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listening to the body’s stories

graffiti: black wingsThis isn’t like that — this is like something else. (That’s how it begins.)

Last night, I went to one of Vanissar Tarakali‘s workshops, Do It Yourself Trauma: Healing principles and practices to support your personal healing process. I want to follow my own instincts, these desires to let others both help and witness me into my body, to do the incredibly simple but also simultaneously (sometimes) devastating work of just noticing what’s going on in my body and letting it be. Last night Vanissar talked about emotional first aid (she talks about it on her blog here), and then we practiced some of what she described: grounding into the body, physical practices to meet and/or engage with particular feelings, appreciating the body for doing all that it does to take care of us (and this includes our trigger responses, the stuff we do that we don’t want to do anymore because it doesn’t serve us but it did serve us once upon a time), lots more. The three hours flew by! Here’s a great thing she said: if you beat yourself up for the ways that your body responds when it thinks it’s threatened, that’s going to seem like a threat! Whew.

What do I want to say about this? This morning I am both more achy and less — the armor around my shoulders (which last night I began envisioning like a pair of shoulder pads, the kind that footballers wear) feels softened. Not gone, just malleable; not penetrable, but able to shift some.

Here’s some of what is coming up for me in several different arenas these days, as I am interacting more with somatics/generative somatics work: it’s ok to appreciate how my body has kept me safe, the instincts that my psyche developed to protect us. Getting angry at and ashamed with myself for freezing or walling up or “going away” or getting defensive or… (fill in your own — this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list for me!) only reinforces that I’m in a difficult or dangerous situation; it’s like beating a puppy for doing something you wish she wouldn’t do.

This is some powerful unlearning: what happens if I’m curious and appreciative about the triggered-response? What if I can just meet it with gratitude for its wisdom? Vanissar talked about how the body wants to tell us its stories — and we can allow it to, if we can meet ourselves in this way, if we can notice with gratitude and curiosity, instead of (or, sometimes, alongside the) shame and anger and frustration. What if I practice other ways of being in my body? Slowly, the instinctual responses become options, one of many different possible responses to a triggery or dangerous situation. This morning I notice the stiffness in my neck and back, and a kind of swollen energy around that part of my body — I’m about to go meet it with some hot water in the shower, be a little tender to the places I’ve often been frustrated with.

I want to write more clearly about all this right now, and, too, I am softened and sleepy and rushed.

It reminds me of what happens in the workshops, how there’s no wrong way to respond, how so much of what I appreciate about our workshop method is the invitation to notice just exactly how our writing wants to go, and when we follow that, when we teach our writing voices that we trust them, that our stories are trustworthy exactly the way that they want to come out, other stories begin to emerge, our writing shifts and stretches and expands: not because we’ve forced it to do so, but because we’ve met it with curiosity and appreciation and trust.

So what happens if I meet my body with those same principles? Interesting (!) how that feels so new and foreign, in spite of the fact that I’ve got that method for engaging with creative process embedded in my cells! Trauma recovery is creative process, of course, because humans are creative process.

Want to write about this some today? Are there ways that you or your characters respond in triggery situations that aren’t working for you/them anymore? What are those responses? Can you write into them with this energy of curiosity, noticing, witness? Can you let them tell their stories? This isn’t necessarily about writing what could be different, but exactly what’s happening now. Let that response/reaction feel the breadth of your attention, be all the way known.

Thank you for your brilliant, gorgeous, wise self, for all of the articulated and unarticulated ways that your psyche/body have worked to keep you safe and alive and here. Thank you for your endless and constant creativity, for your good words.

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all of our body can hold different parts of our stories

graffiti, wheat pasted maybe, of a young male deer beneath a green treeI got up extra early today to do my morning pages, before coming to the computer.  Maybe it will have been a good idea, but right now I’m tired and would like more sleep. Yesterday was a very quiet day — perfect. No time on the computer — 2 old movies (a Doris Day & a Katherine Hepburn) and 1 more recent, Hook. A day for baking, for reading in the sun, for cafe writing.

