prejudice and rethinking

mural of young woman bunching up huge numbers of calla lilies for marketToday I woke up from a dream about us living in a house here in town, one we haven’t been able to see inside of yet: in the dream, I could see the big, fat calla lily in the front yard. I’ve been having a hard time getting enough sleep, and somehow managed to wake up, get out of bed, when my 2nd alarm went off just after 6. I spend most of the morning spinning about my to-do list, which I am best able to tackle early in the morning. With this day job, I spend the bulk of my best and most creative working hours either getting ready for work or in commute — by the time I get to the office, the yoke of the day has set in.

What would it be like if this were my priority, the workshops, writing about the workshops? Have I told this story already? The person who controlled and sexually abused me/my family from 1982 until 1996, when he went to prison, my mother’s second husband, was a therapist — both he and my mom worked with kids who had been sexually abused. This has meant that I have been suspicious of all therapists — all therapists. Even my sister, now, I ask myself — yes, maybe even her. And this is why, named just this week by my former employer: because of my prejudice. I myself have felt it to be a fully-justified prejudice, but it’s a prejudice nonetheless, a preconceived opinion about every therapist I meet, at least momentarily, that isn’t based in any knowledge about that person. Yes, there are lots of shitty and manipulative therapists — and there are lots of shitty and manipulative and abusive teachers and clerks and computer programmers and… abusers aren’t limited to the realm of the transformative/healing arts.

Let me be gentle with it: this prejudice, like an armor, kept me safe — I needed to question and work to trust anyone who called themselves a therapist; I didn’t want just anyone thinking they could get at my brain. I still don’t. I know what they can do — ok, what some people who call themselves therapists can do with the skills and knowledge they have been entrusted with.

Given this prejudice, what does it mean, then, if I am successful as someone who walks with and witnesses folks through their own transformational processes? You’ll notice I am careful not to use the word therapeutic (which, yes, has medical connotations at the root, but also means, in our current idiom, that which is healing  or helps maintain health): this deep desire not to be one of them. Not to be him.

What does it mean, suddenly, that I can envision myself doing one-with-one work with people around their struggles to find language for their stories, to find words for what wasn’t allowed words, to access their own, individual, brilliantly creative languagings and tellings for the unsayable? Is that part of what feels like it’s crumbling inside?

What does it mean to release a prejudice?

These are the questions that I want to take to school: how is it that we humans are shaped by/created by language — how does that occur? What happens to that languaged self (and how does this happen for people differently in different situations at different ages) when we are traumatized? What happens, neuro-linguistically or psycho-linguistically or socio-linguistically, during an expressive and witnessed/communal writing practice, for folks who have experienced trauma? What’s the connection between our being language and our embodiment? What’s the erotics of a languaged self, an ability to express our desire? I’m desperate to get Lacan and Pennebaker talking, Foucault and Pat Schneider, Carol Queen and Audre Lorde and Saussure and Kristeva and Califia and more.

What about a prompt: A prejudice is any preconcieved notion, positive or negative, formed about a person, place, thing or idea without experiencing them/it directly. What are your character’s prejudices — what does she believe about certain people or places without needing to meet them or go there? Does she know that all liberals are kind to animals, that all people who drive Priuses care about the ocean, that all 7-11 clerks are slackers? What prejudices has she released over the course of her lifetime? How did she come to understand that she had a prejudice, and then decide to let those go? Let yourself meet those inside places that shape her vision, shape how she interacts with the world, even without conscious knowledge.

Thank you for your wisdom, the way you have allowed your experiences to guide you to this now, and the ways you have been resilient around questioning your beliefs and letting new information in, growing and stretching and holding on. Thank you for your dense and thick creativity, for your amazing words.

2 responses to “prejudice and rethinking

  1. Wonderful Post. I hold mine close- the ones I learned from my childhood- To this day I never stop looking at cars at the cross walks, even if their light is red. I don’t trust that they won’t run me down. The people I trust- I trust as much as I can.
    But these things I learned kept me on the planet so even as I think it through (and I’ll keep on thinking on it) I will keep some of my mistrust of things, people, even certain ideas in my pockets.
    They are things I learned to stay alive. Is it time to let them go? Maybe. I am smiling now because you make me think hard on these things and question a bit-

    But I’m old and stubborn and prickly so I might just hold on to them awhile longer. I like what you’ve given me to think on and I am so grateful for what you’ve shared.

  2. Sarah Williams-Devereux

    Hi Jen!

    We met at the TLA Conferences in 2009 and 2010. I’ve been reading your blog recently, and love your writing.

    I just wanted to say this–you mention that you don’t want to “be him.”

    After knowing you for only those few days in the autumn, I do know this:

    You couldn’t “be him” if you tried for a million lifetimes. Your spirit is kind and loving and strong and holds every living thing as if it were the most sacred, precious thing on Earth (and reminds it that it is so).

    So, you may not be a therapist by “his” definition, or even society’s–but you are one by *your own definition* you create everyday.

    Love and blessings,
    Sarah