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Listing: one more of the tricks of the “trade”

AHN logo - spiraling us together!I had such a great experience writing in response to the Arts and Healing network interview questions over the last several months — and I was also, finally, motivated to regularly update this blog.

So, at 6:30am while I was working on my morning pages, I jotted down some more questions I’d like to answer (or begin to answer!) about my work, the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops, the uses of art, and more…

It ends up tricking me into posting more regularly — we’ve got to do what we determine will work to get us around our blocks and internalized naysayers, don’t we?

So, here are some of the questions I’d love to explore in more depth:

  • Why don’t I call what I’m doing ‘therapy’?
  • How do silences/silencings in one area of our lives affect the rest of our lives?
  • What’s the psychological/social effect of transformative writing in community?
  • How does trauma change the way we “know” things, and then how does art both accommodate and help to reshape that new knowledge/way of knowing (ontology?)
  • How do we get started with transformative writing?
  • What does art, experiencing and creating art, do to our brains?
  • Why would anyone want to write about sex in a group of strangers?
  • What do people who’ve been in the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops have to say about them?
  • What’s the difference, psychologically/neurologically, between the creation of visual and verbal art?
  • How can writing be a spiritual practice? What’s our definition of “spiritual practice”? Does it need to be a spiritual practice? Can writing ever not be spiritual?
  • Reconsidering ‘recovery’ – tangling with the voice that says, “I want to get back to where/who I was before this happened.”

    These are some of the questions tickling the inside of my brain these days, and getting them out there in front of you provides me with some more impetus to actually tackle them.

    I’ve had a lot of my old cognitive science interests re-emerging recently, in particular around the neurophysiology and social/sociological effects of trauma and of trauma recovery through transformative writing (in particular — though any expressive art, in general).

    What about you? What questions do you have about the writing experience, about expressive or healing arts, about Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists writing workshop method, about erotic writing, or…? Please let me know — and we can add them to the list!

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    Podcast Answers, Day 10 – What’s giving you hope?

    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 10!

    10. What gives you hope right now?

    A kuffiya 'ribbon' in solidarity with Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon; image from http://www.reziststicker.com/stickers.htm This has been a hard question for me to answer. I’ve been slipping between feeling very hopeful and deeply hopeless and heartsick – there are beautiful moments and possibilities and still horrors inflicted in every moment and how can we talk about hope except that without even the mention, the word, I think we lose everything.

    Every week, the sort of writing *and* the sort of communal engagement and solidarity manifested at the writing workshops gives me hope that we can create the space we need for deep change and amazingly honest openness in our worlds/lives —

    And then there are other places of hope for me:
    1. Resistance to empire and other hierarchies of power.
    2. Lemon squeezed into water.
    3. Hot coffee in the morning.
    4. The way some folks are willing to make eye contact with strangers while walking through downtown San Francisco on a weekday morning.
    5. The cracking open and brilliance of emotion and voice that happens in the writing workshops; the deep open-hearted kindness of folks’ responses to one another; the joy we receive in recognizing the artists in each other, and having recognized the artists in ourselves.
    6. (The very possibility of) Laughing with my lover after some difficult weeks.
    7. My sister. just her.
    8. The way friends can reach out across years and miles and difference and still create a net for me to fall into, even when I think I don’t deserve it.
    9. The fact that our local farmer’s markets are still going strong.
    10. All the folks who are writing and reading. Everyone telling their stories everywhere. I mean it.

    There’s more, and less, but this is my count for now.

    What’s giving you hope right now? I mean, in this minute?

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    Podcast with Arts and Healing Network is up!

    The podcast that Britt Bravo and I recorded back in Nov is up on the Arts and Healing Network! Just before I got on the road to head down to LA for Thanksgiving, Britt and I talked transformative writing, writing as a healing practice, expressive arts, erotic writing for survivors of sexual trauma, Pat Schneider‘s Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method, and more!

    Of course, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions? What did I leave out? What’s true for you about these topics?

    Jen Cross of Writing Ourselves Whole on the Arts and Healing Podcast http://artheals.libsyn.com/

    Direct download: Jen_Cross__Writing_Ourselves_Whole.mp3

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    Podcast Answers – Day 9: What inspires me about the writing workshops?

