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The ethical heart of my practice: AWA

This is something I wrote up awhile ago, for the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) facilitator’s community, and I wanted to share it with you all, here, in honor of the National Day on Writing:

vines drape around open door, from http://flandrumhill.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/the-green-door/ As a student in the TLA program at Goddard College who was looking for a way to use writing as a healing tool, the AWA writing workshop method broke down the door for me. Here was a simple, deeply powerful and ethical-by-design method for writing in community about any topic you might wish to write about, but in particular any topic that is painful, complicated, or raw.

The AWA method we learned in the trainings that Pat Schneider led at her farmhouse in 2001 and 2002 (the latter, an Amherst Writers and Artists (AWAI) training, was co-facilitated by members of the original Chicopee Writers), revolutionized my thinking and brought me a powerful sense of peace. the reds, yellows and oranges of fall foliage in New England, from Indospectrum.com At the time, Goddard (where I was pursuing my MA) was undergoing an accreditation review and was at risk of closing – after my first AWA training, I was no longer afraid of what might happen if Goddard closed (which it didn’t): I’d found the structure for my life’s work. Here was a resolutely non-hierarchical and safe container in which all people, regardless of their relationship to the word “writer,” could explore in words their own complicated and beautiful stories.

Because I was doing “healing” work outside of the therapeutic model (not therapy, not even poetry therapy)a molting seal taking some space for hirself, from blog.oregonlive.com, and also doing “writing education” outside of the traditional academic model, I found it challenging to describe to others exactly what I was doing with the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops. This proved to be relatively isolating, and I often felt like I was working in a vacuum, sometimes questioning whether I was working “appropriately” or effectively as a facilitator.

After doing the workshops in relative isolation for a couple of years in San Francisco, I connected with Chris DeLorenzo, an AWA affiliate, about joining his Laguna Writers workshops. Chris took a risk, having another AWA facilitator in his workshop, and I am forever grateful! I began to find my way into the AWA community I’d been searching for, and I got to experience the risk and freedom and vulnerability possible in the role of participant! sea lions together!  From tapirback.com Through Chris, I began to connect with other AWA facilitators and lovers of the method, including some especially long-term participant writers, and this informal community has made all the difference for me as I move forward in building my workshops and continuing in the role of facilitator. When I have questions or concerns, struggles as a facilitator or just need some love and support, I know I can turn to these folks and they will get it about AWA, what the method is and isn’t supposed to do, and all that can happen within the method’s clear and expansive boundaries.

I always knew that Pat was there if I had questions, although I was stubborn (like as little kid!) and stayed out of touch for several years, stumbling in the dark, an unnecessary hardship when there were so many hands around to help me get started in the work, answer questions, give feedback and guidance. Having a community – one that’s now expanded to a group of 50-some North American AWA facilitators – has been so useful for me, a reminder that I am a part of something larger, that I do not have to be in competition with these my sibling workshop leaders, that I have folks from whom I can learn and with whom to share what I’ve learned.

animal mandala, from art-poster-online.com This method is the ethical core of my writing practice and work. Being connected with other facilitators, this now world-wide community of AWA-ers, means that we can nurture one another *and* hold one another accountable to the 5 agreements and 5 core beliefs.

It can sound a little cult-y, and yet I have never been a part of a structure or a community that feels as though it has each of our own individual best interests at its heart, alongside the best interests of each writer with whom we work and our larger communities also at heart. heart cloud!  from http://www.flickr.com/photos/stivsky/ AWA workshops are about a sort of kindness and faith and respect that gets devastatingly short shrift in especially our western world these days. So yes, I believe in AWA as my own spiritual path (I mean it!) and I an so thankful to finally have realized that I am not alone.

As someone who is expressly not doing therapy and yet working with survivors of sexual trauma and working with issues of sexuality, I use AWA as my ethical framework, the space in which we tell our true stories, fiction or not or a commingling of these, while also developing our writer’s craft (sometimes without even realizing it). In the workshops I’m lucky enough to facilitate within this framework, each writer is allowed to hold the tender morsels of one another’s deepest pain and secret joys, our silliest moments and/or most hidden desire–these brand new creations–with the kindest regard.

