FH-hummingbird-slider

in the aftermath of more mass violence, how do we grieve?

Not again.

I’m sending you love and gratitude on this Monday morning after yet another mass shooting in America. These are difficult days in this country and around the world. It seems that every day we are confronted with another — often more than one — report of atrocity, violence, or hatred. We witness hostility in our own communities, both online and off. Somehow, we are expected to just keep going — go to work, go to school, keep appointments with friends, get together for beers, act like everything is normal.

Yet, many of us insist that this is not what we want our normal to look like. We don’t believe that violence should be normal. We don’t think we should be able to just pick up where we left off in our conversation when we hear the news that twenty-six people were shot at church. We believe something should come to a halt, there should be a moment or more of silence, we as a people should acknowledge the tragedy, acknowledge what it does to us as loving human beings  to live in a place where such actions are considered acceptable.

(Because, of course, if they were not acceptable, more would be done — both by those who are ostensibly in power and we the people — to undermine the conditions necessary for such violence. We would demand that our legislators make changes in our gun laws. We would rise up as a country seeking to keep our neighbors and children safe. We would shout down those who insist that automatic weapons are necessary safeguards for the average citizen. We would vote out of office any legislator who had refused to vote for even the most basic restrictions on gun access. We would insist that all men and boys in our country be taught, over and over again, how to deal with their anger and shame, how to grieve, that violence toward others doesn’t make them a man, that other men will no longer celebrate their “accomplishments” when they attack, brutalize, murder, harass, or otherwise violate the lives of others. It would be men who drove this struggle to change the definition of American masculinity, American manhood. It would be men who, so ashamed at what they’d become, would stand up and finally say, “No more. We don’t want to be this. We don’t want to do this to others. We are ready to stop.”

Just imagine if that were true.)

But as a country, as a people, we don’t make this kind of time for grieving or even deep acknowledgement of each tragedy anymore. There are so few moments of silence in the classroom or workplace. Newscasters are don’t break down as they read reports of children killed, folks of all ages and genders sexually-assaulted at work and at home, people of color murdered by police… they cannot break down. They have to keep it together, to report the next bit of terrible news.

So how do we take care of ourselves? How do we speak of what’s unspeakable? How do we create the space around ourselves and those we love to honor loss, to create room for horror and grief to move through our bodies, to take the time to even understand how we feel? How do we create the space to remove the armor we must wear just to walk out into the world (again, both online and off) and come home again relatively unscathed?

One of the ways I create this kind of space is to freewrite about it. I sit down in the dark morning hours, light a candle, open the notebook, and find room on the page for all that sorrow and rage and horror. I allow myself not to make sense, not to censor or edit as I write. I allow myself to be more vulnerable than my country seems to want me to be these days. I let the words fall out the mouth of my pen, messily or gently, and I do not judge — not my words, not my feelings. (This is the intention, anyway.)

If I am part of a community of writers, I can take the risk to write what I am feeling and struggling with and share it with the room, knowing that they will respond to my words, my creativity, and bear witness to what the words communicate with tenderness and gratitude.

See if you can give yourself ten minutes, even fifteen, to write however you are feeling, whatever you are thinking on this first Monday of November. What if you gave yourself that sort of time, to be more vulnerable, more real, more free? What if you held open room for those you love to do the same?

Thank you for your words today, and everyday.

FH-hummingbird-slider

VozSutra: this is just the beginning

Hafiz poem written on a wall: "Even after all this time/The sun never says to the earth,/You owe Me.'//Look what happens with/A love like that,/It lights the Whole Sky"Good morning! Are you already drinking water, Bay Area readers?  Please stay hydrated — I can hardly believe how hot it got yesterday.  We did make it to the ocean, and I got to ride the rip current at Bolinas.

Today’s is supposed to be a VozSutra blog — the practice of voice.  This weekend I got to be with writers at the femme conference and spend a bit of time thinking about femme-survivorhood: what’s it mean to be a femmedyke who’s a survivor of sexual trauma?  How is our femme identity, our femme self, inflected by our survivor self?  How is our experience of being a survivor inflected by also being a queer femme? Enormous questions that could have essay- or book-length responses. We had time for one writing exercise, and someone suggested that I post some additional writing prompts here, so that we could continue our fierce work. I’ve got a bunch more prompts below.

First, I want to talk a bit about freewriting. Here’s something I wrote last year, for a presentation about transformative writing with survivors of sexual trauma at the Power of Words conference:

Want to write yourself whole? Pick up the pen and start now. Just let the words come. Don’t lift 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, a weekend afternoon. 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.

Start it now. Do it again tomorrow. Keep up this pattern as many consecutive days as you want, over several years. Continue for a lifetime.

I’m just repeating what I’ve been told, what I’ve read, what’s worked for me. 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 encourages in Writing Alone and With Others. Trusting yourself enough to write freely and broadly and openly and deeply—it creates change.

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, and then to share that new, raw, unedited stuff with other writers to revel in the surprise truths my pen leads me to and my peer writers help to highlight for me.

So — given that description and possibility, femme writers (and others!), here are some more ideas. For each one, give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to write –set a timer on your watch or stove or phone so that you can focus on the writing and not on checking the clock! (And listen: if you don’t have 15 minutes, give yourself 5 or 7. Lots can be done in that time.)

  • Write a love letter to your body, or to a specific part of your body; use the second person ‘you’ to talk directly to your body, if that works for you. The tone might be seductive, funny, apologetic, serious, adoring, sad, or all of the above and more!
  • Start your writing with the phrase “If I told you what I’m afraid to tell you …” or “These are the secrets of my body.” (If you find yourself getting stuck, switch from one to the other — or change the prompt in some way: if I told you what I’m not afraid to tell you. These aren’t the secrets of my body –)
  • Create a list of myths about survivors and then a list of myths about femmedykes.  Select one and write in response, or write about its opposite: “This is what they say about me/us, but I/we…”
  • Start with these fragments: I’m  supposed to want… / I’m not supposed to want…. Alternate between the two for a few minutes at the start of your write, and then follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.
  • Begin with this question: What are the erotics of honesty? What happens when we are honest about what we desire (and I don’t mean just sexually) — even only with ourselves?

This is just the beginning.  You can find prompts anywhere — respond to images, songs, dreams. Let yourself pick a book off the shelf, open to a random page, put your finger down, and then start writing from the word or phrase you fall upon.  Everything is a potential spark for your muse.

Please feel welcome to share your responses here!  You can share the writes you do in response to the exercises, or your feelings about/experiences with a particular prompt.

Thank you so much for reading, for writing, for doing the fierce work you do in the world —