Tag Archives: power

they are protecting power

Good morning, good morning. Here it’s five am, the heater is trying to warm the little office, the quiet is pervasive. I’ve been awake since 3, but only writing since 3.30. A full hour-plus of notebook time feels like a luxury. It is a luxury. I sit with that knowledge.

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Have you seen this week’s SF Weekly? The cover story is about police officers who abuse, molest, rape, and otherwise take advantage of young folks who are participating in the Boy Scouts’ Explorers program. I saw the headline (“Hands-on Experience” (because this story warrants punning for sure) — with a drawing of a cop wearing mirrored shades looking out toward the viewer, his hand on the thigh of a profoundly-uncomfortable young teenage girl wearing in a Boy Scouts’ uniform), felt disgusted with the cover & headline, took the paper anyway. I opened to the story, got through a couple of paragraphs, and then threw the paper down on the seat next to me. Do I really need to read more of this? I asked myself. Then, after a few minutes, I picked the paper back up. What are these kids’ stories? Who’s listening to them? During the long shuttle ride from the UCSF Parnassus campus down to Mission Bay, I did that several times, deciding to give myself a break from this bullshit, and then feeling drawn back to the story, the reporting — yes, yes, like feeling drawn back to looking at a car wreck. What happened there? The language used in the piece made me cringe — a couple of girls described in Lolita-esque tones, asking for it, several situations described vaguely enough that one might come away with the idea that the kids involved were not only consenting participants to the assaults of multiple uniformed police officers, but instigators.

I participated in the Explorer program back in Nebraska, only not with a police department. Instead, I went onto Offut Air Force Base and learned how to program in Ada — we were the Computer Programming Explorers. No ride alongs. No one-on-one time with the men charged with teaching and guiding us. We were always a group on the weekend afternoons when we met (Is that true? I’m remembering other kids in the program, but also remembering working alone with a lieutenant. Anyway, all I learned was Ada, and some of the intricacies of getting permission to come onto an air force base. I remember feeling really privileged, lucky, and nervous. The coding itself was pretty boring, even though I was learning to program in a language named for the first computer programmer, who was a woman, Ada Lovelace.)

After reading this article, I find that the kids in the police Explorer program went off with individual officers, it would appear, for ride-alongs and rape. Not all of them, no. Maybe not the majority. But enough. Enough. And a lot of the officers, at least as reported in this article, got off with warnings — because their departments hadn’t specifically told them, through handbooks or departmental rule books, not to rape or molest or have sex with the young folks they were charged with guiding and teaching about police work (and didn’t they do just that, though?), they couldn’t be expected to know, apparently, that it was wrong. The Explorers programs also got in trouble for not having code or language in their handbooks outlining expectations that police wouldn’t abuse or have sex with the Explorers in their charge — because why would we expect police to know that? They need it in writing. We all know that written departmental codes keep everyone in line. Send a memo next time. That’ll do it.

The Catholic Church. The Boy Scouts. The US Military. Penn State. Syracuse University. Police Departments.  This is not even a fraction of the institutions that are systematically abusing/raping people and/or covering up for abusers.

Yesterday, when I left San Francisco, headed for home across the bay, the corners down across from the Ferry Building were all coated, crawling, dotted, smeared, filled with cops, many of them in riot gear. In the middle of the night, early yesterday morning, the SF Police Department had rousted the folks at the OccupySF encampment and driven them out of Justin Herman Plaza. Then the police and the city destroyed all the protesters’ belongings and scrubbed Justin Herman Plaza clean, sanitized away all markings, all signs that anyone had tried to create a new way of living together in that space named for a man who once said, “Without adequate housing for the poor, critics will rightly condemn urban renewal as a land-grab for the rich and a heartless push-out for the poor and nonwhites” — and who also ‘urban renewal’ed people out of their homes and businesses in the Filmore and SOMA.

The first phalanx of cops in riot gear I saw were standing right next to a B of A down at Market and Spear; didn’t this tell me all I needed to know? They were protecting not the people — not the people who need housing and jobs, not the people who need food or healing — but the banks and an empty public park.

They are protecting power, I thought, and not just the power of those over them in their own hierarchy — they’re protecting their own assumptive access to those they have power over, their right to beat, to abuse, to molest, to take to take to take to take. This is what they get, now, after delivering themselves into whatever humiliations they undertook to rise up the ranks in the police force — don’t they get to take some of what was taken from them?

This is the stone cold bedrock we’ve finally hit, all of us, together, finally, isn’t it? This is what liberation means: someone else can’t just take me, my body, my home, my belongings, my life, my labor, my creative work, my energy, without my consent. Period.

