Tag Archives: Audre Lorde

survivors writing: happy writing ourselves whole month <3

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.  – Plato

April is both National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. A few years ago I noticed that intersection and thought, That sounds like writing ourselves whole month. So, every April, I like to take a little time and reflect on these intersections that we who are trauma survivors who write walk within every day.

I have just returned from helping to facilitate a training of new AWA writing group facilitators. During the five days I spent with these folks — each of whom already knew how powerful it could be to write openly with others, taking risks with content and craft — I reflected on my own trainings, way back in 2001 and 2002.

I had never participated in anything like an Amherst Writers and Artists writing group when I showed up, shorn and ragged and scarred and scared, for my first facilitator’s training at Pat Schneider’s home back in the summer of 2001. I only knew that writing had saved my life, and I wanted to work with others for whom that might also be true. I’d taken one creative writing class in college, and one poetry workshop outside of school, and I’d never quite felt like I fit in any space that called itself “for writers.”

Pat’s method was a surprise and a revelation to me. This was a place where you could write whatever you wanted and no one could ask you if it really happened like that. No one could demand that you tell them more. No one could turn you away for your words. Your words would be welcomed and honored immediately. Continue reading

what is spiritual for me is what is deeply rooted in my erotic body

Yesterday, I got to have a conversation with my friend Emily about what we do at Writing Ourselves Whole. Emily is a seminary student, and wanted to talk some about the interweave of survival, desire, and spirituality. It was a very interesting hour and a half! What does spirituality have to do with writing about sex (or writing about anything), particularly for sexual trauma survivors?

My definition of the erotic is quite expansive, thanks to Audre Lorde. In her essay, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” she writes, “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling […] a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” Over the years, I have come to describe the erotic, as Lorde does: embodied and “creative energy empowered.”

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, writes about this idea of “flow,” that state of being in which one is wholly absorbed in an activity or situation. Mindful creative engagement (such as a freewriting practice) connects us to our flow, to that place where we are fully engaged in what we’re doing, where we’re open to new ideas and we trust our instincts, all of which are markers of transformative practice.

Flow is an experience of embodied and creative energy empowered; when we are in flow, we are in touch with our erotic selves – by which I mean our wholly creative, embodied, and intuitive selves. What I encourage, particularly in sexual assault survivors writing groups, is that writers practice listening to the pull of their own writing, that they practice trusting their intuition and creative instincts, in order to rebuild the frayed relationship with the core of themselves, with the intuition that we both needed to listen to and needed to ignore if we wanted to survive.

Survival, is, of course, a deeply creative act — particularly active survival, when we are just trying to stay alive and as whole as possible under the onslaught of someone’s violence. But when we are actively surviving trauma, we are not able to attend fully to our instincts or our embodied creative selves: we armor up, we put parts of ourselves away, we shut down internal access to our bodies, we work to forget rather than know, we try to make very little of ourselves available for hurting. We, metaphorically and sometimes literally, roll ourselves into a ball like the pillbug, trying to protect as much of our soft stuff as we can. The process of healing is the process of releasing ourselves wholly back into the world, unrolling, exposing our soft parts again, trusting that we can do so and will not die. This process can take years — for me, it’s taken twenty, and I’m certainly not done yet, I hope. Writing practice has been my steady companion while I’ve worked to unfurling; and as I type these words now, I see a matter-of-fact difference: when I was first beginning to write as a way to heal, I took my notebook to a cafe and hunched down over it, writing as messily as possible, so that I could hide myself and my words. Now I sit straight up in front of a computer, typing words that anyone could read if they looked over my shoulder. It’s no little miracle, this transformation, the possibility of this opening and openness, is what is true.

For me, what is spiritual is what is deeply rooted in my erotic body: my connected body, my complicated and desiring body, my whole body. I do not experience a sense of connection with other until I am able to have a sense of connection within myself.

