Tag Archives: community

re-entering the chaos of radical love and belonging

[Photo description: a red and white sticker, young woman's face in profile surrounded by a red circle and the words "Don't give up the fight - Queer up your life"]Good morning, good morning. It’s not even seven here yet and already it looks like high noon outside, the sun making an enormously bright arc of the horizon. I close all the shades, trying to hold on to dark for a little bit longer. What do you do when you want to hold on to the dark?

I went too hard and too fast this weekend; the pendulum is swinging back from “constant engagement with others” to “go hide in a cave,” and I’m in Facebook withdrawal right now. Between following the organizing of a couple of outsider events during Gay Pride weekend (a Thursday Throwback “march” that ended up being a sweet gathering in Dolores Park of folks who all knew and loved one another in queer 90s San Francisco, and a Take Back the Dyke March march [note: that link’s NSFW] that was hastily and yet professionally thrown together when it was made known that the Dyke March was taking a new route and the community couldn’t get any answers as to why) and the Supreme Court ruling about marriage equality on Friday, I was on Facebook constantly. I get a little obsessive with it, refreshing my screen over and over, but not necessarily participating in any conversations as much as I’m just consuming, consuming, consuming. What’s happening? What did she say back to him? What do they think about this?

Yes, on Friday, it was powerful to watch everyone and their sister rainbow their Facebook profile pics in support of the newly-announced right of gay/queer folks to marry anywhere in the country, if they chose. All those rainbows felt like a virtual gay pride parade — and yet I kept reminding myself about the other side of the equation: “This isn’t in support of gay/queer folks generally — this is about marriage, about a particular and comfortable and romantic vision of togetherness. There’s lots about queer folks that mainstream America– and the mainstream gay community — still isn’t dealing with.”

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love your community on v day – believe and then take action

Good morning good morning. How is the morning where you are? Here the day is just dawning, and the air outside is a hazy, misty blue.

I have been trying to write about Dylan Farrow and her adoptive father and her resilient naming of his actions and the way the whole world has something to say to her about it. I want to write about how, when you tell your story, things get better — because of course, people believe you, people will listen, people will take action. But, of course, that’s not true. We know that’s not true. Many of us told, both directly and indirectly, and were not protected or were not believed.

It’s hard for me to write about this. The people tell me that I have to be articulate, calm, composed, and objective when I write or talk about sexual violence and sexual violators (otherwise I’m just another angry victim shooting off her mouth). If I speak about W.A. and his actions (both copped to, like marrying a very young woman who had been a surrogate child of his, and not copped to, like sexual abuse of an adoptive child), or if I speak about how horrifying it is that the Interweb wants me to understand that they’d very much LIKE to believe Dylan Farrow’s story, but, oh, look, she was a child who didn’t tell the story the same way every time, and, oh, look, her parents were involved in a really terrible custody battle and her mother was very, very angry, and oh, look, the conditions under which she was supposed to have been abused are totally unbelievable and oh, look, W.A. is a pretty great guy who makes all these films and has all these big Hollywood films who’s never been accused of child abuse *before* and oh, look, there was no physical evidence, and oh,look,the cops came and other authorities came and they investigated and they came to the conclusion that no charges should be pressed and that means that, sorry, Dylan Farrow is probably a liar but it’s not her fault because she was just a kid and she was being manipulated by a lying, scheming, money-grubbing, crazy mom — when I speak about all this, I have to be quiet and calm and composed about my response if I want anyone to listen to me.

Here’s my calm response:

There are kids who lie who are also raped.
There are kids who are in the middle of terrible custody battles who are raped.
There are kids who are sexually violated under the most unbelievable of circumstances. I don’t know if you can surprise me anymore, given the stories I’ve heard. Would a terrible claustrophobic climb into an attic for just a few moments to act out sexually with a child he was supposed to be caring for? Of course I believe that could happen.
There’s often no physical evidence of sexual abuse, with kids or adults. The fact that this continues to be a standard that has to be met in order to prove that violence has occurred astounds me.
Many, many people who are seen as pillars of their communities are also sexual violators.

