Monthly Archives: December 2010

Thank you, 2010 — Welcome, 2011!

graffit of Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant God, beneath a Hindi banner...

Ganesha: Lord of Beginnings, Remover of Obstacles, Patron of Letters...

Good morning & Happy New Year’s Eve!

What a tremendous, educational year 2010 has been! Lots of lessons offered and learned (or, learning). What did 2010 offer you? What will you bring forward with you into 2011 from this year just passing?

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Writing Ourselves Whole can still use your support! There’s this one more day in 2010 to make a tax-deductible financial gift that will support the transformative writing in your communities — thank you immensely to all who have already invested in our work!

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I’ve spent the last several days wrangling with a cold, so I’ve been sleeping a lot and, when awake, watching movies or reading. I’m making my slow way through Rob Brezny’s Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia. This book is reminding me of how I used to aspire to be in the world: full of curiosity, wide-eyed and also skeptical, lots of questions and few answers, aching for beauty and connection with everyone and everything, engaged with my complexities and contradictions, positively uncertain and joyfully observant.

I was writing in my notebook yesterday about how I’ve gotten more connected to having answers. The Knowledge/Information Economy tells us to become an expert on something, to become the go-to person on FB or Twitter or elsewhere about the wingspan of bats or why people collect seashells or how to frame digital photographs or what sex positions most suburban folks struggle with these days — that’s how you Make It. That’s how you’ll Succeed. And so I’ve been trying to figure out how to become an expert on surviving sexual trauma or writing about trauma or writing about sex or an expert on sexuality, period. And then when I run into personal struggles with any of these things (which I do on a regular basis), I feel like a completely failed Expert. How can I claim to teach something, or midwife folks through an experience, that I’m not 100% perfect at myself?

Of course, you can see the perfectionism, the self-sabotage, the voices that say, if you’re not perfect, you’re nothing. (Which means (doesn’t it?) that if you’re just human, you’re worthless.)

I’ve been actively engaged with this, one of my most entrenched inside-editor voices, for quite a few years — tangling with my just-humanness. Just human means stunningly imperfect, means scarred and scared, means I don’t have all the answers, about myself or anyone else. Means I’m a practice: this life is a practice. Every day is a practice.

So this week, with the blessing of a cold that left me with body aches and sore throat, I’ve been on the couch with Rob Brezny, remembering what it’s like to delight in not knowing. Remembering what it’s like to be present with the joy of our imperfections, to be grateful for everything that seems wrong, to take some tremendous comfort in the sheen of fog that covers the windows of our little house in the mornings. Who cares if I need to wear 4 layers, a scarf and hat inside my house? I’ve got all day to make Irish soda bread to feed the cold monster in my belly, have time and a stove with which to whip up a batch of cayenne-cheddar biscuits, will put the stove on low so that my specially-requested french bread will rise.

2010 taught me much about self-care, about receiving help, about saying no and about saying yes, about trusting visions and dreams, about slowing down in order to stretch and grow.

In 2011, I am looking forward to more delight in confusion,  more surprising myself with everyday magic, more attention to/with serendipity — what happens when I simply become an expert at asking questions, or noticing what is? Isn’t that a life-long practice?

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What about a prompt here, beginning with where we started: What are you bringing forward with you from 2010? What lessons will come with you even if there are habits, practices, relationships that you are laying to rest? What visions and wishes do you have for this coming year? Let yourself describe them in great, intricate detail.

A fun writing exercise can be to write yourself a letter from Dec 31, 2011 — describe what happened in the year, how you felt about it, what surprised you! Use as much sensory detail as you can: explain how something smelled or sounded, what it felt like, how it tasted, what it looked like. If you want, you can seal up the letter and set it aside to open at the end of next year: then compare and contrast!

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Thank you for being with me this year — I’m so grateful for this regular opportunity to connect with you! Thank you for all of your powerful, engaged, vulnerable work. Thank you, always, for your words.

How you can support life-changing writing workshops!

Hello and Glad Yule, Writers and Friends!
“I really appreciate and am a bit awed by the amount of support and healing that has happened for me in this room. The level of respect and regard for each writer’s voice is a gift I carry with me into the rest of my life.” - anonymous (Write Whole writer)

Through Writing Ourselves Whole, people are restorying their lives. Some writers come to our workshops to reclaim their bodies, their words and their creativity after trauma; some, to find words for their beautiful and complex sexuality. All are empowering themselves through creativity. In 2010, Writing Ourselves Whole provided opportunities for nearly 100 individuals to write and share their stories. I’m deeply grateful to all those who have supported Writing Ourselves Whole’s work to offer safe, confidential and transformative writing groups that allow for deep creative discovery.

