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(nablopomo #15) red bandana

pasted graffiti -- Marilyn Monroe wearing a bandana over her faceGood morning good morning — what can I give you this morning from this place of quiet and green tea?

I’m excited and nervous about today’s Conversations with Writers presentation at UC Davis — mostly looking forward to the Q&A time after the talk. We’ll talk about what’s liberatory about an erotic writing practice, about writing about sex or desire in a community, about the power of owning and naming one’s longings — especially now, at this time of struggle and revolution, the power of deep embodiment and creative practice.

And then maybe there’ll be a couple of readings, too, from the chapbooks: pink and devastating or what they didn’t teach us. That will be fun, too.

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I’ve got an old write for this morning’s post: write about fourth grade. My cousin reminded me of this era, the bandana era, in an email she sent recently, and so I’ve been remembering that time. This is a piece I wrote in a workshop a couple of years ago.

All my third or fourth grade year I wore a red bandana, the kind that most folks would be more accustomed to finding shoved down into some farmer’s back pocket or maybe tied around the neck of a scruffy dog called Bandit. Only a very much later did I learn that there was a whole kind of signaling and signifying going on in some people’s back pockets, speaking codes of desire and longing and acts wanted and acts that would be performed.  Only later did I learn that flags, that colors, could be the claiming of sides, of tribe markers, of bloods or crips, of klansmen—of course, I knew something about colors, I knew something about the red my whole town turned on Nebraska game days, I knew how red meant home and my team and ours vs. yours and yes verses no—I just hadn’t put all these unintelligible factionalizations together yet.  Humpty Dumpty hadn’t quite come all together apart for me by that time.  When I was in the fourth grade, I think, from 7 to 8, I wore a red bandana, folded in a triangle that I then knotted at the base of my head.  My father had taken me and my sister to the SuperCuts or HeadShots or QuikSnips or whatever the place was called, and he had told the two separate stylists (as they were euphemistically known) to give us pixie cuts.  Now, my fondest wish at that time, besides being able to maybe touch little Ricky Schroeder with my own hands or getting to spend all day reading sometimes, was to have hair like Crystal Gayle, who Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’d all over the stage with her long brown mane dusting the floor behind her feet.  When she sat down to be interviewed by the Mandrel Sisters on their Sunday night variety show right out of Hee Haw, Crystal had to sweep the mass out from underneath her so she could sit down.  I was not happy with the pixie cut –but we were maybe staying with my father for the summer or maybe he just felt our respective locks were too long for us to manage alone and we were getting too big for a parent to be in the bathroom with us, sudsing up our scalps with some apple-smelling shampoo—as soon as we left the SuperCuts, I lifted the hood on my jacket and cinched down the tethers on either side so that no one could see my head.  My sister did not try to hide her Julie Andrews—Peter Panny ‘do—she got to like it soon enough.  I hid all the way home, through the market where we saw either a teacher of ours or a boy I had a crush on (possibly both) and I ducked behind a row of canned fruit and boxed cake mix.  At home, I got the bandana and I promised to wear I till my hair showed out the bottom.

I did the same when I transitioned from boyness to girlness, in my thirties, covered my head, marked the change. I prefer to mask my shape shiftings in the plainest kind of view.

Today’s nablopomo prompt: Describe a favorite place. Focus on how that place affects your sense of taste, touch, sight, sound, or smell. (Guest Post by Adrienne McDonnell)

So, a couple of options for today’s write: Place, or fourth grade. What’s calling to your pen right now? Give yourself 10 minutes with one of these. In either case, let yourself into the sensory details as you’re writing.

Thanks for being here today. Thanks for your youness. Thanks for your words.

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(nablopomo #6) because my writing had asked more

Bansky graffiti, of two Bobbies (British police officers) in a passionate embraceHappy Sunday evening to you — it’s late-night blog time (at least for me). No prompts today, just the need to blog every day, as a part of my commitment to nablopomo, so I’m going to return to some plain old free-association for tonight.

I want to write about quite a lot tonight, about community and spirit, about radical honesty, about sorrow, about connection and form and hope. But I’m giving myself 20 minutes to pour this stream of consciousness out onto the page (which is the screen before me), so I’m not going to get into any of those. Instead I’m going to write about the pain of attending to one’s desire.

I went to google images to find the image for today’s post, like I always do; using the advanced search, I looked for “graffiti Sunday” in images that labeled for reuse, and the image above is one of the few results returned. It feels like exactly what I hope for in much of my writing, in particular, the writing I do around desire: capturing that moment of profound transgression, when we cross a deep line inside ourselves or within our community, in order to reach for what we need. The bobbies up there aren’t just violating the still-extant taboo about men desiring,  embracing and kissing other men, they’re also violating the taboo around those in power showing vulnerability, softness, public displays of affection. Affection, I mean — not laciviousness — certainly, we have plenty of examples of those in positions of power taking what they desire by force and hostility.  These two at the top of this post, they are melting into each other, so longing for lips against lips that they don’t care about any of the other rules and regulations. We see how even they, ultimately, are not bound by the stringent rules we place around sexuality and desire, rules they so often are supposed to enforce.

