Tag Archives: facilitation stuff

upcoming (and) gratitude

stencil graffiti from Miss.Tic: An image of a woman in a full-skirted, 50s style dress with princess neckline, one hand on her hip, to the right of the words, "la fille coupee en deux"  Good morning, my friends — it actually might still be night, according to some. I’ve been up for quite awhile, journaling since about 3.30. What a gift.

There’s the fog horn, awakening the sea mist. There’s this candleflame. There’re these fingers, wanting to find out what to say.

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I’ve got to get this month’s writing ourselves whole newsletter together, which means I want to give a bit of an update here as to what’s coming up:

– You are still welcome to sign up to join the small but mighty group of folks who are participating in the online erotic writing workshop that I get to offer through the Transformative Language Arts Network, Claiming Our Erotic Story. We are just barely into the first prompt, getting to know each other, and we’d love to welcome you into the fold. Visit the link above (or here) to register!

– I’ll be reading on Valentine’s Day! BLEEDING HEARTS, A Celebration of Dysfunctional Love. Tuesday, February 14th, 7:30 pm, The Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco, $10-20. Simon Sheppard hosts a St. Valentine’s Day massacre featuring Charlie Anders, Sherilyn Connelly, Jen Cross, Justin Chin, Daphne Gottlieb, Juba Kalamka, Kirk Read, and horehound stillpoint. (Honestly, this show is going to be phenomenal. Come on down and do something different for your V-Day — the chocolate will still be there when you get back home.)

– Don’t forget about Writing the Flood on 2/18!

– This month’s Erotic Reading Circle meets on 2/22.

– The Spring Write Whole workshop series all begin in April — and if you’ve been thinking about joining the Dive Deep manuscript workshop, we’ll be open again in April for new members (right now there are two spaces available — contact me for more info!).  The next Declaring Our Erotic retreat meets on Saturday, 4/7.

I’ll be away for much of the month of March (I’ll be at Hedgebrook for the first two weeks of the month, and then down in LA for my sister’s wedding toward the end of the month) , but Writing the Flood will meet as usual on the third Saturday, 3/17. Gotta keep some consistency somewhere.
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My online erotic writing workshop got started earlier this week, as I mentioned above, and last night I got to spend some time with the writers’ words before I got ready for bed. This morning, after I finish this post, I’ll be reading through the manuscripts for this Sunday’s Dive Deep meeting — marking up all the places I love, writing comments and gentle questions, generally, yes, diving into another person’s

I have to tell you that I adore this work. First of all, I get to read as a part of my living. This is precisely what my six year-old self dreamed of. And I get to “be read to,” just in the context of the workshops, where I participate in the pleasure of hearing brand new writing shared with a circle of open-hearted and supportive listeners. I get to experience the pleasures of writing over and over again, every single day. Talk about grateful.

I’ve had this thought, over and over since the beginning of the year: my god, do I really get to do this? I felt it on Monday at the Write Whole meeting, listening to the writers offer their words into the room, to one another, to themselves. I’m struck, continually, with the power of new writing, with how much creative desire and power each of us carries within, and what a tremendous gift it is to share that creativity with others, especially in early drafts or nascent forms.

I’m all superlatives these days. That’s just how it is. So this is just one of my sappy facilitator-love posts, wherein I talk about how much I love and appreciate the writing of every single person (no hyperbole) I’ve been allowed to write with, how grateful I am for the chance to be with your new and crafted words, how glad I am that we get to be on this writer’s journey in some small way together.

It’s so often an isolated thing, writing — what power there is when we come together and share this art that fills us up to bursting.

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On only a very slightly different note, I’ve been rereading Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (such an exquisite thing, returning to words you love after a long absence) , and I have this quote to offer you as a prompt for this morning (getting us into sensory detail, don’t you know):

When she lifted the soup spoon to her lips, how I longed to be that innocent piece of stainless steel. I would gladly have traded the blood in my body for half a pint of vegetable stock. let me be diced carrot, vermicelli, just so that you will take me in your mouth. I envied the French stick. I watched her break and butter each piece, soak it slowly in her bowl, let it float, grow heavy and at, sink under the deep red weight and then be resurrected to the glorious pleasure of her teeth.

Take 10 minutes (or can you give yourself 20?) to write what emerges in response to reading this– maybe your own (or a character’s) memory of a sensory meal, or a desire. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the generous ways you make yourself vulnerable today, for the way you hold with grace what others offer you, how you create space in the world for creative emergence. Thank you for your ferocious tenderness with yourself. Thank you for your words.

what stays with us

Good morning! I can’t believe that tour starts in just 4 days.  I spent some time yesterday finishing up the chapbook for this year’s tour. It’s going to be entitled, “what they didn’t teach us.”