In 2010, we held ten 8-week writing workshops and twelve single-session writing groups; we offered workshops in San Francisco, Oakland, and on the East Coast. At the beginning of the year, Writing Ourselves Whole joined Intersection for the Arts’ Incubator, and we have begun to offer a scholarship fund for those in need! This means more full and more diverse workshops, which are always priorities for our sessions.

In order for Writing Ourselves Whole to continue offering writing workshop scholarships and below-market rates for our current and future low-income writers/participants, and meet all of our financial obligations for space rentals and supplies, we need your financial support. Please consider a tax-deductable donation in order for Writing Ourselves Whole to continue.

There are different ways that you can support and invest in the work that Writing Ourselves Whole offers:

  • Full Scholarship: Each $325 donation to our scholarship fund covers the full cost of a writer including: a 8-week workshop session, snacks, drinks and supplies, which are always provided.
  • Make a one-time donation or become a monthly supporter by signing up to donate $500, $325, $150, $50 or $25 per month. These funds will cover our ongoing monthly expenses including partial scholarships, workshop space rent and supplies. Any gift is deeply appreciated and helps us to do this work. No gift is too small!
  • Purchase a gift certificate for any current or aspiring writers on your gift list. Please contact Jen using the form on the Writing Ourselves Whole website. Gift Certificates can be purchased for $250, $100, $50 or any amount, and are a generous way for you to support the poets, storytellers, memoirists and other writers in your life!

To make a secure, tax-deductible, online donation using your debit or credit card, you can visit the Intersection Incubator donations page. Choose ‘Writing Ourselves Whole’ from the drop-down menu next to the question: “Which fiscally sponsored project will benefit from your donation?’ (Writing Ourselves Whole is down near the bottom!)

Thank you for your generosity, your belief, and your support!

Your investment will help us continue offering transformational writing workshops in 2011, both through our regular workshops, Write Whole: Survivors Write, Declaring Our Erotic and Writing the Flood, and through some exciting new developments in the works: workshops in Sacramento, an online offering in conjunction with the TLA Network, and more!

With so much gratitude,

Jen and all of us at Writing Ourselves Whole

P.S. Writing Ourselves Whole has grown beyond just my own two hands. There is an amazing group of volunteers who have joined the team that is Writing Ourselves Whole! Jianda, Lou, Maisha, Renee and Christina: thank you!

my body still tries to become her body

graffiti: water + bread + home = basicsGood morning — it’s the day after the day after; it’s also the second day of Kwanzaa, Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). This time, for me, tends to be one of reflection: what’s happened in this year just passing? What are the possibilities, my dreams and visions, for the year to come?

(Aha – a prompt!)

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I spent some of yesterday re-reading Women Who Eat, a collection of essays by women about food, cooking, eating — which, by necessity, is also a collection of essays about family, about mothers, about relationships. What do we eat and why? What don’t we eat and why? How did we learn to cook, if we did? How did we learn to feed ourselves, if we did?

This is a time of year with a lot of focus on food, on family gatherings around big meals, so it’s another reason to consider these questions — food brings up big associations and memories, and can be fertile ground for writing.

I learned to cook from my mom, watching her in the kitchen.

(How much of this writing am I really ready to do today, directly into the computer, like my hands could do something creative and generative on these plastic keys. )

She moved around the kitchen like nothing was outside her reach, she understood all the different machinery and what it was good for (juicer, food mill, blender, mixer). She was a vegetarian and a natural food aficionado when I was young, so I learned about kefir and homegrown alfalfa sprouts and carob (things she never learned in her own mother’s kitchen in the middle of southern Nebraska). What else did I learn? I learned about the possibility of joy and creativity in the kitchen, making things up and having tasty mistakes. I learned how flour and water and yeast turned into a live thing that grew in her pottery bowl and then became a brown warm smell that filled the whole house. I know how to knead now because I watched her, and my body still tries to become her body whenever I make bread.

Did I learn, too, that cooking could be an escape? That the kitchen could be a place of unassailable creative possibility — I mean, a place where we could open the fridge door and begin imagining what to do with all the leftovers that would be fresh and interesting and tasty and new — when there wasn’t money to make a whole new meal? My mother taught me about cooking (and eating) well and healthily on a budget — about coupons and carrying a calculator while pushing the cart through the aisles at the discount supermarket downtown, about how nearly every ingredient has a substitute you can use, about making due, making up, making good.

From watching her, too, I learned about perfection and rules and sublimating joy to someone else’s demands and desires.

One of the first poems I ever wrote was in response to an exercise called My Mother’s Kitchen — and the poem I wrote was a kind of a fairy tale, a wishing-to-remember, a child patting at a tiny loaf of bread while her mother kneads the big loaf for dinner. There’s a kitchen timer in the piece, toward the end, a kind of alarm: a terrible foreshadowing.

