day when we can focus on one task: first we write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with our day jobs — we push into our imaginations, our creative selves. I’d like us to be able to play with words, instead of fighting against them, for a bit. Then we share our words with one another (if we want!) and receive feedback about what others liked. We leave the hour with a sense of accomplishment, I think: having created a new piece of writing that people honestly appreciated, and having gotten to really appreciate our coworkers for their work (instead of being irritated with coworkers for how they didn’t do this or that like we needed them to do so that we could do that or the other thing, which is so often the even-slightly-antagonistic undertone/culture at many offices, even if you like your coworkers!) —

in short, we get to experience flow for about an hour. And having experienced it for that hour, I think, we are more likely to want to experience it more often — and so we might begin to make changes to our workday (maybe clearing out time to be uninterrupted, maybe turning off our email and only checking it at scheduled intervals) so that this big part of our life is more satisfying for us, more enjoyable. That, I think, transforms us as folks at work, and as folks in other relationships (again, those ripple effects I was talking about yesterday with Jianda), transforms the possibilities of our lives, has us asking for, and believing we can attain, what will make us happiest.

So, yes, writing fiction (or freewriting nonfiction) at work — even and most especially in the middle of a busy work day! — can make a big difference in your other work. Can you take 15 minutes today for some freewriting?

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Yesterday Jianda asked for some initial prompts that I offer to new writers, and I  talked about an open-ended, open-hearted writing practice (which I also think is important!) — but here are some more specific ideas:

– Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and reach out your hands. Let one hand fall onto an object at your desk or writing area (wherever you are). Let that object, whatever you touch (book, keyboard, stone, phone, whatever it is) be your starting place — you might begin by describing the object, and then follow your writing wherever it wants to go.

– a variation on this is to choose a office supply on your desk, write for five minutes about what it is and does, and then write for five more minutes about what it wishes it were, what it wishes it could do. (We did this one at the first meeting of the MedEd writers, and it was great fun!)

– Take 10 minutes to write about your 11th birthday (and remember: you can write however you’re drawn to write about any prompt! if your response is, like mine would be, goddamnit, Jen, I can’t remember that!, then start from there!)

You’re fierce today, and every day, even in (and maybe most especially in, right?) your most frightened, wounded places. You were fierce yesterday, too, and I’m grateful for your presence and your words. Thank you for your words.

vozsutra: erotic writing as liberatory practice

graffiti - silhouette of crow flyingGood morning! What’s happening for you today? I’m on the other side of this sick, thank goodness, still soothing a raw nose but able to breathe relatively normally again. Outside the weather’s warm like breath, and standing at my front door, I watch as a fat crow lands in the front yard and hops around, poking into the grass for something tasty. I imagine sitting on the stoop, having hir hop up over to me, getting to rest my hand on hir feathers, getting to heft hir weight. Ze goes the other way, though, through a break in the white plastic-picket fence and onto the sidewalk. I come back inside.

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Here’s something I put into the grant application I sent off last night:

As an incested erotic writer and creator of genre-defying creative nonfiction, I am also a performer and writer-facilitator of writing workshops wherein participants create new work at every meeting; each workshop session is a surprising, experiential, transformative art process.

I like getting to use this language, this academic-grant-y language. It lets me set my eyes to a different sort of truth than I usually name around the workshops. It lets me set something else into possibility, I think. Also, I think it’s true.

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I get to hang outwith Jianda Monique on her Lesbian Relationships podcast (on BlogTalkRadio) here in just a few hours now! 3pm pst/4pm mst (that’s as far as we’ve gotten with the time zone conversion) — I’m looking forward to chatting with her about the workshops, about transformative writing, about the possibilities for sexual healing, and whatever else she comes up with!

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This morning I’ve been working on my presentation for the workshop I’ll offer at the Transformative Language Arts Network‘s annual Power of Words conference next week, “Reclaiming the Erotic Story: The Liberatory Potential of Writing Desire”. (As a side note: I kind of like that title! I don’t at all remember creating it… whew.)

