Author Archives: Jen

what if we didn’t seem appetizing to them?

graffiti: interlocked Olympic rings, four with frowning faces and one with a smiling faceHow much longer? How much longer?

I am sick of writing about this. I am sick of hearing these stories. Now it’s Olympic swimming — oh, and a whole list of other Olympic sports — that’s in the news after “being hit with a sexual assault scandal.” That how the NPR announcer announced the story.

Was the sport hit with a scandal? That certainly puts the onus on the folks who’ve come forward, who’ve been coming forward for decades. This phrasing puts the blame on the victims for hitting the sport, the leaders, the organization, with this scandal.

That’s the power of the passive voice — it makes it sound like the organization was harmed, when, in fact, the headline should read, “Olympic swimming organization (and all the rest of these other Olympic sports) called forward to explain why, after twenty-plus years of being told about coaches’ sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment of athletes, the leadership took little to no action, sometimes actively dissuading young athletes from reporting assaultive actions, and hundreds of athletes were subsequently profoundly harmed.”

That’s not a fucking scandal. That’s a crime.

Scandal sounds salacious, has kind of sexy connotations, right? Sex scandal is practically redundant. Scandal is titillating, something to be gossiped about —

Generations of girls and other young athletes being assaulted by coaches in the name of getting to the Olympics isn’t a scandal. It’s 1) a crime, and 2) patriarchy. Patriarchy isn’t a scandal.

Please stop telling girls and other children just to report any assault they’ve been through — please stop blaming them for not telling, or not telling right, or not telling enough. We tell, and then we are shown, over and over again, that the adults in our lives would rather protect the perpetrator. It’s happening right now. It’s happening today.

Just this minute, someone is telling a mother, a nun, an administrator, a teacher, a friend in the business, a mentor, and are being told to shut up about it — that guy is a great coach; he’s the only one paying the bills; he’s our only hope of turning over that seat in the House; he has such great things to say about poverty and social justice; he’s a brilliant artist; he’s he’s he’s so much more important and necessary than you are, violated person, just keep your fucking mouth shut about how he made you do those things.

When will we get tired of this? When will we, as a country, as a society, as human beings, get tired enough to stop it? When will we get tired enough to create massive change to cultures around the world (including here in the US, of course) that are constructed around men’s access to women’s and children’s labor and bodies?

stencil graffiti, silhouette of priest chasing two childrenI have been thinking a lot lately about what would make them stop. What will cause men to stop raping children? You understand, this isn’t an individual family problem. This isn’t a mental health problem that individual perpetrators are manifesting. This isn’t about one kid, one coach, one priest, one teacher, one father, one stepfather, one boyfriend, one shopkeeper, one soldier, one babysitter, one camp instructor, one director, one neighbor, one troop leader, one librarian, one uncle, one cousin, one aide, one staff member, one counselor, one therapist, one tutor, or, later, one professor, one friend, one boyfriend’s friend, one frat guy, one supervisor, one boss, one uber driver, one guy on the subway, one coworker, one mentor, one agent, one spiritual leader, one guru, one self-help coach, one yoga instructor, one husband’s or partner’s boss, one more soldier, one bureaucrat, one government official, one coyote, one landlord, one guy at the bar, one parish coordinator, one group leader, one personal trainer, one conductor, one bus driver, one gang of guys on the bus, one brilliant writer who just wants to help you in your career, one other guy —

This isn’t about single perpetrators. This is about a history of humanity constructed around allowing and encouraging men to take what they want when they want it, by force, and when it stopped being quite so acceptable (in some places, at some times) for them to simply grab and consume, they figured out how to manipulate, which took maybe a little bit longer, but still got them what they wanted in the end.

I want a different story. I want children to be dangerous. I want women to be dangerous. I want men to be afraid of us. How do we turn the tables that way?

Maybe there will come a time when men around the world just respect the bodily integrity and emotional well-being of the other humans around them. That would be great. But until that day comes, how do we teach our children not just to tell when they have been approached by an assailant, but to cause harm to anyone who would touch them without consent? Cause literal, physical, visible harm.

Is that where I’ve come to? Teach the vulnerable not to be vulnerable anymore. What could cause a gang of men on a bus to fear the girl they have decided to gang rape? What would cause a group of soldiers with weapons to fear the woman and daughter they have decided to rape before they kill? Do we have to talk around with grenades in our sleeves? Is this really the world I want?

I have heard vegetarians — those who were raised vegetarian or became vegetarian quite young — speak of how strange it seems to them that anyone would eat meat. They never developed a taste for it. Meat doesn’t smell like food to them; when someone waxes rhapsodic about barbeque or roasted chicken, they can’t understand what’s being desired. To them, it just smells like burning flesh, which simply isn’t appetizing.

How do we raise our boys around the world not to grow up to be men who have a taste for the flesh of children, to become men who don’t find the thought of violence arousing? How much would have to change for men to grow up differently? Do you think it can be done? What do we do to create that world?

Be easy with yourselves today. Take a deep breath, write or move or take a break from the news or talk with someone beloved to you or cuddle your kitty or treat yourself to an hour (or two) with a cup of tea and a good book. Support the folks you love who are struggling, and let them support you, too, ok? We will move through into this new world we are visioning and creating together…

June writing retreat! Join us for a day of writing in the East Bay hills…

photo of narrow wooden deck, looking out over trees and mt tamalpais

(view from our writing room out to Mt. Tam)

photo of clouds over El Cerrito, rainbow emerging from the bay

photo of brown dog lying on a wooden deck next to table and chairs, looking out over eucalyptus grove

(Sophie enjoying the deck)

Meridian Writers
 an all-day writing retreat!
Sunday, June 24, 10:30am-5:30pm.
(Light breakfast from 9:45-10:30am)
Lunch provided.

Open to all writers, regardless of writing experience or previous participation in Meridian Writers.

Location: Private home in the East Bay

Treat yourself to a day of good writing, good food, and good community!

For this day-long writing retreat, we gather for coffee or tea and some home-baked breakfast, and then write through the rest of the morning. After a break for lunch, we dive back into our work through the afternoon, and we close by 5:30pm.

You’ll leave the retreat with: a rich body of new creative writing; feedback about what’s already strong and powerful in your new writing; and inspiration to keep on writing.

Give yourself a day to write in a beautiful, quiet space with views overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The fee for day-long retreats is $200; a $100 non-refundable deposit will secure your registration.

Spaces are limited: Please let me know if you’d like more information or would like to register! Write to me at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org; visit writingourselveswhole.org for more info about our workshops or methods.

Writing Ourselves Whole around the blog-o-sphere!

I remember when my friend Sinclair Sexsmith’s book Sweet & Rough came out; they talked about putting together a blog tour to support the book and to get the word out. I loved that idea — a book tour that involved no travel whatsoever! A chance to connect with new readers and fresh communities, chat with smart bloggers, share blog love, all while also getting to sleep in one’s own bed and not have to navigate yet another airport security line (huzzah!).