It can be interesting to revisit prompts, reuse them: I would write a different poem now. I would try to get into words the smell of my mom there in the first kitchen I remember her in, out in the country, with the wheat fields outside our window — you could see them beyond the alfalfa and avocado she had sprouting, erupting, on the windowsill — everything that mattered, everything she was fighting and offering when she ground us fresh peanut butter or pushed fat bright carrots through the Juicerator for lunchtime, everything she was pushing back and everything that was coming.

(Another poem, entirely, if I let myself write about my father’s kitchen.)

If I had a child, what would they say about their mother’s kitchen? The foods I cook tend to be simple, hearty, unpretty but tasty and filling. I am good at breakfasts, stir fries, beans, soups, salads, bread, pies, cookies, desserts. I am not good with meat anymore, or with fancy. I’m good with potatoes, though, and corn. I can do the things with flour and sugar and butter that my women relatives have done for generations. There’s lineage there, togetherness, assistance and honoring even when I feel like I’m in my kitchen all alone.

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What about you? What do you remember about your mother’s kitchen? What don’t you remember? Take 20 minutes, start writing, let yourself remember the foods you loved, the foods you were ashamed of. If there wasn’t a mother in that kitchen, who was there? Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

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Thank you for your skilled memory, the way you take what you were given and you create power and joy and nurturing now. Thank you for your words.

Yes: Hello, light!

Graffiti on long wall, of big round yellow sun, a white bird with wings spread wide, and the word 'peace'Good morning! Some places, today, it’s Xmas eve. Other places, for other people, it isn’t. However you are with whatever day it is, I hope you’re being easy with yourself this morning.

For me, for the people I come from, it’s Xmas Eve today. I’m not with them, but I’m remembering. I’m remembering how excited I used to get about what presents I’d be receiving the next morning (after having gone through the huge Sears catalog and cut out the pictures of the toys I wanted; my sister and I would create enormous lists for Santa on pages and pages of printer paper that my dad brought home from work (remember when the paper was all connected in perforated section? Yeah, that paper.), about preparing the plate for Santa (with carrots for the reindeer and cutout sugar cookies that we’d frosted and decorated for Santa himself — Santa always left us a note thanking us for our generosity, telling us how tasty the cookies were and how much the reindeer appreciated the treat; I learned the truth, I think, when I began to recognize my dad’s handwriting), about getting to go see whichever cousins we’d see that year, on my mom’s side or my dad’s side. There was something in this time of year (for awhile, at least) that made room for being excited about being excited, getting to live in anticipation (however painful!). I miss that big anticipation sometimes.

Now, though, I get excited about being in my home, about baking for others, about getting to share something new with someone who will appreciate it, about getting to reflect on the accomplishments and struggles of the last year, about connecting with cousins again (even just through xmas cards, it’s still a big deal).

Much doesn’t change at this time of year the way that I thought it did when I was very small: everyone doesn’t start loving each other. Wars are still waging. People are still killing one another. Many families, many many kids, will not be safe tonight, or tomorrow, on the big holy day, even in the supposed holy places (and I mean in the world, and on their bodies). Unbridled consumption isn’t saving our country or our communities.

Bring it to the page, if you can: all that loss and celebration, all of our complexity, our beauty and our horror, your feelings about it all.

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As a part of this project I’ve taken on, to be more fully in my body, I went yesterday for a first appointment with a somatic therapist (let’s call it a project and not just self care — these are the ways that I trick myself into being kind to myself). All I know about somatic therapy I learned from Staci Hanes’ Healing Sex, so I was kind of surprised not to find a table in the room, where I would lay myself during the session, so that the therapist could put her hands on me while I spoke to bring awareness to places in my body where I was holding emotion. No, it was a regular therapy room: peaceful, calming, muted colors.

The difference, though, was that as I shared my story, the bits that can be shared during a first meeting, she asked me to be aware of my body — what’s happening in my body, how am I holding my body, where is there energy? It was a powerful shift. When she asked about my nervous system, whether it knew that I/we’re safe now, I turned some attention to that rage of energy running (through) me, and I burst almost instantly into tears: no build up, very much like I think/remember a kid would. Scared kinds of tears, electric. Wow — I guess it had something to tell me. Maybe we don’t know that, here all these years and all this work later.