None of these so-called logical reasons make me question what I’ve heard of Dylan Farrow’s story, nor anyone else’s. This, of course, isn’t just an issue for famous folks with major media connections — this issue of how we talk about survivors telling their stories has a huge impact in our communities. If we want to end intimate violence, we need to undo the culture of isolation and silencing that surrounds these violences. And in order to do that, we have to communicate to survivors that they are going to be supported when they come forward.

My sister and I were lucky that we both were abused by our stepfather in similar ways. What a completely awful sentence to write — yet, this is why I say it: when we went to the county attorney in Omaha and revealed who it was who had been harming us for the past decade, we were sure that she would run us out of her office. This was a man who was known in psychotherapy circles, a man who had friends in the court, a many who worked with child abuse victims at Boys’ Town, a man who acted as an expert witness in child sexual abuse cases. You’re going to tell me he did what? There was, of course, no physical evidence, and we were there with our father, a man who had plenty of reason to be completely furious with our stepfather and our mother, both — and a man to whom we had both told a lot of lies about what was going on in the house on 57th Street in Omaha, NE. There were lots of reasons for us to expect not to be believed.

We got lucky; I don’t know how else to say it. The County Attorney said she’d never heard of him (I’ll never know whether or not that’s true), and sent us to speak with detectives — something neither of us was prepared for. We each met with a male detective, separately and alone, and each spoke to those men for a couple of hours, at least, I think, telling our stories. It turned out that we corroborated each other. That’s maybe the only thing that put our stepfather in jail. If either of us had come alone to the courthouse, told our story alone, been expected to defend ourselves with the rest of the family contradicting us, his community contradicting us, what hope would we have had of finding any justice?

(Not that the criminal justice system is set up to offer justice to victims and survivors of intimate violence — it’s set up to protect property and capital. But that’s a different blog post.)

Today I am thinking about the ways that we as a public will make excuses for the men and women who are violent towards others, and the ways that we work as hard as we can to continue living with our own denial, to not have to step out of our comfort zones, to stop listening to music that we liked or stop reading books we liked or stop watching movies we liked or even stop hanging out with friends we’ve liked because we decide we no longer want to support their actions toward others — even if we never directly witness those actions ourselves, but because someone has been able to take the extraordinary action of speaking out into and against that massive cultural denial to say, “This person has done immeasurable harm against me, and I can’t be the only one holding them accountable. I need my community to stand with me.”

My sister and I were lucky; our family believed us, and the community that our stepfather had participated in didn’t obstruct us — they didn’t support us, exactly, but they also didn’t come forward to call us liars.

The community, very often, doesn’t want to stand with the violated. We want to stand with the person with the power. The abuser is infrequently abusive in public; they reserve that behavior for private performances. It’s the survivor who can be challenging for us — so visibly angry, so demanding. So we, their community, feel more drawn to the person who laughs, not the person who’s angry. The person who seems calm, not the person who’s agitated. The person who’s easy, not the person who’s difficult. We, the community, in choosing to stay comfortable, also choose to stand against what we say we believe.

On this valentine’s day, people will enjoy loving, tender, and sweet romantic connections with themselves and their loved ones. And many, many people are going to be harmed by their significant others — both physically and in ways that leave no marks whatsoever. Someone you know is going to tell you something that has happened to them or is happening to them and you aren’t going to want to believe it — you aren’t going to want to have to believe it, because believing is going to mean that you have to change in some way. Believing your friend will mean you have to change how you see and/or behave toward both parties — your friend and the person who has hurt them. This can be difficult, sad, or scary. Standing up for your friend, and your community, means you have to choose to act out what you say you believe about undoing a culture of silence. It means you have to walk your talk.

