Tag Archives: liberatory uses of writing

“a tough life needs a tough language”

It’s a late-sleeping good morning here, and time to head out into the world with an anxious puppy. But I am slowly (so as to make it last) reading Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, and I have these lines of hers to share with you all today:

…when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language — and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers — a language powerful enough to say how it is.

It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place. (p. 40)

So: that for today. Also, this: what’s the tough language you’re needing today? Can you grab ten minutes and write it out? Maybe you could tell me about the poems that saved you, and the poems that you wrote after that. Or about the people who said poetry didn’t matter, and what you say to them now.

Thank you for your wisdom today — your body wisdom, your psyche wisdom, for the wisdom of triggers and fears and curiosities. Thank you for all your inside brilliance. Thank you for your words.



(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.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

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.

5/28 in Sacto: Reclaiming our Erotic Story!

We had so much fun at this workshop back in January, we’re doing it again! Contact John Crandall (info at the end of the post) to register or for more info! -xox, Jen

Reclaiming our Erotic Story:

the Liberatory Potential of  Writing Desire

May 28, 2011, 10:00AM-5:00PM

Sutterwriters Sacramento

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 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


still not a luxury

white graffiti on a black painted wall: "graffiti is a poem the city writes to itself"Two quotes for you today from Audre Lorde, in honor of both National Poetry Month & National Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month:

“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

“… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
Audre Lorde

Have you read Lorde’s essay/talk, “Poetry is not a Luxury“? That’s a great possibility for today. And after, give yourself maybe 10 minutes to write about what you’ve read, what you imagined as you read her work, or those quotes from her work above: does creative writing/creative work feel like something we have to do on the side of our lives, something above and beyond the necessities of life? It’s at the very tip top of Maslow’s Hierarchy, after all, far away from food & shelter — a splurge, a luxury.
What if we consider the fact that creation isn’t a luxury — it’s a human condition. And poetry/creative writing has been a transformational human act since we found the capacity for speech — even before written language, the bards/griots, who held (hold) and shared (share) a community’s/society’s collected knowledge and/or news in the form of sung poetry, were (are) held up and revered. In the West, and particularly in the USA, we look down on poets as weak, childish, undriven to succeed materially. In many other parts of the world, even today, poets aren’t seen this way.
Audre Lorde says it: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Without this gift, we stay stagnant in particular ways of thinking, or unthinking. It has been my experience that the most transformative reading in my own healing/growing process has been poetry and other creative work. This experience of finding language for what we had thought was unsayable is deeply transformative: it gives lie to the silencers, it gives lie to what we thought we had to swallow in order to survive. In reading their work, and then through my/our own writing process, the possibilities available for my/our very being are blown open, because the words I/we have access to have changed, expanded, multiplied.
These have been my teachers, because they have opened to me new ways to think, new languages for what up to my reading of their work had been unlanguaged in me: Alice Walker, Pat Califia, Sharon Bridgeforth, Sapphire, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Allison, Chrystos, Linda Smukler/Samuel Ace, Patricia Smith, Essex Hemphill, Pat Parker, Pamela Sneed, Ai, Kim Addonizio, Nikki Giovanni (this is not at all exhaustive; there were many more) — and yes, e.e. cummings, and Shel Silverstein, who was first. These have crafted me, have shown me what poetry, what truth-telling, what revolution can look like, a revolution that is, for me, queer women led (queer woman-of-color led, honestly) a revolution that names names and says what we were told was no one would ever be able to say.
Who have been the poets that blew you open? What poem? When did you read it? Do you remember where you were sitting, or what town you lived in? Spending time with favorite stories or poems can be such a delight — give yourself permission to take 7 or 10 minutes for this write today.
Thank you for the words you offer, that give so much to you yourself in your own transformation, and, too, might become a becon, a shape-shifting possibility for others as well.

“all those things not yet said”

graffiti: mandala in NYCGood Monday morning! I am sleepy today — this morning, it’s hard to stay with the writing; I have to keep typing (like I would write it out in the notebook) that once I’m done here, I can go back to sleep if I really want to. Sometimes, that’s what being easy with myself means: giving in, on paper, at least, and in real life sometimes, too.