I want the Occupy movement to take this on, not replicate the same sexist dynamics. I want to hear what a vision for a world without sexual violence, a world of equal access to resources, a world of safe housing and food for all would look like — because I can’t imagine it. We must be able to envision what we’re moving toward, and I’m sunk in the mire today. This is the aftermath, possibly part of the underlying aim of so many news stories about so much institutionalized sexual violence: we are surrounded; those in power don’t listen to/believe/take action on our stories; we only can heal in the aftermath — we cannot change the culture that perpetuates these violences.

I know that last line isn’t true. I’m just not able to feel my way into the possibility at the moment. It feels enormous, un-entrenching this assumption (that those in power have the right to harm, at any time, those with less power) that seems to be a part of the human dna.

Please help me — it’s selfish to make this request, but I’m also thinking about my little cousin who was just born, any niece or nephew of mine who might come into the world, my friends’ baby girls who have just landed on this planet — all of the babies that have just come into your lives, too: they deserve more than what this society offers them right now. If you’re writing your visions of a new possibility, of a world utterly rid of sexual violence (which would, wouldn’t it, entail being rid of other forms of oppression, by necessity), then that work, that idea, your vision becomes a part of the collective unconscious.

I’ll keep trying, too.

Thanks for the times you write anyway, even when it feels useless. We know, after, that it wasn’t — sometimes after is a long time coming, though.Thanks for your extraordinary vision, the depth of possibility that you hold in your hands.

re-training power

graffiti of the outline of a woman's face, eyes closed, with the word Power above her -- the O is a woman's symbolGood good morning — it’s Memorial Day. Who are you remembering today? How are you remembering them?

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I had so much fun in Sacramento on Saturday at the second Reclaiming Our Erotic Story workshop! Thanks so much to John Crandall and the Sutterwriters for organizing a beautiful write — we writers all got to do so much laughing together, and got deep into powerful, important, erotic/body/sensual story. I continue to hold images and lines from each writer’s work with me, and I’m so grateful.

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This morning in Puppy Land we are thinking about power and control: the leader of the pack. Sophie is showing some dominant tendencies, especially with other dogs, and this is making me look at how I’m treating her, whether or not she sees me as the alpha or leader.

I have a lot of resistance to this Alpha/Leader of the Pack thing, because I have a lot of issues with control. I feel like crying this morning, because I’m afraid that being Leader of the Pack means that I can’t be affectionate with my dog anymore. This is not true, and my head knows this, but my heart is resistant to change. I want to be the friend, the good mommy, the one who says Good Dog! and gives out treats. I don’t want to ignore her when she acts inappropriately or have to start setting and holding strict guidelines, even though I absolutely understand that this is best for her. I told the Mr this morning, I don’t want to break her puppy energy.

Let’s be honest: This is my own stuff. She’s not a child, she’s a puppy. When she has boundaries and guidelines and is clear about her place in the pack, she will be a happier puppy.

It’s long work, recalibrating my relationship with power.

My old issues with the misuse of power and control don’t have a place here — or rather, my old coping mechanisms don’t: this is when we step up into the triggers and move around and through them. My whole body is tense this morning, my neck and shoulders aching, with this movement, this change. Is it power and control to set boundaries? Is having power and control in a situation necessarily or always a bad thing, or an abusive thing? Intellectually, don’t we know that the answer is “Of course not”? — and still, here’s me, struggling with taking and holding power conscientiously, clearly, unabusively. So I take deep breaths, read over and over about why it’s a good idea to be a leader of your pack, and set my own boundaries (no alpha rolls, no choke collars). I remind myself that it’s ok that I don’t know how to do all of this yet — it’s ok that I don’t already know how to train my dog. We haven’t had to do this before; it’s ok to have to look to experts.

Here’s this voice inside me: I want to do this all correctly — I want her to be ok. I want us to be ok. It’s these moments when I’m working with the pup in the now, and with the teenage girl in me from Then, from when we didn’t have any say in pet training. It takes work to be the adult, and that’s my job. Deep breaths, step forward anyway into this unknown. It’s ok to ask questions, and, too, it’s ok to be in charge.

We’re both, all, training and being trained through this process, about where we fit in our systems, and how to step up into that place.

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What’s your, or your character’s, relationship with power and control, both positive/generative and negative/abusive? Let yourself write about that a bit. You could begin with, “When I’m in charge, I…” or some variation. Notice what situations or feelings arise just when you read that line, and let that inform where your writing starts. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go — let yourself learn more about how you think and feel about power.

Thanks for your bravery, for how you step up to what scares you. Thanks, every day, for your words.

being willing to fiercely hold power

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

Only together...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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