(If you’re in the SF Bay Area and are interested in learning more about AWA or want to participate in a facilitator training, there’s one coming up in just a couple weeks in Alamo, CA: http://www.amherstwriters.com/CertTrai.html)

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‘Resurrecting’ survivor voices

One of the pieces of “survivor” identity that I wrangle with is this idea that we must “recover” our voices. I mean the notion that our voices are lost, have been snatched away from us.

The literal truth for most of us is that our voices were always here – and yet swallowing this concept of “lost voice” (en)forces a deep body collusion with the prevailing myths and metaphors of those in power. We internalize the idea that we’re silenced in order, I think, to break free of the reality in fact that we are/were ignored. That there are those who heard what we said, and then just turned their faces away from ours.

I spent years believing that I was silenced, that I had no voice. The fact is that I was unheard–an important distinction. As is true for most kids, I learned not to tell my complete truth while I was growing up, and then, and, like many millions of children around the world, I was trained in secrecy by a stepfather/rapist who took my (en)forced silence as his birthright, and used it as a weapon against me. How do we who are survivors of abuse (sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse) tell our truths in a culture that doesn’t want to really hear people’s words and meanings? We are not heard by abusers who demand a silence they can interpret as “Yes.” We are not heard by a patriarchal, capitalist society that demands our silence so they can overlay our lives with their image of us. We are not heard by a government that usurps women’s tears in order to justify the killing of other women’s sons and daughters.

Sometimes I am left wondering why I should bother trying to communicate at all, when those in power aren’t listening. When I speak, my sentences often come out broken and peculiar, cut off in the middle with long stretches of silence. I stop writing to stare out the window. I stop typing to play with a candle that doesn’t want to stay lit. I stop. That’s their aim.

My aim though, is to start again. After years of internalizing the directives instructing me to be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, I have begun the work of trusting the true power of my voice. I have come to believe in linguistic border-crossing as a means through which to change the world through a renewed sense of speech, voice, self, embodiment, empowerment. One means through which to enact this change is with a writing practice–a regular, repeated experience of coming to aspects of self through writing, through linguistic risk taking; the placing of self and selves on the page; the attempt to name what cannot be named and what we have been told should not be named. I have used this writing practice to struggle with and against the silences imposed on me, silences I’ve been expected to collude with, to put voice and flesh to experiences and desires–both sexual and not–that were never meant to be articulated.

Sometimes it seems we speak into the wind and feel the craziness of unhearing laying across our face and shoulders like a heavy wet blanket. Our government is at war, killing people for no reason other than money and hatred. Here again is the time and place for our writing, through which we can do difficult work. We are a nation of subjected and silenced people. We are a nation of people trained into the difference of others as reason enough to kill them. Millions of people around the world gathered to declare their opposition to a U.S.-led invasion, and the U.S. invaded anyway. Does this mean that those millions all lost their voices? No–they were ignored.

We are a nation raised on our supremacy–the United States of America is the greatest country in the world!–and so many of us believe it even as we see the leaders stripping away our bedsheets and clothes, snatching the food from our and our children’s mouths, tearing down our homes, thieving the books from our children’s hands and tossing it all on the bonfires of their war, tossing it all into their own furnaces; selling our bodies on the open market to the highest or most connected bidder and pocketing the money themselves.

If we don’t tell our stories, others will tell them for us, and they will get them wrong. (I’m not the first one to articulate this fact; who said that?) The stories that others tell for and about you will be used to build policy and pathology, will be used to build houses to hide you in / used to build walls to close around you / will be used to build stories to their own ends / will be used against you. If we do not tell our stories, the stories told about us will be used to our detriment.

Your voice, however it sounds or doesn’t, has always been in you, with you, of you, you. And what happens in the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops, in most Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, is that your words – that relentless creative speech and possibility – are deeply attended to, not pathologized or ensnared in sin or broken down but opened into all it’s matter-of-factness, heard as beauty and majesty or rage, walked through as a garden full of flowers, a pond lily marshside.

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Listing: one more of the tricks of the “trade”

AHN logo - spiraling us together!I had such a great experience writing in response to the Arts and Healing network interview questions over the last several months — and I was also, finally, motivated to regularly update this blog.

So, at 6:30am while I was working on my morning pages, I jotted down some more questions I’d like to answer (or begin to answer!) about my work, the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops, the uses of art, and more…

It ends up tricking me into posting more regularly — we’ve got to do what we determine will work to get us around our blocks and internalized naysayers, don’t we?