Two nights ago, when we got home from dinner with Alex after Body Empathy, there were at least two deer nested down back beneath the big tree directly in front of the carport. We tiptoed out of the car, lugging bags of stuff, materials, workshop business and food, and said hello to them and told them how pretty they were. They kept their eyes on us, ears up, watching, but didn’t move. The bigger one didn’t move, the mama maybe — the smaller, behind, she’d stood by the time we were done unloading. Yesterday afternoon I wandered back to where they’d been, wanted to see the outlines of bellies on the ground, in a pile of leaves maybe, but all I saw were the small hoofprints all around the back area where the giant pile of leaves used to be. Maybe they were snacking on new blackberry cane growth, or maybe there was something good in the neighbor’s compost pile. I knew they might come up to the house and push their heads to the tomato plant I’ve got that’s going crazy now, suddenly flowering and budding, growing tall and almost wild — I knew they might come up and get a taste, since F! has seen their footprints in my lettuce pots behind the fence! It’s ok, though. They can have some and can leave me some. I’ve heard their feet clacking on the sidewalk, those dark hooves striking sharp and simple, like it’s a normal sound, deerhooves in my ears. They won me over.

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It was a beautiful Body Empathy workshop on Saturday, all of us risking that slow possibility of being in our bodies. We started off a little discombobulated, got to be imperfect, because no one was there to open the church for us, & thus our meeting space, until 9:30 — which was when we were supposed to be getting started! We’d invited folks to start arriving at 9:30 so they could get breakfast and settle in, but those who arrived at 9:30 got to help us set up (thank you!) or got to wander a bit around the bowels of First Congo, checking out what was new and fresh in progressive christianity. After the coffee pot wouldn’t work and the stovetop wouldn’t come on, finally we got things together (many thanks to the Mr. Fresh! who went out for a box of Peets!) and moved into some gentle and poweful work. Thanks to all who were there, and, too, to my amazing co-facilitator, Alex Cafarelli, who reminds me often how ok it can be to be in these bodies we carry around with us, even it it’s not ok sometimes. this morning I’m doing some stretching, some spinning, that gentle loving kindness movement that Alex offered to us, as though we deserve to love and be loved by and in our bodies. And we do.

These were two of the quotes I handed out on Saturday, with our guidelines & practices:

I write to understand as much as to be understood. Literature is an act of conscience. It is up to us to rebuild with memories, with ruins, and with moments of grace.
—Elie Wiesel

I love the body.  Flesh is so honest, and organs do not lie.
—Terri Guillemets

Organs do not lie. What does that mean? I appreciate the opportunity, the invitation, to consider. This quote reminded me, while we were doing our work on Saturday, of Nancy Mellon, who I had the chance to meet at the last Power of Words conference. Nancy writes and works with the idea of storytelling as a healing art, and wrote a book called Body Eloquence: The Power of Myth and Story to Awaken the Body’s Energies — she talks about the information our organs hold, our inside parts hold, and how we can access those stories and truths. She’s an amazing storyteller, had us all completely transfixed in the Haybarn there on the Goddard campus, as we waited to hear what the lungs could do, what the blood knows, what our small intestine can tell us.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories, our lives, our histories, our truths? It’s scary to me, sometimes, this possibility — the fact that my organs (say, my liver, which I wrote about some this weekend) can hold some information about me feels outside my conscious control — and it is, at least in the way that my western logical ‘rational’ mind things about conscious control.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories? It means that we are (still) whole — that our bodies know our truths, and that we can access those truths, through somatic work, through movement and dance, through art and creativity, through myriad right-brain activities, those ways of being and thinking that step gently and kindly around the rigid left brain that wants to think it has the exact right ways to know.

Thank you for your words, for the way you risk speaking without words, too, all the different ways you say, you listen, you witness and share.