    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?

    the clouds pooling on the horizon between a brilliant blue sky and the bright green grass 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.

    Pink lotus reflected in a pond, from travellersworldwide.com 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. Transformative Language Arts Network logo, from www.tlazine.blogspot.com/ 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.)

    raw amethest crystal, from wikimedia commons 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.

    clownfish peeking out from within an anemone, from coral-reefs.orgTake 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?

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    Podcast Answers – Day 8: Thoughts for others who want to do this work

    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. I took a bit of a break at the end of Dec, but I’m back on track. Here’s my answer for day 8!

    8. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to use writing for their own healing, or to facilitate healing in others?

    Putting the pen to paper This is such a big question – I actually feel I need to break it down into two: Thoughts for folks who want to use writing around their own healing/transformation, and thoughts for those who wish to use writing to facilitate healing with others.


    Part 1: Thoughts for folks who want to use writing around their own healing/transformation –

    Want to write yourself whole? Pick up the pen and start now. Just let the words come. Don’t pick the pen up off the page, don’t censor, don’t make sense. Don’t stop to worry about whether your grammar works there or if you ought to use a comma or a semi-colon or if it’s time for a new paragraph. Give yourself these 5 minutes, maybe 15. Give yourself a lunch half-hour. Give yourself a morning hour, an evening hour. Shut off the phone and turn away from the computer. Follow the flow, the pull of your writing. Set down in ink or pencil whatever words come up, non sequiturs and nonsense and to-do-list reminders alike, stories and complaints, wishes and dreams and frustrations and remembrances. Let it all come and comingle on your page. Let it flow through the boundaries and the bridges that we build within and around ourselves, the containments and separations, the work stuff and play stuff, the now stuff and then stuff. This writing is just for you. It doesn’t have to be shared or read aloud or posted anywhere, unless *you* want to do so.

    Keep writing! from plus.maths.org
    Start it now. Do it again tomorrow. Keep up this pattern as many consecutive days as possible, over several years. Continue for a lifetime.

    I’m just repeating what I’ve been told, what’s worked for me, what I’ve read. This is the kind of urging that Natalie Goldberg makes in Writing Down the Bones, that Anne Lamott sets before us in Bird by Bird, that Pat Schneider lets us consider in Writing Alone and With Others. Trusting yourself enough to write freely and broadly and openly and deeply — it creates change.

    Freewriting sample from ficitonwriting.about.com
    This kind of freewriting has introduced me to my thought patterns, allowed me to trace out language for experiences that I thought were unnamable, given me meditation and play time. And over time, I’ve learned again to trust whatever my writing wants me to put on the page, to generate material first and then edit later, and to only share my writing when I’m ready, and with folks whose opinions I trust and appreciate. Pat Schneider has an awful lot of good stuff to say about transformative writing when working alone in her book (Writing Alone and With Others).


    Part 2: Thoughts for those who wish to use writing to facilitate healing with others –

    The experience of this erotic writing group ended up being harder, and more amazing, work than I expected it to be. I don’t know exactly how I could have believed that facilitating a group like this would be easy, or straightforward, or wouldn’t bring up intensely hard emotions for women participating (definitely including me)–but I did, and it didn’t take long for me to understand the error in such beliefs. Yet the women were incredibly supportive of me in this endeavor. They offered me great feedback on my writing, allowed me to fuck up and keep going. They told me they needed what I was doing in this group and I wanted to, and did, tell them that I needed them, as well. We opened and we fed each other words and images, and in doing so, we fed ourselves. I was continually astonished at what happened when these women set pen to paper. We got somewhere together, yet each woman arrived via her own path, with the rest of us as witnesses who walked along with her. All I did, it seemed, was create a space, come up with exercises–it was the women participating who came in and made magic. Every week felt like an absolute miracle, this opportunity to sit in witness with these courageous women. (from my process journal, Fall 2002)

    We can do it! from archives.gov On the one hand, I think anyone ought to be able to do this work. I think to myself, Look, I haven’t had any special training and I did it. I don’t have an MSW or experience as a therapist. But here’s what I do have: personal experience of surviving sexual abuse; training and experience as a volunteer listener for youth and battered women and men; certification as an Amherst Artists and Writers writing workshop facilitator; training as a crisis/peer support group facilitator. All of these skills came in handy during the writing groups I’ve facilitated.