So, here are some of the questions I’d love to explore in more depth:

  • Why don’t I call what I’m doing ‘therapy’?
  • How do silences/silencings in one area of our lives affect the rest of our lives?
  • What’s the psychological/social effect of transformative writing in community?
  • How does trauma change the way we “know” things, and then how does art both accommodate and help to reshape that new knowledge/way of knowing (ontology?)
  • How do we get started with transformative writing?
  • What does art, experiencing and creating art, do to our brains?
  • Why would anyone want to write about sex in a group of strangers?
  • What do people who’ve been in the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops have to say about them?
  • What’s the difference, psychologically/neurologically, between the creation of visual and verbal art?
  • How can writing be a spiritual practice? What’s our definition of “spiritual practice”? Does it need to be a spiritual practice? Can writing ever not be spiritual?
  • Reconsidering ‘recovery’ – tangling with the voice that says, “I want to get back to where/who I was before this happened.”

    These are some of the questions tickling the inside of my brain these days, and getting them out there in front of you provides me with some more impetus to actually tackle them.

    I’ve had a lot of my old cognitive science interests re-emerging recently, in particular around the neurophysiology and social/sociological effects of trauma and of trauma recovery through transformative writing (in particular — though any expressive art, in general).

    What about you? What questions do you have about the writing experience, about expressive or healing arts, about Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists writing workshop method, about erotic writing, or…? Please let me know — and we can add them to the list!

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    ERC: something else that gives me hope!

    Last night was the first Erotic Reading Circle of 2009. We had a gorgeous gathering of writers, readers & listeners at the Center for Sex and Culture, some ERC regulars, some newbies, some in-between! The writing was varied and hot, layered and good and challenging and fun. Thank you, writers!

    I felt last night the joy about people coming in to a roomful of strangers and — god!– reading their erotica, their secret bright desires, their difficult gorgeous art — people *so* put themselves on the line. It’s beautiful in ways I still struggle for words to describe: words like hopefulness and bravery.

    This is a risk every time and people take it. They take that risk. We do. And so that’s what’s giving me hope right now — that risk has bravery in it, honest, self-confidence and shaking hands, a faith in art and craft and a passion for language and play, a willingness to listen and be heard. These things are what we need right now to keep this world changing, and so I am grateful!

    Next ERC is on Feb 25 — all are welcome, even if you just want to come on down and listen!

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    Podcast Answers, Day 10 – What’s giving you hope?

    Back in November, I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation. Here’s my answer for day 10!

    10. What gives you hope right now?

    A kuffiya 'ribbon' in solidarity with Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon; image from http://www.reziststicker.com/stickers.htm This has been a hard question for me to answer. I’ve been slipping between feeling very hopeful and deeply hopeless and heartsick – there are beautiful moments and possibilities and still horrors inflicted in every moment and how can we talk about hope except that without even the mention, the word, I think we lose everything.

    Every week, the sort of writing *and* the sort of communal engagement and solidarity manifested at the writing workshops gives me hope that we can create the space we need for deep change and amazingly honest openness in our worlds/lives —

    And then there are other places of hope for me:
    1. Resistance to empire and other hierarchies of power.
    2. Lemon squeezed into water.
    3. Hot coffee in the morning.
    4. The way some folks are willing to make eye contact with strangers while walking through downtown San Francisco on a weekday morning.
    5. The cracking open and brilliance of emotion and voice that happens in the writing workshops; the deep open-hearted kindness of folks’ responses to one another; the joy we receive in recognizing the artists in each other, and having recognized the artists in ourselves.
    6. (The very possibility of) Laughing with my lover after some difficult weeks.
    7. My sister. just her.
    8. The way friends can reach out across years and miles and difference and still create a net for me to fall into, even when I think I don’t deserve it.
    9. The fact that our local farmer’s markets are still going strong.
    10. All the folks who are writing and reading. Everyone telling their stories everywhere. I mean it.

    There’s more, and less, but this is my count for now.

    What’s giving you hope right now? I mean, in this minute?

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    Podcast with Arts and Healing Network is up!

    The podcast that Britt Bravo and I recorded back in Nov is up on the Arts and Healing Network! Just before I got on the road to head down to LA for Thanksgiving, Britt and I talked transformative writing, writing as a healing practice, expressive arts, erotic writing for survivors of sexual trauma, Pat Schneider‘s Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method, and more!

    Of course, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions? What did I leave out? What’s true for you about these topics?