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without the aural blinding and the walls

a wheat-pasted poster with the word EMPATHY in purple bold lettering. A yellow outline of a nautalus shell is just over the beginning of the word.I’m taking Fridays for writing days — starting this week. This means my Friday am blogs will be more likely posted on Friday pm. I spent this morning at the cafe, with the pen and the notebook, then created a list of all my current writing projects (of which there are 11: ideas that have been hovering for a long time, books/articles in progress, books in the proposal stage) and then I flipped through the printout of my novel and reread, dove back in, and did some more writing there.

This evening will have to be for cooking (quinoa tabouleh! hummus! squash & sweet potato soup!) and final prep for tomorrow’s Body Empathy, but right now is flipping through old notebooks to find other novel -writing I’ve done but haven’t typed up. And then — typing it up.

In the notebook-flipping, though, I’m finding other writes, from workshops or other times. One of those I want to share with you, along with a prompt.

The prompt: Give yourself two minutes to make a list of things you or your character do really well — these can be basic tasks (I, for example, am an excellent shoe-typer) to more complicated ones (say, calculus, which I’d need a lot of help to remember how to be good at). Then let yourself choose one of those and tell the story of that task, or describe how to do it, or talk about why you or your character are good at it.

Here’s my write — I offered this prompt as an initial writing exercise for the spring Write Whole workshop, back in April.

We sit down and spin words on the page without praying or paying them, without directing or tattletaling or begging or bribing — they come and we write them, even if, especially if, they don’t make any sense. After 17 years of this practice, of notebook and pen and open air time, we have moved out of all the once-upon-a-time constructions — the stuff we thought we had to have in order to write: coffee, a three or five hour block of uninterrupted time,headphones and walkman and a tape of music I knew really well and a table by the window at only this or that cafe. Slowly, all the walls, all the structuring,, all the scaffolding has fallen away, the stuff a terrified girl put in place around her brain and writing hand to save herself, the stuff she used to shut out the world and let the words flow — she’s/we’ve learned to let the words flow without the aural blinding and the walls, without a carousel of noise to distract us from the terrifying stuff we were writing and hiding from at the same time — now it comes on the page. We learned how to practice, to practice, and we practice very well.

Thanks for what you’ve practiced, for your words and tellings, for your listening and attention. For your multiplicity and your single-strands.

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who does she think she is to believe in herself that much?

graffiti of green grass with small red flowers poking up and the text, in black, "small flowers / crack concrete"
"small flowers crack concrete" -- what a perfect tiny poem for today

Thinking about a life worth living, and I’ve got a quick write this morning — I like how this regular blogging practice gets me to type up workshop writes a little more often!

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Body Empathy (this Saturday, 11/13) still has a couple of spaces available! We’d love to write with you!
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Here’s a prompt I offered this past Monday, and the write I did in response.
I gave these two phrases:

– “Who does she think she is?” (or Who do you think you are or Who do I think I am)
– I always knew that given half a chance… (thanks to Maggie at this weekend’s retreat for that one!)
Let yourself write for about 15 minutes in response to whichever of these your writing self has already affixed itself to! Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go…

Here’s my response to this prompt:

Who does she think she is, wanting so much time to herself, walking around with clouds in her ears, asking for time off like picking apples from a tree in your own backyard, that free and easy?

Who does she think she is, expecting to feel good in her body like its her birthright, expecting to walk proud down any street, wanting to be well-slept, kindly fed, gently tended to every day — I mean, really! Where does she come off wanting an affordable place to live with a view of the ocean and a living room big enough to hold workshops in, wanting a dog that fluffs its ears under her lips when she tells it good night, a series of uninterrupted days just to write — honestly. How greedy can you get? Did you hear? She wants to work less and still have safe housing! She wants time for gardening, tending to raw honest herbs, she wants time to stare at the ocean, she wants time to wander through eucalyptus-lined, thickly green paths, and she doesn’t want to have to wait til she’s 65 for the privilege.

She wants peace and writing days now, she wants belly-aching laughs during meals with friends now, she wants to overhaul the possibilities of her quality of presence now, she wants ocean-thudded mornings and cricket-lined nights, she wants color slating her roof and eyes, she wants whole days devoted to glitter and glue guns (or at least glitter and construction paper and collage) — days to wander through thrift stores hunting for writing prompts, she wants enough sleep that she can slip out of headache and into her body, into her fingertips and heels, back into the backs of her knees and into the palms of her feet. She wants time to do the writing that hurts, writing that tears her open, tears at her heart, tears up her eyes and lips and who does she think she is to believe in herself that much?

She wants to be a writer, can you imagine? She wants to dash pepper and poetry on her eggs, she wants weekends and months where all she does is soak into other people’s new words — she wants nasturtiums trailing and calla lilies pushing their broad green and ivory realities into her backyard and she says that’s all the bouquet she needs. I mean, who says things like that? She says she wants the radio for company and she’s turned off her computer. Already her fingers are looking more like typewriter keys or calligraphy — have you seen her? Already she’s moving her body like she has some right to be loose and free. Already she’s dancing when everyone knows it’s time to go to work. Doesn’t she know it’s time to go to work? Who is she to say she is working?

Thank you for your words today, your work today, all the forms it takes, for your dedication to your vision, your desires, to what you wish for from this one life…

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deepen our practice in the method that we so love

(Click the image to see more of Emily Mclaughlin's photos!)

How many times have I written this in the blog recently: there’s so much I want to tell you, and not nearly enough time? I’m sorry to have missed blogging over the last several days! During my trip from Friday early morning to yesterday, I was completely off-line (always kind of amazing).

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Quick reminder! The day-long writing and body mindfulness workshop that I’m co-facilitating with Alex Cafarelli this Saturday, 11/13, Body Empathy, is nearly registered in full! Please let me know soon if you’d like to join us!

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I’m back from my 64-hr trip to the East Coast, where I got to attend a post-certification retreat/training for Amherst Writer’s and Artists (AWA) facilitators. It was my first time since 2002 that I’d been back to the place where I was trained in the method that has shaped my work, and I had the experience, as I’ve had when visiting houses that I lived in as a child, of the house seeming smaller than in my memory — because, of course, what happened for me there at that house in 2001 and 2002 (during my AWA and AWAI facilitator’s trainings) was so enormous:  it’s a big deal when you meet your work for the first time!

This weekend I got to spend some time with 7 other trained facilitators who are doing amazing work around this country and in Ireland, (thank you Margaret, Kim, Jeannie, Patricia, Maggie, Marian and Kathleen!), and, too, with Pat Schneider (who developed this method we use and love, and who still regularly leads workshops) and Maureen Buchanan Jones, who is currently executive director (and sole staff person) of AWA, and who also leads her own groups. Pat and Maureen were the training facilitators, and gave the rest of us the blessed (yes, blessed!) gift of just getting to be participants! Many of us attendees this weekend mentioned how fantastic it was just to be present and write, to not have to be in charge: so so delightful. We wrote together and talked about how we deal with craft in our workshops and exercises, we got to experience new ways of doing the things we do in our own workshops, we got to deepen our practice in the method. We got to ask the questions that we struggle with, present difficult workshop scenarios and ask this group of smart women for ideas and suggestions. We exchanged our favorite prompts, ate wonderful food, and got to write and write and write.

Before I went back, I told some folks I was headed back to a place where trained AWA facilitators could connect with other trained facilitators and, as I just said, deepen our practice in the method that we so love — the language that I was using felt like Buddhist language, in the practice references, as though I were going to a meditation or spiritual retreat. And in some ways, I was. This ‘radical pedagogy’ that we engage with (as Pat and others refer to it) is also a practice: over and over doing the same steps to create space for new writing; space for risky, deep, surprising writing; space for deep kindness with others and deep witnessing.

I have said before that AWA is the ethical core of my work — and I say that not giving away or abdicating my own agency or responsibility. It’s the structure, the container, the way we hold each other in our creativity and risk. Every workshop, I’m profoundly grateful to have met the woman at the agency where I worked back in Maine who was going to Pat’s for weekend retreats and encouraged me to check her out — we were both writers who weren’t writing enough, she and I, and she thought this would be a place where I could write. I investigated this Pat, and her Amherst Writers and Artists method, just about the same time as I was ready to begin my study at Goddard toward my MA-TLA, looking at the ways queer folks might use erotic writing as a way to gain agency in and around their own sexuality (which later opened to considering how survivors of sexual trauma might use this writing — I had to be pulled somewhat kicking and screaming into focusing my study on incest. I hadn’t wanted to originally, and then, if we’re lucky, we open and change and go where we’re being pulled to go), and in the AWA method, I met the non-hierarchical, non-clinical container for our work. I remember nearly levitating with gratitude and joy when Pat first talked about the importance of the facilitator writing along with everyone else, how that part of the practice leveled somewhat the hierarchy, took us out of the realm of “I am the teacher and I have the answers and you are the student and you are here to risk before me.” No — this was something different. This was a place where the facilitator risks, too; that changes everything.

This weekend I got to be with my mentor and teacher, which is a gift in itself, and got to meet others to learn from.

Let’s leave it with this quote that Pat and Maureen offered us, from Franz Kafka (from a letter he wrote to Felice Bauer): “For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender…”

Yes. Thank you for the ways you dive into your aloneness and bring back up with you revelations and surrender. Thank you for that gift and that risk. Thank you for your words.

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truths in our fictions

Brilliant drawing of hyenas laughing
from Dorian Katz's "The Hyena Report" -- click the image to see more of her amazing work...

I need to be at the bus stop in half an hour — yet, here I am in front of the computer and what should be, but isn’t going to be, my morning write. Some writing on the bus, maybe —

Last night was getting to hang out with the very amazing Dorian Katz and Poppers the Pony, and her/their students at Stanford; she’s teaching a class called ” Drawing the Imaginative Figure: Characters, Alter-Egos, Avatars and You,” which I just love; we did some writing exercises designed to bring us into our alter egos. I wish I could spend the rest of the semester with them, seeing what all they do with the characters they were embodying last night! Dorian’s a generous teacher and powerful role-model; imagine if you’d had her as a professor in college!

We talked about the sort of truths that can emerge through our fictions —

I want to remind folks about the Body Empathy workshop coming up on the 13th of this month (can it already be November?): this is a day-long writing and body mindfulness workshop for all queer/genderqueer/same-gender-loving/trans folks who are also survivors of sexual trauma. We provide a light breakfast as well as lunch, and move back and forth from writing exercises to movement exercises, gently easing us into different parts of ourselves. Let me know if you can join us!

Also, this month’s Writing the Flood will be on Nov. 20 — I’m looking forward to that workshop, too; I like how the culture of the Flood workshop is shaping up!

No more time today, but what about this article? Introverts unite (just not all at one time, ok? 🙂

Thanks for your gentleness today, your presence with your resilience and ferocity, and thanks, thanks, for your good writing, for your words!

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There’s my imperfect humanness, right there with me

graffiti of two gorgeous pudgy animals dancing -- they look like rhinos to me, but the image tag says they're moominsIt’s freezing in the office this morning — welcome to winter! It’s hard to type when you want to keep your fingers wrapped around the cup of nettle-mint-green tea.

This morning I’m thinking of harm reduction, and how it’s self care. Right now, I have an agreement with myself: I can eat whatever I want, as long as it’s not wheat. That means, yes, I can buy the chocolate or the bag of popcorn that I’m going to eat all of, in exchange for not buying the piece of cake with the slab of frosting that will make me feel like a shaking sugar-wheat mess. I have not made this arrangement about sugar, just wheat, and just for right now. Just for right now. Just for today. Each day I can decide if I want to continue. My body is happier when it doesn’t have as much wheat to process — of course, it’s also happier when it’s not processing all sorts of sugar and not packed in and overfull, as can happen when I decide to feast on popcorn. But harm reduction is about choosing the lesser evil and going with that for awhile, to make it easier to live without the worse evil. And it is making it easier for me to transition away from wheat for a bit — and for that, I’m grateful.

Mostly, I think about harm reduction in the context of drugs and alcohol: let me smoke instead of taking a drink, right? But it’s a constant self-care practice and possibility, especially on the hard days. Let me watch just 3 hours of tv instead of 10. Let me be late for work because I did some stretching rather than beating myself up all day and living with this tension headache (that’s not really harm reduction practice, but it is reducing a harm). For some people, it’s let me give this blow job without a condom if I’m not going to fuck without one. Or, let me fantasize or write about this person it would be very bad for me to have sex with (maybe for emotional reasons, or because there would be other consequences) rather than having sex with them in real life. Sometimes a self-care practice is about incorporating the ‘bad’ decisions, in layers and ribbons, rather than deciding to be all of a sudden completely virtuous and perfect (then failing at that, then beating myself up). We all know that there is no perfect: There’s my imperfect humanness, right there with me every morning as soon as I open my eyes. Sometimes it’s eating the chocolate instead of drinking the four glasses of wine. And then later, maybe the body and mind are more accustomed to moving through the difficult process without the four glasses of wine, because they had a chance to practice. And for some people, the four glasses of wine are going to be the lesser evil compared to something else. For a long time, because I wanted to re-learn to touch myself and be ok with it, I would “let myself” fantasize about things that I felt sort of awful about after masturbating, rather than fantasize about the things that I felt really awful about afterwards — and then, later, my harm reduction was about moving away from things that I felt sort of awful about fantasizing about. Harm reduction is relative and always in flux, I think. It’s about being easy with yourself. Sometimes you can choose a kind of abstinence (I’m not going to do this thing at all, again, ever) and sometimes you can choose a harm reduction strategy.

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Remember that the Body Empathy workshop that I’m co-facilitating with the amazing Alex Cafarelli is coming up in just a few weeks on November 13! This is a day-long writing and gentle body movement workshop for queer/SGL/genderqueer/trans survivors of sexual trauma.  Spaces are starting to fill up, and we’d love to have you there if you’re thinking about it…and if you have questions, feel free to write me a note and we’ll chat!

Also! Tomorrow is the monthly Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture — we didn’t meet last month because both Carol and I were away, so I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone! We’ll be at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission Street in San Francisco (between 11th and So Van Ness) at 7:30 on Wednesday night — every fourth Wednesday of the month.
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What about a prompt? You might write about the ways that you “imperfect” decisions get you through the night… or make a list of your imperfections, and write about how gorgeous each of them is. Remember this quote from Rabbi Daniel Hillel: ‘I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.’

I’m grateful for you today, for the ways that you’re human and stunning, for the ways that you stumble and keep dancing, for how you model for others every time you do.


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Coming up! Body Empathy on Sat, November 13

(Please help us pass the word!)

First Congregational Church of Oakland

2501 Harrison St.

Oakland, CA

No previous experience necessary! Pre-registration required. Fee: $50-100, sliding scale (Please check in with us if funds are an issue—payment plans are always possible, and we may be able to work out trades or other arrangements as well!) Register here — or write to jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org with any questions!

What if we could truly experience empathy for our bodies as they are – and then, by extension, for ourselves, as we are?

As queer, genderqueer & trans survivors with a wide array of backgrounds and identities in a sexuality-/gender-restrictive culture, our self-protective tendency can be to “check out” by detaching mind from body to such great degrees that it can be dangerous. Physical activity and writing are two ways to check back in with your embodied self.

With deep respect for the privacy and variety in our personal experience of gender expression and our individual histories, this workshop will create safe space for participants to embrace our bodies as they are, and to write the stories our bodies have been wishing to speak, while allowing possibility for the integration of identity and physical presence. Using brief writing exercises and low impact body mindfulness exercises derived from improvisational theater, Zen meditation practice, and the internal Chinese martial arts, participants will have the opportunity to fully embody our gender complexity in a healing and playful environment.