Here’s some of what I’ve said before about erotic writing as transformative practice, in an essay I often hand out at erotic writing retreats:

What happens when we all have a wider access to erotic language and sexual expression – when the full breadth of our erotic power can challenge the mainstream Western sexual conversation which is both so puritan and so hyper-sexual? When we try our hand at some explicit writing, and discuss what it means to engage more critically and imaginatively with the messages we all have received (both directly and indirectly) about such things as sexual identity, body image, sexual desire, sexual practice, and more, we can reconsider what we’ve been taught about desire and language and dive fully into the much greater possibilities of and through each.

There’s a Dorothy Allison quote I like to pass out to new erotic writers, in which she describes the importance of learning to write sex:

If I hadn’t learned to write about sex, and particularly to write about my own sexual desires, I don’t think I would have survived.  I think the guilt, the terror I grew up with was so extraordinarily powerful that if I had not written my way out of it, I’d be dead …And I think it’s vital [to write about], aside from whether it ever becomes good fiction, particularly for women with transgressive sexuality…[or] people who in any way feel their sexuality cannot be expressed.  Writing can be a way to find a way to be real and sane in the world, even if it feels a little crazy while you’re doing it. (From The Joy of Writing About Sex, by Elizabeth Benedict)

People sometimes still, I think, may take erotic writing to be frivolous work, but in my experience, this writing is where some wholly deep transformations occur, and where enormous risks are taken.

[...] Erotic writing is and is not just about writing about sex.  It also can be about expanding one’s own possibility through language.   For me, erotic writing has created internal space for previously unexpressed desire, wish, need – which has not been confined to the sexual realm.

That last there is where the liberatory potential resides (liberation: when something or someone is released or made free; the state of not being in confinement or servitude): how we can liberate ourselves and one another into a much greater erotic/sexual complexity than our current American society prefers/allows, and how that liberation creates the ripple effects for more and more erotic desire to permeate the rest of our lives…

More about this as we get closer to the conference. And hey! Registration is still open! If you’re near (or want to be near) Plainfield, Vermont, next week, and you do or want to do work around/with writing/storytelling/song/theater/words as change agents/transformative practices for individuals, communities, societies — it’d be so amazing to be with you at the Power of Words conference. Will you think about it? Maybe pass the word to friends you’ve got in New England?

(Note that I still don’t know where I’m staying — maybe we’ll all rent a hotel room together!)

Thanks for your fierce gentleness with yourself today, at least that one time when you looked in the mirror. Thanks for your words, always.

DOE: the right to be honest

painting, "From Strength to Liberty" -- figures entwined, reaching, pushing, stretching, dancing

"From Strength to Liberty," by Javier Azurdia -- click on the image above to see more of his gorgeous work.

I started to type in my motto as the title of this post, but only got as far as “lobertis…” and I had to stop and delete it all and drink more tea. Still fighting off, battling (dang it — the military metaphors are all over us!), wrangling with this cold, but I think I’m on the backside now. Got some great healing advice over on facebook — thank you! I’ve had lots of tea and veggies and rice and miso broth. I’ve got these soups I make when I’m sick that always just look awful when the sick is gone — but they do the job!

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Today’s supposed to be a Declaring Our Erotic post. With this cold here still clogging up my nasal passages, I’m not feeling like I’ve got all that much erotic to declare.

I do want to remind you about tomorrow’s podcast with Jianda Monique!

And I want to remind you, too, that the next erotic writing workshop is one that’s open to all LGBT/queer survivors of sexual trauma or sexual violence, and begins Thursday, Oct 7.

This is going to be a powerful opportunity for queer survivors of all sexes and genders to come together in one space and write our full and complicated sexualities. We get to write fantasy, we get to write other people’s fantasies, we get to write things we’ve never done and never will do but think about sometimes, we get to write whatever erotic we want. We practice releasing the self-censor, we practice releasing this idea that there’s only a small range of erotic desire that’s “ok” for us to want or think about, we practice trusting our writing voices to take us wherever we need to go, even to where we didn’t know we needed to go.