What do I want to say about this? The erotic can break us open in this way, tear us out of the constraints of conformity that we accept for ourselves. The writing feels distant, not nearly close enough, I’m not all the way in it. I want to tell you about naming what we need, how even just the articulation of desire — whether sexual desire or in any other aspect of our lives —  can leave us feeling like everything is breaking — because, maybe, everything is. In allowing our longing to come to voice, we are breaking; breaking open, breaking down, breaking through. The closed and clotted places in us begin to shift and tear, begin to release what they were holding back, we feel messy, exposed, raw: because we are these things.

What I experienced, and wrote about, after my first erotic writing workshop here in San Francisco in 2002, was that experience of breaking open and subsequent transformation. Because I allowed myself to write desire, and then speak it out loud (through the process of reading aloud what I’d just written, with no expectation of follow through or action in that moment of sharing), I had the experience of embodying that desire. Does this make sense? Writing is a bodily experience. Speech is a bodily experience. Whether I was writing my own desire or a fantasy character’s longing, every week I stepped into a place of deep honesty and truth-telling — and that changed me, charged me. I found myself writing, journaling, outside of the workshop, about other desires, the ways I wanted and needed to be in my life, from work and love and home, ways I needed my relationship to open and change, what I could allow myself, finally, to want from (yes) this “one wild and precious life.” I got to embody those desires, first through the writing, and then, often, through the living. I began to ask more from my life, because my writing had asked more.

I don’t have anecdotes right now. What I have is a need to begin to ask more, again. Several months ago, back when I started blogging in earnest daily, or close to daily, I stopped writing with regularity in my journal. This is a loss, I’m finding. Handwriting in my journal is an integral part of an erotic (and by this, here, I mean embodied) writing practice for me. So I need to keep finding time for regular notebook writes — maybe I can start getting up at 3am. (just kidding.)

I start with these phrases: What I really wanted to say is… or If I told you what I’m afraid to tell you… I take 15 or 20 minutes and let the words pour out onto the page, pen moving fast and fearless, even if what I’m writing scares me. Especially then. No stopping, no censoring, no blame, shame or guilt. Just write it. Transgress, transgress. Let it come all the way into my body.

Thanks for the ways you let your body into your life, your creative practice, awareness. Thanks for the ways you cross the boundaries that are meant to keep you small and silent and contained. Thanks for you deep and stunning words.

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what’s erotic writing good for?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/3922015993/

Good Monday to you (morning or afternoon or evening, depending on where you are!).

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This weekend I heard Jane Hirschfield talking about her latest book of poetry on a local NPR radio program and one thing that stays with me from that program (besides the tremendous power of her poetry) is one of the reasons she gave for the importance of poetry in her life: she said she wanted her life to be more permeable. The interviewer had asked why we should welcome poetry into our lives, and Jane had said, I can’t answer for everyone, but I can say why poetry is important in my life, and she began her answer with a list of ways that poetry opened her and her life, and permeable was just one of those, but it stuck fast in me, and rung true. Yes: permeable. When Emily Dickenson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” she is talking about that experience of permeability, how poetry invites, allows, requires that we allow life and possibility to move through us. That’s the deep intimacy of poetry, that vulnerability that is required of us as we read, because the experience of a poem, the tethering of our own ideas into the metaphor of the poem, the way we lace ourselves into the meaning, the reading, the possibilities, suddenly, we are intimately interwoven into the mind and experience of the poet, we are together, there is no separation.

I was grateful for that reminder.

Saturday night I got to hang out with a number of people I admire greatly (Carol Queen, Robert Lawrence, Gina deVries, horehound stillpoint, Marlo Gayle, Allison Moon) at the LitQuake LitCrawl, where we read stories about sex, desire, music, home, lesbian werewolves, occupy wall street, the metaphysics of longing, the power and uses of erotic writing, sex and parenting, so much more in that hour of reading. The room was packed — we had the auditorium at the Women’s Building. I felt so proud to be in that room, proud to get to count myself among the number of the readers, folks who are brave enough to risk writing about sex, talking about sex, putting shit out on the line, saying things we’re not supposed to say, breaking taboos; there’s more — I felt part of something.

There are times when I’m ashamed to be an erotic writer, that’s the truth. I’m ashamed because I know my father’s ashamed, because I know this work makes many people uncomfortable. On Saturday I didn’t feel ashamed — some of the dust and pebbles of that feeling got brushed off me as I listened to the other readers, felt such deep and beaming pride for them, felt, too, so wildly grateful to be one of their number up there in front of a big room full of people wanting space to hear about sex, wanting public space for some honesty about how complicated and gorgeous our desiring is, how messy and fucked up and funny, how necessary.

