Tag Archives: power of words

we don’t have to take all of it in

sticker art of an open mouth with full lips -- in between the teeth are the words, "I'm now ready to get rid of anything that keeps me small" and signed by the artist Blur

Yesterday I shared this message with the writers in a couple of my workshops, and wanted to expand it a bit here:

Last Thursday, I decided to turn off the news.

I had help in this decision — in fact, I needed help to make the decision. In spite of the fact that I was (literally, I think) making myself sick with the constant influx of adrenaline and horror, it took conversations with four different people who are deeply important to me before I felt like it was ok for me to step away from the 24/7 “news” stream. 

All weekend I didn’t read the news. I didn’t listen. I didn’t look at it on the phone. I get the main points — it seems unavoidable (subject headers in emails from mailing lists, conversations with friends) — but I am no longer (at least, for the time being) soaking in grief and terror and rage.

I kept getting triggered, kept imagining I could deal with whatever the latest awfulness was, metabolize it, before the next bit of awfulness, but it just wasn’t possible. The awfulness kept flooding in. More details of assaults, repetitions of those same details, more lies, more white men in power pretending to give a shit about the violence done to women’s bodies and psyches from the day that they’re born … more white men (and women) in power listening to the stories of that pain and grief and just simply not caring about it enough to make a decision that might end up impacting their positions of power and control.

None of it is surprising. None of us are surprised. We are outraged, we are grieving, but we are not surprised.

It’s true that I hoped. Ridiculously, I hoped for a different outcome — just like with the 2016 election, just like with the invasion of Iraq in 2002. In all of these instances, massive outcry and protest did nothing to change the behavior of the white (mostly) men in positions of power.

Is it ridiculous to hope, though? I look at that word up there and see an inner voice that’s not always so kind. Calling myself ridiculous for continuing to imagine that change is possible (given what changes have already occurred in the world for women and others around sexual violence) is an unnecessary violence. It’s doing the work of the abusers for them.

Of course, it’s much harder to sustain that vision, to hold open a place of possibility within myself, when I am continually retraumatizing myself with the “news” and commentary, nearly all of it hostile and negative (because that’s what makes the best clickbait).

Just one day off the news made a difference. Yes, I’m still angry. But I don’t feel flattened. I’m able to remember the power of each survivor’s voice, what we offer each other when we speak, when we shout, when we whisper, and what a difference that makes. And that difference is what matters most to me. That difference is what’s important. That difference is what will change the culture we live in. It can’t not make that change.

Dr. Ford’s testimony made a difference for me, and for thousands of other survivors around the country, millions around the world — as did the testimony, formal and informal, of the innumerable other survivors who have been sharing their stories in person, via social media or blog posts, in classrooms, in small groups, through graffiti or anonymous notes or whispers on the bus.

Every single fucking time we stand up and tell the truth about our lives, we make a difference — in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. Every single time we stand up and shake off someone else’s hands, refuse to keep their secrets any longer — that makes a difference. It makes a difference to someone else who had still been afraid to speak. It shows us what’s possible.

I couldn’t remember any of this when I was binging on horror news stories and so-called commentary. I couldn’t even hold the possibility. I couldn’t write. I was so depressed I could hardly articulate a thought. I couldn’t remember why what I do matters, why any of the work of all the brilliant and powerhouse survivor-activists I know mattered. The catastrophic clickbait news wants me to see the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal machine as unstoppable– and I did see it that way for awhile. And then I turned off its media arm.

We are told that we have to know what’s going on in order to be good citizens. But I’m having to remind myself that there are, for me, ways to stay informed that don’t leave me feeling drained of all energy to take any action in my life.

We don’t have to take all of it in — all of their hostility, all of their rage, all of their fear. We can say no to it. We can turn off those screaming, outraged faces, and turn our attention to the faces that we love.

We already carry our own trauma realities, a 24/7 flow of fear and grief and rage already in our bones and veins. We also carry hope and joy and desire and curiosity. It’s so important to make decisions for ourselves and our lives that leaves room for that second flow as well… because that flow — the tremendous power of our creative genius and delight — is what is changing our lives, our relationships, our communities, and the whole fucking world. I mean it.

At some point, I’ll turn the news on again — I do miss NPR in the mornings. Maybe later this month. I have something pretty important I need to be able to focus on first. I also need to be able to focus on the writers in my workshops, the folks who are contacting me about groups — to be able to focus on my family and love, to be able to feel what else exists in the world besides murderous rage. I am grateful to be able to turn away, and to turn toward possibility, to turn here toward you.