Well, now I get to participate in a sort of blog tour of my own! Thanks to the mighty efforts of Maya Peers Nitzberg (thank you, Maya!), I’ll be “touring” the web with Writing Ourselves Whole during the next month or so, with stops at some amazing communities, podcast and blog both. I’ll post links as I get them, and hope you come along for the ride!

The 2018 Writing Ourselves Whole blog tour!

3/5 – Interview with Kori Doty of Sex, Drugs, How We Roll podcast: Sex, Drugs and How We Roll – w/ Jen Cross, Writing Ourselves Whole

3/8Why I’m starting a writing practice to heal from grief and trauma, The Art of Healing Trauma blog, by Heidi Hanson

3/16sex, love, and all the feels:  http://www.sexloveandallthefeels.com/blog/poems-can-blossom-truth-within-our-hearts-guest-post-by-jen-cross

3/20 – On Lauren Sapala’s blog (writing coaching for introverts and others!):
http://laurensapala.com/willing-leave-unfinished/

4/7 –  Jen Cross: An Interview with the Author of Writing Ourselves Whole. An interview with Laurie and Debbie at the Body Impolitic Blog

TBD – Kitty Stryker and Consent Culture

4/12Writing Ourselves Whole: Transformation, Healing, & Queer Sex: An interview with Sinclair Sexsmith at the Sugarbutch Chronicles!

4/17 – Jennifer Cross Interview: Writing Ourselves Whole
Conversation with Dr. Carol Queen  for the Good Vibrations blog

4/22 – Jen Cross on healing trauma, dissociation, & the erotic: My conversation with Dawn Serra for the Sex Gets Real podcast

4/27 – Writing As Erotic Practice: Podcast with Chris Rose of Pleasure Mechanics! We chatted about how writing can be a tool to unlock more erotic freedom and possibility, and how reading erotica help us discover what is possible for our own sex lives…

5/7 –  Talking Writing Magazine: Video Interview with Elizabeth McShane about writing to heal from sexual abuse—and to find joy

Also at Talking Writing: What Writing About Trauma Can Do, an excerpt from Chapter One of Writing Ourselves Whole

5/11 – I got to chat with one of my long-time heroes, Tristan Taormino, for her (live!) radio show Sex Out Loud! Check out the podcast of our conversation: Jen Cross on Writing Ourselves Whole

Still to come:

  • A conversation with Annie Schuessler for her Therapist Clubhouse podcast!

 

Do you have a blog or a podcast? I’d love to connect with you!

Opportunities to write this spring, with Writing Ourselves Whole

If there are words ripening in you these days, come join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops – either in person or online! Here’s what’s the spring schedule looks like at Writing Ourselves Whole:
Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma 8 Wednesday evenings beginning March 28, 2018. Fee: $375 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed) Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near 12th St BART Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.
Meridian Writers: A general-topic writing space open to all 8 Wednesday evenings beginning March 28, 2018. Fee: $425 (fees support our trauma survivors writing groups) Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near 12th St BART Open to writers seeking a fun, generous, and supportive atmosphere in which to write together and support one another’s creative efforts.
Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup – initial group is currently at capacity; now forming a second group! Next series begins begins April 2018 Fee: $225/month (multiple-month commitment) Limited to 6 members per group Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near 12th St BART Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.
Online Write Whole 6-week summer sessions begin March 18, 2018 Fee is $250 (sliding scale). If you are not comfortable joining an in-person group, we offer online groups as well. This spring, our Write Whole: Survivors Write online is open to all survivors of sexual trauma. No special software required — just a computer, internet connection, and desire to write in supportive community.
Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all Meets the third Saturday of every month Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale) Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near 12th St BART Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside. Next Flood Write meets Saturday, March 17. Mark your calendars now for the rest of the summer: April 21, May 19.
Create the space in your busy life for the power of your good words! All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register.

Sometimes the grief rides up and knocks you down

red graffiti of the words Crying Is Okay HereGood morning, good morning. I went to bed at quarter to 9, and still it was difficult to get up when the alarm went off at 4;15. I am aching today, still, and heavy and exhausted and sad and overwhelmed.

And how are you doing so far today?

These are the times when I need the hiding places. The big loss is stalking me, and so I curl up on the couch or crawl into bed or wake up as early as I can so that the darkness itself can become a cocoon for me for a while.

Yesterday was so difficult I could barely crawl through it. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, still grieving from Tuesday night. We had watched a particularly intense (and long-awaited) episode of a fairy-tale show we’ve been following (This is Us), which, again, shows a father being protective and standing up and Doing The Scary Things and then paying a price for it; this is a father that the adult children can hold on to, look up to, have as a role model. We watch the family at different points in their lives, and as I watch, I remember the time when I had a much more open-hearted, longing love for my own father, when I wanted to impress him, when I wanted him to see me and be proud of me (I also felt that way about five minutes ago – it never goes away); I heard the adult children talking to and about their dad, and then there was something else, too, and I’m trying to put my finger on just what it was…

I could have had an easier time of this writing, finding the words for It All, yesterday morning, maybe, but I was so exhausted and emotionally hungover and literally in pain when I woke up that when I went to the writing place, all I could do was sit in the dark in my little office and listen to the owls call to each other in the eucalyptus trees down the hill, and listen, too, to the little clock in my office, the one that I bought for my space in the Flood Building and that I keep not because it tells the time (the mechanism bent or broke some years ago and now the hands don’t really move right anymore) but because of the sound it makes, the steady soft solid tick-tock that evokes a place of peace in me, the place built by the grandmother clock on my father’s wall, the one that’s been in my life since I was a child, an infant. That clock meant the place with no rape in it. That clock meant the place with my father. That sound has been an underground accompaniment my whole life.

Something bad happens in the episode we watched on Tuesday night. It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming. I did. But what I didn’t expect was the enormous grief that welled up and filled me until I broke open.

Sometimes the grief is too big to move.

I cried because something awful happens, and a parent has to show up for their kids, put their kids first, put their kids’ needs and feelings first, their safety first – and I wondered what that was like. I cried for a different, loss, too, that old thing with my father, the way I loved him and needed him and admired him and needed him to save me but couldn’t tell him what was going on and even today I couldn’t say why I couldn’t tell him – because I was ashamed? afraid? because I needed him to know me well enough to see that something terrible had happened, something significant had changed, but neither he nor my mother did know me that well, it seems, because they couldn’t see. And maybe that’s asking too much of any parent, that they know their child well enough to notice that a shift in energy or tone or apparent anger or  desire not to spend time alone with an adult (see: every single young person who ever had to be alone with that fucking gymnastics doctor) isn’t just teenage angst or something to be ignored or dismissed or downplayed or actively shut down.