Here’s the piece I read on Saturday — I cobbled together pieces from workshop writes and from this blog, thinking about the power and uses of erotic writing, my forever topic. I think I want this to be a longer piece, but here it is for now:

I lead erotic writing workshops. My father does not like that I do this work. About a year ago, I got reminded, again, that the queer daughter is the opposite of the ‘good’ daughter. The queer daughter can never be the good girl. Audre Lorde told me that years ago, but I have to keep on learning the lesson.

I’m still thinking about that line I brought as a prompt to the Femme Conference workshop, from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: You do not have to be good.

What would you write if you did not have to be good?

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Here’s an writing prompt: public sex. Create a list of places where something dirty could go down (or, even better, where you could never imagine something salacious erupting), and then let one of those sites choose you, and write what happened there.

Here’s something I wrote in response to that prompt at a workshop earlier this year:

It’s not like everyone doesn’t know I’ve got a thing for sex in bathrooms — and honestly, the more public the better. The night Jolly got her hands wedged there down beneath my slatted skirt we were at the dyke bar on the far side of an odd town. The place was broke down and gorgeous, flocked with the preened and disheveled, smelled like CK One and beer and hairspray, and was hotter than that sweet funky spot right between my tits beneath that goddamn corset.

I was far from home, visiting family, untangling myself from history and loss for the night, just looking to get a little bit drunk and a lot surrounded by my own kind, and was well on my way to meeting both those aims when Jolly pushed up behind me on the barstool and introduced me to a third.

Never seen you here before, ze said, leaning into me enough ze kinda destabilized my equilibrium –or was it just that little fat strong hand ze held up to get the bartender’s attention?

Never been here before, I said, forced to lean back against hir so I wouldn’t fall off the damn stool. Ze smelled like Marlboros, whiskey, sex and suddenly I was clutching my fishnetted thighs together. The bartender was flirting with some fauhawked argyle-wearer at the other end of the bar, and Jolly, who stood a good coupla inches over me, tilted hir greaser-slicked dark head down and flashed me the rinsewater grey clouds that hid in hir eyes, and said, Know where the john is?

Not yet, I choked.

Ze had my hand in hirs, urged me down off the barstool, just as someone threw a dollar in the jukebox for “Cherry Bomb.” Jolly was all tight black t-shirt, engineer boots, torn denim, and me with the aforementioned corset and tight-assed pencil skirt that flared into pincers and foam at the hem, which fell just mid-thigh. We didn’t need to introduce ourselves, our bodies had done that for us, and as ze closed the door to the stained and band-stickered single stall back by the pool tables, I leaned back against the wall and put one boot on the toilet. Jolly pursed hir lips, slid hir tongue down to make that kind of wet suckling sound someone lets loose with when they’re contemplating something very interesting or stupid or dangerous— I guess I was all of the above.

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What’s erotic writing good for? This is what my father wants to know.

Ok, for me, what it’s good for is getting my body back up off the floor, pulling me back out of cobwebbed corners, delving into the interstices and sewing, with the sweat of a pen, all my pieces back together again. Porn is good for reminders, it’s good for training fantasies into friendships, good for naming your own devices.

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Another response to a prompt: this one was, describe something you’ve forgotten.

Who taught him how to walk in high heels? His mother certainly never put a line of tape down on the hard wood floor of their dusty living room and presented her boy with that information: Put high heel pumps on this way, hold the bottom  in your one hand and press the shoe onto the opposite foot, or with platforms, if they have a buckle, press your legs together and lean your knees to one side, swishing your skirt or the bell bottoms of your jeans out of the way so you can see to do up the strap. Then stand tall, see, shift your center of gravity some, lean back onto them — like that — good! And now it’s one foot in front of the other, directly in front, honey, and let your hips go — good, just let your hips go.

He wonders if even girls got that kind of instruction—it was the 70s, after all, and his mother was more cork-soled comfort than platform boots by the time he started marveling through her closet after school, the days he got home so far before her, the days his name was Latch Key. He doesn’t remember how he learned this precious thing, this thing that separates the men from the flamboyance, this thing that sail-sells his faggot flag high and free. He had no Queens to teach him and he doesn’t remember especially examining how the rich, trashy ladies on Dallas shifted their bodies when their feet were pitched forward in stilettos. Somehow, the knowledge got in, like somehow he got himself inside a fine leather bustier and little denim hotpants, like he got himself inside words like Darlin and Mary, like he got himself inside another boy’s drawers.

He knows not all the fairy boys, the girly men, like to put their weight inside sequins and femininity, but he does— and he doesn’t remember when it landed clear as a furled fake eyelash that this made him no less of a man, but he carries that knowing in his bones like he carries the knowing how to let his hips shift easy like balls of butter in their sockets when he’s wielding a pair of high heels through a room full of wringing wet men, and this knowing his momma doesn’t know she gave him is what will save his life.