I am so glad you are here. I hope you’re doing whatever you need to do in order to best take care of you today — and I’m grateful for all the ways you are easy with yourself.

the difficult and beautiful struggle around self care

I’d like to say my usual good morning, good morning, but it’s taken me all day to get to this post. Refinding my way into my writing after a long break can go like this. Bear with me, ok?

As the light shifts and we find ourselves fully into autumn (whether it feels like it or not where you are), I hope this finds you brimming with words and readying to write. I certainly know I am.

This month’s newsletter comes to you with 4-leaf clovers and migrating monarchs – see below!) out of the midwest. I found the gift up there the day before I was to give a presentation at the Power of Words conference about self-care for transformative language artists (that is, anyone who uses language in a healing or transformative way: writers, poets, workshop facilitators, storytellers, songwriters, therapists, teachers, and so on). I needed a little good luck…I had arrived at the conference (at Lake Doniphan, just outside of Kansas City) quite depleted after a month full of family, workshops, and preparations to finally complete our new book, Sex Still Spoken here: the Erotic Reading Circle Anthology. The further I got into the month, the more self-care practices dropped away: I stopped running, ate poorly, spent no time in the garden, and even told myself that I didn’t have time or energy to write in the mornings. Despite the fact that that last is always a flashing neon red flag, announcing loudly that I need to make some changes (I am not much fun to be around when I’m not writing regularly), still I kept going, kept doing more, kept depleting myself further. I began to feel like the bottom of a used cookpot — burnt and scoured, and still I kept on scraping at the remnants, expecting to be able to nourish myself and others on charred tailings rather than taking the time to step back, slow down, and replenish.

Do you have months like this? Years like this, maybe?

Now here I was at a conference of my transformative language arts peers, and I barely had any energy to connect with the beautiful, brilliant folks around me. How could I present a talk/workshop about self-care when I had been doing such a poor job of taking care of myself?

monarch butterflies migrating through a Nebraska gardenAfter taking some time to get quiet with the natural world (thank you, monarchs and cicadas), I walked into my workshop with my whole self — I told the gathered participants exactly where I was coming from, and honored how very difficult it can be to take care of ourselves, even when we are working to help others take care of themselves. I described my own experiences of burnout and how I sometimes had to get clear to rock bottom before I believed I deserved to take care of this instrument that is myself. I described how grateful I felt in 2008 when I discovered Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s Trauma Stewardship book and program — and how called out I was by her assertion that we who called ourselves trauma stewards could not possibly do ethical (not to mention sustainable!) work with others if we were not also taking care of ourselves. That one hit home in a big way for me, and yet I am still struggling, six years later, to believe that I am worth taking care of.

We are so many of us trained, early and often, to take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves. Those lessons are repeated continuously: There is so much need, so much trauma, so many around us who need help. Who do we think we are to take time out of our social change efforts to “replenish the well” (as Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way)? I don’t know about you, but when I’m not taking care of myself, I get into this mindset that says, “If I just do these last few things for them, then I’ll be able to take some time for me.” The trouble is, there’s no end to what I (tell myself I) need to do for other people. There’s no way to finish that to-do list, and I drive myself into the ground trying to “get it all done.”

There’s no such thing as getting it all done — especially not when we’re talking about trauma and its aftermath.

I have to change the paradigm, and put self-care right up at the top of every day’s tasks. This is difficult work, especially when I’ve already slipped back into my codependent-hero costume (complete with Wonder Woman cape, thank you): I am putting everyone else first! Look at how great I am! Never mind that after not very long I’m going to disappear under a rock and quit responding to email messages and phone calls because I’m so overwhelmed — the pendulum swings over to the selfish-shame side of things.

Have you been on this ride? The Wonder Woman side feels great for a little while, but the crash is kind of a drag.

In A Feminist Ethic of Risk, Sharon Welch reminds her readers that we can’t approach social change work with the sort of individualist mindset that many of us (especially white middle class Americans) are trained into — not only must we work in community and collaboration, we must prepare ourselves for small victories and do our work in such a way that we are building a scaffolding for those who will come after us — who will pick up our work after we have gone. If we expect to get it all done today (To do list: buy dish detergent, get flea medicine for cat, take out trash, end rape culture) even in our lifetimes, we are sure to burn out. We have to slow down, breathe deep, work steady and consistently, and remember that we are not alone in our struggles.