Somatic work feels important now, powerful and terrifying, too, because it’s unconscious, the body, or sort of of a different conscious than the verbal-linguistic one I’m so comfortable with. I talk about it here not out of a place of exhibitionism but because I know I’m not the only one who feels outside of her skin and yet, too, like she didn’t dissociate, didn’t leave her body, because she never had the experience of being up in a corner of the room, watching myself act (or be acted upon) from far away — because I never lost time (except in alcoholic blackouts). But there are so many ways to leave the body, aren’t there? And there are many ways to come back. One of the ways I come back, invite myself back, is through writing — and now, maybe, through mindfulness, paying attention to how this body is feeling and then taking action (responding) based on that attention, based on the information my body holds and shares.  Just imagine.

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Be easy with you, as best you can, over these days of this holidaytime, this holiday that has its roots in an ancient tradition of welcoming not the Son but the Sun: yes, hello, light. Welcome back. Thank you.

Feel the joy in this present

graffiti - woman and moon through tree branchesGood morning! Here I am with you again — it’s been several days!  I’ve been notebook writing quite a bit this week, and also sleeping a bit more than usual, so I haven’t had time for both the notebook pages and blog both.

Monday was the Solstice — the light is returning! Was there a way that you took note of the holiday?

(Have you seen this video of the lunar eclipse that coincided with the solstice? Look at that red — pretty amazing!)

Winter solstice, lunar eclipse, and mercury retrograde — quite a lot going on astrologically. What it’s meant for me is a need to slow down; a deep need. As soon as the pressure starts to build (get it done! worry! stress! panic!), something in me deflates — that’s how it feels. Deflates. And I have to go in a corner and read a book until I can breathe again, until the panic button has stopped flashing.

There are times when panic/stress will motivate me to accomplish tasks. But at other times, panic just isn’t a useful motivator. Especially not at the holidays — there was just so much stress around Christmas when I was a teenager and young adult, I don’t have room for any more. It’s like I’m still filtering that old stuff out. So packages go out late and cards don’t get ordered or sent and I know that everything’s going to be ok. Slow steady steps — I talk to friends, I write a little bit, go for a walk. The panic drains out and I can function again.

There’s so much pressure at this time of year to be happy, to be joyous, to return the Merry Christmas-es, even if you don’t celebrate, even if you’re not Christian, even if it’s not an especially Merry time. And for those who are easily Merry-ied in December, there can be some anxiety, knowing that others aren’t having a great time, knowing that this time of year can be triggering or sad.

In her most recent newsletter, SARK wrote about giving ourselves permission to feel whatever we’re feeling at the holidays; it’s ok to be joyful, ok to be lost and sad, ok, too, to move from one to the other to something else in rapid succession!  She includes some lovely self care strategies, including adjusting and lowering expectations, educating others about how to care for you, really thinking about what you need to feel good and ok during the holidays (and then providing those things for yourself!). Sometimes it’s radical self-care not to do any holiday-ing at all!

I know I get caught up in wanting everything to be perfect — perfect tree, perfect cookies, perfect presents, perfect perfect perfect. My muscles tense up, just writing all that out. We know there isn’t any perfect, of course. But my inside kid (yes, I said it) is still waiting for xmas & santa to make everything all right. My inside teenager remembers that whatever wasn’t perfect was just going to trigger a fight and a long, long, long abusive talk.

So for me and those kids, at my house over the next week, we’ll have some good-enough to replace the perfect, some movies-at-home and cookies and cocoa, some popovers on xmas morning and time with friends, some time by the ocean, some wishes for 2011 written out and read aloud and offered to the sea. We’ll have some warm baths and body-tending time, lots of candles. Maybe some dancing time. Maybe a trip to visit the snow. Good coffee and lots of veggies. Some gifts and some experiences-as-gifts (disappearing gifts!). Lots of writing. Lots of deep breathing and maybe some tears (let the past and the now wash through). Letting myself feel the nostalgia and missing, and letting myself feel, too, the joy in this present, in this now.

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What about some prompts? If I’d been in a workshop on Monday, we would have done some writing about light: either with a candle flame as a prompt (light a candle and take a moment just to be quiet with the flame; notice what voices or images or memories arise as you watch), or maybe beginning our write with the phrase, “In a dark room, the light…”

You might also want to write out your own most self-cared-for holiday vision: what would this time look like if you centered your own well-being?

Let yourself choose whichever of these is most compelling to your writer’s self right now, give yourself 10 or 15 minutes, and write.

Be easy with yourself this season. Go slow, if you can. We’re all doing big work. Thank you for your gentleness with others, and the way you allow others to be gentle with you. Thank you for your words.

Upcoming Workshops and Groups!

Come write with me!