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Why does erotic writing matter? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your body? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your honest self, your heat and desire? We want more than to be trapped into the holes that our perpetrators drove us into. We want more than the body of loss that we became.  We want more than for our bodies to be the landscape of our terror. We want our bodies also to encompass joy — and this writing, it can be one path to our (re)embodying that joy, even before we try it on off the page.

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I have learned a tremendous thing to do with the not-good-daughter, the bad girl living in me.  I have made her into an alter ego. My father doesn’t know about her, which is all right with all three of us.

(here’s one more response to a writing exercise — the prompt was, if I listened to my body…)

If I’d listened to my body, I would have gotten up about a quarter of the way into the fucking, gently but firmly encouraged the butch off of me, maybe even unbuckled the strap-on while I was disengaging myself from that young one’s musty flannel sheets.

As it was, I stayed. Why? Because I was hopeful. And horny. I stayed, spread-eagled and doing my damndest to hump myself into some kind of urgency while the baby butch had used the dildo like a pneumatic drill after approximately 17 seconds of so-called foreplay — apparently the kid had been working out, ’cause she was super proud of her biceps and kept flexing them while she sweated and pounded over me. Had I not been so clogged with wishes for a good lay, I would have put my girl teacher high femme hard hat back on and moved to climb out from the jackhammer pit about 8 minutes in.

Can you imagine? I was imagining, ’cause it was helping me get off. I’d lean up, put a hand on the butch’s sweaty chest (what was the unfuckable’s name again? Oh yes: Commando. Seriously.) and said, Hold up. Excuse m, e. I gotta go.

No tension, no raised voices, no drama. Yes, my cunt would still be aching and hopeful and clutching at Command’s commando like maybe it could learn to do something different, a maneuver,, a trick, in spite of Commando’s obvious unfamiliarity with its possibilities.

Here’s how it was going inside my head: Commando would have frozen at the expression on my mussed face, one of all raised eyebrows and creased cheek to one side, lips pursed like Really? and so, I would’ve been able to slide myself (not really wetly enough) off the still cock, reach my nimble fingers to Commando’s hips and unbuckle the harness quick like butter would not be melting in this bed and yet before the stunned stud could respond. I’d push again between that thin butch’s small breasts, lean in for a long and too-urgent kiss (an indication, let me tell you, of my still pressing throb between the legs) and lean Commando down onto her broad back while I managed to install Commando’s contraption around my own wide and wanting hips.

Wha–? Commando might’ve said, from between my flush and swollen lips (the upper ones, since she hadn’t managed to find  my lower ones with her own).

Hold still, honey, I’d’ve said. I’m doing something here. And then I’d start to nudge the fat and not quite realistic head just to the other woman’s lower lips, nudge, too, the backside of the dildo rough against my own clit. That’s it, now. And just how much better it could have gone from there—

Take any of those prompt for your own writing today — and keep going with your work, knowing it keeps you permeable, open to the elements, alive and vulnerable, tough and meaty like the stuff of every heart.

Thank you for your words today.

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un-practicing procrastination

graffiti: big red heart with the words "love yourself!" in cursive, written underneathGood morning good morning!

I’ve just had to go replenish my tea — moroccan mint (green with some mint) and nettle and tulsi and anise and cardamom. Today I needed a little bit of everything, I’m throwing in all the bombs, trying to figure out what will land, what will stick, what will help.

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Tonight’s the LitQuake LitCrawl! I get to share the mic at Carol Queen’s Good Vibrations reading with Gina De Vries, Marlo Gayle, Robert Lawrence, Allison Moon, and the ever-fabulous horehound stillpoint. (We’ll be in the Women’s Building Auditorium, 3543 18th St., 7:15 – 8:15 pm.) I just can’t wait. Do you have your LitCrawl evening planned out yet? Well, now you know what you’re doing for Phase 2! It’s going to be an incredible evening of literary fierceness — eat well today, rest up, do your calisthenics and stretching, then get out there and take in some words!

I’m finally figuring out what I’m going to read tonight — whew.

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Over the last few days, the writing has been coming hard. I am feeling overwhelmed, and so when I sit down at the computer, the first feeling that comes upon me is exhaustion (which I guess is not so unusual for many of us at 4:30am) and a sense of, how will it all get done? I’ve had the words “bird by bird” running through my head pretty constantly for the last couple of weeks — many of you have read Anne Lamott’s book by that name, and if you haven’t, I recommend it without hesitation, whether or not you’re a writer. The ‘bird-by-bird’-ness is related to the message I have taped to my computer screen at my monitor: one thing, everyday. Just take one piece of the big project, the enormous life change, the book, the essay collection, the lifestyle change, whatever big thing you’ve got looming over you, and focus on that little piece for today. We don’t get anywhere all at once; every transition/transformation, every big piece of work takes time and many steps.