(I call the show a fairy tale because in this show, parents notice their kids, every time: Something is wrong, something is off, let me go ask her what’s going on, hey, what’s the matter, and then she tells her parent, and then she can say it, and then something gets better.)

Underneath the grief that makes sense and had words and some kind of clear and obvious connection to the thing we were watching was a huge wave of grief that didn’t have any words at all, and once the show was done and we turned off the tv and wiped away the wet streaks on our cheeks and my sweetheart went up to check on her own son, I went back downstairs, walked into my office which was a safe dark place to crawl into, a kind of hug, and there I started to really cry. The big old grief filled my lungs and throat and bent me forward and then pushed me all the way to the ground and I knelt there and sobbed hard, I lost my breath, coughed and kept sobbing.

It’s not a place with words or explanation. It’s not a place that has sense in it – I might as well tell someone, I just remembered my sister and I were raped through our whole adolescence and no one could do anything about it or stop it and we lost connection with absolutely everyone we loved, even each other – and that just doesn’t make sense, because of course I never forgot that, I never forget, it doesn’t ever go away for me, but some days it’s more present, more available — or maybe this was one of those moments when one more layer of the old buried pain rises to the surface and reaches the air, and, unfortunately, has to take me down to the ground in order to move through me and out into the world.

This is the long work.

After it was over, and the sobbing was done, I was wrung out and exhausted and sore. I had a headache. I didn’t want to stay down there very long because I didn’t want anyone to discover me and then want to know why I was hiding or what’s wrong. How can I explain what’s wrong? How can I unzip my belly or bones to show what still lives in me, to just show the picture of what’s wrong, because trying to say it in that moment is far too difficult? I managed to avoid having to find the words. I went back upstairs and got into bed almost immediately, my head throbbing, my heart pounding, my eyes still leaking.

And then yesterday I had the hangover. I’d thought I’d wake up and write about what came up for me – sit down at the notebook, let the words find me. But I couldn’t even bring myself to light the candle. I sat in the dark, hurting and tight and exhausted. I just sat for a little bit, then I took my cup of tea upstairs and sat in the living room, looking out at the bridge and the bay, but no words were in me. I was empty. My neck hurt where I’d hunched it up while I cried, my eyes hurt, my head hurt. I had to bake for my Wednesday morning writing group, I had to show up and be a facilitator. There was so much to do, actually. I had to check in about an office space I’m trying to rent, I had to make a webpage to announce upcoming events and stops on the Fierce Hunger Writing Ourselves Whole book tour (every tour has to have a name, right?), I had to follow up with venues about details of the event, I had to pitch other places about possible events, I had to advertise, I had to prep for this week’s Dive Deep meeting, finishing up my notes and didn’t I want to find a short essay for us to read together?; I had email to respond to, books to mail, I really needed to take the dog for a long walk, I had to go pick up prescriptions at the drug store that would help me have more energy, for gods’ sake, if I could just get the energy to get in the car and drive down the fucking hill to the walgreen’s, I should really make a dentist appointment or, you know, find a dentist who will take my fucking insurance, I needed to respond to work posted by writers in my online group, and what else? Make deposits, submit forms to Intersection, bake, write up responses to interview requests, write a short essay for SFSU, read all 95 pages of my thesis-so-far so that I have something useful to contribute to my meeting with my advisor today, and anything else?

All of this would be a lot to try to get done on the days when I have All The Energy, but it all felt completely impossible yesterday. I did manage to bake, and get to Meridian, and work with seven brilliant writers, and that felt like a lot. Then I came home and just about completely disassembled. I sort of moved from room to room, with tea and, usually, something to eat, because if there’s anything that still works, if there’s a coping mechanism that I still get to have now that drinking myself into oblivion is off the table, there’ s food…

I managed to get little bits of work done. I showed up for my online office hours, though no one generally takes advantage of them. I read and responded to Dive Deep manuscripts. I replied to a few text messages, eventually, and a couple of emails, I think. All of that felt like a lot when I had to reach out of the tarpit of grief to reach the keyboard, when I had to unbunch the knot in my shoulders and articulate words when my head was still pounding. Otherwise, I sort of drifted. I tried to read, sat in the sun, watered plants. I laid down in the sun on the porch, and then later, I took a book into the bedroom and thought maybe I’d sleep there. Naps are nearly impossible for me on a good day, though, to say nothing of the days when the past is haunting all around me, extra visible, like a shroud, or an entourage.

(Of course, the news of the day was exceptionally helpful in getting me through my grief and loss and hopelessness and despair. The president wants to mount a military parade (probably literally). Men in Congress protest the resignation of a wife beater, saying, well, he never hit me, he was always perfectly nice to me, I think those women are liars; she could have gotten that black eye anywhere – but, sure, we’re in the middle of A Reckoning.)

I lay on the bed in the sun with a book and couldn’t keep my eyes open. The book was World Enough and Time, and I read about the kind of slowing down we do when we are grieving, or at least the author did when she was in the immediate aftermath of a big break up, how she moved slowly, spent years, in fact, just working enough to pay the bills but then reading, resting, walking, moving very slow. Meanwhile, I listened to my sweetheart in the other room, so competent and functional, making phone call after phone call while simultaneously responding to emails and posting interesting, useful, funny things to facebook. Comparison is the thief of joy, I try to remind myself, but then I just went to another part of the house, so I couldn’t hear her, and it would be easier not to beat myself up for not being more like her.

On Tuesday, before the show, before the crying, before the eruption of grief, I’d met my mother for lunch. She moved to the area last year, but I don’t see her all that often because she moved about two hours away (two hours when there’s no traffic, that is, which means never). We met in the middle (though she had to drive farther) and ate Indochinese noodles while talking about graduation ceremonies. I’m finally going to walk; when I graduate with my MFA, it will be the first time I’ve ever participated in a graduation ceremony or walked for a degree, I said. I meant for any of my higher-education degrees – I didn’t walk for my undergraduate degree, and my first MA was at an alternative program that is so small that the graduation ceremony was more like a barn dance (it was held in a barn, and, in fact, I think there was a dance after, right?). Anyway, my mom said, well, except for your high school graduation, and I realized in that moment that I had absolutely no memory of my high school graduation. I remember the tassel hanging on a corkboard in my room, but not the ceremony itself, which would have been enormous, because there were hundreds of students in my graduating class. My mother described how she felt like something was wrong, something was off, that day – it just seemed like I should have been celebrating with my friends, that it shouldn’t have been just the four of us – her, me, my sister, and my stepfather – at the Neon Goose for dinner after the ceremony.