I forget this a lot. As a survivor who was, like so many, intensely isolated — and also as an introvert who needs time to myself to process and replenish — I tend to do a lot of my work alone. I live in a community that is both wildly creative and also frantically busy and consistently overwhelmed; we are all trying to figure out how to do our art, create change in collaboration with others, and also pay our rent. I, like so many cultural workers in the Bay Area, find myself taking on too much, trying to Do It All, before depleting my resources and needing to retreat into a bit of quiet until I feel a tiny trickle of water start to flow into the parched desert of my creative soul. Then I dive back into work again full bore, expecting that trickle to do the work of the sea. Working from a place of overwhelm is like having blinders on — all I can see is the road ahead. I forget why I’m doing what I’m doing. I forget why I loved this work. I stop being able to see the impact of my efforts, and begin to despair — why am I working so hard when nothing ever seems to change? What good is this work, anyway? Am I really making any sort of difference?

I showed up at the conference deeply depleted. Thankfully, The Power of Words conference is a space that values authentic presence, and I was able to show up exactly as I was. I talked a little bit about the need for transformative language arts workers to take care of our good and necessary selves, and then we broke into small groups and folks wrote together (this was our prompt) and held one another’s words. It was a gorgeous group of writers, and I found myself — even from the edge of despair on which I was teetering — grateful all over again for what happens when folks write openly and honestly, then share their words with each other and allow themselves to be received with kindness and generosity.

Then I went to Arby’s and got potato cakes by way of celebration — hey, I was home, and only wanted to eat the things my 10 year old self would have wanted to eat.

Since getting back from the conference, I helped launch a book into the world and celebrated its authors, have two new survivors groups beginning, and am preparing for Writing Ourselves Whole’s inaugural reading at San Francisco’s Lit Crawl.  I am also slowing down, not making plans, leaving hours open for daydreaming and reading. The more space I have, the more the words begin to return — and the more able I feel to sit down with them and let them flow onto the page.

Self-care is a difficult practice for any of us, and trauma survivors have our own challenges. I have to remind myself over and over again of Audre Lorde’s words: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

We deserve to preserve ourselves. We deserve to be in our chosen work for the long haul. We deserve to be well inside our skins. I say it to you in order to remind myself as much as to remind you. Thank you for all the ways you are tender with your psyche, body, and soul. Thank you for your spaciousness with others when they are needing to retreat in order to take care of themselves. And, as ever, thank you for your words.

we could work there together, we could support each other

graffiti of a bee nestling into red clover

check out this fantastic commissioned graffiti in Inverness!

Gorgeous first meeting of the Fall ’10 Write Whole workshop last night — one of those meetings that leave me so damn grateful to get to be in this work. Declaring Our Erotic starts on Thursday night: pass the word, will you? That’s going to be a joyful space!

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This morning I would like to stay in bed until my body decides it’s time to get up, not the alarm — I’d like a long, hot bath to loosen my muscles and self into morning, I’d like a quiet breakfast I eat at my table rather than at a computer (or, in this case, at a meeting), and I’d like, then, to come back here to my desk at home to spend the day communicating with folks about writing workshop-related matters. Maybe a break in there for some time in the garden, weeding, deadheading, seeding new greens…

It’s going to be one of those days where every half-hour is scheduled, and so, just for right now, I’m envisioning something different.

Days like today, I have to remind myself that every part of my life is intentional — it doesn’t feel that way when my day job gets demanding, but I have this job for a reason. It’s funding the rest of my work, it’s funding the workshops and workshop space when they’re under-enrolled, it’s funding me in that work: the workshops barely cover the space and the materials/snacks. It’s also giving me connection with other folks, a place of some community, work that’s off the page, which I need sometimes. I get frustrated that my time isn’t all my own, which means (when I’m frustrated) that I’m not getting to do only what I want to do every minute. And then I remember (I remind myself) that I want to be in this job right now (health insurance is good), and so I am doing what I choose — which is a pretty damn big privilege.

Yesterday, though, too, I fantasized about putting out a call to the people I know who are starting new TLA-related work* (writing workshops, theater groups, drama therapy, maybe, or spoken work classes) and saying: Listen, if four or five of us pool three or four hundred bucks a month, we could afford a decent sized office space, with a few different meeting rooms, with a kitchen maybe, with our own bathroom, with a waiting area that we could decorate with plants and hangings — and we could work there together, we could support each other, we could have weekly office meetings where we get to write for five minutes and then talk about what’s happening, what changes need to happen around the space, what’s going on in our work, we could…

This is something that a handful of AWA-workshop facilitators, including myself and my friends Peggy Simmons and Chris DeLorenzo, began visioning a few years ago, and it’s an environment that I’d still like to find myself working in in the not-too-distant future.