Our writing space -- all ready for you!
Reclaiming our Erotic Story:
the Liberatory Potential of Writing Desire
Sutterwriters Sacramento
January 29, 2011

8:00AM-5:00PM

Can erotic writing liberate more than our libidos? Does greater comfort with sexual expression lead to greater agency in our communities? Many of us assume that the erotic is solely the province of the individual, and not the realm of social change or communal liberation – but what happens when we all have wider access to and more comfort with erotic language and sexual expression? The full breadth of our erotic power can challenge what our society teaches us about our sexuality, which is both damning and provocative when it comes to personal expression and human relationships.

I’ve led erotic writing workshops since 2002, and what I’ve found is that writing our desire, in a safe community of engaged and encouraging peer writers, can allow us the space to challenge the negative messages we’ve internalized about sexuality and about our core desires and even our very being. When we bring our longing into the light and find common ground with others, when we risk exposing that which we’ve been trained to be ashamed of, I find that many of us step into a deeply empowered (and more embodied!) self.

In this workshop, we’ll take try out some explicit writing, and will consider how empowering a creative engagement with sexual identity, desire, and expression, as well as the ability to write out our fantasies and desire, can affect our intimate relationships, our communities and our work in the world.
The cost for this workshop is $100.  A $25 deposit would secure your place with the balance due on the day of the class.

To register, contact

John Crandall
Crandall Writers
P.O. Box 22612
Sacramento, California 95822
916-708-9708

john@fireartsofsacramento.com
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Writing the Flood
Saturday, December

January 15, 1-4:30pm

A half-day, open-topic writing workshop!

Many of you had been asking for a general-topic writing workshop (i.e., not focused on a particular issue), and this space is for you!

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

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $25-50, sliding scale. Limited to 12. Register or email me with questions: jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org.

February Writing the Flood meets on 2/19/11!
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And last but never least: The Erotic Reading Circle! Since 2006, we’ve been meeting on the fourth Wednesday of the month to share and celebrate the breadth of erotic artistry in the Bay Area!

This month we circle up on December 22, 7:30-9:30 at the Center for Sex and Culture (1519 Mission St., between 11th & So Van Ness, in SF)! $5+ donation requested (no one turned away); donations support the Center for Sex and Culture.

Bring whatever you’re working on, or whatever you’d like to be working on.Come join readers and share your erotic writing! Bring something to read or just be part of the appreciative circle of listeners. This is a great place to try out new work (ask for comments if you like), or get more comfortable reading for other people. Longtime writers will bring their latest… newly inspired writers, bring that vignette you scrawled on BART while daydreaming on your way to work. Carol Queen and Jen Cross host/facilitate this space dedicated to erotic writers and readers.

See you at the Circle!

Mostly weekended: baking, writing, nostalgia

photograph of colored lights and pine needles

Love this picture of Sarah Deragon's -- brings me right home. (Click on the image to see more of her amazing work!)

It feels like this was a very long weekend — partly because I actually weekended for most of it. I was off of my computer all day yesterday, didn’t sit down in front of it one time, barely even went into the office. There was baking and party-prep on Friday, Writing the Flood and then a wonderful gathering with good friends on Saturday, and yesterday was a full day off: movies and cookies (with a couple of errands thrown in, just to get out of the house).

During the errand running, we had to make a stop at OSH. When we came out of the store and back to the car, there was a young boy hanging out at the new Prius next to ours, opening and closing the doors. I came around to the passenger side of our car, next to him, said hello, looked for his people. He was there alone, and it became clear that he was developmentally delayed. The Mr went back into the store to look for his people, while I stayed at the car, wanting to interact with the boy, wanting to see if he’d come inside, wanting to make sure he didn’t back up into any parking-lot traffic. He would open the door, close it, then kind of cheer, delighted. He had a lovely face that kind of opened up into itself, is that right, or it was as though something was opening inside him that didn’t make it all the way onto his face when he was delighted, or worried, or pleased. An adult came our way carrying a box, and the boy said it was his father — I told the man we were worried about the boy because he was just hanging out in the parking lot, alone, and the man said that the boy had told him he wouldn’t get out of his seat. And so, not knowing this relationship at all and not being a parent, it’s pretty easy for me to judge the situation, think, “and so you listened to him and left your child alone in your car in a holiday parking lot?” He thanked us for our concern, and we, still worried, watched them go.

(I remembered that my sister and I used to stay in the car together while one parent or another ran into a store — the Mr points out the difference between one kid in a car, and two; and even leaving the two of us alone in the car wasn’t necessarily the safest thing, though I know parents sometimes do what they have to do. Still, I’m holding that boy and want him to be safe.)

And when we came back home, I started with my baking. On Friday, I made french bread and a coconut milk-pumpkin pie (with homemade crust); Saturday morning I made the first batch of spritz; yesterday I made biscotti and spicy double-chocolate cookies; and prepped the dough for thumbprints, pinwheels and more spritz. Still need to do the shortbread and Russian tea cakes.