I didn’t ask her why she didn’t ask me that day if anything was the matter, because I already knew the answer. I didn’t say, I didn’t have any friends by that point, because it wouldn’t really have contributed anything to the conversation. Then she said, And maybe I was just remembering my own graduation, how it wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, I couldn’t go out with my friends because we had to leave that night to go visit my brother in another state – which was how my stepfather manipulated her for so long: making her second-guess her instincts, her reactions, her parenting, insisting that she was too controlling, too overbearing, as a result of unfinished business from her own childhood. Even now, all these years later, knowing exactly what was going on that night at dinner after my high school graduation, and remembering how things felt weird for her, she doesn’t connect it to what she didn’t see or name, but the idea that she was just projecting onto me her own teenage disappointment. Even now she held open the possibility that I was having a really good time, everything was just fine, and the problem was all in her own mind.

I couldn’t say any of this, because it touches on the other enormous thing living in me, the vast continent of my anger, and I was just trying to make it through lunch and eat and make conversation and have some kind of relationship with my mom.

Later, on the phone while I was driving home, my sweetheart asked, How was lunch? The void opened up in me, and I couldn’t answer. What answer is there for that question, for all that lies beneath it? It was-, I said, and then I was quiet. It was-, I tried again. What words are there, what words exist for this thing that just happened, that I tried to do, what words signify when I go to lunch with her, when my sister has her over, when we are still in her life, when she is still in ours, even though – even though, even now, she seems not to be able to come out from under the weight of his brainwashing into the breadth and vastness of all that was lost. (And let me just lean on the passive voice there, please. I can’t be more direct than that today).

It was – good, I answer, finally. And then I try to explain how this happens whenever my sister and I talk about time with mom, how things are with mom. We fall into this void, I say. it happens to us both. It was – she is – we were – and then nothing. Our mouths go quiet, our throats empty, there’s nothing to say, there’re no words – maybe no words big enough, or clear enough, or specific enough for us enough to name this reality that exists among us whenever we share any sort of space in any way, all the history that enters the room with us that no one else can see or even seems to be conscious of, and so much of it is still unspoken, unspeakable. Whenever we try to just simply say how our visit was with our mom, all that stuff we couldn’t say, can’t say, all he told us never to speak, it clogs our throat, even still, twenty-five, thirty years later.

So I guess, of course it makes sense I was tired yesterday and I couldn’t get to that phone call or that email or write another pitch email or get excited about all the events I have coming up in Portland and Denver and Boulder that I need to let people know about. Right? I try to do the thing I invite others to do all the time — be easy with you. Be easy with you, Jen. Be easy with you out there. Sometimes the grief rides up and knocks you down and all you can do is feel it. Somedays you can’t just power through the way Americans are supposed to. Sometimes you’re more human than American. So be easy with you. Sit in the sun (or by the fire) with your tea and read a book if you can manage, and if you can’t, just watch the flames or the birds flicker around. Breathe in and out. Remember that crying is ok here, that you are ok here, no matter what you write or don’t write, no matter the emails you can’t respond to or the work you have to set aside for the moment. You are still ok, just being you. You get to feel this and know you are alive and made it through. You will get to the other side of this. But today there are tears, and that is ok, too.

It’s all practice — life,  I mean. Course correction. One more chance to get it right. Be easy with you, all right? And I will (try and) do the same. 

The Writing Ourselves Whole book tour!

Cover of Writing Ourselves Whole bookJen & the Writing Ourselves Whole book are headed your way!

This past weekend, I got to bring Writing Ourselves Whole to Portland, OR, for a stop at In Other Words Feminist Community Center, followed by a beautiful private house party.

The tour heads next to Colorado, then to New England and Southern California. 

If you’re based in any of these areas and would like to bring Writing Ourselves Whole to your school or organization or in for a house party, please let me know!

February 23-25: Pacific Northwest

Friday 2/23 Evergreen State CollegeCancelled.
Fierce Hunger: Writing Survivor Desire
A writing group with Jen Cross

Sunday 2/25 – In Other Words (Portland)
We are more than a hashtag
Reading and conversation with Jen Cross (1:30-3pm)

Sunday 2/25 – Private House Party (4pm)

 

March 3-5: Colorado

Saturday 3/3 – Boulder Bookstore
Writing as Radical Self-Care
A writing workshop with Jen Cross
Saturday, March 3 (my birthday!)
2-4pm
Tickets are $40, and include a copy of Writing Ourselves Whole
1107 Pearl St, Boulder CO
303-447-2047

Sunday 3/4 Tattered Cover Colfax Ave
Using the Power of Our Own Creativity to Recover and Heal From Sexual Trauma
Book Talk & Signing
2pm
2526 E Colfax Ave
Denver, CO

Monday 3/5 – Arapahoe Community College
“How I Became A Writer”

 

April 6-10: New England

April 6 – Boston; Amherst-Northampton, MA

April 7 – Amherst-Northampton, MA

April 8 – Providence, RI

April 9 – Hanover, NH

 

April 26-30: Southern CA

 

Watch this space for updates and more details! Can’t wait to connect with you out on the road.

Be easy with you, ok?

omg sex panic!

graffiti of a woman holding her cheeks and screaming Ok — here we go again. Bear with me, my friends.

Now that a very small handful of men have suffered some consequences for their sexually-assaultive behavior, we’re apparently heading into a witch hunt and on the cusp of a full-blown sex panic. No one is going to have sex any more, at least, not the way we have been or want to or like to. No one’s going to get to joke anymore, and all the men have to be worried that anything they say can be misconstrued, and they’ll get in trouble even though they didn’t mean anything bad by it. They are worried that they’re going to have to monitor their behavior, that they’re going to have to think before they speak, that they’re going to feel constrained in word and deed.

Welcome to the indoctrination every woman has gotten since birth, my friends.

News articles evoke the limits (the risks!) of believing women, the dangers ( if there’s any chance of any false reporting ever, we just shouldn’t believe any of them until we see some proof), the limits to challenging, changing, calling out and transforming rape culture.

I feel frustrated and tired and not even a little but surprised that so much of the media coverage, ostensibly about the pervasiveness of sexual violence in our country,  has turned to whether or not we can really believe women, and to what extent we really want to change our culture. Don’t we just want to focus on the few bad apples at the top? Do we really have to ask men to change their behavior at home and at work and on the bus and on the street and on military bases and in government and in school and on campus and in the fields and and and

Masha Gessen raised the specter of sex panics, evoking the language used during the early days if the AIDS crisis, when gay men (and straight women) were dying because the government refused to acknowledge that this disease was a problem, and the main message we got was to be afraid of sex because sex could kill you. Queer folks fought back against this fear-mongering, celebrating our bodies, laying claim to all the protection and latex barriers we needed: we deserve pleasure, we said, we deserve joy, desire, sex, whether with strangers or in a monogamous long-term coupling or with a good friend now and then — pretending to be straight married people was not going to save us. Money for research for a cure and a vaccine was going to save us, and with that not forthcoming, we were going to have to save ourselves.