    Can you do it without any of this training? It’s hard for me to say, because I have it and the folks I know doing the work have it. Desire is important, as is intuition—both of these are essential, even—but so is experience. It’s important to have the skills necessary such that a group of folks handling volatile material together can engage safely and ethically in the work they need to do. By safely, I mean without psychologically imploding in the group, and assisting others in their struggles not to implode. It’s my experience that the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method provides a strong and ethical container for the work of transformative writing in community. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other methods – this is the one that has resonated most strongly for me, both as a participant-writer and as a facilitator-participant.

    I have just recently, and finally, been reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and picked up The Vein of Gold to continue the work after I complete the initial 12-weeks of the Artist’s Way. Toward the back of The Vein of Gold, Cameron has a chapter dedicated to those who’d create and participate in creative Artist’s Way circles, and her focus on a non-hierarchical structure and the importance of shared risk (that if there’s a facilitator for the group, the facilitator must “do the work” along with everyone else) absolutely resonated with me as essential reminders for anyone who wishes to facilitate a non-clinical transformative/healing writing space.

    Before I wa
    s a writing group facilitator, I had training as a peer and crisis counselor–from queer youth service organizations and a domestic violence agency. This means that I had experience with listening to and empathizing with people. I had experience with the fact that, often, the most helpful thing you can do for another person is to listen to them, attentively and devotedly.

    This lesson was reinforced via Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists workshop facilitator trainings: listen and hear, and model listening for others. It’s a hard lesson to really, deeply internalize.

    Difficult things come up in a writing group, whether the group is focusing on erotic writing or sexual trauma or if there’s no particular focus at all. Despite the attention to all work as fiction, the experience of emotion is real: the terror, frustration, lust, anguish, pain, desire, desperation is real. As a facilitator, you’re not going to fix it. You’re not going to offer folks therapy and you’re not there to make it all better for them. That work will be work done by the writers themselves over time, with the help of those whom they choose, and when they choose.

    Listening with intent, from inclusive-solutions.com In a transformative writing group, one thing (among others) folks seem to want, as survivors and particularly as writers, is a hearing. That’s what these groups can offer. The original AWA training, for example, helps you acquire a sense of how not to be blown away by heavy, hard, overwhelming emotions; how to ride through hard high intense roller coaster rides of emotion without getting thrown off or shutting down. Most times, you don’t need to do anything but listen, deeply hear and experience the words as they are offered to the group, and to give your personal individual feedback about the writing itself, while modeling for others how to do the same.

    The ability to attend to your boundaries is also essential. And even so, even with this training myself, I want to bring each person who has participated in a group of mine into my life and care for them and make everything OK. It’s an empathetic challenge, and there’s nothing wrong with the draw, so long as I don’t act on it: I have to save my energy for the work I can do, the work of bringing together and facilitating these writing groups. It’s hard when all you can do is 1) offer a space, 2) keep the space safe, contained (as much as possible), and 3) listen well and respond personally, heartfelt and ethically–but it’s what I can do, and because it helps, it’s what I must do.

    Folks dancing hard, from allposters.com
    Learn how to take care of yourself. How do you get support and help after group? Do you write and get stuff down and out of you? Do you call a friend or another writing group facilitator? Do you call your mom or sister or uncle? Do you do nothing? Do something, ok? I’m still working on this one, myself, and it’s been six years since I started with this work! Go to the gym, go for a walk or a drive, sing hard, run, go dancing, do something. Let loose the energy that builds up during each group meeting.

    If folks don’t have the chance to go through the original Amherst Writers and Artists training, then I absolutely encourage you to participate in an AWA-model writing group in your area, or other writing group. It’s helpful to be exposed to different facilitation styles, if only to learn what not to do, how you don’t want to facilitate (as well as to do the opposite!).

    What do you think? What’s worked for you, if you’ve done transformative or healing writing on your own? What’s worked for you as someone participating in and/or facilitating a transformative/healing writing space?