I have to remind myself this, over and over, especially since I am an exquisite, practiced, adept procrastinator; I tend to prefer to put things off until the very last minute, right before the deadline, so that I can justify a day spent only working on that task (like, say, a performance for the LitQuake LitCrawl) — and then, the next day, I’ll be closer to the deadline for soemthing else, and will be able to justify ignoring phone calls or other tasks in order just to do that thing. The point is a life spent jumping from fire to fire, instead of pacing more steadily through a gently-warming, steadily-building (sustainable) life, one where I am much less frequently burned. (I’m not at all certain that that metaphor works.)

Here’s the point: yes, there’s a lot to do. I need to find regular workshop/office spaces in San Francisco and San Rafael, have three book projects to work on, have promotional materials to develop and disperse, there’s a talk to write, writing to edit, editing to send out to others. ) And there’s this puppy that needs time and attention, some more training, a relationship that needs energy and awareness.) These aren’t any of them things I can procrastinate my way into getting a day to complete; does that make sense? I’m talking about projects that require regular work, regular attention, steady progress and development; I can’t complete them in the mid night-to-five-am college-paper-writing crunch.

Those old methods aren’t serving me anymore (I’m saying this about a lot of practices these days) — and developing new practices and habits takes work and patience. I get frustrated with myself, get angry and overwhelmed, wonder when the work will be over. Oh, right: it doesn’t get over. It keeps building, because we’re on this path to a life that’s focused on the work we love. Still, that transition is a rough one. (What do you mean I deserve a life spent focusing on work I love?) I practice being easy with myself; it’s work, some days.

I’ve got more to say about procrastination — don’t we all? We keep coming back to what used to work, and trying again, trying again.

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a prompt for today: take 10 minutes with a character you don’t like very much, maybe writing about a time when you didn’t like yourself very much, or someone else you’re not fond of at the moment. (Just notice what comes to mind when you read that prompt, or sit with it for a moment — let yourself begin writing from whatever voices or images arise.) Write from the POV, if you can, of that person/character — who are they? What’s making them act the way that they do? Notice if you can write from a place of compassion for the character/person.

Thanks for your gentle patience with yourself as you walk through whatever changes you’re in the middle of right now — thanks for the patience and presence you offer to others. Thanks, always, for your words.

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slippery encapsulants

graffiti of a tree with purple bulbs-bubbles as leaves!Hello my friends!

Just a quick note — these posts might be a bit erratic/brief over the next couple weeks, as I get down to the wire for GRE prep. Yowza. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me, ok?

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Also, this weekend brings this month’s Writing the Flood session — registration is just about full, but there are still a couple spaces left. Will you be able to join us?

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This weekend I went out to Alamo, CA to assist with the AWA Facilitator/Leadership Training — it was my first time acting as an assistant trainer, and I’m so grateful to have been able to be there. I got to work with 13 women (11 trainees plus two amazing trainers, Jan Haag and Mary Tuchscherer, both of whom I feel so lucky to have trained with!). I want to tell you about the vision, the passion, each of these 13 women carry for the power of words, the power of language and writing to transform and open. I got to spend about an hour on Friday night, talking about my roots in this work, pontificating about why I think this work is so important, why this method works so well for survivors of sexual trauma and folks who want to write about sex, for anyone who wants to tell difficult, intimate, tender stories. I can start to proselytize — thank goodness we moved into an erotic writing exercise.

Here’s what I wrote, using this line from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Two Countries“: “Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.” It was a short write, just five minutes.

Skin had hope — cunts have hope. They’re just part of these portable bodies, aren’t they, just small gloves, slippery encapsulants, contained amongst themselves, they are our blood and flesh of hope, they are our most resilient hagiographies — they write us throbbing, they wake us into possibility each time they press us open, even with nobody else’s help — sometimes with the wrong somebody else’s help. They don’t know the nature of the pressure, who’s behind that finger, that breath on the neck, that knee between thighs;

Cunts are our ever-present resiliency. They keep on waking — it’s what they know, isn’t it, their one recursive, incipient thought, this inchoate hope that doesn’t have to have a glove to flow into but that shines like morning in us even when we’re aching and ashamed: cunts hold hope for us — that’s their lovely, lonely job.

thanks for your work, your words, your love in this world.

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this is how I want to touch you

This is how it looks this morning: new bumps on my hand where the stitches used to be, bright and cleansing tea steeping, a quiet girl resting inside a sleepy woman. I’m doing everything but focusing on this blog this morning — today is that day: a day for embodied discombobulation with no blame, shame or guilt.

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Got to do a very fun, quick-n-dirty erotic letter writing class last night (right before Rain DeGrey did her Strap-On demo class!), thanks to to the folks at Femina Potens and Mission Control! We spent a few minutes talking about why anyone might write a sexy letter:

  • to express things that are hard to say face to face
  • to seduce and/or keep an erotic connection with someone far-away (or close!)
  • to describe your desires or fantasies
  • to seduce yourself (remembering that writing itself, and writing about sex and desire in particular, can be a powerful and fun erotic, embodied experience!)
  • (why else?)

