Tag Archives: restorying

what if everything’s ok even though a bad thing’s happened?

Full color graffiti painted on a cement wall next to some stairs and a patch of grass; graffiti is a dog's face looking out at the viewerIt’s morning again on a Monday. I feel like an addict who’s had a week clean, proclaiming I did it! I’m back on the wagon! now that I managed to get up early today after not needing alarms on Sat or Sun. Just keep going, Jen.

This weekend was a fun and energetic Writing the Flood on Saturday, and then yesterday I had a day at home in the sun. Last night, E and I made dinner and played cribbage out on the deck while the sun sank down over the mountains,  and then we came downstairs and watched tv and then I let Sophie out back to go pee and she took off like a shot after a noise under the deck and while I was busy yelling frantically at her to come back, she was getting sprayed by a skunk. As soon as she came back around the corner of the deck, I raced inside and slammed the door shut behind me, trying to keep the smell out. I gathered up all the things we needed — dish soap, peroxide, baking soda, Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover — while E soothed Sophie through the closed door.

It’s an intimate thing, getting skunk smell off a dog, especially one you love. I went back outside, knelt down, and got my face down near Sophie, sniffing around her face, neck, ears, trying to locate just where the smell is worst. This time, I think Sophie mostly got it in the mouth, poor thing. There’s a whole precise formula for the peroxide-dish soap – baking soda skunk smell remover, but I wasn’t really up for looking up something on my phone. It’s a race against time when she’s been sprayed — I have the idea that the faster I get it off, the less bad it will be.

That’s true for most wounds or spills or difficulties of any kind — the sooner you deal with it, the less there will be that lingers for hours or days or years, the less likely you’ll have a permanent stain or scar, right?

I dumped the bottle of peroxide (it was maybe a half or three-fifths full), a bunch of baking soda, and a big squirt of dish soap into a container, put on the lid and shook the whole mixture up, then dumped it on the places where I thought were the most skunked. Most of the skunk removal solutions say not to get in the mouth or eyes, so it’s a tricky business, given that, in this case, I was trying to get the smell out of the fur around her mouth. I spread the solution around her muzzle and then hold her mouth closed gently so that she doesn’t lick it all up (or, frankly, so as to minimize the licking).

I read somewhere that water makes the skunk smell set, so I apply the Nature’s Miracle, and then rub a bunch of plain baking soda all over the parts I think might have skunk smell on them — at this point, it’s a little bit like throwing the whole pot of spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks, just throwing everything I’ve got at the problem and hoping something works. Sophie stands mostly still and shaking — less from the attack or the cool of the evening and more, I think, from my angry, frantic, panicked energy.

While she were sitting for a few minutes, after I got her all coated with various smell-removing pastes and enzymes, I thought, Why does this freak me out so much? Is here any reason to get so agitated, like something really bad has happened– or something really bad is about to happen, like I’m about to get in trouble if I don’t get this smell out right away and keep it out of the house. I’m 45 years old. Who’s going to get me in trouble now?

And though I’m sure it’s no fun getting sprayed — she almost always gets it in her eye! — I think the thing that’s the most traumatic for Sophie after she’s been skunked is my frenetic, stressed-out energy. Dogs are so sensitive — they pick up on our emotional changes, our illnesses and worries, they know when we are happy and they know when we are not and they respond accordingly. She wants to do what’s right, she wants to do what I want her to do, and she doesn’t know what that is, and here I am, taking in a loud voice that’s angry and scared and rubbing her hard and getting stuff in her eyes and then making her sleep in the garage after spraying her with cold water from the hose.

My point is, and maybe I’ve come to this realization before, there’s no ned to panic the way that I do. The fear is that there’s going to be a smell in the house, and my partner will get mad (I don’t mean my current partner in particular — I mean any partner, for this part of my trauma brain) and Sophie will have to go and I’ll still be in trouble for letting her bring smell in, for us having a dog at all, for ruining furniture or clothes or rug or whatever gets smell in it —

This is an old fear, and how can it not be connected to the memory of my first dog being sent away because my stepfather no longer liked the fact that, when he kept her in the basement for 8 or 10 hours a day, she’d pee and poop in there. How surprising. He didn’t like the fact that she was a dog, didn’t like the fact that she’s was a living being that needed care, certainly didn’t like the fact that she was my companion. So, he had me take her in to the pound and leave her there. I wrote about this memory again this weekend, coincidentally — it’s one of those parts of the story of my adolescence that will maybe never stop making me cry like it’s just happening, like it’s still happening, like some part of the young adult me is still standing in that dim room in front of the desk at the Omaha Humane Society, watching a volunteer in a uniform polo shirt walk my dog away from me, into the kennels, where she is almost certain to be killed in a week (they had a one-week deadline for dogs to be adopted or they’d be euthanized) because she’s eight years old and not well trained and has fatty tumors and has mostly been kept in the basement her whole life — potential new families were not, I was sure, going to see beyond all that to her sweet energy and her protectiveness and her loving nature.