This is not the situation we find ourselves in now. The situation we find ourselves in now is that men suddenly (after decades –even generations — of being told that their behavior was hurting women and other folks) are expected to be accountable — or maybe are just afraid of being held accountable — for their actions. This expectation has arisen in social media and on news channels for about five minutes, and now we’re asked to worry about a sex panic: All flirtation is about to come to a screeching halt because god forbid you flirt with someone at a bar and she didn’t want you to flirt with her and now she’s called the cops and ooh you’re in trouble!

Because that’s the world we live in. Where women are the problem.

The thing about the sex panic — please. I am trying to take it seriously, to respond thoughtfully, but it sounds like backlash and redirection to me, and I’m sorry to see so many women writers and reporters taking up the mantle of edgy and rebellious to sound the alarm. God forbid we expect folks to be intentional about their sex, their sexuality. But I’ll tell you what — the crisis for these men in the workplace (or college campus or in the home, or when training olympic gymnasts, or…) isn’t that they’re afraid they won’t get to have sex, but that they won’t get to do what they want, when they want, with impunity.

stencil graffiti of a screaming womanIt’s a power panic, not a sex panic my friends.

God forbid you should have to take some care around how you approach a potential sexual partner, or even a whole sexual encounter.  There are folks who apparently have no idea how hot it is for a partner to ask you if they can kiss you or if they can touch you, exposing their desire while also leaving room open for me to say no. That option to say no is as important as the option to say yes; I mean, if I can’t say no, then I can’t actually consent. I have no patience with people who freak out about the Antioch rules, who blubber that it’s just not going to be sexy if he (or they or she) has to say, every step of the way: Can I kiss you here? Do you want me to touch you here? Can I stroke this part of you? And when folks describe these steps, they use a mincing, mocking, emasculated (of course) tone, disrespectful toward any man who would deign to ask for sex. Because men – well, men are not supposed to ask for sex or anything else — they’re just supposed to take it. We’re hamstringing, even castrating, our men, turning them into (gasp) women.

Because it’s women who ask permission for things, right?

Imagine that scene played out with a whole different tone — breathless, obviously hungry, and vulnerable. Yikes. Scary, right?

I’m going to tell you right now that interactions like that one changed my life, my relationship to sex and sexuality, my desire to have sex, my sense of my own power, autonomy, integrity: all because it happened one day in college that a lover listened when I said no, even though she was hungry and wanting. That act, that moment, made yes an entirely different animal for me.

I feel no sympathy for men who are upset that their sexual lives are about to be upended because they can’t harass women with impunity anymore (for this particular moment in time). I feel no sympathy if you are looking at your own behavior and wondering if maybe you hurt your friends or coworkers or subordinates or classmates or former partners. I feel no sympathy if you are upset that now you need to be more cautious in your approach to sex.

(And why are we talking about sex panics when the focus has been sexual harassment in the workplace? Of course we should redirect attention away from the idea that women should be treated like human beings and not potential receptacles for your dick, should be treated like coworkers and not a visiting sorority party, are not at work to meet a husband, to complete a MRS degree, to find sex partners (there are so many apps for that now), or augment your workday by providing eye candy or “harmless” flirtation — nope, women are at work to work and get paid, just like you. What a concept. But apparently expecting men to put a lid on some fraction of their sexually-inappropriate behavior is akin to asking them to put on a chastity belt and sit in a corner with hands tied, mouth taped, sad and lonely and pathetic and emasculated — yikes — and is somehow going to cause the downfall of society because some people met at work and fell in love at work after they flirted or fooled around and now that’s not going to be allowed anymore and then no one will get together and no one will have any more babies and America is going to wither and die because we can’t grab the secretary’s ass anymore or ask her what kind of porn she likes.)

Here’s the difference between the behavior that’s being called out and those consensual relationships at work — the word consensual. That’s the difference. This isn’t something that should need explaining, and I don’t think it actually does — I think those who are raising the fear of witch hunts and sex panics know exactly what they’re doing. They’re doing what abusers (and apologists for abusers) always do when their behavior is called out and made visible, when someone tries to hold them accountable for their actions: they turn the tables and begin scrambling to put the blame on victims and accusers, on anyone who tells them that they are responsible for their actions, that they are responsible to not actively hurt the people in their lives.

That fourteen year old at the mall? She was asking for it. It’s her fault. It’s their fault. If you tell, everything’s going to fall apart, and it’s going to be all your fault.

These conversations don’t seem hard to me, and they don’t seem as complicated as this particular cultural moment wants to make them. Don’t rape anyone today. Don’t rape anyone when you go out into the world, or take someone out on a date, or go to a party, or go to church for your shift at the altar, or tuck your kids in to bed. It seems actually quite simple to me. 

And yet, these days, those whose power is under some small threat are trying to make us feel guilty or bad that they have been forced to attend, to some tiny extent, to the consequences of their actions. Witch hunt, folks are crying. What’s the quote I saw in a recent article: women have the power and now it’s the men who are afraid!!1!1! The tables have turned, we’re supposed to understand, and women are going to do to men what men have been doing to women since there have been such things as women and men in our cultural collective consciousness —

graffiti of woman screamingDogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Meanwhile, back in reality, let’s just have a look at the news, shall we? Parents are having endless children and chaining them to their beds. A man, over decades, sexually assaults over one hundred and fifty girls in the guise of gymnastic coaching. The pope, this new liberal pope we love, calls those who expect him to take real action on sexual abuse in his church stupid leftists. Teenage boys rape teenage girls and share the video live on social media.

 And yet, older “feminists” call younger women entitled or weak or whiny because they won’t just “take it” or — are you kidding me, Caitlin Flanagan? — insisting that when we were taught to keep our knees together, sure, it was sexist, but it taught us to stand up for ourselves, to slap someone who went too far, to keep a dime in our shoes so we could call for a ride home if our dates got too handsy — wait, what? Are we saying that, back in the day, girls weren’t raped or “pressured into having bad sex they didn’t really want?”

While we are busy worrying about whether Aziz Ansari is a dick to his sexual partners. women and children are being raped en masse in war zones across the world. Everytime you write about a Weinstein or a Cosby or a Allen, all those guys get is more press. This is not a Hollywood problem. When are we going to turn our attention to the cultural forces that trained the women who were drugged or raped by HW or BC, who taught those women what was expected of them, who touched them in their bedrooms or grabbed at them on the street or expected them to be available for the looking, the touching, the fucking? When are we going to turn our attention to our homes, our classrooms, our schools, our streets, to the so-called private places where parents are given leave to do whatever they want (because: parenting is sacrosanct! You can’t tell me what I can do in my own home! A man’s home is his castle!)?

What he did wasn’t as bad as HW, we say, so let’s just give hum seven or eight thousand more chances to get it right — he’s basically a good guy! He says good stuff in public! He does good work for the church! He didn’t mean it! It was just a joke! maybe he’s learned something!