We had time for a couple of short writes and a few folks shared their work with the room — serious, intense, desiring, and funny pieces! We had a great breadth of tone represented, even though we only had time for a few people to read. I liked getting to focus on just one “form” of writing — the letter. The epistle has a great erotic tradition, and we have so many ways to participate in this tradition now: via email or blog-broadsides, text or twitter or facebook, or even, yes, the old school piece of scented paper, kissed with ink and wetted/sealed into an envelope. Erotic communications are more easily made public now, made available to more than the one intended recipient; we can seduce the world in 140 characters.

What would you write if you were writing a letter of desire to yourself? To your secret crush? To your beloved? To a community? If you began with the phrase, “This is how I want to touch you…” or “This is how I want you to touch me…” — what flows after that?

Thank you for the words that live out in public, for the words that live and are nurtured thick and powerful in your heart.

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Upcoming Workshops and Groups!

Come write with me!

Our writing space -- all ready for you!
Reclaiming our Erotic Story:
the Liberatory Potential of Writing Desire
Sutterwriters Sacramento
January 29, 2011

8:00AM-5:00PM

Can erotic writing liberate more than our libidos? Does greater comfort with sexual expression lead to greater agency in our communities? Many of us assume that the erotic is solely the province of the individual, and not the realm of social change or communal liberation – but what happens when we all have wider access to and more comfort with erotic language and sexual expression? The full breadth of our erotic power can challenge what our society teaches us about our sexuality, which is both damning and provocative when it comes to personal expression and human relationships.

I’ve led erotic writing workshops since 2002, and what I’ve found is that writing our desire, in a safe community of engaged and encouraging peer writers, can allow us the space to challenge the negative messages we’ve internalized about sexuality and about our core desires and even our very being. When we bring our longing into the light and find common ground with others, when we risk exposing that which we’ve been trained to be ashamed of, I find that many of us step into a deeply empowered (and more embodied!) self.

In this workshop, we’ll take try out some explicit writing, and will consider how empowering a creative engagement with sexual identity, desire, and expression, as well as the ability to write out our fantasies and desire, can affect our intimate relationships, our communities and our work in the world.
The cost for this workshop is $100.  A $25 deposit would secure your place with the balance due on the day of the class.

To register, contact

John Crandall
Crandall Writers
P.O. Box 22612
Sacramento, California 95822
916-708-9708

john@fireartsofsacramento.com
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Writing the Flood
Saturday, December

January 15, 1-4:30pm

A half-day, open-topic writing workshop!

Many of you had been asking for a general-topic writing workshop (i.e., not focused on a particular issue), and this space is for you!

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long.  This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $25-50, sliding scale. Limited to 12. Register or email me with questions: jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org.

February Writing the Flood meets on 2/19/11!
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And last but never least: The Erotic Reading Circle! Since 2006, we’ve been meeting on the fourth Wednesday of the month to share and celebrate the breadth of erotic artistry in the Bay Area!

This month we circle up on December 22, 7:30-9:30 at the Center for Sex and Culture (1519 Mission St., between 11th & So Van Ness, in SF)! $5+ donation requested (no one turned away); donations support the Center for Sex and Culture.

Bring whatever you’re working on, or whatever you’d like to be working on.Come join readers and share your erotic writing! Bring something to read or just be part of the appreciative circle of listeners. This is a great place to try out new work (ask for comments if you like), or get more comfortable reading for other people. Longtime writers will bring their latest… newly inspired writers, bring that vignette you scrawled on BART while daydreaming on your way to work. Carol Queen and Jen Cross host/facilitate this space dedicated to erotic writers and readers.

See you at the Circle!

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flush with liquid joy

Multi-hued graffiti: Yes yes yes yes yes
(click the image to see more of this photographer's flickr page!)

Short short today — I’ve got a review to finish and a piece to prepare for tomorrow’s “Risque Fantasies and True Confessions” LitCrawl reading (!) before I head out to the city (The City) this afternoon. I’m sleepy this morning, but singing somewhere inside my body, singing under my organs, grateful.

Last night’s first meeting of Declaring Our Erotic: Reclaiming Our Sexuality just felt gorgeous. I continue to reach for language to describe what happens when strangers gather and are willing to risk writing about desire, are willing to risk being witness to others’ writing about desire. Every time it feels like a miracle, and by miracle, I mean something human and present and deeply connected, I mean something wonder-ful, astonishing. Every time I am astonished. Every time I am grateful at this willingness, at this desire to be present with others in our own desire, every time I am torn open-and-smiling by the honesty, by the power of that honesty, by what it takes to say, yes, this is what I want (or this is what someone else wants, and, yes, I get to step into the experience of it as I write about it).

This is not a society that rewards us for presence-ing deep erotic naming that can’t be capitalized on or used to sell us something (esp. used to sell us self-loathing). This is not a society that wants us to understand that we are made up of layerings and layerings of longing, that we are more than just the singular sex that someone decided is supposed to ‘go with’ our singular sexual identity — that we are everything that has ever given us joy, that we are every stroke used against us, that we are the complications of our fantasies and our bodies’ hopes and our lusts and our fears. That we are more powerful because we are this complexity. We are less easily conquerable when we are in this complexity and connection.