We got a live (or once-was-live, now cut and living in water) tree for the Solstice, and put up lights this year; it’s been several years since we got a tree — but I’m feeling awfully nostalgic this year, wanting the smell of pine in the house and missing not just family, but possibility and the details of our early holidays, from Before, when all the aunts and uncles and cousins would get together at one Grandma’s or the other, and it was the one time of year that we got to see everyone. All the parts of the holiday, the celebration, were the same every year, and so what changed was we ourselves: around the same tree and the same ornaments, the cookies and songs, and trip to church was the fact of the cousins’ growth, all the kids growing up, slowly learning how to enter this world. And then my sister and I were pulled out of that trajectory. As far as I was concerned, it just continued the same without us — as though, maybe as though, we’d never been there.

During the last couple days of my Grandma Cross’ life, family gathered around to support her, support one another. At one point, my cousin A pulled me aside. She was holding her small baby in her arms, this new generation that needs protecting. She told me that Grandma used to buy us gifts every year, still, during all the time that we were “gone,” just in case. She would pull my cousin aside and tell her where the gifts were; she could run and get them if Sarah and Jenny came that year. We both were crying as she told me this. How had it not sunk into me, yet, that maybe my cousins had been affected, too, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles: worried, unsure what to do, keeping to tradition and making changes, moving, growing all around the edges of those traditions, too.

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A prompt for today, one that we used as an intro exercise at the gorgeous Writing the Flood group this weekend:  Write about a holiday tradition. (It doesn’t have to be a winter holiday tradition; it can be your own tradition, your family’s, one you’ve heard about, or a character’s.) Writing about holidays can bring up strong emotions, and as a result, can be really interesting material. Give yourself 10 minutes, see what comes!

Here’s my write from this weekend:

The traditions are faded and fainting and fractal, multiplicitous. I remember trees thronged with small electric lights and piled underneath with presents, but maybe more important were the same ornaments decorating the tree, year after year, marking the passage of time — each December meant a new addition and so we had a visual reminder of each Christmas: look, that ragged clay wreath painted red with green dots, my sister made that one when we were just little; the red felt cardinal that clipped to a branch, that was from before even we were born.

Our parents each got some of the old ornaments when they divorced — how do you separate something like a pile of balls and tinsel and glass icicles and handmade clay faces and the thin brass angels, one sleeping and one praying, each personalized with a child’s name and the day and year of her birth? Do you sit together and open the boxes and weigh the memories inside each one? How did they each carry half of that tradition with all their other cardboard boxes and piles of blankets and furniture into their own separate houses for us?

Thanks for the ways you hold to your own traditions, for yourself, the ways that you have let new ritual twine with the past in a way that resonates for you now. Thanks, thanks, for your words.

filled with Thank You

stencil graffiti: image of a woman's face, with the words "creer c'est resister"

(to create is to resist!)

Today is going to be a good day.

Last night, a few people sat with me in the writing ourselves whole workshop space, and talked with me about how they can help me do the stuff involved in running this organization. I don’t know how much more I can say about that except how amazing and somewhat overwhelming it feels to have help — from many different sides.

Of course, having help means being accountable — means it’s not just me anymore. (It wasn’t ever just me, but I ignored that for a long time, feeling a lot more comfortable with a slightly martyred and extremely overwhelmed mindset.)

So this morning I am filled with Thank You.

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Tomorrow is Writing the Flood — we’ve got a great group coming together (are you joining us?) to spend this pre-Xmas Saturday writing, flowing, growing big onto the page. Bring that thing you’ve been promising yourself to work on — or bring an open & empty notebook, wait for the prompt, and go go go.

To create is to resist – that’s what Miss.Tic says.

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A prompt for today: December can be a time of nostalgia for me, and when I get all nostalgic, it’s a good idea for me to write (otherwise I wallow, which is rarely pretty on me).

Today I’ll invite you to think of a favorite song you had when you were younger — at any time before now. Start by telling us about the song, if you want, or how old you were when it was your favorite, or where you lived, or who your friends were then, or anything else that arises as you start to write — give yourself 15 minutes (more if you want) and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

We used this as an introductory exercise at the beginning of the most recent Write Whole workshop — a great way to meet one another’s writing voices. Here’s my response to our short write:

So the first song — there are two songs that spring up and both have different, no, the same bedroom associated with them and yet they feel different, rearranged, the songs popular in different years and so there we were, me and me, at different ages in the same room — first unicorns then a fade to lack later–