    Jen Cross of Writing Ourselves Whole on the Arts and Healing Podcast http://artheals.libsyn.com/

    Direct download: Jen_Cross__Writing_Ourselves_Whole.mp3

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    Podcast Answers – Day 9: What inspires me about the writing workshops?

    Back in November, I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation. Here’s my answer for day 9!

    9. What inspires you the most about your workshops?

    the clouds pooling on the horizon between a brilliant blue sky and the bright green grass I’m consistently inspired by these two facts: The ongoing reminder that every person has artistic brilliance inside that is seeking an outlet, and that community can web together to support one another – that we can collaborate around healing and individual/social transformation without needing MSWs or other clinical degrees. These have something to do with one another.

    Have I mentioned this here before? Pat Schneider says in her book, Writing Alone and With Others, “What I believe is not what everyone believes. It is this: There is no place for hierarchies in the heart, and the making of art is a matter of the heart. Art is the creative expression of the human spirit.”

    This is what I believe: Give us safe space, a room of our own (with or without safe others) and we will create change in our lives. We can be safe and explore what it means to lie and truth our way to safety, to lie our way home. We must take what we need to continue the process of survival, which is ultimately a process of resistance: the pen the paper the time the space the cafe or bedroom or kitchen table the 3 a.m. living room the subway train the cemetery the laundromat the whatever you need.

    Pink lotus reflected in a pond, from travellersworldwide.com I’m working as a part of an alternative healing movement seeking to provide and facilitate spaces for self-empowerment, which might be witnessed and supported/encouraged by others on a similar journey. I struggle whenever anyone refers to the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops as “therapy.” If anything, I’d like to be known simply a writer and a group facilitator/participant. I do this work with survivors of sexual trauma and around sexuality/erotic writing because I believe in its effectiveness, and because I’d like to continue to have available to me and others like me the options of non-clinical healing/transformative process and practice.

    I’m interested in what a specifically non-clinical model of Transformative Language Arts (TLA) can accomplish. Transformative Language Arts Network logo, from www.tlazine.blogspot.com/ I’m interested in transformative/healing modalities that will not reproduce the old analytic model, will not appropriate the language of clients and masters, will not capitulate to professionalizing drives that are infiltrating social service agencies around the country. What can we do when we come together with people, with mutual respect, with a give-and-take of information, with a possibility of mutual ex/change? Those in power will work to rewrite us broken bodies back into some semblance of (their) normalcy. They don’t want us rocking the boat.

    Together, we who participate in these writing groups engage in the communal creation (and continual re-creation) of a space that allows for risk, performance and play. As a participant, I struggle to make clear for the rest of the writers: I will take the same risks you will. I will trust you to cherish what of myself I offer, and I will be open to your feedback. I have something at stake here, personally, just as you do. This willingness, in my experience, allows for a leveling of the power in the room–which is transformative in itself. (It also, of course, comes with its own difficulties.)

    raw amethest crystal, from wikimedia commons When we, whether or not we’re survivors or sexual trauma, come together this way—-assiduously working to remain aware and respectful of the differences among us, and share our words—-we have the opportunity to acknowledge our individual places of beauty and strength, both because we listen to our own poetic phrasing and descriptions, and because others tell us what is beautiful and strong for them in the writings we offer. We hear, witness, and open (to) the splendor in ourselves and in others. There is transformation in those moments, particularly when we who have spent years reiterating to ourselves the lessons of ugliness that we learned at our abusers’ hips are able to acknowledge beauty in ourselves.

    The truth is, those interested in liberating themselves and each other from the weight of oppression must be involved in the process, the development, of any education or liberating strategy. Education cannot be bestowed. Wellness cannot be bestowed. Liberation cannot be bestowed. These are all processes in which one must be continually and consciously engaged.

    We must have multiple possibilities, routes, and paths of transformation and life change. As soon as we who are “alternative” start bending ourselves to look more “respectable” and “acceptable” to the mainstream, the alternative has thrown up its hands to governmental organizations, to the drug corporations and lobbyists, to the medical doctors and to The Old Mothers and Fathers.