Whatever. Let’s keep on excusing the behavior. That’ll do the trick,

It’s not as bad as  can easily be translated to, it’s the fucking baseline for. Aziz Ansari-type behavior is  just a little bit bad, right? Not so terrible, just a bad date — not like he forced her down and shoved his dick into her, right? Not like he threatened her job or to kill her or anything? So let’s give it a pass. Let’s let it get worse before we take any action.

Please pass this rationale on to the women brutalized or killed by male partners, women who went to the cops to try and get some protection only to be told, Well, what he’s doing isn’t technically illegal, and we can’t do anything until he breaks a real law. Harassing you endlessly, calling your phone so often you have to change numbers, stalking you at home and at work, threatening to take your kids, threatening to harm himself, even just intimating he might do you harm — well, that stuff’s not arrestable, He’s just kind of a jerk, right? Maybe don’t have gotten involved with him next time. That’ll fix you right up, honey.

Maybe let’s just give those guys a pass. They didn’t know it wasn’t ok to treat a woman like a receptacle, like it’s her entire job to give him sex, it’s her reason for existence.

He just didn’t’ know! No one ever told him! Well, now he’s gotten the message, I’m sure. And lots of other guys have, too — and here’s the message they’re getting: Keep on doing what you’re doing; there are women who will stand up for your right to be a shitty asshole when it comes to sex, especially if you’re kind of a good guy out in the world.

You understand (right?), that giving the Azizs and the Francos a pass is what builds the HWs. HW didn’t start out raping women over hotel couches. It doesn’t work like that. He built up slowly, and people gave him a pass, over and over and over and over and over again. He didn’t know it was wrong! He just went too far. He was just too handsy. Don’t be so sensitive. It’s just part of the job. Suck it up, little camper. Didn’t you say you wanted to be an actress?

I’m not saying, of course, that Aziz or James Franco or any other guy who pressures or shames or guilts a partner into sex is about to become our next mass rapist — who knows if they will. I’m saying some other things. I’m saying that when we excuse shitty behavior — whether or not it’s technically against the law — we normalize it, we make more room for it in our culture, we strengthen the baseline for more violent behavior, we reify rape culture.

It’s not that difficult to know when someone wants to have sex with you. But, of course, I’m over here trying to have a conversation about enthusiastic consent and women’s sexual agency, and over there, the rapists and rape apologists are on a different planet, one where men want sex when they want it, and women are there as catalysts or providers or receptacles, but the words yes and no don’t really come into the equation. They don’t really matter, they aren’t part of the game, because in this other game, women’s words don’t mean much, anywhere — in bed or in court or in the office. I’m trying to have nuanced conversations about consent with people who refuse to concede the capacity of women to consent, or that consent is something that matters in sex, or that a woman’s desire is something they should take into consideration at all.

This is a distraction, this talk of sex panics — let’s obfuscate the issue so that we don’t have to respond to what’s really being said, which is that it is unacceptable to subject anyone to unwanted sexual behavior, and if you do it, there are (maybe) going to be (sort of) negative consequences (for a few perpetrators), but at least the conversation is louder, and a little more difficult, for the moment, to ignore.

~~ ~~ ~~

I’m hoping, soon, to be able to write about something else here. In my notebooks, I’m writing fairy tales and novel chapters. What about you? What creative projects are percolating around the edges of your rage and fear? What words will you offer into the world today?

 

I can’t even — ok, well maybe I can

Picture of little white girl sitting crosslegged, looking at a bluebird, beneath the words, "If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit! -Banksy"Good morning, good morning.

Deep breath. Ready? Ok.

One more time. I’m going to try one more time to write this post. Hang on — this is a long one.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, who is in a tough work situation. He is well-spoken, articulate, smart, and has decades of experience in his work, yet whenever he speaks with his boss (someone who consistently undermines and then gaslights him), he gets tongue-tined, feels silenced, mute. There’s nothing I can say, he tells me. I feel stupid, practically like a child.

I nodded as he spoke, then said to my friend, this sounds so much like the relationship I was in seven years ago — by the end, I told him. I was convinced that I was actually a terrible communicator, that I literally did not have the ability to communicate with other people, that there was not just something wrong with my ability to connect, to convey my thoughts and to interact with another person through words, but that I had deluded myself into thinking  that I could communicate well.

My friend looked wide-eyed at me, so surprised, given that I center my life and work around deep and open communication. I laughed at myself and the situation, maybe a little more gently than I’ve done in the past — maybe I’m beginning to forgive myself.

I tried to explain to my friend what I’d learned from the analyst I was seeing back just before I left that relationship — that my ex had created a closed system around us, and I had to agree to the terms he set for this system, or I was violating the system and harming him. Either I agreed with his worldview and outlook or I was against him. Layer on top of that insinuations of (my) racism and classism, as well as my history, and you can see why I was in knots and, like my friend, tongue-tied for the better part of eight years.

Unfortunately, this mirrored another relationship I’d been in, the one with my mother’s second husband. Closed system, setting the terms of the conversation, the debate, setting the very terms for reality — and you either agreed, or took your life and the lives of those closest to you in hand.

I have been experiencing a similar tongue-tied-ness, muteness, around our entire public “conversation” about sexual violence in the last couple of months.

Yesterday I went back through a big handful of blog posts I’d started and abandoned, twenty pages of stops and starts, of trying to get in, of trying to figure out what I wanted to say about each new major issue that bubbled to the top of our media frenzy about rape culture: the hierarchy of violence (is it really that bad if he’s not Harvey Weinstein?); the idea of a witch hunt; the fear of a sex panic; women suddenly having all the power and wielding it indiscriminately (unlike men, of course), bringing down any guy who just happened to look at them wrong or who, you know, shamed or cajoled or pressured or guilted or threatened them into sex; female sexual agency (what’s that?); enthusiastic consent — so many important issues about which I have a great deal to say, and yet each post would trail off after some thousand words or more, and I’d be unable to bring it to a close, unable to find a particular point I wanted to make.

I often look back on a particular phone call I had with my stepfather, late in his abuse of me

 

and my sister. I was in college, a junior at that point; it would be almost a year before I was able to get away from him. I was at a payphone on the first floor of my dorm, a newer, non-descript building that felt like a cavern every time I walked in the doors. In my memory, I am clinging to the black receiver like I’m holding onto a life raft. My stepfather has said the word incest, he has used the word: Sure, it’s incest (technically, he probably clarified), but it’s only a problem because of this repressive, sex-negative culture we live in.

I didn’t hear much else during that call.  He used the word, the one he’d denied and avoided for all the years he’d been assaulting me. He claimed it, took it away from me — he would not allow that word to have any power. And I understood several things: He knew exactly what he was doing, and what he’d been doing for years; I was not crazy to think he knew he was harming us; and he wasn’t going to allow me to talk my way out of this, though he’d pretended to offer me that possibility for years. He would always reshape the terms of the debate to serve him, to favor his interpretation, to keep himself in the right and in power and in our beds, There was nothing I could say to make him acknowledge my experience or admit his wrongdoing.