I want that space, and that community. After coming back from the Power of Words conference, where I was a small part of a great team, I’m suddenly feeling isolated — granted, this isolation was entirely cultivated. Working alone at my day job gives me the kind of flexibility I need, and in the rest of my life, I’m growing a writing workshop organization from scratch, which meant doing a lot of the work (at least, for the first few years) alone. But I like being able to bounce ideas off people, and being able to do the work together: many hands make light work isn’t a joke. It means the work goes further, faster (which is maybe a bit scary sometimes).

One of the things I always loved about working at a non profit organization was the weekly staff meeting. Seriously. Even when the organization was embroiled in heavy drama, I loved the chance to get together and see everyone, hear what we each were doing. I sort of get that now with my friend and colleague Peggy: we talk every week about our work, and once a month we can get together over coffee.

So today I’ll be in lots of meetings, and though I won’t be meeting to talk about writing or AWA or TLA (these things I’d prefer to be spending my time on), I will be gathering with other people to discuss something important to us, to grow a new piece of work, to celebrate work well done. And after it’s all done, I’ll get myself to the yoga studio and stretch and sweat myself into today’s practice and my desires for tomorrow.

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A prompt for today? Maybe give yourself 15 minute — take 7 to write about why every bit of what’s happening in your life right now is exactly right (!) for where you’re hoping to get to, and then take 8 to write a vision of a year from now, or three, when you’re doing just what you want to do with your days.

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Thank you for being here, for reading, for the thick power of your words and the work they continue to do, even after you’ve moved on.

*And what does it mean to be Transformative Language Arts related work? After several days in Vermont spent discussing that very question, I don’t have a definitive answer for you. The TLAN website defines transformative language arts as “all forms of the spoken, written and sung word as a tool for personal and community transformation.”  In my work, I think of TLA very broadly: as any intentional application of language for change or growth. Intentional conversation can be TLA. Poetry and poetry workshops can be TLA, any AWA writing workshop is TLA, Playback Theater is TLA … it’s as broad as our human engagement with language.

http://www.tlanetwork.org/

understand what poems and lusts live under their tongues

crabapples dripping after a night's rainGood morning! Today’s Wednesday, which is technically a Declaring our Erotic day, I think.

Why do erotic writing workshops matter? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your body? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your honest self, your heat and desire?

Today, honestly, I want to write something sexy — I’m in that still-heart-beating aftermath of the conference,where what got sparked was a desire to know everyone, to get into their bones, to understand what poems and lusts live under their tongues. (That can happen at the Power of Words, like at other conferences, maybe: I’m just warning you now.)

I spent some time, afterward, writing about the erotics of learning, of growth. I know lots has been written about this space: the erotic space between and connecting teacher and student, and I don’t (necessarily) mean sexualized space, I mean a place of openness and sharing, of longing for more knowledge, longing for new integration, the fear that fills us when we don’t know if we’re ready to stretch enough to take in this new thing that we’ve just met.

(I don’t know if I’m awake enough to do justice to this right now.)

Anyway, there’s a thing that happens where we all fall in love with each other, we may fall in lust, we’re in a place of connection, newness, joy, stretching, reaching, wanting: it’s a liminal space, ok, but also something concrete. There’s something that can happen at a retreat, a conference like this one, where we’re all in our own worlds all the rest of the time, each of us building something new, and then we come together and see and feel that we are not alone: how good it feels to be seen and heard and groked. It’s an erotic experience, can we be honest about that, can we acknowledge how good learning feels, how good it feels when we finally open when we finally stretch our boundaries, when we let something else in? A welcoming, a penetrating, a welcoming, a transgression, a commingling of what, just before, was divergent. Of course we all feel like making out — sex is the clear we way we americans have/know of channeling the erotic. (And an awfully good way it is!)  A dance would be nice, too, like with some good house music. And a black light (sigh). (Hey Council! Next year, maybe, let’s have an informal dance, after the closing circle!  We’ll all be exhausted, I know: someone could plug their ipod into the sound system, let stream out some Jill Scott, some good old Chicago house, some remixed Verve standards, we could just be there all night, letting our bodies tell each other the rest of the story, the stuff that no one has found words for yet. Someone, Naila, she talked about and practices the language of dance: let’s go there.)