I’m telling you, it’s going to be gorgeous. Will you join us? Or, too, can you think of someone who might like to know about this workshop? Would you pass the word to them?

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I think I must have written about this before in this blog, this motto: “Liberty is the right not to lie.” Attributed to Albert Camus, but I first came across it as the epigraph to Pat (now Patrick) Califia‘s devastating book of lesbian erotica, Macho Sluts. (This  book is what made me queer.) (Well, the book, and the hands that passed it to me, and the community that contained us all. Thank goodness to these.) (Of course, if I weren’t already queer, the cover of the latest edition of Macho Sluts would do the job, without question.) (The quote is also included in Tillie Olson’s absolutely amazing book, Silences.) (I’ll stop with these now.)

As a young person under her stepfather’s control, even from over a thousand miles away, I almost never felt free. Something opened in me, though, when I read that phrase. Lying was, for me, one way to get free, to say, You don’t have control over every aspect of me — I will still have control of my words, of the intersection between my word and deed, of my honesty. You can’t force my every truth from my lips, though he tried.

This quote, this idea, liberty is the right not to lie. The right to be honest. The right to tell the truth. Not just about desire, as Califia was doing and urging — but, yes, too, about desire.

Perhaps my stumbling (or, rather, my being encouraged to stumble) across this quote was the beginning of his end. Anyway, it was a continuation of my opening. And I hold it still close to me, regularly: What am I not being honest about? Is that living into liberty, into liberation? Our liberation will be in our ability to honestly tell our lives, our truths, our experiences, our longings,  our fears, our dreams.

Lying can be a place of freedom for awhile, a survival strategy. Internalizing it, though, in my experience, is a place of death, of self-silencing.

For your write today, if you want to take 10 minutes, consider for yourself Camus’ phrase: “Liberty is the right not to lie.” What does it mean for you? What comes up when you read it? Start there, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for being there, for reading even the sick-typed words. Thank you for the good work you’re doing today, for your powerful writing. Thank you.

hot water with lots of lemon and a tiny bit of honey

graffiti on a graphic describing how to use a hot-air hand dryer: press button, get bacon.

I was looking for relevant images (i.e., something related to colds) and this completely cracks me up: check out http://www.thesneeze.com/ for more excellent funny.

Having a cold means not getting up early to do your morning writing, darn it. This is going to be a short post today. Right now I’m having what I think of as a mom-drink: hot water with lots of lemon and a tiny bit of honey.

And, too, I’m moving v e r y  s l o w l y. It’s almost as though the brain slows down when we’re sick. I get it about the blood and other fluids being hard at work fighting infection, and so they’re not as available to help our brains do the interesting work of figuring out morning blog posts. (Please, no shaming comments about how I clearly have no idea about how the body works. I’m sure this is true. Perhaps you could just chuckle along with/at me from your side of the computer, and the next time we see each other in real life, you could palm me a card with a url on it that will take me to some useful information about what happens to the brain when our bodies are fighting illness. You’re great.)

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Here’s an exciting bit of news (no, for real!): This Thursday, 9/16, at 4pm MST/3pm PST, I get to hang out with Jianda Monique and talk about writing workshops, sexual healing and other good stuff on her Lesbian Relationships podcast. The show is broadcast live — plug in your headphones, connect up to itunes and listen in! (Not in Colorado or San Francisco and not sure what time the show will air where you are? Head to timeanddate.com to convert for your timezone.)

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Because my brain is moving a little slow (perhaps, even, slower than my nose, just to overshare), I’m going to leave you with some prompts:

– Write about how the seasons smell: what scents distinctly evoke fall, winter, summer, spring (and mud season, if you’re in New England)? When you smell that particular thing, what memories come up for you? (This gets us thinking about sensory detail — if you’re working with a character and learning more about him/hir/her, you could spend some time with how the seasons smell for them: what does fall smell like to her, and why?)