Photo of a poster that reads Mister, Mister Get your laws off my sister, above an image of the woman's symbol with a fist at the center

So we come back around to why it’s been so difficult to talk or engage in writing in this larger public conversation — do I have to use the hashtag? — about rape and sexual violence and male power and privilege and entitlement. The trouble is that this is another closed system: if you want to enter the conversation, you have to agree to the rules of the game — and the rules are, you have to let them frame the conversation, and you have to talk about what they want to talk about, the way they want to talk about it, if you want to be heard (or delude yourself that you will be heard).

This is where I got stuck. I don’t agree to the terms.

I said to a friend, it’s like a theoretical mathematician having to talk about something they know intimately and in profound depth, but they are only allowed to use the terminology of second-grade arithmetic. We are still only able, or allowed, to talk about violence against women (and children, and others) in incredulous, lurid, simplistic terms.

I saw a quote recently on the facebooks —  it said something about it being ok not to engage in arguments with people who are determined to misunderstand you. We who are insisting that rape culture harms absolutely everyone are being asked to define our terms and defend our positions over and over, endlessly, made to prove our points, to offer evidence in the form of our experiences and our bodies, repeatedly, to those who will, every time, find ways to deliberately misunderstand or misconstrue or misdirect or straight up deny what we’re saying, simply because they don’t want to have to be accountable for their behavior or make any changes in their lives or thinking. The hope is that, if we have to explain ourselves over and over (and over and over and over and over) and over again, eventually we will get tired (as I have gotten tired) and just go away and let things stay the way they’ve been for, oh, I don’t know, millennia.

It’s not that hard. Folks who have power don’t want to let go of it — any of it. Neither the rapist nor the rape apologist, neither Trump nor Sarah Sanders, wants to give up the power they’ve got in this culture. There’s power in being able to shape the conversation, the narrative, to demand that your accusers, those insisting on cultural change, prove their very right to speak endlessly, until they are exhausted.

So, in order to enter the conversation, I have to accede, accept, the terms that, for instance, it makes sense that a radio announcer in 2018 will state, breathlessly, that we’re seeing sexual harassment in all sorts of workplace environments (what, really?) — or accept the idea that a hashtag constitutes a movement (thereby agreeing to ahistoricize it, pretend like we just got started, decontextualize it from, let’s say, feminism and the generations of women (and others) who have named sexual violence and its harmful effects, demanding something better.  I have to agree that there’s a hierarchy of sexual violence and then weigh in on whether someone who isn’t systematically torturing victims over decades is really doing something all that bad; I have to agree that rich, white women started this “movement”; I have to hop up and down, the little kid in the back of the classroom, saying Ooh ooh ooh, me too! Me too! Hey, me too!

Even if I don’t agree on the terms, I have to agree to debate them — to discuss them, if I want my contribution to be even remotely relevant.

But these conversations are so ludicrous to me that I can’t even engage them seriously. A sex panic? Honestly? A witch hunt? Weighing the relative violence of acts that don’t violate criminal law (but are obviously deeply problematic/ impactful/harmful and create lasting impact, and undergird a system of violence that supports more violent acts)? Are you kidding me with this?

How to enter the conversation if you don’t agree to the terms of the debate? Maybe you don’t.

I’ve had this trouble for years. There are simply debates I can’t enter. I won’t talk with you about the relative merits of Lolita. I won’t discuss how great William Burroughs’ Queer was (because I haven’t read it, and frankly, I’d rather not have him in my queer lineage at all, thank you very much), you know, in spite of the fact that he shot his wife in the head (as though that were a side note in his life, a quirk, a small biographical detail). Is it even sort of of ok for a guy to have sex with a girl who’s drunk and not actively shoving him off her because she’s too out of it? Nope. Is it ok that David bowie had sex with children? Nope.

I am not your girl for those discussions. (But no worries — there are many thousands of folks who will talk about these things, so no one’s missing out on anything.)

It’s not just that I don’t agree on the terms of the debate — I don’t even agree that any of this is debatable.

I can’t engage seriously in any conversation that begins with, “Why is it difficult for women to come forward about experiences of sexual harassment at work?”

I can’t take seriously a “movement” to end sexual violence globally when it’s centered around rich (mostly) white women with access and power and is supposed to, what, trickle down to the rest of us?

I can’t take seriously any panic about witch hunts and male fear when children are still being raped in their beds across the planet, and the pope still protects the rapists in his ostensibly-Christian ranks.

I just can’t even.

You understand this feeling, the I can’t even feeling. I think anyone who has experienced or is experiencing oppression, and seeks to create change or simply have the reality of their situation recognized, acknowledged, for what it is, can understand this feeling.

I can’t even lives on the other side of the tongue-tiedness, but is mostly spoken to those who stand with us, who can hear is, who understand all that we are not saying, who read us without our even having to speak. Because having to speak the same fucking things over and over, having to reaffirm our humanity and the violence done to us, having to articulate, again, the harm that violence did and does, is exhausting. It takes work not to fall into the crazy-making mire of gaslighting and but-what-abouts and reverse oppression and backlash … I can’t even comes before the deep breath, the closed eyes, the sigh, the restating what we have been saying for decades, generations:

Yes, this entire system was set up to serve and protect those in power, by those in power. It’s just that simple.

I’m sorry, William Macy and Frank Bruni, if it’s hard to be a white man in this moment (well, at least in these conversations — are you having a lot of trouble, as powerful white men, outside of discussions involving racism or sexual violence? I didn’t think so). That’s not quite true, of course. I’m not sorry. Because I don’t believe it’s hard. I believe you’re experiencing some discomfort, sometimes, in some conversations. And that’s discomfort you can choose to feel or not; you can step out of the conversation. You can turn to another part of your life and never have to think about these things. The people who are inviting you to feel this discomfort? They — we — can’t step away.

I have been feeling “I can’t even” several times a day, most days, if I choose to engage in any media consumption whatsoever, for months now. And then I take that deep breath and close my eyes and sigh and pick up my hands and drop them on the keyboard and try to engage and find myself frozen. It’s not fear that freezes me, I suppose, but rage. The NYT magazine this weekend has a piece about female rage, about how and when (and which) women “get” to be angry, and how readily angry women are dismissed from any conversation.

Folks who’ve been oppressed for generations aren’t supposed to be angry about it — we are supposed to forgive and move forward with our oppressors. Women of all races; folks of color; queer folks — forgive and move on! Things are better now! Don’t be so angry. Why are you so angry? Don’t you know if you bring anger into the room, no one will take you seriously? You’ll just make people uncomfortable.