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I want to tell you more about the erotic writing workshop that we did at this year’s Power of Words, but that will have to wait for another morning. People talked about how liberating it felt to bring the erotic, bring sex, out from under the bed and into the light; they talked about setting and holding boundaries; the talked about the mixed joy and sadness of doing this writing at the conference when they can’t engage with sexuality in their daily work. It was a super joyful session. I wish you could have been there.

Here’s one of the writes I did during that workshop: I had us do this prompt again, the one where we write a letter to the editor, extolling our virtues as lovers. I love this exercise — it brings out a powerful, strong writing voice, a voice that is clear and honest and, too, bigger than life. It’s fun to play with that voice, see where it takes our writing.

Dear Sir: She doesn’t tell you about my fist, does she? I mean the soft long handed way I could fit myself inside her when she said more could never be filled, when — how can I explain this — when what we had was only our two bodies in a twin-frame bed the bedroom of the apartment she shared with several others, and we filled the spaces between her roommates’ silences and the tread between the cars outside on Mass Ave with her urgent cries and shouting.

Girls learn good things to do with their hands and I know them all, not just the caressing but the careening, how fucking feels different when it’s just you I mean her, so full beneath me, her legs far flung, my shoulder burning but its worth every ache to feel the tight clutch of her hard wet all the way around my hand, and you reading this letter, I want you to imagine the jubilation of being as full as possible, retreating into, then away from, an unspeakable kind of hungry, letting someone put their hand all the way into the night of your morning and pull out the joy that you need.

Be easy with you today, ok? and please keep drinking water, if it’s so hot again where you are. I’m always happy to read your writing: thank you again for the work that you do in the world.

there was glitter, poetry, rage and song

white spray-painted heart on red background, painted on Mass Ave sidewalk in BostonGood morning!  I’m back from my travels, and, as you can see, I didn’t manage to get any blogging done while I was out in New England — there was just too much happening! Now I want to tell you about everything that happened, which would require less of a blog and more of a book.

(Wow: it’s nice to be back here with you, though! I missed this space/time with you –)

What’s true is that I got to spend five days doing transformative language arts (TLA): thinking/talking/wondering about it, being with other folks who think/talk/wonder about it, visioning its possible futures, considering the next year of the Transformative Language Arts Network (of which I am the new membership coordinator — expect to hear a lot more about TLAN around these parts), all the while also practicing TLA.

This year’s Power of Words conference was, again, a gathering of phenomenal artists and cultural workers, social change workers and medical folks, spiritual folks, and healers of many flavors and practices.  The Power of Words was another opportunity to continue to engage with and expand what “transformative language arts” looks like and means: writing workshops, intentional conversation, theater practices, storytelling, spoken word, folk music, blues, choir, community mobilizing to help someone in trouble, using TLA to change our relationship with our health, writing about sex, video creation, Body Eloquence, poetry (period), ‘crazy’ as a story, so so so much more.

This is a space, the Power of Words conference, that’s working hard every year to walk its talk: doing TLA (yes, and other work!) to create this space where folks gather and think about TLA. I’m grateful for those doing the work behind the scenes, the folks I get to work with on the TLAN council: thank you thank you.

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The fall workshops begin next week! (Can it possibly be that next week is October?) Write Whole (our Monday night workshop open to women survivors of sexual trauma) is full, and Declaring Our Erotic (our Thursday night erotic/sexuality writing workshop, this time open to queer survivors of sexual trauma) does still have a few spaces–if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, please send a note! I’d love to answer any questions you have about the workshops… (Bayview Writers has no one signed up yet — if you want to do the Wednesday morning writing-ourselves-from-our-dreams-into-our-day workshop up here in the North Bay, please let me know soon: otherwise we’ll postpone until January 2011.)

Oh: and October’s Writing the Flood is on 10/16 — come write with us!  It’s a great chance to test out the way we write together, if you’ve been thinking about joining one of the multi-week workshops but been nervous or curious about the process.