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Several recent interactions with writers have me thinking about the way I want to talk with folks at the beginning of a workshop. In the workshops, we write together for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes in response to a prompt. Then folks read aloud what they’ve written, if they want to, and the rest of the group gives them feedback about what they liked about the piece, what was strong, what stays with us.

Everyone comes to the workshop feeling inadequate, or most of us do. We feel like we want to write, but our writing isn’t very good. Many people worry about this, that everyone else is a better writer and/or can say more or better or more interesting things about people’s writing. But every piece of feedback is useful for a writer. You might feel like it’s not very helpful to tell the writer, I loved that piece. Or, I really felt moved, I feel sad and happy listening to that, I liked that line about the dog. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read a piece in the workshop and felt like a particular section was meaningful to me but kind of bad writing and then folks in the workshop say something about that section in particular that struck them, and I get to see that section through different eyes.

Someone in my first workshop talked about how useful it was to have many different people’s eyes/thoughts on a piece of writing, they felt like they got a comprehensive view of their writing through other people’s points of view.

Here’s what I want to say to a new writer/workshop participant: your writing is powerful and affecting, and your feedback is thoughtful and generous. this is true for every writer I’ve had in my workshops, and every writer I’ve been with in other AWA workshops I wasn’t facilitating. It’s an amazing thing that we’re given space to do for each other, within the structure of this method. We get to generate something, a new piece of writing, that is fresh and has its heart still beating, and we put it back in our mouths and share it with this group of people, some or all of whom may be strangers, and then these people open their wings and hold this gorgeous, tender thing that we have just released into the world. I know that sounds corny, and it’s true. The writer’s bravery and desire is a strength, and we each get to give one another the gift of a hearing: This is what I heard you share.

There’s sometimes, I think, more pressure to give the right kind of feedback after someone reads their writing than there is to have the writing be ‘right.’ Feedback can hearken back to the classroom, when the teacher read 13 ways of looking at a blackbird or The Red Wheelbarrow and asked, Ok class, now what did the poet mean in that poem? And you were frozen. I remember, I was frozen; I wanted to have the right answer. It wasn’t enough to say, I liked that image of the rain-wet wheelbarrow, the color and shine of it stays with me and kind of lights me up inside, and then there’s the white chickens next to that red, and I am really there. It wasn’t enough for the boy next to me, who was always looking down my English teacher’s shirt, to say while looking down at his hands, That one section, the last one, where he said it was evening all afternoon. I don’t know what that means, but I really like it.

Those were our honest thoughts about these poems we were meeting, but the teacher didn’t want those thoughts. Those wouldn’t help us on the test she was going to hand out later that week. She wanted meaning, metaphor, line breaks, line scansion, feet & slant rhyme. We could have gotten to those things through how we talked about what we liked, I think: There’s this rhythm about those lines, I want to say them again and again, and then the teacher could have pointed out what that rhythm was, rather than demanding that we name and categorize that rhythm before we even speak our appreciation.

We want to have the right answer, of course we do. And so what I talk about in the workshop is that what we like is the right answer.

This is what I want you to know. You don’t have to know the right thing to say. There is no right answer; or, rather, your feedback about what you liked, what sticks with you after the piece is read aloud, that will be right. But don’t let it sounds like I’m dismissing this concern, this desire. Even as facilitator, I still sometimes want to have the right answer; that’s how ingrained this stuff is! I’ll wish I noticed something someone else noticed — but it doesn’t matter that I didn’t say it, didn’t comment on it, because that someone else did, which means that the person got the feedback, and I can say, me, too.

I want you to be easy with yourself when you’re listening to someone’s writing, and when you’re responding to it. There’s no pressure to be correct, to see the hidden stuff. What you like is right, it’s right on.  And I’m so grateful for what you see.

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Thank you for your words today, for  your gentleness with yourself and with the folks you’ll meet in your day. See you here tomorrow.

what happened? what do I mean by that?

graffiti in the background, purple-flowering vetch (I think) in the foregroundSometimes a candle is all you need, and a pen, and a notebook, and a cup of something warm. Maybe this morning, write about proprioceptive writing — write about freewriting and reflective writing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reflective writing, I think because I want more time and structure for reflection in my own life and work. I have my morning pages, which are a momentary core dump of sorts, but not a specifically reflective time. In the morning, I’m still stum-numbly with sleep and dreams, and I’m trying to capture that emotional energy on the page, I want those dreams, I want those images and words before they split and slip away. I want the thickest heaviest emotion, those blocky truths — but at this hour, I’m not always, or I haven’t been, deeply reflective, at least not directively so.

