Back in November, 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. Here’s my answer for day 9!
9. What inspires you the most about your workshops?
I’m consistently inspired by these two facts: The ongoing reminder that every person has artistic brilliance inside that is seeking an outlet, and that community can web together to support one another – that we can collaborate around healing and individual/social transformation without needing MSWs or other clinical degrees. These have something to do with one another.
Have I mentioned this here before? Pat Schneider says in her book, Writing Alone and With Others, “What I believe is not what everyone believes. It is this: There is no place for hierarchies in the heart, and the making of art is a matter of the heart. Art is the creative expression of the human spirit.”
This is what I believe: Give us safe space, a room of our own (with or without safe others) and we will create change in our lives. We can be safe and explore what it means to lie and truth our way to safety, to lie our way home. We must take what we need to continue the process of survival, which is ultimately a process of resistance: the pen the paper the time the space the cafe or bedroom or kitchen table the 3 a.m. living room the subway train the cemetery the laundromat the whatever you need.
I’m working as a part of an alternative healing movement seeking to provide and facilitate spaces for self-empowerment, which might be witnessed and supported/encouraged by others on a similar journey. I struggle whenever anyone refers to the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops as “therapy.” If anything, I’d like to be known simply a writer and a group facilitator/participant. I do this work with survivors of sexual trauma and around sexuality/erotic writing because I believe in its effectiveness, and because I’d like to continue to have available to me and others like me the options of non-clinical healing/transformative process and practice.
I’m interested in what a specifically non-clinical model of Transformative Language Arts (TLA) can accomplish. I’m interested in transformative/healing modalities that will not reproduce the old analytic model, will not appropriate the language of clients and masters, will not capitulate to professionalizing drives that are infiltrating social service agencies around the country. What can we do when we come together with people, with mutual respect, with a give-and-take of information, with a possibility of mutual ex/change? Those in power will work to rewrite us broken bodies back into some semblance of (their) normalcy. They don’t want us rocking the boat.
Together, we who participate in these writing groups engage in the communal creation (and continual re-creation) of a space that allows for risk, performance and play. As a participant, I struggle to make clear for the rest of the writers: I will take the same risks you will. I will trust you to cherish what of myself I offer, and I will be open to your feedback. I have something at stake here, personally, just as you do. This willingness, in my experience, allows for a leveling of the power in the room–which is transformative in itself. (It also, of course, comes with its own difficulties.)
When we, whether or not we’re survivors or sexual trauma, come together this way—-assiduously working to remain aware and respectful of the differences among us, and share our words—-we have the opportunity to acknowledge our individual places of beauty and strength, both because we listen to our own poetic phrasing and descriptions, and because others tell us what is beautiful and strong for them in the writings we offer. We hear, witness, and open (to) the splendor in ourselves and in others. There is transformation in those moments, particularly when we who have spent years reiterating to ourselves the lessons of ugliness that we learned at our abusers’ hips are able to acknowledge beauty in ourselves.
The truth is, those interested in liberating themselves and each other from the weight of oppression must be involved in the process, the development, of any education or liberating strategy. Education cannot be bestowed. Wellness cannot be bestowed. Liberation cannot be bestowed. These are all processes in which one must be continually and consciously engaged.
We must have multiple possibilities, routes, and paths of transformation and life change. As soon as we who are “alternative” start bending ourselves to look more “respectable” and “acceptable” to the mainstream, the alternative has thrown up its hands to governmental organizations, to the drug corporations and lobbyists, to the medical doctors and to The Old Mothers and Fathers.
And so I’m privileged to have the opportunity to walk alongside and sing the songs that rise when we are all similarly invested in a process of transformation. Instead of grabbing the shreds of authority that Power pretends to offer those of us interested in healing work, along with the false promise of more control (and more money!, they say) in the future as long as we follow their rules, I would rather continue to experience the empowerment and full-bodied joy of the deep connection and conversation that occurs when folks walk their transformation side-by-side.
Take me backward into your dreams and let me watch you stumble. Your language is yours alone, the sounds of your body the stretch and wrinkle of your face the wrinkled words and nods, shrugs and shivers and shifts of eyeballs. You don’t know that you know your own way and I cannot tell it for you. I can take your hand, though, and promise not to leave you while you float in your own waters, while you choke down the nausea of history in your instance to see the clownfish and schools of yellowtail floating around the coral of yourself.
What has inspired you about workshops you’ve participated in and/or facilitated?