Tag Archives: healing through writing

She held out the song of the long view

Good morning! How is the sun peeling through the night’s succor where you are? Did you celebrate the Summer Solstice this weekend? Have you noticed that the days are shorter now?

This weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in A Festival of Writing, sponsored by AWA West and the Pacific School of Religion (Pat and Peter Schneider’s alma mater). I facilitated two writing sessions (one focused on writing about sex, and the other a general topic writing session, like Writing the Flood). What a gift it was to spend a day connecting with new writers and my AWA community here in the greater Bay Area. At the end of the day, we got to gather with Pat (via the wonders of technology), who shared with us about the seasons of a writer’s life and read from her new book How the Light Gets In: Writing As A Spiritual Practice.

In the second writing session, I started us off with a collection of images that I scattered over the table; we each chose an image or two, and wrote from those. The image that spoke to me was one that showed a bird flying over barbed wire, and this was the writing that came from the prompt:

She was the bird who called to us. She was the hoarse angel, she was the chemical peel,she was the undeviled thing, the pickling spice, the debonair lounge of legs. She wrote us around the corner and asked us to find names for all our calipers and rusted bolts, the parts jostling and broken. For the places where we had come undone, she strung twine through the body of a needle and knitted our wounds while we ached into the absence of memory. She untaped our memory from its hiding places. She tapped around our bodies, listening for the hollow places, and it was there that she began to puncture and crease, pushing her nails into the thin membrane of our security, waiting for the sorrow in us to be revealed. She strung us over, called to us from beyond the points of the barbed wire that kept us hemmed in, that we had strung around ourselves, that we tightened and reknotted every year, weeping and weeping about our confinement. She hovered above us, she called in sharp songs and pierced anguish, she fed us back what we had practiced ignoring.

We thought our lives were complete, that recovery had an end date, that locked jaws and noses to the grindstone were the same as serenity, that slivers of joy were all we could hope to have shiver our bodies awake, and those only to surprise us every so often. She held out the song of the long view — she whisked her wings before us and revealed plains of cavernous pleasure, faces pumaced with laughter, days, weeks, even, in which our spirits would not be pockmarked by history, stretches of time in which we would not only live within the carapace of loss. And when we reached for those possibilities, she trapped our wrists in sharp taloned grasp, she favored us with her ashen gaze, she said: There is no easy way to this place I have shown you — my beautiful, you have to go through.

And in her broad brown wings, we saw the years of rage and sorrow, we saw the tears crease down our cheeks, we saw ourselves remembering what we had trained ourselves to forget. Our bodies went limp with terror, or our bodies stiffened, every tendon taught: we did not want to walk this way. We had survived; wasn’t that enough? But her body clothed itself in the finery of joy before us, and though we didn’t know enough to say, We want what you have, still we felt something enter our bones: the only way through the history is to remember and move forward anyway.

So we went through, and little by little, one tender and broken and strong step at a time, we felt the pinfeathers pierce our shoulders, we felt our own wings begin to reemerge.

Grow your words this summer — upcoming writing opportunities with Writing Ourselves Whole

ripening tomatoes, June 2013What words are ripening in you these days? Want to harvest those phrasings and images onto the page? Come and join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops. Here’s what’s the summer schedule looks like around these parts!

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning July 8, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Reclaiming Our Erotic Story: Open to all lgbtq women survivors of sexual trauma
8 Tuesday evenings beginning July 9, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Find community around the complexity of desire, and transform your relationship with your creative self through explicit erotic writing.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Next series begins begins July 2013
Fee: $200/month (multiple-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group; 1 space available
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.

Online writing groups
6-week summer sessions begin July 1, 2013
Fee is $100-150 (sliding scale).
If you are not comfortable joining an in-person group, we offer online groups as well. This summer, our Write Whole: Survivors Write online is open to all queer/LGBTQ survivors of trauma; Reclaiming Our Erotic Story online is open to all women survivors of sexual violence. No special software required — just a computer, internet connection, and desire to write in supportive community.

Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all
Meets the third Saturday of every month
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
Next Flood Write meets Saturday, June 15 (waiting list available). Mark your calendars now for the rest of the summer: July 20, August 17, September 21.

Create the space in your summer for the power of your good words! All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register!

Book notes: Beyond Survival

cover for the book Beyond SurvivalI just recently discovered the book Beyond Survival: A Writing Journey for Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse by Maureen Brady, and I’m glad to be able to add it to the Writing Ourselves Whole library.

Published in 1992, this is a collection of 52 writing exercises specifically focusing on issues around healing from sexual trauma; the idea is that you give yourself a year to explore through writing your own healing: week 2: Breaking the silence; week 15: But who am I?; week 32: Sexuality; week 49: Trust.

The exercises are much more directive than I offer in the Write Whole workshops, in that they ask the writer to specifically consider different parts of our life and struggle after experiencing sexual trauma: write what you remember about the abuse, write what you lost by keeping secrets,  write what you’re afraid will happen if you trust people — each week’s exercise includes a page or so of discussion about that theme or issue. You could respond to these exercises for yourself or for your characters (if you’re working with a character who is a survivor of sexual violence, writing in response to some of these exercises could be an excellent way to learn more about them and their lives).