Maybe let this be the place where your own writing begins today — how can you walk your talk with someone in your community today? How would you have your community walk with you? Give yourself ten, twenty minutes on the timer — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you show up for your community, and for the ways you allow your community to show up for you. Thank you for the generosity you show yourself as you move through your layers of tellings. And thank you for your words.

a world larger than the tight wound I’d come to inhabit

Good morning — it’s finally beginning to feel like “early” when I wake up. Today the alarm went off at 5, and I started that inside conversation:

you keep saying you want to get up early, come on, now

but I’m so tired. do I really have to get up?

It goes on like that for awhile; I won’t repeat all the parts.  Outside, it’s still quiet. Outside, it’s still dark. Here at my desk, I actually need the candle, and even though I’m yawning, I’m so glad to be here. I’ve missed the sense of being at the computer so early that I can barely remember what it is that I’m saying as I type it, and my head says: what are we doing here? and outside the birds are still asleep and, back up in the North Bay, this would be the time that the owls were talking to each other. No owls yet here in midtown Oakland. No deer either. The wildlife look different here.

Still, this is what I know: the earlier I can rise, the more writing I can do in the morning before I have to go in to “work.” Also, the earlier I’ll get tired, so the (ostensibly) easier it will be to get up and do it again tomorrow. Why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s early, and I’m tired. And I’m proud of myself for getting out of bed.

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This morning I am thinking about trauma and community, about intimacy and how we learn to find something like home in others after home turned out to be the unsafest place of all. Last night I went to hear my friend Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore read from her latest book, The End of San Francisco. It’s a novel memoir, wrangling with hope and possibility in communities that crumble, communities of folks who are all facing death all the time– Continue reading

witness in the aftermath of disaster

There were lilacs at the table where I worked on my novel this morning, which made the day smell like home — although back in Nebraska, the lilacs don’t start blooming until the end of April or May. (I couldn’t quite remember that and had to look it up; that’s how spoiled I’ve gotten by California and their green-wet winters and January-blooming daffodils and year-round gardens.)

I’m deep in morning sunshine, I’m listening to the kids shouting during gym class at the playground a block or so away, I’m watching the dog try and climb the fence after the squirrels. I’m trying to figure out why it matters for me to sit at this keyboard when there’s a garden to tend and a dog to throw the ball for, friends I need to call, muscles to stretch, grass to feel beneath my toes — I mean, when there’s real and embodied life to live, why am I here sitting in front of a screen, giving myself carpal tunnel (knock wood)?

I don’t want to write about Boston yet, so I go online and read a news story about yesterday’s bombings. I look at the map, red starbursts marking the sites where the IEDs exploded on Boylston Street. I haven’t been to that neighborhood for years, not since my last Boston Pride. I think about what it’s like when throngs of people are gathered in one place, and how terrifying it would be to have those masses suddenly panicking in fear for their own and their loved ones’ lives. I think about Martin Richard, an 8 year-old boy, and the other two people who died as a result of the explosions, and the over 170 people injured (many of whom lost limbs). I think about the trauma that everyone at the Marathon experienced, and how their lives are changed forever. Continue reading

Fierce Hunger — so much love.

Cover of Fierce Hunger chapbookGood morning (it’s still morning technically) — I have here a little cup of decaf coffee loaded up with cream and a sleepy pup and a full and achy heart. Is Monday welcoming you in with its tender arms? (I know Monday often feels more like a grabber — I just wondered about shifting that story a little.)

Today I feel softened and broken open and a little weepy. Writing Ourselves Whole’s tenth anniversary benefit and celebration on Saturday was a gorgeous success: a roomful of writers and friends, wonderful food and drink, and about fifty items donated for our silent auction and raffle! What an astonishing space we made together. Continue reading

when it’s time for independence

graffiti of a pocket watch (the hands read just past 12 o'clock) on a green background with a bird hovering, seated, just to the upper leftWhat a good morning is this morning: lovely cool morning air that promises to heat up as the sun fully takes over the evening damp; a puppy who gets to run in the park grass, gets to leap high in the air for her ball; morning pages and candlelight alongside green-anise-cardamom tea.