Last night while I walked up Market to the bus stop at Civic Center, I was flush with liquid joy (and not just because of how hot the writing was, but yes, that, too). I just felt so damn happy and proud of all of us in that room. We’re not supposed to be this present and honest with each other, and yet, so many of us have a fierce desire to do so, to buck against the system that shames us into this insidious loss when it comes to our sexuality. And then I thought about my father.

A few years ago, right at the beginning of the first Body Heat tour, at a Starbucks’ parking lot just outside of Denver, I hugged my dad and said, My work is mattering, Dad. People are reading my work and it’s making a difference. Of course, by “my work,” I meant this performance troupe I got to be a part of, and the writing in my chapbook, unconsummated, which is all about sex and longing, quite explicitly. I thought he heard me. I thought he was proud, because I wanted him to be proud. I wanted to be able to explain to him why I did this work, so that he wouldn’t have to be ashamed of his eldest daughter, and I am still, somewhere, that 8 year old who wants her dad to be proud of the way she can jump off the high diving board into the deep end at Woods Pool, even when he’s not there to catch her. I thought if I could explain it in educational terms — to meet him as a “teacher” — that it might get through. He made like he understood in the moment, because that’s what we do in my family, and then, a lot later, he made clear that he didn’t understand and wanted me to be doing anything but writing about and working around sex.

So, when I say I’m trying to find the language to explain why last night’s workshop was so amazing, it’s not just so that I can explain it to you, although I do want to be able to do that — it’s also so I can explain it to my dad, to those who aren’t a part of this sex-positive community that has saved and held me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the right words, but I guess, somewhere, I’m grateful for the continual challenge: over and over, naming it again, naming it new and ok and powerful. Maybe reassuring myself, the way my dad might not ever be able to do: I’m grateful that I get to do this work. It’s important and it matters, what we do in the writing circle together. We make a difference, together.

Thanks for the way you’ll be present with someone who needs reassuring today, for the way you make a gift of your attention and acknowledgment. Thanks for your writing, for your words.

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vozsutra: erotic writing as liberatory practice

graffiti - silhouette of crow flyingGood morning! What’s happening for you today? I’m on the other side of this sick, thank goodness, still soothing a raw nose but able to breathe relatively normally again. Outside the weather’s warm like breath, and standing at my front door, I watch as a fat crow lands in the front yard and hops around, poking into the grass for something tasty. I imagine sitting on the stoop, having hir hop up over to me, getting to rest my hand on hir feathers, getting to heft hir weight. Ze goes the other way, though, through a break in the white plastic-picket fence and onto the sidewalk. I come back inside.

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Here’s something I put into the grant application I sent off last night:

As an incested erotic writer and creator of genre-defying creative nonfiction, I am also a performer and writer-facilitator of writing workshops wherein participants create new work at every meeting; each workshop session is a surprising, experiential, transformative art process.

I like getting to use this language, this academic-grant-y language. It lets me set my eyes to a different sort of truth than I usually name around the workshops. It lets me set something else into possibility, I think. Also, I think it’s true.

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I get to hang outwith Jianda Monique on her Lesbian Relationships podcast (on BlogTalkRadio) here in just a few hours now! 3pm pst/4pm mst (that’s as far as we’ve gotten with the time zone conversion) — I’m looking forward to chatting with her about the workshops, about transformative writing, about the possibilities for sexual healing, and whatever else she comes up with!

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This morning I’ve been working on my presentation for the workshop I’ll offer at the Transformative Language Arts Network‘s annual Power of Words conference next week, “Reclaiming the Erotic Story: The Liberatory Potential of Writing Desire”. (As a side note: I kind of like that title! I don’t at all remember creating it… whew.)

Here’s some of what I’ve said before about erotic writing as transformative practice, in an essay I often hand out at erotic writing retreats:

What happens when we all have a wider access to erotic language and sexual expression – when the full breadth of our erotic power can challenge the mainstream Western sexual conversation which is both so puritan and so hyper-sexual? When we try our hand at some explicit writing, and discuss what it means to engage more critically and imaginatively with the messages we all have received (both directly and indirectly) about such things as sexual identity, body image, sexual desire, sexual practice, and more, we can reconsider what we’ve been taught about desire and language and dive fully into the much greater possibilities of and through each.

There’s a Dorothy Allison quote I like to pass out to new erotic writers, in which she describes the importance of learning to write sex:

If I hadn’t learned to write about sex, and particularly to write about my own sexual desires, I don’t think I would have survived.  I think the guilt, the terror I grew up with was so extraordinarily powerful that if I had not written my way out of it, I’d be dead …And I think it’s vital [to write about], aside from whether it ever becomes good fiction, particularly for women with transgressive sexuality…[or] people who in any way feel their sexuality cannot be expressed.  Writing can be a way to find a way to be real and sane in the world, even if it feels a little crazy while you’re doing it. (From The Joy of Writing About Sex, by Elizabeth Benedict)

People sometimes still, I think, may take erotic writing to be frivolous work, but in my experience, this writing is where some wholly deep transformations occur, and where enormous risks are taken.

