Last Monday I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation a couple weeks ago. Welcome to day four!
4. Has [art/writing] been healing for you personally? If so, how?
(I started answering this question more generally last time – now let me get into some specifics about my own experience of healing through writing.)
Writing saved my life. Isn’t that true for so many of us? If I hadn’t had that outlet back when I was 20 and 21 and trying to figure out what had really happened to me, trying to come to a new sense of myself in relationship to words like ‘woman,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘incest,’ ‘gay,’ and more, I wouldn’t have had any outlet at all, and I think I would have slipped fully into the word ‘crazy.’
I was someone who’d been trained out of the ability to be a friend, had been instructed to trust no one, did not open my deepest thoughts to even my significant others. The person who knew me best in the world, during my adolescence and very young adulthood was the man who’d been sexually abusing me, and even him I didn’t tell everything, despite his very thorough attempt to convince me that he could read my mind, so I might as well tell him what I was thinking since he knew anyway and thus could tell if I wasn’t – it was a measure of my trustworthyness, right?
(On a side note, I recently found this semi-satirical video about mind control “made easy” via bOING bOING and it felt weirdly familiar, even through my wincing laughter.)
The only safe place, I figured out, was the page. I came to realize that he couldn’t get in there (nor, really, could he get into my mind), and so everything came out, messy, jumbled, exploratory, raging, sorrowful, desiring, lusting…
Writing helps me to figure out what I know, what I think. I follow the philosophical lineage of Natalie Goldberg, freewriting daily, following any surprising or ridiculous though, getting it down onto the paper, moving on, not stopping to analyze or decipher, just writing, just writing, just writing. It’s exercise and meditation, it’s possibility and dreaming, it’s sometimes just working my way through the mire.
Writing also has brought me back into a sense of possibility around my sexuality. I initially started writing sex stories “for” my stepfather, but continued it for myself.
This is something I wrote in an (as yet unpublished) essay called “Blame it on Macho Sluts,” about how sex writing has been transformative for me:
When writing, however, I find it easier to get around the boundaries of my sexuality, because I am not directly confronting my own issues. Instead, I sit behind my character’s eyes and come in through the back door to the safety and power of my sexual self. I find solidarity with others, and their troubling desires, their struggles to break through the confines of particular identities. I am able find a home for their desire. In so doing, I may open a door for a reader who had no name for her desire, but felt it or thought it nonetheless. Hell, I might find a home for that desire within myself! When I first read “Jesse” in Macho Sluts I felt [Califia] had presented a mirror to me in the form of my damp and squirming thighs as I read (and reread). In the privacy of my little dorm room, a voice inside my head was saying, “Look at yourself. There’s something here you ought to pay attention to.” No one was around to laugh at me, to scorn or ridicule me, so I could consider this new aspect of my desire that had revealed itself to me. I had language to use, later, when discussing my reaction to the story (and others) with the aforementioned friend, as well. This is what smut writing can do: Help us, as readers and writers, to know ourselves better.
Often, writing smut in and of itself is sexual, is sex, for me. When I am writing well, porn writing brings me into the heart of my own [sex], brings me into my power and fear and lust and desire, and simultaneously into the core of ones I have loved enough to know intimately. This writing is a means through which I continue to heal myself: when my body feels broken and unredeemable, when I am afraid that I will never again be wildly and joyfully sexual, I remind myself that I am wildly and joyfully sexual when I write. I take steps to bring the scenes I imagine (some of them, at least) into the reality of my bedroom.
Yes, writing has been healing for me, and continues to be healing for me! Writing in community, as a last point, is consistently transformative, particularly when I’m writing in an AWA method workshop space: not only am I free to write openly, to follow my writing wherever it seems to want to go, but after I write, I know I’m going to get to read the brand new, heart-just-set-to-beating, piece of writing aloud, and I’m going to have folks tell me what stays with them of what they heard.
This is a powerful experience, every week, of a deep hearing: I tell my story (whatever bit of story got written, fiction or non-fiction, regardless!), I am witnessed (uninterrupted) in that telling, and then folks say what they heard and liked – often I am surprised by what someone liked, “Really? That? Huh…” And then I get to participate in the same sort of hearing for other writers/artists. In my own life, I find that there are so few opportunities to really completely focus on someone else, with no interruptions or distractions, or to be so attended to. For those of us who are survivors—or, truly, for anyone who has felt unheard in their lives, this experience can be terrifying at first, at second, at third (or, you know, at least it was for me!), and, simultaneously, a powerful gift: Oh. I am worth listening to. There’s good stuff in what I have to say, think, create.
This experience can change everything. And has. So, yes, writing (and writing community) is healing for me, still and always.
What about for you?