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I want to tell you about this past week:

  • the exquisite tenderness of spending time with deep, true friends (the people who have known most of my me’s, and who love me nonetheless);
  • the power of driving around VT and NH in the fall, that transition time that used to be the time of returning to safety from the terror of being home; the turning of the trees’ tides, that shift from thick layered summer green to brash splashes of red, yellow and harvest gold, orange, all amid still the full green push of pine and the deciduous that had yet to turn–leaves fell all around us even as we moved through a heat wave on the Goddard campus;
  • a full day of conversation with people consciously and conscientiously engaging transformative language arts in their daily lives about what TLA means and could mean in the future;
  • my first ever board retreat, with the Transformative Language Arts Network Council (talking funds, growth and sustainability, who we are and who we want to be);
  • the deepening of connections with folks I get to see every year at the Power of Words conference, and the opening of new resonances with folks I just met but carry with me now into this daily life, folks I certainly hope to get to meet again next year —

and I carry, too, a sleep-deprived several days with someone who, how do I want to say this, someone who wasn’t exactly present in the same reality I am — that’s not exactly right, she was present in this reality plus another, or more. It was my first experience of someone outside the bounds of sleep, slipping and reveling into communication with someone or someones not visible to me, hearing things I can’t hear. I’m carrying her words, how I got to see her straddling this fence, this slim line or particular consciousness that we all agree to and call ‘reality,’ how I got to be with her, and also became aware that perhaps I wasn’t with her as far as she was concerned: that manifesting and presence-ing of our always-multiple realities. There’s more that I want to say about this part, but right now it’s this, to her: please rest easy. please be well in your heart.

Please know I remember you said daughter, you said god’s creation, and we got to look into each others eyes.

There was glitter and there were songs that moved me over and over into that breaking wet space of tears, there was the phenomenal gathering of women in our Blue talking circle, there was the sharing of poetry and practice, there was deep laughter. There were more people I wanted to have true, thick conversation with than I got to. There was the absolutely amazing group of folks at the erotic writing workshop, where we considered and then dove into the liberatory possibility of engagement with erotic story and writing: there were our powerful powerful (and, yes, hot!) writings. There’s how much I still want to thank you all.

I come back full of song and words, prompts and poems, connections in real life that will carry over, for this year, into the electronic realm, and that sense that there are so many people out there who know/grok what I mean when I say I do “transformative language arts,” and, too, that there’s so much space beneath that umbrella term for the social-changing work so many of us do in the world with story, with song, with words. I bet you fit here, too, if you’re wondering about that.

Prompts to come later this week – thanks for being there, for the breadth of your work in the world, and for your good words.

not of the carnal kind, but of the cardiac

graffiti -- sacred heart: stylized heart, wrapped up and burning...

(check out more of Marshall Astor's photography by clicking on the photo!)

Good morning! It’s a Monday — how’d that get here so fast? I’ve got decaf espresso on the stovetop (and yes still the magnet on my fridge, bought long long  before I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee, that says, “Decaf Espresso? What’s the Point?”). Mmm — espresso w/ cardamom and lemon zest, and a bit of sugar.

In a couple hours, I’ll be heading out to the airport, getting on a plane, flying East, for the Power of Words conference. First I get a day in Boston, with the Lady Miz M & her Lady, and then an early morning drive up through NH and VT to a day-long conversation about what Transformative Language Arts is and could be. Then, on Thurs, the Transformative Language Arts Network Council has its annual meeting. Then the Power of Words conference starts Friday — I get to talk about the liberatory power of our erotic story. I get to introduce Kim Rosen‘s keynote, and then, too, I get to facilitate a panel discussion about the ways that transformative language arts work can be social change work.

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I will work to post at least once or twice from New England — it would have been smart to set up a few automatic posts (huh? like Jianda’s been tellin’ me. *sigh*), but I haven’t done that yet.

When I get back, we’ll have one more week before the Write Whole and Declaring Our Erotic: Reclaiming our Sexuality workshops start. We’re about half-registered for DOE, and almost full for WW. Please do let me know if you’d like to join us, and please pass the word about the workshops if you know someone who you think might be interested! Most folks who come new to the workshops heard about them from someone they know…(thanks for that!)

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Oh: I did it! I went swimming! (I wrote, a week and a half ago, that I’d go swimming once last week. Then I got sick and though I probably wouldn’t do that after all. but by the end of the week I felt a lot better, and woke up on Saturday with an urge to move through water. I headed up to the Terra Linda public pool, here in San Rafael, for the adult swim. remember when the Adult Swim was the super-boring time at the pool, cause all the kids had to get out and let the adults just go back and forth across the pool, in straight lines, like that was something fun? well, that was us. And it was fun, after all. This was the last weekend that Terra Linda’s going to be open this year, so now I gotta check out the Marin Y.