    And so I’m privileged to have the opportunity to walk alongside and sing the songs that rise when we are all similarly invested in a process of transformation. Instead of grabbing the shreds of authority that Power pretends to offer those of us interested in healing work, along with the false promise of more control (and more money!, they say) in the future as long as we follow their rules, I would rather continue to experience the empowerment and full-bodied joy of the deep connection and conversation that occurs when folks walk their transformation side-by-side.

    clownfish peeking out from within an anemone, from coral-reefs.orgTake me backward into your dreams and let me watch you stumble. Your language is yours alone, the sounds of your body the stretch and wrinkle of your face the wrinkled words and nods, shrugs and shivers and shifts of eyeballs. You don’t know that you know your own way and I cannot tell it for you. I can take your hand, though, and promise not to leave you while you float in your own waters, while you choke down the nausea of history in your instance to see the clownfish and schools of yellowtail floating around the coral of yourself.

    What has inspired you about workshops you’ve participated in and/or facilitated?

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    Podcast Answers – Day 8: Thoughts for others who want to do this work

    Back in November, I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation. I took a bit of a break at the end of Dec, but I’m back on track. Here’s my answer for day 8!

    8. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to use writing for their own healing, or to facilitate healing in others?

    Putting the pen to paper This is such a big question – I actually feel I need to break it down into two: Thoughts for folks who want to use writing around their own healing/transformation, and thoughts for those who wish to use writing to facilitate healing with others.


    Part 1: Thoughts for folks who want to use writing around their own healing/transformation –

    Want to write yourself whole? Pick up the pen and start now. Just let the words come. Don’t pick the pen up off the page, don’t censor, don’t make sense. Don’t stop to worry about whether your grammar works there or if you ought to use a comma or a semi-colon or if it’s time for a new paragraph. Give yourself these 5 minutes, maybe 15. Give yourself a lunch half-hour. Give yourself a morning hour, an evening hour. Shut off the phone and turn away from the computer. Follow the flow, the pull of your writing. Set down in ink or pencil whatever words come up, non sequiturs and nonsense and to-do-list reminders alike, stories and complaints, wishes and dreams and frustrations and remembrances. Let it all come and comingle on your page. Let it flow through the boundaries and the bridges that we build within and around ourselves, the containments and separations, the work stuff and play stuff, the now stuff and then stuff. This writing is just for you. It doesn’t have to be shared or read aloud or posted anywhere, unless *you* want to do so.

    Keep writing! from plus.maths.org
    Start it now. Do it again tomorrow. Keep up this pattern as many consecutive days as possible, over several years. Continue for a lifetime.

    I’m just repeating what I’ve been told, what’s worked for me, what I’ve read. This is the kind of urging that Natalie Goldberg makes in Writing Down the Bones, that Anne Lamott sets before us in Bird by Bird, that Pat Schneider lets us consider in Writing Alone and With Others. Trusting yourself enough to write freely and broadly and openly and deeply — it creates change.

    Freewriting sample from ficitonwriting.about.com
    This kind of freewriting has introduced me to my thought patterns, allowed me to trace out language for experiences that I thought were unnamable, given me meditation and play time. And over time, I’ve learned again to trust whatever my writing wants me to put on the page, to generate material first and then edit later, and to only share my writing when I’m ready, and with folks whose opinions I trust and appreciate. Pat Schneider has an awful lot of good stuff to say about transformative writing when working alone in her book (Writing Alone and With Others).


    Part 2: Thoughts for those who wish to use writing to facilitate healing with others –

    The experience of this erotic writing group ended up being harder, and more amazing, work than I expected it to be. I don’t know exactly how I could have believed that facilitating a group like this would be easy, or straightforward, or wouldn’t bring up intensely hard emotions for women participating (definitely including me)–but I did, and it didn’t take long for me to understand the error in such beliefs. Yet the women were incredibly supportive of me in this endeavor. They offered me great feedback on my writing, allowed me to fuck up and keep going. They told me they needed what I was doing in this group and I wanted to, and did, tell them that I needed them, as well. We opened and we fed each other words and images, and in doing so, we fed ourselves. I was continually astonished at what happened when these women set pen to paper. We got somewhere together, yet each woman arrived via her own path, with the rest of us as witnesses who walked along with her. All I did, it seemed, was create a space, come up with exercises–it was the women participating who came in and made magic. Every week felt like an absolute miracle, this opportunity to sit in witness with these courageous women. (from my process journal, Fall 2002)

    We can do it! from archives.gov On the one hand, I think anyone ought to be able to do this work. I think to myself, Look, I haven’t had any special training and I did it. I don’t have an MSW or experience as a therapist. But here’s what I do have: personal experience of surviving sexual abuse; training and experience as a volunteer listener for youth and battered women and men; certification as an Amherst Artists and Writers writing workshop facilitator; training as a crisis/peer support group facilitator. All of these skills came in handy during the writing groups I’ve facilitated.