When I say, be easy with you, I mean, don’t beat yourself up in your heart. I mean, be patient with yourself and your process. I mean, send yourself a little love when you are feeling very hard and sad. I mean, trust the difficult places, the triggers, the shit that comes up. I mean, trust your own process: it’s nobody’s business but yours.

Yes, sometimes, you won’t do everything the way you thought you were supposed to be able to (this looks like my everyday, btw): Be easy with you means, That’s all right. That’s human.


This coming Saturday, April 9, we’ll gather again for Writing the Flood! Want to join us? This time around, we should be meeting in San Francisco (getting that settled up today or tomorrow) — there are a few spaces still available!

We meet early this month because the following week I’m headed down South for the latest incarnation of the Body Heat Queer Femme Porn Tour! I get to join up with Kathleen Delaney, Alex Cafarelli, Gigi Frost, and the Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins for their amazing performances around queer femme sexuality, identity and desire. Can’t wait!


April is both National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. This morning, I thought, That sounds like writing ourselves whole month.

We here reading and writing, we know that these things go together — the power and necessity of poetry to teach, to explain, to give voice to that which has not yet been spoken or listened to. We know how poetry and other forms of creative writing can heal what we didn’t even know was wounded in us, can teach lessons that don’t get learned any other way, can express what we believed there were no words to express. The delicious joy of listening to/witnessing/reading someone else’s indelible words.

Writing poetry or otherwise creatively can be, simultaneously, a tremendous form of self care and a liberatory social change practice.

And writing can be a way of knowing, a way of engaging with what we might know, or could know — and that can be especially useful for trauma survivors, for whom memory can be like a half-rotted film strip, with much of the imagery lost or fragmented, but here and there, a clear sharp sound, that bright flash that means everything.

I found this on twitter this morning: Plato said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” What about that?


I have these two (other) delightful quotes this morning, from a handout that John Fox gave out at the Healing Art of Writing conference last summer:

“When we are not sure, we are alive.” — Graham Greene


“I have faith in all those things that are not yet said.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I wonder about letting those be a writing prompt this morning — just be with each of these statements, and notice what begins to bubble up around them in your writer’s brain. Take out your notebook or open a new document on the screen and let yourself write for 10 minutes: what do these mean for you and/or your characters? (If you find yourself stuck, you might write about what you have faith in, or when you know you’re alive, or what happens when you’re not sure, or what hasn’t yet been said… )

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

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


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


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!

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!

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.


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.


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!


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.

we are elastic beings who are ever becoming new

"Go Gently" -- reverse graffiti

(check this out -- 'reverse' graffiti!)

5:43am — what would I be writing about this morning if I had the time, if I could be writing about anything I wanted? Last night the bus took an hour and a half to make a 45 minute trip because traffic on Lombard was so heavy — everyone wanted to get across the Golden Gate.  I was tired of words and wanted to be home. I nearly fell asleep on the bus, dozed a little, got a sleepy mouth.  Sometimes I get tired of words the way I get tired of the smell of my own body, with a kind of sickening overwhelm, because I can’t get away.  There’s no break for me from words.  Words are my only mechanism, only medium, only practice.  They’re my work and my hobby. Last night I came home and drank wine and ate the red beans and rice F! had made, then ate cheese and crackers, then ate ice cream. I watched tv.  If I’d turned off the tv, I’d have been left with words. I wanted to breathe without them for a little bit. I wanted to step outside of that structuring of my brain, which I didn’t, not really, but tv drugs you and makes you think you’re free. The clouds outside look like dark smoke in the early sky. The garbage truck looks like hungry.

The Monday night Write Whole workshop is going and gorgeous, even though the registration is quite small.  The Tuesday night DOE workshop I’ve had to cancel again because only a few people had any interest, only two indicated they’d register and only one followed through. What happens?  I had the idea that many people would want to take an erotic writing workshop, figured that, of course, when I opened the groups up to everyone, folks of all genders, that I might lose some of the women who’d wanted to take the women-only workshop, but I’d get a lot more people who didn’t fit or feel comfortable in those groups: that hasn’t been the case. Maybe it’s because I’m not known, I’m not advertising enough, I don’t have a book or a regular (like, consistent), sexy image: I’m not out there blogging and twittering and facebooking about sex, my own sex and others, I’m not really putting out that this is what I do.  And frankly, right now, it isn’t what I do: I haven’t been doing a lit of sex writing, except when I’ve got a workshop on.  Otherwise, what do I write about?  trauma. flowers. workshops.