What happens when it’s time for something new? When it’s time to claim independence from some part of yourself, to allow another part of yourself to rise?

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sharing our ink

the Dirty Ink logo, a woman lying on a pen, weilding a whip of words

the fabulous Dorian Katz's gorgeous logo for Dirty Ink! Click on the image to check out more of Dorian's work...

In just a day or so, I’ll be on tour with the Body Heat: Queer Femme Porn tour. This is the fifth iteration of this tour, and the fourth one I’ve participated in.

It’s strange for me, to have this be a normal thing to say: “Yeah, I won’t be here for that event, I’ll be on tour.” On tour? Me? How did that happen?

What I love about being a performing writer/artist is coming to understand, over the last six years or so (since the inception of Dirty Ink, a fierce-and-fabulous dyke erotica collective, and then, after that, with Body Heat), that performances and shows happen because an artist/performer decides they want them to happen. I mean, we didn’t have to wait for someone to say they wanted to see us stand up and read dirty queer stories that were inflected with a history and experience of trauma — we decided we wanted to do this, to share these pieces with the world, and so we figured out how to do it: we found a venue/show to collaborate with or booked a space on our own, we sent out press releases and info to papers and online calendars and we told all our friends and sent out announcements to mailing lists and we wrote and rewrote and practiced and then we stood up in front of a room full of people and shared our work. What a wonderful way to publish!

The first time we accomplished this, I was moved beyond words — this experience of being a writer-artist collaborating with other writer-artists, first of all, meant that I was part of something much bigger than me, meant that I’d found kindred spirits. Then, too, there was the fact that people came out to hear our work. Strangers and friends wanted to sit on hard chairs on a Friday night, they parted with well-earned money, they gave us their hours, and we got to give them back our words. This exchange is delicious, it’s dangerous, it’s an extraordinary gift that cycles around and through audience and performer.

When Body Heat takes off from Atlanta on Monday and heads to Huntsville (and then to Nashville, the Planet Ida, then Asheville, then Durham, then back around to the ATL!), we’ll find community there, strangers who want connection, and with whom we want connection as well. We’ll find that same generosity that I’ve experienced every time I’ve performed my work, which has nothing in particular to do with my work and has more to do with the seeking out of shared experience, the desire to come together with others and share in a performance, the making live of art that otherwise one consumes alone and maybe in isolation. An open mic, a reading, a spoken word event: these are incarnations of the old old way of sharing and passing on information, when the bards came through town. It’s a tremendous thing, to get to join the circle of bards. And the other thing? People will share their beds and food with us, they will want us safe and comfortable. This continues to amaze me, and puts gratitude in parts of my body that I didn’t know needed un-wall-ing, and I walk around after tour always quite a bit softer and more exposed.

Here’s the sometime else I’ve learned — there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this stuff, the creating of shows and events, the sharing of your art and wisdom with others. Is there a show that you want to see? You can make that happen — you can book time or space at a gallery or cafe for an open mic, you can find people willing to open their living rooms for a house party. There are people who need what you envision, what you have to share. If you can imagine it, you’re not the only one who wants it — just hold that possibility for awhile.

(Thank you for your envisioning, the connections you want to create, how you shape that into reality with your creativity — thank you always for your words.)

http://www.facebook.com/BodyHeatTour#!/event.php?eid=196589357038514

Safetyfest 2011 is less than a month away!

Promo Poster for Safetyfest 2011 - April/Abril 14-17, 2011

Mark your calendars: CUAV’s second annual Safetyfest is coming, April 14-17!

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From CUAV‘s Safetyfest Blog: Safetyfest is a 100% free festival celebration of all the fierce ways queer and trans people in the Bay Area stay safe and strut our stuff. Our communities already have so many of the tools we’ll need to end violence and be truly safe in all the ways we deserve to be–we just need to share them!