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    Unexpected offline-ness

    I apologize for the unannounced break in my posting schedule! So, I’d planned to keep on keepin’ on with my bi-weekly posts all through the last couple weeks. It turns out, though, that I needed to take some time away from the computer. Most weekdays, I spend at least 8 hours on the computer, and something that I’ve offered myself during this end-of-Gregorian-year vacation has been some time not linked up: baking and painting, instead; movie-watching and stargazing instead; reading and beach-walking instead. It’s been deeply, deeply good; necessary, even — bringing up fully into my consciousness how much of a break I really need.

    Besides thinking about a 2009 schedule, what’s been heavily weighing on my mind are these horrors:
    – Israel is massacring Palestinian civilians with the apparent approval of the US and the UN, using such similar justificatory language to Bush’s — the world is watching; can we stop this brutality?
    – a woman was brutally gang-raped in Richmond a few weeks ago — there have been four arrests made: a 31 year-old man, a 21 year-old man, a 16 year-old boy and a 15 year-old boy. A 21 year-old, a 16 year-old and a 15 year-old. I want to write more about what I see as so many terrible barbed-wire layers around this case, and yet, how can I seriously start to take apart for individual consideration the very recent threads of this survivor’s experience? Just because some suspects have been caught by the criminal justice system doesn’t mean that justice has been or will be served — real communal change, I mean an actual ending of rape as a tool of social control and violence and terrorization, continues with our conversations, our vigils, our communities holding the perpetrators accountable, our ongoing work. We cannot trust the State to do it for us.

    I *am* going to finish the Arts and Healing Network podcast question responses! These are the questions we still have to think about:

    8. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to use writing for their own healing, or to facilitate healing in others?
    9. What inspires you the most about your workshops?
    10. What gives you hope right now?
    11. What are you working on right now with your own writing, or writing workshops?
    12. Is there anything else you didn’t get to talk about that you would like to share with listeners?

    I’ll be back on my regular posting schedule next week. Much love and peace to all of us, ALL of us, goddess knows we all need it, this new year.

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    Podcast Answers – Day 4: Has writing been healing for me?

    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?

    Deep writing at a cafe - from coffeegeek.com

    (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…

    Cover of Writing Down the Bones
    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?

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    Podcast Answers – Day 3: Can art heal?

    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 three!

    3. Do you believe art can heal? Why?

    (Whew — this is a big one!)

    How alive are you willing to be? Yes, I absolutely believe art can heal. Why? Because it has done so for me, and I watch it work for others.

    Let’s start with definitions, because I’m so fond of them.

    Heal: My dictionary says it means, first, “to make a person or injury healthy and whole.” A later definition in the list is “to repair or rectify something that causes discord and animosity.”

    (and what about a definition of art. Can we look ‘art’ up in the dictionary and trust what the book says? Aren’t there whole branches of study devoted to defining art? Let’s try it anyway. My dictionary first defines ‘art’ as ‘the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works, for example, in painting, music, or writing; beautiful or thought-provoking works produced through creative activity.’ Granted, to truly understand this definition, we’d have to come to an agreement as to what ‘beautiful’ means. But let’s hold off on that and know that we each have our own sense of that part. A later, and interesting, part of the definition is ‘creation by human endeavor rather than by nature.’)

    See Pennebaker’s studies of college students at the University of Texas at Houston, who go to the health clinic less frequently after they write expressively about traumatic or difficult experiences. See Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, encouraging a “recovery” of and through creative expression. See even Live Through This, a collection of essays by artists who’ve battled self-destructive urges using creativity and artistic expression.

    Trying to say why I think art heals is similar to the struggle folks have had defining art at all – I don’t know exactly why it works, I just know that it does.

    The creation of art enacts release, transformation. The exposure to art proposes different ways of thinking, feeling, being in the room/world.