The other day I thought maybe I’m interested in sex writing as a part of something larger, as a part of this project of making it safe for us to tell our dangerous stories, the stories that are risky to our identities, to our communities, our families, the stories that express our whole, fragmented, faceted selves, our full and messy realities. The initial impetus around offering erotic writing workshops was to make a space where (queer women) survivors of incest or rape or other sexual trauma could be in their lived, adult, consensual desire, without having to have it be always pretty or always a struggle.  We could write our messiness out.  We could write out the things that we’ve longed for that we haven’t had language for, or have very much had language for but haven’t what haven’t wanted to share with other people, haven’t wanted to share for fear it would be something we had to follow up on or something we’d never be able to do, for fear it wouldn’t sound like something we should want, given our gender identity or sexual identity or class or race or size… given how we’re seen in our groups, maybe, we think this thing we long for looks ridiculous. I don’t pitch the workshops as a place to get you published, a place — right now I just feel low.  I feel low energy.  The point is I don’t think I’d be offering erotic writing workshops as an end in themselves, as important all alone, but as a part of this larger process: telling societally-difficult stories. That’s what I believe in.

I’m interested in space for our breaking stories, the ones that stick in our throats, the ones that hide under our lungs, the ones we aren’t supposed to tell because our families don’t want to hear them or our communities can’t hold them with us, or we don’t think they can.

Here’s what I’m thinking about now: how trauma and creativity are inextricably linked. How trauma survivors are deeply creative beings, and then how creativity can pull us through to our next place as we come through whatever happened to us, its after effects.

Many of us already know this: creativity is in us.  It is us.  Without our creativities we wouldn’t have survived.  We wouldn’t have been able to come up with different solutions, different ways of dealing with difficult situations, wouldn’t have been able to read the street signs in our families, or wherever our experience of trauma situated itself over and within our lives, we wouldn’t have been able to navigate that landscape.  Every decision we make is a creative act. Decision is creative — it has the capacity to engender, make different, make new. Also: make another moment to breathe, make another opportunity for decision.

PTSD, its symptoms, grows out of our creative selves learning to adapt to horrifying situations. Once we are out of those situations, the process is to reengage our creative selves: learn/attempt new strategies, learn our own languages for our experiences and then express them, remember that we are elastic beings who are ever becoming new.

writing hands are strong hands (a new workshop begins tonight)

freedom/graffiti calligraphyVery sleepy here at my morning writing desk.  I have a cup of strong decaf brewed with cardamom and a dash of stevia — so no added sugar! I have Groove Salad slowly waking my auditory self, singing me into this Monday morning.  I have a messy desk, receipts to file, notebooks to type up, seeds to plant, and little notes on torn scraps of paper holding topics I want to write about.

A new workshop starts tonight, another group of folks coming together to dive into their creative selves, to make space in their lives for words-in-community, words that get to commingle with other(s’) words, words that feed and are fed upon dreams and synchronicity.

I get nervous at this moment, when the workshop’s just about to begin, when we all don’t know or remember each other yet, when we’re re-finding our way to our inner songs. This sounds a little simplistic maybe.  What I know is, the nervousness is about possibility, about my learning this particular chorus of voices and energies about to come together.

I love this moment, and I slide into ritual to keep me moving forward: write up the syllabus (which just means creating an outline of possible exercises for each of the 8 weeks, loosely associated with some themes that I came up with awhile ago as topics I thought we ought to touch on during workshops, or themes that often come up whether or not I intend/plan for them to: re-rooting, writing the body, fearless words, unspoken desire, and others), prepare the handouts, shop for snacks, shave and cut up the carrots.

(This is too focused, not morning-dreamy enough.  The poems live under your shoes at the sleepiest times (isn’t that what John Fox said, in the poetry he quoted?). I’d love to have an early morning writing workshop, 8am-10 or even 7-8:30, something folks would come to before they went to work, a space to collect with poetry, with dreamsong, with imagination and vivid interpersonal desire, with the sole purpose of haggling with meaning, a precision of tapping the right words, a sleepy-still writing time with others.)