    Can you do it without any of this training? It’s hard for me to say, because I have it and the folks I know doing the work have it. Desire is important, as is intuition—both of these are essential, even—but so is experience. It’s important to have the skills necessary such that a group of folks handling volatile material together can engage safely and ethically in the work they need to do. By safely, I mean without psychologically imploding in the group, and assisting others in their struggles not to implode. It’s my experience that the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method provides a strong and ethical container for the work of transformative writing in community. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other methods – this is the one that has resonated most strongly for me, both as a participant-writer and as a facilitator-participant.

    I have just recently, and finally, been reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and picked up The Vein of Gold to continue the work after I complete the initial 12-weeks of the Artist’s Way. Toward the back of The Vein of Gold, Cameron has a chapter dedicated to those who’d create and participate in creative Artist’s Way circles, and her focus on a non-hierarchical structure and the importance of shared risk (that if there’s a facilitator for the group, the facilitator must “do the work” along with everyone else) absolutely resonated with me as essential reminders for anyone who wishes to facilitate a non-clinical transformative/healing writing space.

    Before I wa
    s a writing group facilitator, I had training as a peer and crisis counselor–from queer youth service organizations and a domestic violence agency. This means that I had experience with listening to and empathizing with people. I had experience with the fact that, often, the most helpful thing you can do for another person is to listen to them, attentively and devotedly.

    This lesson was reinforced via Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists workshop facilitator trainings: listen and hear, and model listening for others. It’s a hard lesson to really, deeply internalize.

    Difficult things come up in a writing group, whether the group is focusing on erotic writing or sexual trauma or if there’s no particular focus at all. Despite the attention to all work as fiction, the experience of emotion is real: the terror, frustration, lust, anguish, pain, desire, desperation is real. As a facilitator, you’re not going to fix it. You’re not going to offer folks therapy and you’re not there to make it all better for them. That work will be work done by the writers themselves over time, with the help of those whom they choose, and when they choose.

    Listening with intent, from inclusive-solutions.com In a transformative writing group, one thing (among others) folks seem to want, as survivors and particularly as writers, is a hearing. That’s what these groups can offer. The original AWA training, for example, helps you acquire a sense of how not to be blown away by heavy, hard, overwhelming emotions; how to ride through hard high intense roller coaster rides of emotion without getting thrown off or shutting down. Most times, you don’t need to do anything but listen, deeply hear and experience the words as they are offered to the group, and to give your personal individual feedback about the writing itself, while modeling for others how to do the same.

    The ability to attend to your boundaries is also essential. And even so, even with this training myself, I want to bring each person who has participated in a group of mine into my life and care for them and make everything OK. It’s an empathetic challenge, and there’s nothing wrong with the draw, so long as I don’t act on it: I have to save my energy for the work I can do, the work of bringing together and facilitating these writing groups. It’s hard when all you can do is 1) offer a space, 2) keep the space safe, contained (as much as possible), and 3) listen well and respond personally, heartfelt and ethically–but it’s what I can do, and because it helps, it’s what I must do.

    Folks dancing hard, from allposters.com
    Learn how to take care of yourself. How do you get support and help after group? Do you write and get stuff down and out of you? Do you call a friend or another writing group facilitator? Do you call your mom or sister or uncle? Do you do nothing? Do something, ok? I’m still working on this one, myself, and it’s been six years since I started with this work! Go to the gym, go for a walk or a drive, sing hard, run, go dancing, do something. Let loose the energy that builds up during each group meeting.

    If folks don’t have the chance to go through the original Amherst Writers and Artists training, then I absolutely encourage you to participate in an AWA-model writing group in your area, or other writing group. It’s helpful to be exposed to different facilitation styles, if only to learn what not to do, how you don’t want to facilitate (as well as to do the opposite!).

    What do you think? What’s worked for you, if you’ve done transformative or healing writing on your own? What’s worked for you as someone participating in and/or facilitating a transformative/healing writing space?