[…] Erotic writing is and is not just about writing about sex.  It also can be about expanding one’s own possibility through language.   For me, erotic writing has created internal space for previously unexpressed desire, wish, need – which has not been confined to the sexual realm.

That last there is where the liberatory potential resides (liberation: when something or someone is released or made free; the state of not being in confinement or servitude): how we can liberate ourselves and one another into a much greater erotic/sexual complexity than our current American society prefers/allows, and how that liberation creates the ripple effects for more and more erotic desire to permeate the rest of our lives…

More about this as we get closer to the conference. And hey! Registration is still open! If you’re near (or want to be near) Plainfield, Vermont, next week, and you do or want to do work around/with writing/storytelling/song/theater/words as change agents/transformative practices for individuals, communities, societies — it’d be so amazing to be with you at the Power of Words conference. Will you think about it? Maybe pass the word to friends you’ve got in New England?

(Note that I still don’t know where I’m staying — maybe we’ll all rent a hotel room together!)

Thanks for your fierce gentleness with yourself today, at least that one time when you looked in the mirror. Thanks for your words, always.

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DOE: the right to be honest

painting, "From Strength to Liberty" -- figures entwined, reaching, pushing, stretching, dancing
"From Strength to Liberty," by Javier Azurdia -- click on the image above to see more of his gorgeous work.

I started to type in my motto as the title of this post, but only got as far as “lobertis…” and I had to stop and delete it all and drink more tea. Still fighting off, battling (dang it — the military metaphors are all over us!), wrangling with this cold, but I think I’m on the backside now. Got some great healing advice over on facebook — thank you! I’ve had lots of tea and veggies and rice and miso broth. I’ve got these soups I make when I’m sick that always just look awful when the sick is gone — but they do the job!

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Today’s supposed to be a Declaring Our Erotic post. With this cold here still clogging up my nasal passages, I’m not feeling like I’ve got all that much erotic to declare.

I do want to remind you about tomorrow’s podcast with Jianda Monique!

And I want to remind you, too, that the next erotic writing workshop is one that’s open to all LGBT/queer survivors of sexual trauma or sexual violence, and begins Thursday, Oct 7.

This is going to be a powerful opportunity for queer survivors of all sexes and genders to come together in one space and write our full and complicated sexualities. We get to write fantasy, we get to write other people’s fantasies, we get to write things we’ve never done and never will do but think about sometimes, we get to write whatever erotic we want. We practice releasing the self-censor, we practice releasing this idea that there’s only a small range of erotic desire that’s “ok” for us to want or think about, we practice trusting our writing voices to take us wherever we need to go, even to where we didn’t know we needed to go.

I’m telling you, it’s going to be gorgeous. Will you join us? Or, too, can you think of someone who might like to know about this workshop? Would you pass the word to them?

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I think I must have written about this before in this blog, this motto: “Liberty is the right not to lie.” Attributed to Albert Camus, but I first came across it as the epigraph to Pat (now Patrick) Califia‘s devastating book of lesbian erotica, Macho Sluts. (This  book is what made me queer.) (Well, the book, and the hands that passed it to me, and the community that contained us all. Thank goodness to these.) (Of course, if I weren’t already queer, the cover of the latest edition of Macho Sluts would do the job, without question.) (The quote is also included in Tillie Olson’s absolutely amazing book, Silences.) (I’ll stop with these now.)

As a young person under her stepfather’s control, even from over a thousand miles away, I almost never felt free. Something opened in me, though, when I read that phrase. Lying was, for me, one way to get free, to say, You don’t have control over every aspect of me — I will still have control of my words, of the intersection between my word and deed, of my honesty. You can’t force my every truth from my lips, though he tried.

This quote, this idea, liberty is the right not to lie. The right to be honest. The right to tell the truth. Not just about desire, as Califia was doing and urging — but, yes, too, about desire.

Perhaps my stumbling (or, rather, my being encouraged to stumble) across this quote was the beginning of his end. Anyway, it was a continuation of my opening. And I hold it still close to me, regularly: What am I not being honest about? Is that living into liberty, into liberation? Our liberation will be in our ability to honestly tell our lives, our truths, our experiences, our longings,  our fears, our dreams.

Lying can be a place of freedom for awhile, a survival strategy. Internalizing it, though, in my experience, is a place of death, of self-silencing.

For your write today, if you want to take 10 minutes, consider for yourself Camus’ phrase: “Liberty is the right not to lie.” What does it mean for you? What comes up when you read it? Start there, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for being there, for reading even the sick-typed words. Thank you for the good work you’re doing today, for your powerful writing. Thank you.