It’ll all kick off with a sexy launch party in Downtown Oakland, followed by dozens of amazing free workshops, cultural events, and art and healing activities on both sides of the bay, and wrap up with a hella fun closing party in SF.

The first-ever safetyfest took place in 2010 and was super fabulous beyond our wildest dreams–over 300 people attended! This years festivities will build on last year’s strengths and deepen the impact of what we can do together. We’re bringing back the most popular workshops from last year like self-defense, sexual consent, writing, BDSM, Bay history bike tour, and more, and adding new workshops based on feedback from attendees and other folks in our community. What do you want to see at safetyfest this year? Send your ideas to safetyfest@cuav.org.

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Visit www.cuav.org/safetyfest to We need your help to make safetyfest a reality!
, check out the  full calendar, get updates and learn how you can participate! (And, speaking of participation, visit http://www.volunteerspot.com/login/entry/322345634360052045 to learn how you can volunteer with Safetyfest!)
Please also visit the Safetyfest Indiegogo page at http://www.indiegogo.com/safetyfest-2011 and donate, donate, donate! Safetyfest is free to all attendees, and we need your help to make safetyfest a reality! While you’re at the Indiegogo page, make sure to watch the incredible video that CUAV/Safetyfest staff & volunteers put together so that you can learn more about this amazing, revolutionary event and why it’s so necessary for you to be a part of it!

we could work there together, we could support each other

graffiti of a bee nestling into red clover

check out this fantastic commissioned graffiti in Inverness!

Gorgeous first meeting of the Fall ’10 Write Whole workshop last night — one of those meetings that leave me so damn grateful to get to be in this work. Declaring Our Erotic starts on Thursday night: pass the word, will you? That’s going to be a joyful space!

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This morning I would like to stay in bed until my body decides it’s time to get up, not the alarm — I’d like a long, hot bath to loosen my muscles and self into morning, I’d like a quiet breakfast I eat at my table rather than at a computer (or, in this case, at a meeting), and I’d like, then, to come back here to my desk at home to spend the day communicating with folks about writing workshop-related matters. Maybe a break in there for some time in the garden, weeding, deadheading, seeding new greens…

It’s going to be one of those days where every half-hour is scheduled, and so, just for right now, I’m envisioning something different.

Days like today, I have to remind myself that every part of my life is intentional — it doesn’t feel that way when my day job gets demanding, but I have this job for a reason. It’s funding the rest of my work, it’s funding the workshops and workshop space when they’re under-enrolled, it’s funding me in that work: the workshops barely cover the space and the materials/snacks. It’s also giving me connection with other folks, a place of some community, work that’s off the page, which I need sometimes. I get frustrated that my time isn’t all my own, which means (when I’m frustrated) that I’m not getting to do only what I want to do every minute. And then I remember (I remind myself) that I want to be in this job right now (health insurance is good), and so I am doing what I choose — which is a pretty damn big privilege.

Yesterday, though, too, I fantasized about putting out a call to the people I know who are starting new TLA-related work* (writing workshops, theater groups, drama therapy, maybe, or spoken work classes) and saying: Listen, if four or five of us pool three or four hundred bucks a month, we could afford a decent sized office space, with a few different meeting rooms, with a kitchen maybe, with our own bathroom, with a waiting area that we could decorate with plants and hangings — and we could work there together, we could support each other, we could have weekly office meetings where we get to write for five minutes and then talk about what’s happening, what changes need to happen around the space, what’s going on in our work, we could…

This is something that a handful of AWA-workshop facilitators, including myself and my friends Peggy Simmons and Chris DeLorenzo, began visioning a few years ago, and it’s an environment that I’d still like to find myself working in in the not-too-distant future.

I want that space, and that community. After coming back from the Power of Words conference, where I was a small part of a great team, I’m suddenly feeling isolated — granted, this isolation was entirely cultivated. Working alone at my day job gives me the kind of flexibility I need, and in the rest of my life, I’m growing a writing workshop organization from scratch, which meant doing a lot of the work (at least, for the first few years) alone. But I like being able to bounce ideas off people, and being able to do the work together: many hands make light work isn’t a joke. It means the work goes further, faster (which is maybe a bit scary sometimes).