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    Unexpected offline-ness

    I apologize for the unannounced break in my posting schedule! So, I’d planned to keep on keepin’ on with my bi-weekly posts all through the last couple weeks. It turns out, though, that I needed to take some time away from the computer. Most weekdays, I spend at least 8 hours on the computer, and something that I’ve offered myself during this end-of-Gregorian-year vacation has been some time not linked up: baking and painting, instead; movie-watching and stargazing instead; reading and beach-walking instead. It’s been deeply, deeply good; necessary, even — bringing up fully into my consciousness how much of a break I really need.

    Besides thinking about a 2009 schedule, what’s been heavily weighing on my mind are these horrors:
    – Israel is massacring Palestinian civilians with the apparent approval of the US and the UN, using such similar justificatory language to Bush’s — the world is watching; can we stop this brutality?
    – a woman was brutally gang-raped in Richmond a few weeks ago — there have been four arrests made: a 31 year-old man, a 21 year-old man, a 16 year-old boy and a 15 year-old boy. A 21 year-old, a 16 year-old and a 15 year-old. I want to write more about what I see as so many terrible barbed-wire layers around this case, and yet, how can I seriously start to take apart for individual consideration the very recent threads of this survivor’s experience? Just because some suspects have been caught by the criminal justice system doesn’t mean that justice has been or will be served — real communal change, I mean an actual ending of rape as a tool of social control and violence and terrorization, continues with our conversations, our vigils, our communities holding the perpetrators accountable, our ongoing work. We cannot trust the State to do it for us.

    I *am* going to finish the Arts and Healing Network podcast question responses! These are the questions we still have to think about:

    8. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to use writing for their own healing, or to facilitate healing in others?
    9. What inspires you the most about your workshops?
    10. What gives you hope right now?
    11. What are you working on right now with your own writing, or writing workshops?
    12. Is there anything else you didn’t get to talk about that you would like to share with listeners?

    I’ll be back on my regular posting schedule next week. Much love and peace to all of us, ALL of us, goddess knows we all need it, this new year.

    FH-hummingbird-slider

    Podcast Answers – Day 7: How facilitating the workshops has changed my own writing?

    About a month ago, I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation. Here’s my answer for day seven!

    7. How has [facilitating] the workshops changed your own writing?

    Metal cursive courage
    I think the most important impact that the workshops have had on my own work is an encouragement to be more, and more consistently, brave.

    Planetary devastationEach week I get to write with folks who are taking chances, finding new language for old pains, old desires, or new and surprising ones. Every week I am inspired by these writers’ braveries, their risk and subtle (and not-so-subtle!) implosion of yet another barrier to connection with others, of demands to silence, of old trainings. The way we often go ahead and read aloud the work we hate, the work that scares us to have written, the work that seems to make no sense, the work that is “too” stream of consciousness, “too” organized, “too” truthful or “too” fictional.” The way Pat Schneider organized the AWA method makes it feel ok, feel possible, for folks to “go there” in their writing, to speak the unmentionables, to create a story for that thing without words.

    Colorful starburstI am someone who believes that you ought not ask someone to do something you haven’t, or wouldn’t, do yourself–so I am driven to step into similar risk. To let myself try on words for a big fear, a big loss, a big shame, a big longing. To let myself strip out the words to a new story that needs an old telling. The folks I’ve written with since 2002 encourage me over and over purely through their example to take more risks in my writing, to follow the truths in my writing, as they do, to say what isn’t supposed to be said., like they do, to claim my multiplicity of voices, like they do. This is the most profound effect that facilitating these workshops has had on my work.

    The fact that I’m always reading aloud what I’ve just written means my work, overall, is more performative, more ready to be performed, because I’m writing it with the knowledge that I will most often be reading it aloud – that means I pay a different quality of attention, even unintentionally, to how the words will sound when I bring them up off the page and into my lungs, off my tongue and into the room. Body Heat flyerMost of the pieces I performed on this year’s Body Heat: Femme porn tour were written in an AWA-method workshop, either Writing Ourselves Whole or Laguna Writers workshops, first read there, first received in these crucibles of risk and transformation and possibility – and those receptions paved the way for a more public (nation-wide!) reading!

    These are the biggest effects on my own writing of facilitating the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops – in addition, of course, to writing a whole lot more regularly. What about for you? Are there ways that working/writing in one of the Writing Ourselves Whole or another AWA-method workshop has impacted your writing?