Here’s what happens at the writing workshops: we write and rewrite our own songs and stories; we practice hearing and witnessing one another’s artistry (and, in so doing, we practice bearing witness to our own); we practice deep kindness.  Each of these are revolutionary acts, and when combined, they can be incendiary — the lit match to inflame our transformative desire, our desire for transformation.

What’s important is how folks use the workshops to transform their writing, their sense of themselves as writers/artists –and how we, over and over again, re-learn that we can trust the truth of our own voices.

There’s no reason this should work this way.  We sit in a room together, we put pen to paper alone, we read our new writing. Why should that be a liberatory practice? Why should we be willing to take that risk?

There’s no point here, and that is the point. Publishing is great, getting your work out in front of the world, whether you read it at a mic or have it appear in an anthology: this is important, plus maybe you get $25 or $50 to throw into your piggy bank.

But it’s not the most important thing, I think.  Or maybe not the most important thing for me, as someone who writes. What happens is we keep on gathering in front of our notebooks, creating something new. Risking again, that we can open and touch the mess and viscera, the hard blood, the stuff of loss and want, the trouble of impossible joy. The thing is that we resettle with these 26 letters and then some, and we try to make magic.

And what happens, in the middle of every workshop — when folks lift their heads from their writing, they tuck their pens behind their ears or keep clicking the ballpoint in and out, when we take a deep breath and say: OK. Who would like to read? — magic does happen. And it’s the simplest, most profound kind of magic: 1) someone has been willing (again! magic!) to risk finding the words to put to a truth that there are never enough words for, and 2) others receive that truth with kind eyes and strong hands (because, I’ll tell you, writing hands are strong hands). This is liberatory stuff: and not just for the writer. Witnessing is a difficult, necessary job. We write with the idea that there is a listener.  We speak to the page as though it has ears. When there are ears, that’s a whole new game.

And then this: in the workshop, we don’t analyze the writer, we don’t pathologize the content. We praise the metaphor, the maybe untended use of rhyme, we notice the repetition, the use of detail, the descriptions. We describe what was strong for us about the writing, and those who came into the room believing that they could not write have a little more weight on the other side of the scale, re-tipping our understanding of ourselves toward ‘creative being.’ Those who came into the room believing they did not have the mettle to tell a particular story, they start to learn different.

But there’s more that I want to say about witnessing: witnessing is work.  It requires attention, intention. In the workshops, we are sometimes witness to stories that have never before been spoken.  We are sometimes witness to the awful, stunning details of trauma: we feel like we’re the birds who’ve slammed into a pane of glass. But we, every time someone reads, are witness to a brand new thing. Every time. And that is a place of extraordinary honor.

We were taught, maybe in school, maybe from something we read, maybe elsewhere, that we aren’t supposed to share first drafts — that they’re not worthy of a hearing.  I don’t believe that.  First drafts–even the stuff at the workshops that are the embryos of first drafts–these have a breath and a heartbeat and a thrumming energy. When we’re willing to share these with others, we begin to hear where we end and the poem, the writing, takes off on its own. We begin to hear where our magic lies. (And maybe I mean that in both ways.) We practice a deep trust. And our writing grows.

Something tender and tenuous that grows among the writers in every workshop — we learn the sorts of things that others notice, we learn, then, how to incorporate those things into our writing, if we want.  We learn from each other’s witnessing, from what others remember and mention. Our writing grows under this care and feeding.

There are those who’d call this sort of writing space indulgent. I say, especially for survivors of trauma (and how many of us aren’t?), we get to indulge (if by that you mean, have treated kindly and with respect) the parts of us that haven’t yet been able to raise their natty, knotty voices.

In the workshops, we get to indulge the parts of our creative selves that went underground.  Of course, we were/are endlessly creative in our survival — because survival is a creative act. Every decision we made, every new facet to our personality grown and honed to protect us: creative. Every yes yanked from our lips, every no danced around, every strategizing moment: creative.

Jane Hirschfield said, at the Healing Art of Writing conference, that she thinks agency is the antidote to depression. “When you are being creative, you are free,” she said.

Yes, exactly. And being free, in community, with others enacting the same risky freedom: that’s liberatory practice. That’s freedom in action.

A new workshop begins tonight. I’ll be there with poems and exercises, tea and snacks and notebooks and pens, ready for the revolution (yours, my own, yes: ours), again and again and again.