One of the things I always loved about working at a non profit organization was the weekly staff meeting. Seriously. Even when the organization was embroiled in heavy drama, I loved the chance to get together and see everyone, hear what we each were doing. I sort of get that now with my friend and colleague Peggy: we talk every week about our work, and once a month we can get together over coffee.

So today I’ll be in lots of meetings, and though I won’t be meeting to talk about writing or AWA or TLA (these things I’d prefer to be spending my time on), I will be gathering with other people to discuss something important to us, to grow a new piece of work, to celebrate work well done. And after it’s all done, I’ll get myself to the yoga studio and stretch and sweat myself into today’s practice and my desires for tomorrow.

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A prompt for today? Maybe give yourself 15 minute — take 7 to write about why every bit of what’s happening in your life right now is exactly right (!) for where you’re hoping to get to, and then take 8 to write a vision of a year from now, or three, when you’re doing just what you want to do with your days.

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Thank you for being here, for reading, for the thick power of your words and the work they continue to do, even after you’ve moved on.

*And what does it mean to be Transformative Language Arts related work? After several days in Vermont spent discussing that very question, I don’t have a definitive answer for you. The TLAN website defines transformative language arts as “all forms of the spoken, written and sung word as a tool for personal and community transformation.”  In my work, I think of TLA very broadly: as any intentional application of language for change or growth. Intentional conversation can be TLA. Poetry and poetry workshops can be TLA, any AWA writing workshop is TLA, Playback Theater is TLA … it’s as broad as our human engagement with language.

http://www.tlanetwork.org/

writing hands are strong hands (a new workshop begins tonight)

freedom/graffiti calligraphyVery sleepy here at my morning writing desk.  I have a cup of strong decaf brewed with cardamom and a dash of stevia — so no added sugar! I have Groove Salad slowly waking my auditory self, singing me into this Monday morning.  I have a messy desk, receipts to file, notebooks to type up, seeds to plant, and little notes on torn scraps of paper holding topics I want to write about.

A new workshop starts tonight, another group of folks coming together to dive into their creative selves, to make space in their lives for words-in-community, words that get to commingle with other(s’) words, words that feed and are fed upon dreams and synchronicity.

I get nervous at this moment, when the workshop’s just about to begin, when we all don’t know or remember each other yet, when we’re re-finding our way to our inner songs. This sounds a little simplistic maybe.  What I know is, the nervousness is about possibility, about my learning this particular chorus of voices and energies about to come together.

I love this moment, and I slide into ritual to keep me moving forward: write up the syllabus (which just means creating an outline of possible exercises for each of the 8 weeks, loosely associated with some themes that I came up with awhile ago as topics I thought we ought to touch on during workshops, or themes that often come up whether or not I intend/plan for them to: re-rooting, writing the body, fearless words, unspoken desire, and others), prepare the handouts, shop for snacks, shave and cut up the carrots.

(This is too focused, not morning-dreamy enough.  The poems live under your shoes at the sleepiest times (isn’t that what John Fox said, in the poetry he quoted?). I’d love to have an early morning writing workshop, 8am-10 or even 7-8:30, something folks would come to before they went to work, a space to collect with poetry, with dreamsong, with imagination and vivid interpersonal desire, with the sole purpose of haggling with meaning, a precision of tapping the right words, a sleepy-still writing time with others.)

Here’s what happens at the writing workshops: we write and rewrite our own songs and stories; we practice hearing and witnessing one another’s artistry (and, in so doing, we practice bearing witness to our own); we practice deep kindness.  Each of these are revolutionary acts, and when combined, they can be incendiary — the lit match to inflame our transformative desire, our desire for transformation.

What’s important is how folks use the workshops to transform their writing, their sense of themselves as writers/artists –and how we, over and over again, re-learn that we can trust the truth of our own voices.