At my day job at the UCSF School of Medicine, I learned about reflective writing as a way to further a medical student’s education, to deepen and broaden their empathetic learning, to encourage the student to engage deeply in a particular incident or interaction (particularly a situation in which they learned something, or one that went especially well, or one that didn’t go well) with a patient, and to go deep into what happened: how the student felt when it happened, what they noticed, how they felt changed afterward, how things might have gone differently. In asking these questions over time in a reflective writing practice, students integrate their experiences differently, and connect emotion to their learning and patient interactions. Of course, these practices aren’t limited to medical students — everyone (I believe!) can benefit from this reflective writing. There are lots of good resources around Reflective Writing; I just finished reading Gillie Bolton’s Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development, which I had to check out several times from the UCSF library, because I just wasn’t ready to let it go.

(I’m not accustomed to writing so linearly in the morning. This is new work!)

So there’s this thing called reflective writing practice, and then there’s also proprioceptive writing, which was developed by Linda Trichter Metcalf in the 1970s. I first heard about this practice from a co-worker at a Battered Women’s shelter where I was working in Maine, the same co-worker who introduced me to Amherst Writers and Artists & Pat Schneider’s work. The way I understood proprioceptive writing, you sit in a quiet room, someone lights a candle and puts on some Bach, and you write deeply for 30 minutes. But there’s more to it than that, as I understand it now: while writing, you listen deeply to yourself and begin to ask questions of the writing: what do I mean by that? What do I mean by deeply, for instance, in the above sentence? What an excellent question! This would, I think, encourage my writing open, and take me into some surprising places. (Read more about proprioceptive writing in Writing the Mind Alive by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon.) I’m looking into proprioceptive writing classes/workshops now, to learn more about how to embody this practice.

(I think one reason I haven’t yet is that I get weirdly jealous or loyal to a practice or method or teacher, and for the last 10 years, I’ve only wanted AWA to be the “thing I do.” AWA, of course, is my workshop home, and I have to assure my inside self, the way maybe a parent would have to reassure a child, that AWA won’t be hurt and my practice won’t be harmed if I learn about other methods and practices, other ways of writing deeply in community. Whew, that loyalty stuff runs deep!)

At the very beginning of my work with the writing workshops, when I was leading a workshop as a part of my MA practicum, I was quite reflective on the work. I had to write for school about what I was doing, what happened in the workshops, how exercises worked or didn’t, and more, for my advisor. This didn’t develop into a habit that I carried with me into the work, however — I would get up at the end of the night, chat with the writers as I was packing up materials and such, and take the bus home, looking out into the dark San Francisco evening, turning over what had gone on that night, but also drifting back into my ‘regular’ life. It was as though, somehow, there was a different me that sat in the workshops and facilitated. Compartmentalization can be a gift as a survival strategy, it’s true, and it can also be a struggle when that strategy stops being as useful and you want to begin letting all those separate cells of self come together again.

So, as I got pretty overloaded over the last couple of years, I began to think that taking time after the workshops for reflection would be very helpful — not only would I open myself up to integrating what we’d just all done together, but I could pay attention to what had gone well, what hadn’t gone as well, I could question my nerves and struggles, I could let them come out on the page, I could look at interactions from different angles. This is all great! But I haven’t done it yet — for most of my time as a workshop facilitator, I have led my workshops away from home, so when they’re done at 9, I’m packing up and preparing for a good 45-minutes to an hour of transit; then, when I get home, maybe I watch a little tv to ‘come down,’ maybe I read for a while, to transition; it’s not about integrating, though, is it? It’s about compartmentalizing. So the workshops, they get heavier and heavier, because I’m getting heavier and heavier. What we do together in the workshops is big, as survivors of sexual trauma writing together, as folks writing gorgeous and powerful desire, and sometimes these groups come together, survivors writing complicated, gorgeous longings and lust. Every time I walk into the room, I’m carrying unintegrated stuff from every other workshop, I’m carrying fears and excitements and uncertainty, and I don’t take the time to play with the questions that I’m living with: what’s working well? Why is it working well? what’s not working well? how do I feel about that? How could these situations go differently? How do I feel changed after each workshop? And, each time, to go deeper: what do I mean by that?

This feels not just like a powerful ‘professional development’ practice (if you want to get technical about it) but also a radical self care practice. It’s about opening time for questioning, which means, too, thinking about how and when workshops happen, so that I allow this time to happen, so that I allow myself and the workshops this time.

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Want to try this practice? Take 10 minutes and think on a recent situation that surprised you, or when you learned something, or when you were frustrated; just notice what comes up as you read these questions. Let yourself begin writing what happened, and ask yourself these questions as you write (maybe have them written on a separate piece of paper so you can see them): What did I see around me? How did I feel? What could I have done differently? Write from a place of unknowing and curiosity, as much as possible — this isn’t about self-indictment, but self-wondering and maybe self-discovery!