– Write someone picking out a first day of school outfit — what goes in to making those decisions? What else is going on for your character (or you) as they’re trying to get ready for school? Just be in that one moment…

Pat Schneider offers this exercise: Close your eyes, if you want, and take a moment to get comfortable in your body. Focus on your breath, feel how your muscles and bones are supported in your seat, and supporting you. Allow yourself to think of a photograph — maybe one from your home now, maybe one you remember from growing up, maybe one you’ve seen in a maagzine or book. Who’s in this image? When and where was it taken? When  you’re ready, open your eyes (if you’ve closed them) and begin writing, starting with the phrase: “In this one you are…”

Can you give yourself 10 or so minutes just to spend with your writing voice today? I will take that time myself, too…

Thanks for the good work you’re doing to be true to yourself today, and to take care of that body that carries you through your days. And, as always, thanks, too, for reading — and for writing!

someone who can see what I mean

graffiti: child reading a book

read read read...

It’s Monday and I am thinking of things to write about — I just did my three pages, and that feels good, a kind of stretching. But what now? I thought about writing about my ideal reader: who is that?

The candle is at my right eye now, the lights are strangling my attention: incandescent on the left, candleflame on the right.

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A busy week on tap here, and it will end with this month’s Writing the Flood. Want to join us for some writing prompts, some excellent writing community, and a chance to spend your Saturday afternoon creating writing that may very well surprise you? I’d love to write with you!

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Ok: Ideal reader? Sometimes my ideal reader is someone who just needs to hear a truth that I have the capacity to share, but more often, I think it’s someone who can hear what’s underneath what I’m writing, someone who can hear and read and feel the coded messages, the letterings and thoughts behind the words and phrasings I use, someone who can say, “Oh, I get why she said it like that — yes, that’s exactly how I feel, too.” I want someone who lifts up the words, the blanket of meaning, and touches what’s messy inside. I want a reader who feels that stuff of anguish floating around the belly of their own words and hasn’t known how to find language to coat it in, to tuck it into, how to push it out into the snowy world with its hair still wet and tangled, its shoes inadequate for the snow, its belly not quite full.

What I want is someone who can see what I mean: everything I mean. Who knows the stories I’m not telling and can read them inside the stories I have told, someone who can feel the backstory, someone who holds the cicadas and devlishness of the place, the house, the specificity I come from.

Carla Kaplan talks about an “ideal interlocutor” (interlocutor: someone who takes part in a conversation/dialogue) in The Erotics of Talk, (and if you haven’t read this book, I’d highly encourage you to find it; she shares  powerful vision of an erotic engagement with conversation, a “communicative ethics,” as a process of individual and community/social transformation): the ideal interlocutor  is someone who has the capacity to fully hear, comprehend and respond to our stories, our tellings. In her book, which engages literary and cultural theory, Kaplan asks the question: Is it true that women in literature have “lost their voice”–and that it is the responsibility of feminist (or other) critics to unearth that hidden/lost voice–or is it the case that women authors/characters have been speaking all along and what they have been “looking for” is the right interlocutor:  someone who will/can listen and is able to hear?

When I was reading her for my thesis work, I took this question to engage with one of the myths about women and the “underserved”: that we have no voice. That others are required to speak for us because we are the voiceless. This phrase is used as a fundraising tool, a way to touch the hearts of those with money and access to circuits and systems of power: “be a voice for the voiceless” and “we have to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

This is a pernicious metaphor: being ignored or not listened to is not the same thing as not having a voice, not speaking. Incest survivors and those who experience other forms of sexual trauma, in my experience, “tell” in many different ways, both directly and indirectly. We may be ignored, denied, shoved aside, policed, legislated against, but we are not voiceless. We speak: many many people, however, don’t want to listen, do not want to be that interlocutor.

The word interlocutor brings with it this idea of exchange, of participation, at least, on both parts: conversation, dialogue. That means more than just one person listening to another — that means being engaged with.

I have that longing myself, for those readers/listeners who have the background and present desire to fully engage with the stories I’m telling, who can hear the whole story, even more than what I’m saying, who have the capacity to respond as well. And I’m fortunate to get to meet readers/listeners/interlocutors of this sort on tour with Body Heat, and during the workshops, where we engage one another’s stories as writing as craft and as  powerful truth-tellings (whether in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction form).

