This morning I wrote into the fog of the day with this tea, this candle, these fingers on the keyboard. I’ve been writing this post all day, needing breaks to stretch, to walk, to nap. Maybe eventually I’ll get it done enough to share.
The pain in my back flared up again after I got back from Atlanta. I was worried about traveling, afraid that something would torque badly when I lifted my bag into an overhead bin or sat for so long in one position on the plane. Overall, though, my back seemed to be at ease when I was back east, and did not complain the way it is now. Could there be something about being back in Oakland, in the space I am creating for my writing work, that’s sparking this renewed spasming? Continue reading “the soul’s own home is breaking open”→
This 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.
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…
Good morning! A morning write, and then it’s off and out into the world — I’ve got spiced decaf this morning instead of tea and why am I telling you this?
This is about getting the words started. This is about saying whatever will move the fingers across the keyboard so I can get to whatever comes next. Sometimes you have to write the stuff that will move you to and into what you needed to write — that doesn’t mean that the stuff that you wrote first was bad or wrong. In fact, that stuff was necessary: it got you to the other part, the part you most wanted to say.
The people across the street at the concrete place are using a loud mechanical saw already — it’s barely 6:30. Do they think everyone;s already up and going, or they just don’t care? I think I need more coffee. Funny how I can say that about this little cup of spiced decaf. Today’s spices are cardamom and cloves: add a little sugar (still no milk-like product around the house) and hum.
Ok — if I go with the little blog-topic calendar I came up with yesterday, that means, since it’s Wednesday, it’s a Declaring Our Erotic (DOE) day. What can I tell you about DOE? Right now, there’s no erotic writing workshop happening, but this fall, I’m going to be offering the DOE workshop to all queer survivors of sexual trauma — that means folks of many different genders in one room, writing about sexuality and desire, and sharing it aloud with folks who we’ve been trained to believe won’t understand anything about us and our sexuality, because they’re different from us.
It’s not like that belief doesn’t come grounded in some reality or experience for some of us, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is the joy that passes across the room when we open the thickness of ourselves onto the page. What I want to write about is the power and use of writing about sex.
There are times when writing about sex is the only sex I’m having. Don’t make a sad face for me — that’s often not a bad thing. In fact, it’s often very good: writing has been the way for me to keep hold of at least one thread of my sexuality during times when “real life” sex isn’t possible: when it’s just to triggering, too negative and scary.
Here’s what can be true for me: writing itself is an embodied process. I use my body to do the work, to type the words or move the pen across the page. Writing about sex is rarely triggering for me — and that’s just for me, I know it could be different for others — but there’s something powerful about the one-step-removed, the I’m just writing this down, I don’t have to do it, the this is someone else’s fantasy and life I’m stepping into right now.
There’s something powerful in writing someone else’s desire, moving into fiction, taking this character and asking, OK, what happens now if we try this? And I get to see what it’s like for her, and wonder (maybe, sometimes, I can let myself wonder), Would it be like this if I did it myself?
Other times I can just write someone else’s story and feel the desire rush through me as I write and not have to move myself into the imagined storyline — it’s enough to let this character have all her desire and her risk and bravery and fear and shame and orgasms (or not) and feel it as I’m writing. Writing sex is sexy, is scary, sometimes, but also powerful and em-power-ing.
If you’re just getting started writing sex, be gentle with yourself — let yourself write into strong sensory detail, what something tastes like, what a certain texture feels like against your or your character’s skin, what a favorite piece of music sounds like or feels like against the ear: that’s all embodied writing. Erotic writing doesn’t have to be carnal: erotic writing, by my estimation and experience, is embodied writing. Writing that’s in and of the body — of the character’s body and of the writer’s body.
Here’s one of my favorite exercises to do with a group of writers. Let yourself make a list of first times (and, in this case, I’m thinking about consensual first times) — remember that there are many many erotic/sexual first-times: first crush, their first kiss with a new somebody, their first time with a silk scarf wrapped around their wrists, their first massage, their first time showering with someone, their first time masturbating with a new something or other… let yourself generate this list, and then notice which first is most drawing your attention. It might be a first you’ve experienced or have wanted to experience, or it might be a first you’re curious about but not necessarily something you want to consider outside of fantasy or off the page — for whatever reason, let yourself be drawn to that first and start writing from there. Put your writing in the first person, using I, or in the second, using you, or the third person, using he or she or ze — whatever feels most right to you as you’re writing. Don’t worry about punctuation or verb tense or any grammar stuff: just let the words flow! Give yourself 10 minutes, say, after you generate your list, to bring this first time out onto the page. What happens in your body as you write?
Send me your thoughts, if you want to, or leave a comment below (the little captcha thing is weird, I know, but if you click where the text says to click, a cursor will appear above the letters you’re supposed to type, and then you can enter them –)
Thank you for being there, for reading, for doing all the amazing work you do.
I still panic, sometimes, talking about the fact that I lead both erotic writing and sexual trauma survivors writing workshops; there’s still that ingrained sense, for me, that these two things just don’t go together. I don’t think I probably need to explain this as often as I think I need to – and yet, every now and again, I dive back into the why.
Why sexuality and sexual trauma writing together, in the same ‘house’? Restorying our sexuality lets us come back here, into our bodies, the site of trauma, the site of violence against us if we are survivors of sexual trauma. Restorying, writing our desire, our history and too our now longing, re-embodies us in a safe-ish way (writing’s not completely without risk, of course: if the writing is to carry and convey the depth and breadth and truth of a story, an experience or possibility and that means the writing needs to be embodied and that’s a big fucking deal for sexual trauma survivors – embodiment). Writing is a way to settle into ourselves, slow back inside our skin – not the only way. One way.
When we write desire – any desire: fantasy or fiction or what just happened this afternoon – we are back in our skin, we experience the want, we feel its flesh and tingle and joy, and, too, struggle and ache and loss and fear. We can write, and so we can feel, a body free of flashbacks – and, too, we are deeply familiar with the truth of an erotic desire riddled with holes and loss and so we can describe it fully, gorgeously, achingly real and hot.
We who are sexual trauma survivors know how to embody another’s ostensible desire, because that was our job. What erotic writing can allow us to do is come into ourselves, our own wonders and imaginings – allows us to smell and taste ourselves again, or for the first time.
That’s where these two – sexual trauma and erotic writing – come together for me, are necessary together for me. In writing about sexual trauma, we can forget – we can wish to forget – about the weight of erotic desire. We can want to wipe it from our skin because that very desire sends blood pulsing through the body that was raped, makes flush the landscape of loss and terror, and who wouldn’t want to forget that place?
But we inhabit the scene of the crime. We can’t ever fully vacate this place, this body, not while we’re living: and an embodied erotics, a deeply creative lust for the world, was our birthright, long before we were born. We deserve to settle back fully into our bodies again. One way I’ve worked myself back up to the edges of my skin and beyond is through writing it.
We can claim now the heavy trail of longing, bent or shaped by our survival, we can eroticize shame, if we need to, we can claim a chosen pain because consent changes everything. We can write exactly the sex we want and deserve, and when we write it we embody it, and when we embody it, that’s a reclamation. That’s a restorying. That’s a restoration. What was slashed and burned can always take new life again, given time and space from the trauma. We tend this wound, this body, this site. Erotic writing can be damn joyful – and that joy is the tilling, the rainwater, the harvest