There’s no reason this should work this way.  We sit in a room together, we put pen to paper alone, we read our new writing. Why should that be a liberatory practice? Why should we be willing to take that risk?

There’s no point here, and that is the point. Publishing is great, getting your work out in front of the world, whether you read it at a mic or have it appear in an anthology: this is important, plus maybe you get $25 or $50 to throw into your piggy bank.

But it’s not the most important thing, I think.  Or maybe not the most important thing for me, as someone who writes. What happens is we keep on gathering in front of our notebooks, creating something new. Risking again, that we can open and touch the mess and viscera, the hard blood, the stuff of loss and want, the trouble of impossible joy. The thing is that we resettle with these 26 letters and then some, and we try to make magic.

And what happens, in the middle of every workshop — when folks lift their heads from their writing, they tuck their pens behind their ears or keep clicking the ballpoint in and out, when we take a deep breath and say: OK. Who would like to read? — magic does happen. And it’s the simplest, most profound kind of magic: 1) someone has been willing (again! magic!) to risk finding the words to put to a truth that there are never enough words for, and 2) others receive that truth with kind eyes and strong hands (because, I’ll tell you, writing hands are strong hands). This is liberatory stuff: and not just for the writer. Witnessing is a difficult, necessary job. We write with the idea that there is a listener.  We speak to the page as though it has ears. When there are ears, that’s a whole new game.

And then this: in the workshop, we don’t analyze the writer, we don’t pathologize the content. We praise the metaphor, the maybe untended use of rhyme, we notice the repetition, the use of detail, the descriptions. We describe what was strong for us about the writing, and those who came into the room believing that they could not write have a little more weight on the other side of the scale, re-tipping our understanding of ourselves toward ‘creative being.’ Those who came into the room believing they did not have the mettle to tell a particular story, they start to learn different.

But there’s more that I want to say about witnessing: witnessing is work.  It requires attention, intention. In the workshops, we are sometimes witness to stories that have never before been spoken.  We are sometimes witness to the awful, stunning details of trauma: we feel like we’re the birds who’ve slammed into a pane of glass. But we, every time someone reads, are witness to a brand new thing. Every time. And that is a place of extraordinary honor.

We were taught, maybe in school, maybe from something we read, maybe elsewhere, that we aren’t supposed to share first drafts — that they’re not worthy of a hearing.  I don’t believe that.  First drafts–even the stuff at the workshops that are the embryos of first drafts–these have a breath and a heartbeat and a thrumming energy. When we’re willing to share these with others, we begin to hear where we end and the poem, the writing, takes off on its own. We begin to hear where our magic lies. (And maybe I mean that in both ways.) We practice a deep trust. And our writing grows.

Something tender and tenuous that grows among the writers in every workshop — we learn the sorts of things that others notice, we learn, then, how to incorporate those things into our writing, if we want.  We learn from each other’s witnessing, from what others remember and mention. Our writing grows under this care and feeding.

There are those who’d call this sort of writing space indulgent. I say, especially for survivors of trauma (and how many of us aren’t?), we get to indulge (if by that you mean, have treated kindly and with respect) the parts of us that haven’t yet been able to raise their natty, knotty voices.

In the workshops, we get to indulge the parts of our creative selves that went underground.  Of course, we were/are endlessly creative in our survival — because survival is a creative act. Every decision we made, every new facet to our personality grown and honed to protect us: creative. Every yes yanked from our lips, every no danced around, every strategizing moment: creative.

Jane Hirschfield said, at the Healing Art of Writing conference, that she thinks agency is the antidote to depression. “When you are being creative, you are free,” she said.

Yes, exactly. And being free, in community, with others enacting the same risky freedom: that’s liberatory practice. That’s freedom in action.

A new workshop begins tonight. I’ll be there with poems and exercises, tea and snacks and notebooks and pens, ready for the revolution (yours, my own, yes: ours), again and again and again.