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I have a write I want to share with you, from this past weekend’s Writing the Flood. We did the exercise where you start writing with a phrase (In this case, it was “In the palm of your hand…”), and then after a minute, I through out a random word that you have to, right away, put into whatever it is you’re writing. I do that for the next four minutes: every minute, I say a new word, and you bring that word into your writing. Then, after the five minutes are completed, you pause a moment, and keep on writing for another 10-15 minutes, following your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. (You can do this yourself by writing the words on 3×5 cards, turning the cards over, and every minute, looking at one of the cards and using that word right away.)

It can take us to writing we’d never imagine doing, this prompt, sometimes something surreal and very different for us. Here’s what I wrote in response:

In the palm of your hand, I put the bald story of my heart, in all its plastic anguish, in all its grief, in all its weight. In the palm of your hand, teeth dig in and around the flesh, angry and swollen (the teeth or the heart?), gnawy and hopeful and hard. In the palm of your hand, I put heart’s background, prescient and timely, orange and dangerous, cactus-spined with sadness and also with wanting. Sob out all yesterday’s angries, sob out the places blue and pushy, the places still ratcheting like pulses inside your mouth. Blue out all the angries. Write what hurts, first.

This waving, this hardying, this shore, this hesitation — this is what I’m talking about. How the palm of your hand is this conductor, holding forth the light, asking for more from my heart than just grief,l asking for the weight history to bleed out–

In the palm of your hand I put the hot weight of my heart and let you fold your slim fingers around its heft, cradle it like it’s something worth tendering to, push maybe now and again against its tough meat. And it’s your job, now, this carrying, the way you have to do the work of your day while still holding on to my heart, soothing its crusts and anguishes even while you go about, one-handed, making your oatmeal for breakfast, or texting, one-thumbed, the clients who need to hear from you.

And what about how your heart is in my palm, the way we bloody ourselves for love, the way I settle myself into your gush not of the carnal kind, but of the cardiac — how I soak in what you’d come to believe no one would ever even want to see.

What am I trying to get into here? The tenacious stuff of the heart, how I let you take it in your mouth when you need both your hands for other tasks, how you set it down sometimes, how sometimes you forget where you left it., How its easy to say, sometimes love is like this — you, scrambling, searching, asking like you do, not about your glasses this time but, Babe, do you know where I left your heart? and I think, Look in your hands. There it is.

Not a magic trick. Hard labor, thick salty trust, aches of arguments and resolutions, how we, brown-skinned transbutch and paler skinned femmedyke, were never supposed to know the contours, the inner workings, the mechanics of one another’s heart beats, how much is established to keep us from listening, from holding your hand to your ear in the night and listening to the doubling up of a blood swell, your pulse the backdrop to my own, there in your hands. There in the palm of your hand.

Thanks for the gentleness you’re going to show yourself today, and for the ways you’re gentle with others as well, even in your fierce honesty. It’s a kindness, that honesty, and a generosity, too. Thanks for your writing, always.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

ww: the place where land trumps human

a pomegranate ripening on a neighborhood tree

it's pomegranate season! hooray!

It’s a Tuesday morning and there’s quite a bit that I want to say today, but most of it needs to go into my notebook first, to compost there, to cook through that writing process first and then be ready (be ready?) to grow into something new that might come up here —

Did you have a three-day weekend? Did you take some quiet time for yourself?

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Are you still thinking about your fight/courage songs? A few more folks have added theirs to the list — what are yours?

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Today’s a Write Whole post day, thinking about the ways we write ourselves whole, the ways we are whole already and can use writing to discover (and re-discover) that.

I’ve got a prompt below, and a busy month ahead. Fall 8-week workshops begin the first week of October, our next Writing the Flood workshop is coming up real soon now, and at the end of the month I’ll be talking about the liberatory uses of erotic writing at the Power of Words conference in Plainfield, VT (for which there’s still time to register — this is a space open to everyone who uses words/language to transformative/empowering/change-engaging effect — want more info?)

I’m looking forward to writing with you, and/or sharing with you some of the writing that happens at each of these spaces!

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This is a prompt I offered at the most recent Writing the Flood (which is coming up quick this month; our Sept. Writing the Flood meets in less than two weeks!).

Draw a line down about 2/3 of the way across the page, and then, on the far (right) side of that line, write a list of 10 common and proper nouns: people, places, things, either general or specific (i.e., cow or Bessie, town or Las Vegas). Then write this phrase in front of (to the left of) each of the 10 words: “I have more than a lifetime’s supply of…” That gives you 10 sentences: I have more than a lifetime’s supply of cows, for instance, or I have more than a lifetime’s supply of Las Vegas.