Beyond Survival seems like it would make a good companion for folks working with The Courage to Heal, but is also a  powerful tool on its own, regardless of how long you have been wrangling with the aftermath of trauma.

More as I read through this new find!

don’t you think you’re over it by now?

Tree and moss at Joaquin Miller Park, OaklandToday I’ve got a couple of exciting new things on my plate:

First, there’s the inaugural workshop with medical education staff at UCSF! I’m thinking about freewriting as professional development, about creativity as a team-building practice, and about the benefits of engaging with and encouraging the “flow” that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his books, including Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.

Then, second, I’ll head over to the Pacific School of Religion and spend some time talking with Sharon Bray‘s class (Writing as a Healing Ministry) about writing (about sex and not about sex) with/as sexual trauma survivors.


I did my morning write this morning in my notebook, so I’m going to share a prompt this morning.  I’ve used this poem as a prompt in several of my workshops recently(just this weekend at the Writing the Flood workshop, actually) and it always brings up interesting, challenging responses. Here’s one of mine (from the Healing Through Writing workshop at Mt Zion’s Art for Recovery program):

Have you gone to therapy? Isn’t therapy tired, now? What about acupuncture, massage, sex education classes?  It was so long ago, don’t you think you’re over it by now? What about hypnosis– that helps you remember all those things that you’ve worked so hard to forget.  Maybe you should quit writing about it, talking about it — doesn’t that just upset you?  Have you tried anti-depressants?

She says, “why not just try and avoid the topic — think positive.  Focus on hpw people are kind to each other.” But there’s no avoiding the topic — rape is everywhere. “Have you read this book about trauma?” One says, and the other responsds, “Don’t youknow reading about trauma just makes you more aware of it?”

Another says, “You should go to the ocean, spend time with your dog.  You don’t have a dog? Oh, I had to get a pet after my assault — it’s so much unconditional love, the only place I can look to for affection with no strings attached.”  I don’t tell her about the pets lost, the dog I had to leave behind when I was running for my life, how raw the memory still is for me.

Someone else can only watch revenge movies.  Another just likes bad sit-com tv where no serious issues get dealt with and everything’s tied up with a bow after 30 minutes.

“Have you confronted your family?  Have you forgiven him?” Another says forgiveness is for fools.  Are these all the voices in my head, just the ping-ponging of possible healing?

So many suggestions — we’re desperate to fix each other, the way we cannot fix ourselves.  “Isn’t it all over now? Does it really still bother you?” She asks, then says, “I read those books, For Women Who Do Too Much, and meditate for an hour every morning, then walk on the beach, then have a nap. You should try it — it’ s great! Why don’t you just follow your bliss?”

And, of course, I understand the sentiment, the sympathy, and I think how much easier it is to follow one’s bliss when one doesn’t have to work to pay the bills.

So my bliss shrinks to fit what time I can give it — 3 pages of writing in the morning right after I get up, a cup of decaf from Peets on the walk from the bus to my day job, a few minutes by the wharf to look for sea lions on my break. Is this really the right way to go? Can bliss be shrunk, baked down like shrinky-dinks into a colorful plasticky diorama to hang around my neck? Bliss doesn’t really get small like that — and while I avoid this conversation with the overly-enthusiastic Follow Yr Bliss-ers, in my heart I know that what I’ve condensed to fit a maddening shcedule is pushing at my edges, expanding like life does, and joy, asking for more spoace and more time: a true, honest hour to spend digging in the dirt, then one more hour to write about it, in as many pages as possible.


Take some good space for you today, if that works for you.

All I’ll ever do

Write write write writeThis is from the Art for Recovery/Healing through Writing workshop last Thursday — the prompt was a poem from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, (“Words For It”), and then we started with the phrases, “I wish I could take language and…” or “This is what I want my stories to do…”

This is what I want my stories to do: I want the stories to do the work for me, I want them to go back in time and change what happened, I want us to be able to breathe again.

What I want is for my stories to open me to you — I want you to see what I hide. I want you to look under the metaphors and sentences for the scraps and facts of me. I want you to see what’s left of my childhood behind that poem. I want you to welcome my badness with open arms, the way you welcome the sing-song of my lines.

I want my stories to explain things you didn’t understand about me, to straighten out your confusion and misperceptions, to unlock the doors I hide behind, keeping myself from you. The stories are a false front and yet they are everything — I’m nothing that’s not exposed there, all my facts are there, my neuroses and nurseries. I want you to quit examining me and look in my writing instead for answers, for clarification.

I’m clouded today, and drifting; as much as I want to write for other people, deep and true who I write for is me. That one audience, to explain self to self. How blissful when someone else looks in to this locked cage and seeks out a separate score of answers. We can’t find any history here, no index to this body of words, and I know I’m more than the printing on the page but this scout of expression is all I truly have time for these days.

(This isn’t making sense — I’m just trusting the process, scooping up and laying out what words my consciousness offers me, always and especially when they don’t make sense. Too much attention paid to sense-making, not enough settling the score with nonsense.)

What you don’t want to hear is how I’m not ok, how I want someone else to write this me-story, even though I know it’s only in the process of doing it that I can ever hope to discover who I actually was, and am. “I wish I could take language and” have it do its job, just one time clean and honest, convey to you what I’m really thinking. But we have to keep dancing, you and me, words and Jen. It’s all I’ll ever do.