I had the 45 for “What About Me?” (the whiniest song ever but still my chest opens when I think about the lyric: “And now I’m standing on the corner/all the world’s gone home –” I could keep going, still have it all in some corner of my head), could almost start crying, 10 years old and mom’s working and dating and we’re alone in this brownstone apartment and I’ve got the record on my small plastic player and I wonder why don’t mom and dad ask what we want, what about us in this divorce settlement of back and forth from one town to another–

Then Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, a song that made me so profoundly uncomfortable and I didn’t understand how they could play it on the radio legally and still I turn the channel when it comes one because it reminds me of that time — 11 years old at at a new school, learning finally that being a girl meant sexual harassment, meant having something sexual you had to heal from. (The tall lanky boy in brown boots and jeans who slunk up behind me in the cafeteria line and whispered what those things were, that was just part of the lesson.)

Thanks for your rememberings, for what you offer that others want to help you bring into the world, for your words. Always.

Ego and stubbornness and sweat

street art of giraffesIt’s freezing outside the windows this morning, and not much more than that in here at my computer. I’ve got my hat on, though, and we’re moving forward.

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Morning pages in the notebook today.  Let’s be honest that so many of my struggles are my own stubbornness and ego. The process is everything to me.

There’s so much weight put on process — should the ends have anything to do with the means? How much can I write about this today, without writing about interpersonal struggle, how much it hurts when two people who love each other are trying to get someplace but each wants the process to look different. Process is everything to me — as is praxis: the intermingling of theory and practice, how one has to feed the other. For me, it’s not just what gets done, but how it gets done. This can cause struggles when I’m working with someone else who wants to get to exactly the same place, but wants to go a very different route — shouldn’t it not matter, as long as we get there? I think it does matter.

I remember being worried about going to the police about my stepfather, who was an ostensibly successful therapist — what if he had been really, truly helping people, other kids, even as he’d been controlling and abusing his family?  Maybe he really was doing good work. In my heart, of course, I believed differently: if you’re sexually abusing your stepchildren, you shouldn’t be counseling others who’ve experienced sexual abuse: your judgement and presence is going to be clouded (to say the very very very least).

Should behavior in one arena of life necessarily have any impact on behavior in another arena?

I’m paying close attention to my practices/praxes right now, to how I’m doing what I do. Practice includes communication and planning and vision as much as action. It includes not just the goals but what’s happening around the goals.
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Some theory-in-action will be happening on Saturday, at Writing the Flood! Also, I’ll be leading an all-day erotic writing workshop in Sacramento in January: Reclaiming the Erotic Story on Jan 29. Contact John Crandall to register!
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A prompt for today, taken from some of what we did at the Body Empathy workshop last month. Write in response to the phrases: This is what his/her/hir body loves (or what my body loves, or what your body loves) and/or This is what his/her/hir body doesn’t love.

Begin with whichever sentence most resonates for you now, and give yourself 10 or 15 minutes to follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Here’s my response to this prompt:

(Sometimes what she would love is not worrying about her body anymore)

There’s this thick spiraling, an opening up,
when what she so often would appreciate
is the filling, the stuffing, that’s a closing down.
Sometimes, visualizing is just the same
as doing, and when I’m on the page, my body
is free to imagine something
completely different

This is what my body loves:
the kind of sweat that almost pulses, it’s
so heavy, stinky, wrought full of funk
at first, elimination phase, and then
wham, without a sound, doused so free
and my pores opened, every layer of skin slick —
wrapping the space between fingers, behind
ears, under knees, at the back of the
neck, anointing, really, I mean sluicing
something off that’s not just dirt but
old assumptions, hesitations, fears, worry,
how does it all push out in the sweat?
The sweat has to come with movement —
still sweat worries her, feels too sticky,
like not the right amount of work–
sweat that layers her movements is
too infrequent but just right. I’m talking
about the sweat that pushes up and drips
during dancing, that pours like fluid
bond exchange when the body reaches for a
body, when this body reaches for that
one because we’re just not done yet,
I meant the sweat that darkens the pits of my
tshirt when I’m digging the spade into
the ground — I mean the way enormous
crying can feel like sweat, can feel like a
relinquishing of toxins — I guess I’m just looking
for a way to filter out the stains he left
in me and how to have my body remain
free-standing and whole. Sweat, in my
world, equals exercise + music — the wet is
the product, the release and the prize. It’s
how this body knows it’s hand a
good time. Without sweat, everything else is
in question. How do you celebrate what
everyone else is trying to fight off —
I know my body talks to me through those
fevers of damp and musk and I am
trying to learn the languages she
speaks, the languages of aches and pleasures,
of glands and tensions, of belly burbles
and digestive foibles, and this particular body’s
liquors and flavors. I want to know her textures
and bumps, where
she pushes out and where she curves in –
I want to know what makes her sweat,
and I want to feed her that experience

til she can breathe again.