Let yourself choose one of these, maybe one that doesn’t make a lot of sense, or that you’re especially curious about — and give yourself 15 or 20 minutes with it this morning.

(Remember that it’s ok to change the prompt in any way that’s interesting for you: you might change the pronoun from the first-person I to the third person she/him/hir/they, or you might negate the prompt: you don’t have more than a lifetime’s supply of… what happens then?)

Here’s my response to this prompt:

She has more than a lifetime’s supply of Nebraska, pushing and bubbling in-between sinew and vein. She carries it in her body, isn’t that so? Does she need to visit again the place where she was born, the place where land trumps human, where flat is the misnomer of the Arapahoe or Winnebago or Ogallala or other Sioux Indian word stolen for the purpose of setting a name to an ostensibly newly-minted part of the country, a part  that isn’t actually flat at all?

It’s a land tufted with bluffs and curves everywhere, a land blustered and burbling with curves like the feel of ribs beneath a body, beneath a hand — a place that sloops and swishes and drops off and yet breathes open immensity, with the every day plainness of breakfast cereal. Clear the cities away and what you have before you looks like it could be the end of the world, surely the sea, nothing could be so exposed, so wide and planed in the distance, and still so rugged and swaying up close.

What I’m saying is she knows the truth of the place — she knows the sense of exposure you get out in the middle of the interstate when the summer clouds thicken overhead, when the was-oppressive hot summer air turns sharp with sudden cool and the rain comes plummeting on your car, the rain and hail, and you see the lightening split the sky first horizontal, then vertical, and you wonder if this is when you should abandon your old Dodge for that ditch under the overpass since you’re the only metal, possibly the only electrically-charged thing for miles —

and she knows that same feeling of electrically-charged danger and sudden, stripped-down exposure, inside a house, too, when the air goes from nearly calm to a clusterfuck of dangers with one wrong word slipped from a teenager’s mouth and the man who makes the weather in that house, he goes grey and bright with the possibility of confrontation, he shutters all the windows against some sudden fresh cool air, tamping down that mother, the sisters —

she still carries that lightening inside, even very far away, has more than a lifetime’s supply of thunder clapping against her bones, remembers the greenish way the sky would turn outside the house, before a tornado, and the destruction left inside after her angry stepfather had passed through her, her sister, her mother, all three — she has more than a lifetime’s supply, more than enough, right? And so why does she miss the smell of that earth?

Thank you for being there, for reading — and always, for your writing, too.

Power of Words 2009 – Early Bird Deadline Extended!

From the Conference website: http://tlanetwork.org/conference/

TLA logo The Power of Words:
Liberation, Transformation & Celebration Through the Spoken, Written & Sung Word

September 4-7, 2009 at Goddard College, Plainfield, VT

Explore how we can use our words — written, spoken or sung — to make community, deepen healing, witness one another, wake ourselves up, and foster empowerment and transformation. Organized by the Transformative Language Network, and founded by Goddard College, this conference features experiential workshops on a wide range of the expressive language arts and right livelihood, performances, open readings, and celebrations. Make community with others who share your passion. Keynote presenters for the 2009 conference include:

Kayhan Irani, performer of the Theatre of the Oppressed and creator of Artivista, an organization that combines art and activism as a form of political expression and engagement

John Fox, poet, author, poetry therapist, and founder of Poetic Medicine, and author of Poetic Medicine and Finding What You Didn’t Lose.

Lewis Mehl Medrona, author of Coyote Medicine, Native American physician and psychiatrist and professor of family psychiatry who calls himself a post-modern, semi-urban neo-shaman.

Dovie Thomason, award-winning Native American storyteller, recording artist and author

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, founder of Transformative Languages Arts, and award-winning author of several books including Write Where You Are and Lot’s Wife, who will be debuting her memoir, The Sky Begins at Your Feet.

Sherry Reiter, poetry therapy pioneer and author of Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing will present a workshop with her co-authors.

Callid Keefe & Kristina Perry, facilitators-in-residence and writers on Theopoetics and the Quaker meeting tradition.

Terry Hauptman, artist-in-residence, painter and poet, and author of On Hearing Thunder, Rattle, and Masquerading in Clover.

This year, too, there will be tracks focusing on Narrative Medicine, Right Livelihood, and Social Change.

Visit http://tlanetwork.org/conference/ for more information and to register!