When I am engaged in any work or task in which my creative energy is embodied and empowered, I am able to open out to the possibility of connectedness with others — with nature, with people, with the whole messy mystery of the world. For me, spirituality is interwoven with the erotic — with the sense of deep desire to undo the isolation that was necessary for my survival and know and connect with all of myself, as well as the world and community around me.

It took a long time for me to even conceive of being connected to such a thing as flow; the very fact that I can imagine allowing most of myself to concentrate my consciousness on a task at hand (rather than keeping psychic watch and hyper-vigilant for any possible coming attack)  is a mark of healing.

In that same essay, Audre Lorde also writes, “[O]nce we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.” During our experience of trauma, and in the immediate aftermath, many of us who are survivors expended a lot of energy trying to keep ourselves from feeling. I don’t know about you, but for me, there was no safety in joy, no safety in expansiveness. What was safe was held in, armored, tightly bound up. Through practices like freewriting, walking, dancing, I began to trust it when joy would creep into my skin — I began to trust that the joy would not be immediately taken away, or used against me. Over years, thousands of hours writing, and maybe millions of words in notebooks, I found myself able to trust the voice of my erotic self — my empowered and embodied creative self. If I think of a spiritual self, that’s her. The words she has to offer me are hard won and pulled up straight for the psyche; I write them down and follow where she wants me to go. This is my spiritual practice. It’s the only one I really know.

still not a luxury

white graffiti on a black painted wall: "graffiti is a poem the city writes to itself"Two quotes for you today from Audre Lorde, in honor of both National Poetry Month & National Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month:

“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

“… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
Audre Lorde

Have you read Lorde’s essay/talk, “Poetry is not a Luxury“? That’s a great possibility for today. And after, give yourself maybe 10 minutes to write about what you’ve read, what you imagined as you read her work, or those quotes from her work above: does creative writing/creative work feel like something we have to do on the side of our lives, something above and beyond the necessities of life? It’s at the very tip top of Maslow’s Hierarchy, after all, far away from food & shelter — a splurge, a luxury.
What if we consider the fact that creation isn’t a luxury — it’s a human condition. And poetry/creative writing has been a transformational human act since we found the capacity for speech — even before written language, the bards/griots, who held (hold) and shared (share) a community’s/society’s collected knowledge and/or news in the form of sung poetry, were (are) held up and revered. In the West, and particularly in the USA, we look down on poets as weak, childish, undriven to succeed materially. In many other parts of the world, even today, poets aren’t seen this way.
Audre Lorde says it: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Without this gift, we stay stagnant in particular ways of thinking, or unthinking. It has been my experience that the most transformative reading in my own healing/growing process has been poetry and other creative work. This experience of finding language for what we had thought was unsayable is deeply transformative: it gives lie to the silencers, it gives lie to what we thought we had to swallow in order to survive. In reading their work, and then through my/our own writing process, the possibilities available for my/our very being are blown open, because the words I/we have access to have changed, expanded, multiplied.
These have been my teachers, because they have opened to me new ways to think, new languages for what up to my reading of their work had been unlanguaged in me: Alice Walker, Pat Califia, Sharon Bridgeforth, Sapphire, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Allison, Chrystos, Linda Smukler/Samuel Ace, Patricia Smith, Essex Hemphill, Pat Parker, Pamela Sneed, Ai, Kim Addonizio, Nikki Giovanni (this is not at all exhaustive; there were many more) — and yes, e.e. cummings, and Shel Silverstein, who was first. These have crafted me, have shown me what poetry, what truth-telling, what revolution can look like, a revolution that is, for me, queer women led (queer woman-of-color led, honestly) a revolution that names names and says what we were told was no one would ever be able to say.
Who have been the poets that blew you open? What poem? When did you read it? Do you remember where you were sitting, or what town you lived in? Spending time with favorite stories or poems can be such a delight — give yourself permission to take 7 or 10 minutes for this write today.
Thank you for the words you offer, that give so much to you yourself in your own transformation, and, too, might become a becon, a shape-shifting possibility for others as well.