    Art makes (a) way. Art is what’s possible, you know? Someone, a brave and engaged poet, said in one of my writing workshops recently, “You can say things n poems you don’t really say in casual conversation.” Music brings a whole new emotional strata to words, story, poetry – or allows the listener an evocative aural experience that’s other than language. Visual art allows for expression of emotion, idea, truth, possibility that’s outside the linguistic realm. We need to get away from words sometimes. Dance, movement, drama: these arts reintroduce us to our/the body…

    And so what does it mean to heal? Not to be bleeding. To have the wound grown over, physically mended.

    this is your brain on artSeeing/hearing/experiencing artistic expression (poetry, jazz, painting, photography, short stories, dance) often brings up in me the sense that I am not alone, that I am connected to the creator of that work as well as just simply connected to a wider universe outside of myself. The sense that maybe I can be understood, that there are others who “get it.” (as when I read Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina – a healing experience for me as a writer and as a survivor).

    Why do I believe art can heal? Because I myself am still alive and functioning – I chalk that completely up to writing. (I’ll say more about this on Friday!)

    It is my experience that we heal when we transform a wound/-ing—either physically, through the body’s regenerative capacity, or psychologically, though an alteration in our understanding of an experience, our ability to express it fully (if not concretely), our sense of being heard and understood. All of these contribute to/manifest healing.

    Specifically as it relates to writing, I believe that creative writing and freewriting gives all of us access to a new relationship to ourselves through an alteration of our access to language! Artistic creativity can break us out of commonly-used metaphors, the straight-laced language of many workplaces, the saccharine possibilities offered by Hallmark and TV after-school specials. Breaking away from the rules of grammar and sentence structure can leave us feeling a little bit wild and wrong, outside of school, outside of what’s “right.”

    This is something I wrote six years ago, in an essay about the uses of metaphor as an erotic, artistic and embodied reconnection with self, for sexual trauma survivors:

    “This is about my stepping back into language by swimming away from the abuser’s so-called “logical” sense. This is about a writer whose words fell out of her mouth one at a time, just one at a time, until she thought she had none left. She turned to find them and was met with the blank bright face of silence. Powerful, uncommon metaphor requires attentiveness, a willingness to play, a willingness to risk: all things that those in power seem to wish to squelch in we who are the victims of their abuses. Metaphor can collude with silence, in its occlusion of some aspect of a concept or entity, but it can also be the opposite of silence: speaking truth to power in a fresh and erotic way, which power cannot help but attend to, if even for the instant of metaphorical resolution. And an instant’s all it takes to change the world and ourselves.”

    When finding a way to express difficult or marginally-socially-acceptable things (such as sexual trauma or sexual longing), art (its creation and its very existence!) heals in that it provides outlet and inlet, deep risk and safety, camouflage and exposure: it is large, contradicts, contains multitudes, just like us, as Whitman urges & reminds us always.

    So? What do you think? Do you agree that art can heal? Why … or why not?

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    Podcast with Arts and Healing Network!

    So, last Wednesday, bright and early before Fresh! & I headed down to LA for the Thanksgivingness, I had the pleasure of meeting Britt Bravo to record a podcast for the Arts and Healing Network‘s bimonthly podcast. How exciting! It was my first podcast, and only the second or third time I’ve talked to the “press” (-ish!) about what it is that Writing Ourselves Whole is all about. Great practice and a fantastic opportunity!

    Britt had a list of questions that she thought we might get to, which were really useful for me! I want to get more comfortable talking (more succinctly!) about the workshops, about transformative writing, about Pat Schneider’s AWA method — so that I can help to spread the word not just about my workshops but about the uses of writing period!

    The podcast comes out next month, and I’ll be sure to post a link/update here. In the meantime, though, I’d like to go about answering Britt’s questions in more detail here. Beginning Wednesday, I’ll be posting an answer to each of the following questions, two per week, for the next six weeks:

    1. What are the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops?

    2. On your site, you describe them as “transformative writing” workshops. How are they transformative?

    3. Do you believe art can heal? Why?

    4. Has it been healing for you personally? If so, how?

    5. What inspired the workshops?

    6. What has been the impact of the workshops for survivors of sexual abuse?

    7. How has teaching the workshops changed your own writing?

    8. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to use writing for their own healing, or to facilitate healing in others?

    9. What inspires you the most about your workshops?

    10. What gives you hope right now?

    11. What are you working on right now with your own writing, or writing workshops?

    12. Is there anything else you didn’t get to talk about that you would like to share with listeners?

    I’m looking forward to getting to provide some more detail to the answers I gave Britt. And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback!