Tag Archives: ceremony

allowing ceremony

graffiti: a white flower, a bluebutterfly and a big purple arrow, surrounding the words, "planting the seeds of change"It’s a Monday morning here, and beautiful — slow blue filling the sky, and I keep my eye out for the deer that like to stroll along the hill behind our apt building, munching on grass and weeds, keeping a kind of watch.

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Thanks to all who came out for this month’s Writing the Flood! We had a fantastic gathering of folks in a new, gorgeous, peaceful space over in Berkeley — I’m imagining, for a time, that maybe we’ll move back and forth between San Francisco and the East Bay for this workshop. Our April Writing the Flood meets on the 9th, which is the second Saturday of the month — on the third Saturday, I’ll be celebrating good friends getting married, then will head south for the Body Heat: Queer Femme Tour!

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This morning, I am thinking about the ways that we who have experienced trauma, in maybe any form, reinsinuate, reintegrate ourselves into humanity, into our communities, into something called family. This maybe isn’t writing that I can do on the computer — it’s too big and messy for the containment of typed letters and a little blog box. I don’t have an answer to this question; I still, often, feel outside of humanity — not above, but other(ed), unwelcome. That there are people, and then there’s Jen. That, too, the people around me know something about being human that I missed out on learning during the years our stepfather controlled almost every aspect of our lives, essential things about being a friend, being a coworker, being alive.

How do we undo this experience? I know I’m not alone in this feeling, even as that’s the point of the experience: to isolate. Those outside of the pack get taken down by predators.

And intellectually, I know I’m not outside of humanity — I, too, know that some friends, who are not trauma survivors, sometimes share this feeling of being outside, being other.

So I’m curious about the ways we are welcomed back into humanity, if we are at all. I think there used to be ritual, in the old religions/spiritual ways/ways of human engagement — I think there used to be ceremony to welcome, for example, the warrior back home. We need those rituals now. And what are the ways to welcome the raped woman/man/person, the child abused and neglected, back into connection and community? Rituals that would apologize and make amends even as they washed and said, we want you here, if you want to be here. What are those ways?

What are the ways you have found, to reengage with community, to again let humanity feel like a part of who you are (if, indeed, you ever felt inside of that experience)?

I have found it through political organizing, through social change work, through creative engagement/writing with others, through risky conversations with friends. I have found it sometimes when I was drinking, when alcohol let me drop that inside guard down — now I want to find the way to bring down that inside wall without need of drunkenness/selfmedication.

But there’s more that I want. I want a ceremony. I want a gathering of all the people, all my blood family on my mother’s and father’s side, friends of mine and my sister’s from elementary school,. jr high, high school, college, after college, friends and colleagues of my mother and father and stepfather (but not to have my stepfather there at all) and I want to be on open land near the sea, and I want candles and sunlight and blue sky, and I want us to tell our stories. All of us. This is who I was, this is what I went through after my mother remarried, this is who I am now. I want to spill it all out and be free of it, let it be out of my soft gut and low intestines and throat. I want to know that they all, all these people, all these connections, all this human family, help hold this story with me. What happened to us happened to all of us, happened to everyone who loved/s  us, happened to our whole community. When does our whole community, our whole enormous extended (human) family, get the chance to heal? And then I want to know their stories. I want to know what I can hold along with them that is too heavy for them to carry alone. That is a part of my experience and understanding of community and family. I want us to be fed well and joyfully, to have times to walk by the sea and lots of time to rest. I want dancing and hugging. I want someone facilitating the process, someone knowledgeable in the ways of loss and ceremony and human desire and spirit; I want to know that something bigger than us is there, holding us all, watching and grateful or at least nodding.

This is a big fantasy, but it could be a much longer write, with much more detail. Fantasy serves us very well sometimes, allowing us to step into desire that we can’t or might not want to or aren’t yet ready to act out or have come ‘true’ in the physical plane. Sometimes, fantasy is realization, too.

If there were a ceremony that you could design, that could bridge your way  (or your character’s way) back into a sense of community and/with humanity, what would that look like? Who would be there? Where would it be held, and at what time of year? Climb into the details, if you want to, and don’t call it ritual or ceremony if that’s triggering or doesn’t work for you — use the language that you prefer and like. Call it gathering or church or party or — give yourself 10 or 20 minutes. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

Thank you for your persistence and generosity of spirit. Thank you for all the creative ways you have allowed humanity to hold you, even when it has disappointed and failed you. Thank you for your words your words your words.

you will scar where your mother’s hand should have been

graffiti shadows of two people holding handsI had a dream this morning of a performance, a play, a musical, and I was helping, but thinking that I could take voice classes, I wanted to be in the play. At one point I stopped and looked out the window at a double rainbow, at first I thought it was a triple, like, there were two rainbows in usual double rainbow form and then a third, sharper angle and twisted, like someone had taken the third rainbow at the midpoint and pulled and twisted and puffed and then I realized it was an airplane trail right there in the midst of the rainbows. The song had been Hey Big Spender, and then someone was doing a singy monologue in the middle of it, a man, the big spender, he was down in the audience, right close to everyone, and projecting like he was still on stage. People didn’t want to look at the rainbows because of the performance.

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I woke up feeling ok and feeling sad. And I woke up still thinking about what I wrote last night and this weekend, about ceremonies, about that enormous tragedy of loss, about how most of us have no ceremonies to bring us back into our larger families or communities after we are raped or after our mothers or fathers abuse us or after we come out as queer (or…): instead, we are the ones outcast. The ceremony is our silence. The ceremony is our dismissal, our excommunication from community of blood and earth. We are the sacrificed, the center of their ceremonies to continue to pretend at normalcy. Was it always this way? Has it really always and everywhere been this way?

I’m attached to the books Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara (I’m using Amazon links today in case you want to read a little bit, but please buy the book locally!), because they’re stories about ceremonies of retrieval, of recognizing the layers and depths of an individual’s wounding and illness and pain, and recognizing, too, the ways that each of those layers is connected to other people, that each individual’s illness/wounding/pain is a community’s illness/wounding/pain. These books read like fairy tales to me, because there’s nothing like this anywhere in my lived experience, anywhere in my communities.

These stories, I think, are why I’m so compelled right now at the idea of restorative justice work: the work where a community comes together around someone who has committed a crime or a harm against a person and the person who had the crime committed against them, and everyone tells their stories about how they were affected by this crime. Restorative justice work looks like old ceremony, looks like: it matters how we treat each other because we are all of us affected by any one person’s actions or experience–the ‘victim’ and the ‘offender,’ of course, and the witnesses, too.

It’s profoundly lonely not being a part of a family when in a society that puts so much emphasis on the importance of family, the value of family, that talks such good and consistent talk about care for the children and oh the children are everything (when, in fact, we know the truth:  we see that mask revealed for what it is over and over and over again, children slaughtered (it’s a terrible word but the first word to come to mind and I’m not talking about only in other countries — I’m talking about right here)).

It’s too early for me to try and write about something so important. The loneliness is about having to walk away from a family in order to save one’s own life. It’s about understanding, in a moment, that you’re unlacing yourself from mother and sister because you are walking away from the man who has trapped and abducted you all. It’s about understanding that no one is going to make it easy for you to go, and no one bit of your blood is going to meet you on the other side of that letting go. You will be alone there. You will have friends, the people who have chosen you and who you choose, and they will be everything, and they will not be the same, and you will scar where your mother’s hand should have been, where you should have been caught when you were falling away from the american dream. And that scar will remain, throb, every time she touches you, ever. The loneliness is in understanding that scar is a profound loss for both of you.

How do we come back from this loss? What other possibilities, ceremonies, could reconnect us? What about restorative justice for us? We don’t include the rapist (who was my mother’s second husband) in this case, but what about the family that got decimated in his aftermath? The family that was supposed to be — could we come together: mother and father and sisters, extended family, aunts and uncles and cousins from both sides, could we all tell our stories, like it mattered? Like it mattered to all of us?

I want to talk more about Ceremony and The Salt Eaters (and, too, it looks like someone already has and I’m looking forward to reading Gay Wilentz’s Healing Narratives: Women Writers Curing Cultural Dis-ease) but it’s quarter to 7 in the morning and soon I have to get up and away from the computer and I have shower I have to to put on my clothes I have to walk to the bus I have to go to work where I don’t write about books and stories; instead I listen to the stories of numbers, the stories of small pieces of information and how they come together in new formations. Everything we do is a story. There is no work without story, because there is no us without story.

Thank you for you, for your words and healing, for your resiliences.