DOE: We want our bodies also to encompass joy

graffiti on broken concrete: make awkward sexual advances, not war

I love this...

Hello Thursday! Turns out I swapped my blog-topic days: Thursday was supposed to be for VozSutra posts, and Wednesday was to be for DOE posts.  (I forgot about the Monday-freewrite agreement I made with myself.)

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Last night was the Erotic Reading Circle: a small group and lots of amazing writing — we had kind of a historical theme last night.  Not planned, but every piece was a recollecting, a remembering, a recounting of something that had happened in the past, whether memoir or book review or fiction. I love that kind of synchronicity!

Here’s what happens at the ERC. Folks bring something they’re working on that they want to share — it can be a piece you’re getting ready to publish, something you’re writing as a gift or a performance. It also doesn’t have to be something you want to share with the wider world, but maybe you’re starting out writing erotic fiction or memoir or sexuality-related essays or anything that has to do with sexuality or erotics, and you want to put it out before some other people.  You want to see if it’s any good.  You want to find out how it resonates with folks, what it feels like to read your own words aloud. The folks in the room will receive your work and they’ll give you whatever sort of feedback you ask for — and just note: we talk a lot about what we like and what was hot about the writing!

It’s also a great place to get inspired, I’ve found — if you’re wanting to get back into writing about erotics or sex, this is a great place for that.  There’s usually at least one person, sometimes more, who just came to listen, not to read: that’s ok, too!

The Erotic Reading Circle meets on the 4th Wednesday of every month, 7:30-9:30, at the Center for Sex and Culture (1519 Mission Street, between 11th and So Van Ness, San Francisco).

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Yesterday, Jianda suggested to me that I might write more about what happens in the erotic writing workshop. Here’s some of why it can be powerful for surivors of sexual trauma to step into these workshops, as a part (just a part) of their work around reclaiming the breadth of their erotics and desire: we want more than to be trapped into the holes that our perpetrators drive us into.  We want more than the body of loss that we become.  We want more than to be that body of loss, want more than for our bodies to be the landscape of our terror.

We want our bodies also to encompass joy — and writing it can be one path to our embodying that joy, before we (or instead of, sometimes) try it on off the page.

You know this already but I want to tell you again what Audre Lorde says about erotics, how it’s more than the carnal (not to knockthe carnal: sexual desire and pleasure is necessary. It’s of us as humans):

The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our work, our lives. (from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984. 53-59).

(Just a note: I don’t believe that only women inhabit or hold the erotic; and, what’s it like for those with other genders to find themselves in the paragraph above?)

In the workshop, we can experience erotic-as-play.  Sex, off the page, can be struggle. Off the page, maybe, I’m dealing with triggers or the possibility of triggers. But on the page, it can be easier for me to be with sex as play.  It can be fun, even if the character gets triggered — I can think about the way she navigates that. I can watch her allow her desire to rise up again and overpower the points of the past, or I can watch her ask for something different.  I can notice how the character wants and is scared all at the same time.

And, too, I can write characters who aren’t triggered — who aren’t wrangling with that part of sex.  Maybe this character is about to try something I’ve always wanted to do — I can write her through it, and in so doing, I begin to embody the experience: I mean, I begin to take that activity, that kind of sex, into my body.  Let’s not forget that writing is a physical act.

There’s a lot of laughter in the Declaring Our Erotic workshops, when folks are reading aloud what they’ve written: sex gets to be funny and fun. We get to talk about the fucked-up-ed-ness and the delightful power, the bad jokes, what goes wrong, and then what goes very (very) right.

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The next 8-week Declaring Our Erotic workshop, starting October 7, is going to be open to LGBTIQ/Queer sexual trauma survivors of all genders. Please send me a note if you’ve got questions about the workshop, if you want to know more –and you can register here!

Thank you for being out there, for reading and for your writing, for your powerful presence in the world