And anyway, what do you have to be angry about, women? Some men who abused women have been fired! You got what you wanted! Some men are — well — thinking about their language sometimes, in mixed company. Isn’t that the revolution you were looking for?

What I noticed was that a lot of those blog posts I started and then abandoned were really fucking angry. I am so tired of having to DEBATE the relative harm of different forms of sexual violence in a culture that is built on and shaped to protect male sexual entitlement, hello. Every piece of it, that is, every instance of sexual violence feeds the system, and tangles with every other instance. Every Aziz Ansari who we dismiss as not that bad and just needs to learn and didn’t know he was doing the wrong thing is laying the groundwork for a Harvey W., and is communicating to every woman everywhere what she can expect, or what she has to defend or armor up against, if she wants to have sex with men or masculine people.

If we repeat it enough, will you hear us? It doesn’t seem likely, but we keep saying it, just not for you — but for us. For those among us who need to know that we are not crazy for being outraged or triggered every time we turn on the news; that there’s nothing wrong with us for expecting our sexual partners to treat us like human beings who deserve respect and even adoration; that there’s nothing wrong with us for having expected those who were tasked with the job of raising and protecting us to do just that and only that; and that there’s nothing wrong with us for wanting a break from the litany of abuse stories sometimes — it doesn’t make us bad survivors, or unsupportive.

Sometimes you have to leave the room, quit trying to talk to people who will insist on misunderstanding you so that they can exhaust you into submission and silence. Sometimes you have to shift into another part of the house, with people who are interested in a different kind of conversation.

Be easy with yourselves out there, ok? Write hard, write whatever the fuck you want to, as angry as you want to write it, and then take yourself out for some ice cream or popcorn or even a non-food-related treat (which I just can’t seem to be able to imagine at the moment). I am grateful for each of you out there, and stand with you in the moments when you can’t speak, when you choose not to,  and in the moments when you do. Thank you for your words today.

Brief Write Whole postponement and more…

Just a quick note! We have had to briefly postpone the start of our Winter Write Whole session – we now begin next Wednesday, 1/17! We still have a few spaces available in that group, so contact me if you’d like to join us!

Here’s what we’ve got coming up this month:

~Write Whole: Survivors Write
Open to women sexual trauma survivors
8 Wednesday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm,
January 17-March 7

o In the *Write Whole: Survivors Write* workshop, you’ll gather with other trauma survivors to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words! Remember: we’re open to all women, and ‘survivor’ is self-defined! Fee is $375; partial scholarships are available for all trauma-centered writing groups. 

~Meridian Writers
A general-topic group open to all writers – begins tomorrow!
8 Wednesday mornings, 9:30am-12:00pm, beginning January 10

o *Meridian Writers* invites you to join a community of writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. Find your center and write your story. Coffee and/or tea will be provided, as well as light snacks (sometimes even including homemade bread). At the end of our eight weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of new writing. Spaces are limited to 9 writers per workshop session. Fee: $425. Fees from this workshop support scholarships for Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.

~Writing the Flood
Drop in and write!
Third Saturday of every month, 1-4:30pm
Except for this month, when we meet on January 27 (because: women’s marches on 1/20!)

o *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. Fee for this workshop is $25-50, sliding scale.

Join us!

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

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

um … this is not a witch hunt

painting of Baba Yaga in her cauldron, flying over a green field

If it’s a witch hunt you want, let’s get Baba Yaga on the job…

Good morning, good morning. It’s very quiet here, except for the wind, which is a rush and howl through the trees, up the hillside. The eucalyptus dance like coral underwater. It’s all so beautiful, except that these same winds are whipping up the fires in Southern California, just as they did in Sonoma. What a painful, frightening, difficult season.

We had a beautiful launch event for the Writing Ourselves Whole book on Tuesday night: the room was full of support and … many folks took photos and video; we’ll get some clips up on the Writing Ourselves Whole YouTube channel soon (which, for the moment, is mostly Sophie videos :).

~~ ~~ ~~

 I get a little bit nervous whenever I hear folks, especially a group of men, talk about all the sexual harassment scandals (“scandals”) in the news right now. There’s panic in the streets because a very, very small handful of men have been called out publicly and some even smaller number are suffering some negative consequences (golden parachutes, extensive paid “leaves of absence” and the like don’t really qualify as negative in my book, though). A tiny number of sexual assailants have lost their jobs.

But this tiny number is greater than zero, and so now we are hearing men raise the alarm about a witch hunt.

A witch hunt. If that doesn’t add insult to injury.

If I am to understand this phrase in this context correctly, what those who use it seriously mean is that they’re afraid that women will look around them and see evidence of sexual violence behind almost any action a man makes, no matter how innocuous or innocent—every joke, every hand on the shoulder (omg Garrison Keillor), every even side-glancing reference to sex will be used as evidence that a man is akin to the most violent back alley knife wielding rapist (as though those are the rapists and violators most of us really have to be afraid of), and they’ll be pilloried ion social media and maybe even asked to look at their behavior, asked to (gasp!) reconsider their actions and act differently in the workplace or even with friends or — oh no — at home! They might even lose their jobs!

Do you know what they won’t be? Killed, like accused witches were.

Do you know who got (and still gets) witch-hunted? Women.  To draw a comparison between what is happening to an almost infinitely-small percentage of sexual abusers the world over and the murder of over ten million women who were stoned, drowned, raped, hanged, burned alive, tortured , or otherwise killed or maimed—very likely, in not a few of those millions of cases, because they refused a man’s sexual advances—is almost beyond-the-pale insulting.

Using “witch hunt” in this current cultural moment, is intended to diminish the actual historical atrocity that the phrase describes while simultaneously elevating the status and pain of those few, overly-powerful men who have, for this moment, at least, been brought low (-ish). We are intended to see them as persecuted without cause, and we are asked to be very careful in our accusations toward additional men, lest we fall into the same trap that men did (not all that long ago, actually).

Do what we say, the patriarchy tells us, not what we do.

I’d like the assailants and their apologists to find another phrase. Call your fear something else. Sexual-abuser hunt, maybe. It’s simple, direct, clear… just what you want in a slogan.

The reason this phrase is being used right now, of course, is to make women and other survivors more afraid of coming forward—it’s meant to paint them with the witch-hunter’s brush. Of course it’s the accusers we should be looking at with suspicion, the victims who are speaking out now (and have been speaking out for decades, and longer) and finally being attended to and believed (well, sometimes, and some of them, and not really), and not men who have been raised in a culture that indoctrinates them into the belief that they get to do what they want with their body or anyone else’s body.

Asking men to reconsider this indoctrination, to shift their conception of masculinity, and to stop fucking, touching, easing or threatening with or through sex is not akin to witch hunting.

Don’t let them fool you. This is not a witch hunt. This is a truth telling, and it’s barely even begun.