Thank you for the tender ways you attend to your body (even when it feels like its not enough)  — thank you for your words.

I can only help you put on your mask after I have put on mine

stencil art of a woman dancing, head thrown back, one knee up, next to the words, "a poesie est un sport de l'extreme"

'poetry is an extreme sport' (I am loving this artist's work!)

About a week ago, last Tuesday night, somebody stuck an icepick or other sharp object into the tires on the left side of our car. They also scratched or stabbed at a tire on the right side, and scratched up the body of the car. When I woke up Wednesday morning, it was to a car that was tilted over — I found myself standing outside my car, in the rain, unable to comprehend what I was seeing: why were both of the tires on the left side of my car flat?

Last night I was up for quite awhile around 1am, having heard a couple of loud popping noises outside our window: what was that? are they at the car again? I got up, looked out the window where it seemed (to the self that had just been asleep) the sounds had come from — and then I lay awake for a long time, listening, afraid — this is what hypervigilance looks like.

(In my dream, we found a huge group of kids outside the house that we lived in (which was not this house) — there were a couple of girls with this crew who didn’t especially want to be there, and I was trying, out the side of my mouth, to talk them into leaving and going somewhere safer.)

I am afraid because I don’t want my car to be further damaged, because I can’t afford to replace more tires, because there’s nothing I can do to figure out where this attack came from or whether it will come again. This is what random violence does — it creates and encourages this energy of both fear and anger. How to sit in peace, like in a place of hope for both/all of us: even the people who are actively trying to harm others instead of taking care of themselves — who feel that harming others is a kind of self care? (And yes, an attack on a car isn’t the same as an attack on a person — not being able to drive affects my ability to do some of my work, of course, and could be a harm to me if they do damage to the car that I don’t discover until I’m driving — and then there’re the attacks on property that are about creating damage that someone will have to pay for. Those tires are, let’s just put it honestly, gifts that I won’t be buying, bills I won’t be paying on time. There are the assumptions we make about those living in certain neighborhoods or with a certain look or certain kinds of work: who cares about destroying their shit? They’ll just buy more – yeah, no. That’s not so.)

This year of random violence to the workers of this country has meant that most of the people I wrote with had a hard time paying for the workshops — this year of yanking people around (saying, yes, we’ll protect you, and then undermining all support services, undermining unemployment benefits, undermining all of our security in the name of continuing wars that kill innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan, that kill the soldiers we send to fight them, and that harm or kill the people here who are losing food and housing to feed that war) has ended with so many of us feeling less secure, with less capacity to take good care of ourselves: because we are struggling to cover all the bills, because we are enervated, because we feel tugged on all sides by others who need our help.

Those with government contracts are maybe feeling more flush. Those at the heads of big corporations (who, after all, are human, too, according to our laws) are reaping the benefits. So many of the rest of us are feeling that hypervigilance: we are constantly on the lookout for the next shoe to drop. Every nerve in us is alert to the next bit of trouble — we expect it to come, because it has so often come before. We don’t trust those who mouth the words Protection and Security: they haven’t just failed us, they’ve fed us to those who would actively harm us. How do we take care of one another, ourselves, at a time like this — those of us, trauma survivors ourselves, who are walking around and actively engaged with communities being traumatized further, right now?

One small step at a time, I think — until we have reached a place that we defend fiercely, until we have reached that empowered sense of selfish that says, I can only help you put on your mask after I have put on mine. Many of my communities are under attack, need help: I’ve got to take care of myself anyway, or because of that fact. Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky talks about this in her important book, Trauma Stewardship. We cannot do our work (our unique work, our important work, our necessary work) sustainably unless we are attending to the parts in us that also need caring for. She writes, “If we are to contribute to the changes so desperately needed in our agencies, communities, and societies, we must first and foremost develop the capacity to be present with all that arises, stay centered throughout, and be skilled at maintaining an integrated self.”

I’ll be honest that I sometimes get angry when I read things like this — I think, how in the hell am I supposed to find time to maintain an integrated self?

Here’s what I’m finding out (so many of you know this already): I have to make time. I have to push other work out of the way and create the time. And even as I’m doing it, I’m afraid to do it — what happens if I get accustomed to taking care of myself? What if I get to the place where I can’t abuse myself so much anymore, where I can’t do all my work alone, where I need help all the time (god forbid)?

I’m about to find out, and I’ll keep sharing with you as I bump up against answers and more fears.

Thank you for the ways you allow yourself to be present to your needs, even as you’re present to others needs. Thank you, too, always, for your words.