(or, if you want, this morning, you might also write about how the trees smell today — whatever you choose!)

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Thanks for the ways you let the different parts of yourself/selves begin to commingle. Thanks for the creative possibilities you allow for your own growth and opening and safety. Thanks for the delicious power of your words.

being willing to fiercely hold power

graffiti: three figures, pulling and pushing together at the bars of a barrier, so they can get out

Only together...

Good morning and happy Friday!  It’s almost time to take a book to the beach and read while leaning back up against a rock, listening to the waves pounding, maybe, too, there’re kids screaming and laughing somewhere, but mostly it’s sea gulls, sea lions, and water. Right? Yes.

So, on Fridays I wanted to write about workshop-business stuff: such a strange thing! I am a Pisces and a survivor and an introvert*, and it’s a strange thing to find myself at the helm (helm?) of something like writing ourselves whole, a strange thing to find myself working to grow a business, an organization, paying attention to things not only like writing exercises and holding workshops and making sure there are enough snacks, but also tax forms and accounting records.  Over these years, I’ve slowly learned (with lots of friend-/love-support, of course!) to trust myself enough to hold writing ourselves whole as it grows beyond just me.

I’ve wanted to write for some time about being both a survivor and someone running/holding an organization, about the ways that I’ve struggled with power.  Holding writing ourselves whole means being willing to fiercely hold power, because I believe in what we do together and how we do it. That’s taken me a long time.

“Power is the ability to take one’s place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one’s part matter.” -Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing A Woman’s Life.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 1988, p. 18.

I’ve had to learn about owning my power in a positive and empowering way. For a long time, I didn’t want anything to do with power: to me, power equaled abuse. But we are all imbued with power, we have deep knowledge and skills to share, information and creativity to be shared and learned from. Power in and of itself is not abuse. The question is what we do with our power: Do we use it to attempt to control other people, or do we stand up in it, understanding that our power is our strength to speak out, to work with others to effect change, to sensitively hold space; do we behave with blind entitlement or do we hold ourselves accountable, ask others to hold us accountable, believing ourselves to be entitled to respect when we give respect, entitled to generosity when we are generous, entitled to kindness and space to offer our wisdom.

It’s early and I’m not writing about this the way that I want. Here’s something I wrote back in the beginning, about my struggle with power:

The erotic writing groups that I facilitate are not therapy groups. They are non-clinical TLA writing groups, in which I, as facilitator, am also a participant. This is a role that requires a good deal of ongoing negotiation and soul-searching for me: I have responsibility for keeping the group flowing and structured, yet I abdicated the role of “leader.” Together, we who participate in these groups engage in the creation of a safe space that allows for risk, performance and play. As a participant, I struggle to make clear for the rest of the participants: 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, in my experience, allows for a leveling of the power in the room–which is transformative in itself.  It is also fraught with its own difficulties.

I have, since, reconsidered this abdication, have stepped up to more fully meet the role of facilitator, which means leading sometimes, holding us all our agreements, naming things that need to change in order for all to be held, and being present with folks who are testing the limits of our method or who seem to want something different from the group.  The struggle for me has been wanting always to be different from the therapist group facilitator, first, because I’m not a therapist, and second, because I came into this work with such anger, still, at therapists and their power/impotence, given what my stepfather was able to do as a therapist in his community back home. Yes, I washed a whole community with his actions — I’m still undoing that in myself. Now my sister is a therapist, and so we can have different conversations about holding power, about being accountable and about boundaries and engaging in the holding of spaces where we and others can risk, together, and also find ourselves in safety and change.

There’s so much more to say about power (and em-power-ment), but I’ll stop here for now.  Thanks for your fierce work, your extraordinary power, the way you’re living your life like it’s golden

* Folks tend not to believe me when I say I’m an introvert, because I can be outspoken, because I perform publicly, because I can be big and loud and gregarious and effusive. None of these negate the possibility of introversion, however: I’m someone who likes a lot of time alone, and for whom big crowds can be draining — I like to replenish with time alone after being with large amounts of people (c.f., having to take last Saturday morning to myself after being at the Femme Conference on Friday, and with people all the rest of the week); I like to call it being on people-overload. It isn’t about not loving people, but about how I get fed: I get fed/replenished after interactions with just one person or small groups, and with time alone.  Then I can do big groups again. I resonate with this definition: “Extraverts feel an increase of perceived energy when interacting with a large group of people, but a decrease of energy when left alone. Conversely, introverts feel an increase of energy when alone, but a decrease of energy when surrounded by a large group of people.”