Have you thought about your ideal reader/listener? Who is this person?

one thing everyday (again, again)

photo of a swimming pool taken through the windows above, looking down on the water and "8ft" marker on the side

time to jump in!

Happy Friday, all!  It’s kind of loud here in San Rafael today, comparatively at least — lots of truck or engine noise since about 5am, but can’t tell what’s going on. Why am I telling you this? I just like to share where I am.

Spent the first part of my writing time doing some journaling in the notebook, which feels good to have time for. I like the more organic, integrating kind of writing that I do in the notebook, with a pen. My horoscopes keep telling me to make time to integrate all that’s been happening (and, being a Pisces, it’s imperative that I pay attention to my horoscopes.)

It’s been a full, admin-y week here; what about for you? Are you ready for your weekend?

It’s a challenging thing, determining what weekend means when you’ve got your own business — or, at least, that’s true for me. I spend 8 hours a day, three days a week, at a day-job, and then I spend the rest of my time, hours before and after work at the day job, the other two days of the work week, and often, weekend time, too) focusing on writing ourselves whole. The workshops are always on my mind — I’m returning emails, making phone calls, dealing with money stuff, researching grants, prepping for workshops,  facilitating workshops, getting the word out about upcoiming workshops, and making lists of what else needs doing. So many of you know this already: when you’re starting a business/organization, you do all the jobs. You’re the admin person and the outreach person and the fund-raising/grants person and the programs person. All those jobs have to find their place in your time somewhere, and often that means in the evenings or weekends. The workshops become what I think about, almost all the time. In the back of my mind, continually, is a running list, this inside voice, asking: did I call that person back yet? did I return that inquiry? when’s the deadline for that proposal?  have I heard back from that organization yet?

It’s easy to get somewhat (!) overwhelmed. And so it is that my downtime can look really down, really quiet, really dis-engaged: some tv or a bad movie, time to spend some hours reading a novel, or even applesauce-making. These sorts of activities let my brain go quiet, let some other sorts of thinking happen, let new solutions and ideas bubble up and around without my trying to force them out or onto a list or into structure before they’re ready. Time when I’m not racing from one appointment to the next is so necessary — time to really slow down, time to break, integrate, even play.

What I’m grateful for is all the conversation now about self care, about making space for rest and rejuvenation, for integration and replenishment. When I don’t make that space for myself, I get manic, overwhelmed, and soon decide that the real next best ting for me to do is leave everything and go off to an isolated house on the coast of Mexico and just write and fish. Someday maybe that’ll be what I do — but I’d prefer to have it be intentional rather than an extreme reaction to being on people-overload and just needing some downtime.

The place where I still struggle is in the ways that I take care of my body. I don’t exercise enough, and so I make intentions about yoga or jogging or swimming, and then I get frantic (or realistic, depending) about money and/or time, and then I don’t sign up for classes and I don’t do what I know would be so good for my mental health: moving. this. body.

And so I make a commitment here to go swimming once next week. I can write to you next Friday and tell you how it was. (I’ve added a reminder on my Google calendar!)

Fresh! and I were talking last night about that wonderful encouragement from Eleanor Roosevelt, that we ought to do one thing every day that scares us. And Fresh! has been working with folks on a daily-practice coaching program, where folks get witness and regular coaching as they take on a new task, a new daily practice, or start doing regularly something that’s scared them. Joining a gym or taking a yoga or dance class or swimming: these things can be scary for me! As much as I know I will feel so good after, I get scared about doing the moves wrong or not being limber enough or looking bad in my swim suit or whatever other thing is fizzling against my desire and drive to try and put it out and keep me in my inertia.

One thing, everyday: I’ve used that phrase to continue to commit to and grow writing ourselves whole.  And I can use it, too, to continue to commit to and grow my own self care.

A prompt, of sorts: Is there something that really has been scaring you that you also really want to do or try? Could you give yourself about 10 minutes today to write about that?

Thank you for your writing, for the ways you’ll be kind to folks today, for being there.