The exercises we practice can be easily incorporated into our daily lives and can enhance our ability to reflect mindfully on our experiences, while interacting with others from a place of self-acceptance, internal power, and confidence, as we move through the world as the fabulously feisty queer & gender warriors we are…
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Your facilitators:

Alex Cafarelli is a Jewish genderqueer femme trauma survivor with a background of 17 years of martial arts training. Currently teaching body mindfulness classes in Oakland, Alex also works as a gardener specializing in drought-tolerant and edible landscapes, does Reiki/massage bodywork, and develops and leads element-based rituals to support women, queers, transfolk, and genderqueers in moving through transitions and healing from trauma. Contact Alex at petals_and_thorns@yahoo.com.

Jen Cross is a queer incest survivor and a widely-anthologized writer who has facilitated survivors and sexuality writing workshops since 2002. She offers two weekly AWA-method workshops (Write Whole: Survivors Write and Declaring Our Erotic) in San Francisco. Find out more about Jen at
writingourselveswhole.org or write her at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org.

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light through the layers of his lies

woman in a gas mask, naked, lying flat and looking out at the viewerNote: this morning’s write contains some explicit writing around sexual violence. Just a heads-up: please be easy with you. xox, Jen

I’m in that very-tired place that comes just before bleeding, at least for me. So my thoughts are slow this morning and I’d like another several hours of sleep.

This month’s Writing the Flood is coming up this Saturday, 10/16: want to come out and write?

Some exciting plans are in the works — Alex Cafarelli and I are again going to be offering our Body Empathy workshop next month on Nov 13! Registration is open now — more info soon here and on the calendar page.

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For our first prompt last night, I offered these three fragments:

– There’s no way to describe how…

– I’m coming out as…

– The world begins at a kitchen table (Joy Harjo)

(Grab one of these and use it for your own write this morning: we took 20 minutes; please take as much time as you’d like– follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go).

Here’s my response to this exercise:

There’s no way to describe how slow it used to go, the panic, the rising, the waiting. I’m not sure where I want to go with this.

There’s no way to describe how the waiting used to feel, how cold the silence was in our house when my mother was still at work showing picture books and anatomically-correct dolls to her child clients in the sterile plush of her therapist office and her husband was at home with her daughters, wanting and jockeying to make an anatomically-correct doll of himself for us to play with.

I wanted this to be a poem but it’s just the same old story and I’m coming out as not quite ready to let go trying to tell you how it was. This is an awful memory: he was the one who taught me both the hatefulness and acceptability of queerness, the way he’d mock and cackle over gay men he knew, decry their mother issues, their obvious narcissism, and then later, mucfh later, in bed with me(and how much I need a phrase that incorporates the tender brutality of a forced and enforced consent into something as plain and bald as ‘rape’), he would detail his own bisexuality, he wanted to form an allegiance with me, but I couldn’t agree too easily, because of the doublethink and the nausea that caused.

What bed was that in, and what house? Somehow now I’m imagining a bed that never could have been, and so it must have been the couch — I hate worrying into these details, and it’s only in the details that I survive.

I had already met gay people who weren’t raopists, so there was no chance that i would conflate his rabid bullshit with gayness, period. He wanted me to mut my finger in his butt and I’ll tell you that I did it, just one more shitty thing I did to survive. I had learned from safer sex lectures how to be careful, and I leanrd the awful power of penetrating. I never wanted anything of him on me. He made this connection, wathing something in his butt made him gay, and then talked about the consensual sex he says he had with his uncle when he was a little boy.

This was when his stories started unraveling. This was when I began to see light through the layers of his lies. This was when I did as I was told, but kept some handle on the part of me I put away, the part that sat heavy with the stones of his stories, the part that came back after he was finished and I was alive again.

Thank you for your gentleness with yourself today, with all the yous you’ve been, with all you’ve done and do to survive. Your being is important, and I’m grateful for you.