As an adult who’s had other dogs, I know all the things I did wrong with her, but she and I were both living under the fist of this man who wanted everything to be awful for everyone, and so she had to die. And the guilt and shame live in my muscles and bones. I still cry at the thought of her waiting there for me, not understanding what was going on. She’d been kenneled before when we went out of town, and we had always come back. We had always come back. I torture myself with the idea of her waiting for me, that time, to come back, too. And then I didn’t.

Every time I leave the house now, or leave Sophie anywhere, I say, I’ll be back, just for this reason. Because of the time that I couldn’t come back, couldn’t go back. I say it for Sophie, but mostly, I say it for me. This time, I’ll be back.

So of course I am frantic when something goes wrong with the dog — some place inside still terrified that if we don’t do everything just right, we’ll be kicked out. She’ll be kicked out.

Meanwhile, last night, E was up in the garage, making a bed for Sophie out of towels, setting out food and water and a soft light and a little music on the radio, making a comfortable place for her to spend the night while the smell abated. Nothing about E’s energy was conveying anything but support and love.

What if we could do the deskunking without all the frantic spinning? What would that be like for Sophie, and for me, and for the memory of the dog I couldn’t save? What if everything’s ok even though a bad thing’s happened?

I’ll go out today and get her a new collar, because the other one is all skunk now. I’ll buy more Nature’s Miracle and peroxide and baking soda, just to be prepared for the next time. You just have to be prepared for the next time, ready for the thing that works. You just have to know it’s going to happen and then do your best to make sure that it doesn’t. That’s living as an adult, I guess, isn’t it? No more magical thinking, and no more living in terror of someone with all the power over you forcing you to be someone you’re not.

Thanks for being on the other side of this today. Thank you for reading, and for all the ways you are undoing, every day, bit by bit, the old lessons that you learned so hard, that you were taught so violently. Thank you for your patience with yourself, and for your generosity with those you love — animal and human both. Thank you, of course, for your words.

“render, render”

Good morning good morning. It’s grey here today, the clouds soaking across the hills, coating everything in an impenetrable foggy frost that I am deeply grateful for. How has the day begun for you? Where is your sun just now?

Sophie has gone after a squirrel this morning, who is now stuck up on top of the neighbor’s garage and is letting forth a stream of chitters that I can only assume is squirrel for lots and lots of expletives. Sophie stands guard, ball in her mouth (thus rendering her fully incapable of catching anything else between her teeth, but the squirrel doesn’t know that) — she and the squirrel have this sort of antagonistic relationship when he gets close to where she can catch him, but I’ve seen her watching him in the garden for long stretches, those times he risks coming down from the walnut tree to grab one of the fallen green walnuts or takes to examining the garden to see if there’s anything there he might like, and Sophie will stand up at the top of the garden, on the patio, watching and watching, still and quiet, not wanting to disturb him, waiting for him to get close? Or maybe she just wants to see what he’ll do? Maybe she wants to be friends?

He’s made it now, from the garage roof, across the top of the backyard fence and back to the trees where he lives — Sophie chases him along the fence, every time he comes down far enough that she’s aware of him, and he chitters his curses the whole time, though now I think maybe it’s more like, go ahead and try it, you land-bound thing! Perhaps something better, more vitriolic.

I’m sitting on the back deck, a good place for quiet when the whole house is up (save for the chasing, barking dog and the teasing, chattering squirrel). The squirrel makes it across our back yard, from tree to tree, and I can’t hear his old-man chattering anymore. Sophie goes to the side fence, next to the other neighbor’s yard, where the squirrel sometimes hides down at ground-level,and she stands up to peek over the fence, using her front paws to grab at the fence and pull herself up and forward to get a better look. The squirrel suddenly appears on the top of the neighbor’s house.

It’s a serious drama here in the backyard this morning.

This morning I woke up thinking about the word render, which means things like: provide or give (as in a service); cause to be; represent or show artistically; melt down (fat); and comes from old French meaning “give back” or “yield.”

This brought to mind a poem that I hand out in the workshops sometimes:

Render, Render
-Thomas Lux

Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
it down, skim, and boil
again, dreams, history, add them and boil
again, boil and skim
in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
by the pencil sharpener
who looked at you, looked away,
boil that for hours, render it
down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
and sperm, and a bead
of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
the fire, boil and skim, boil
some more, add a fever
and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time
to add guilt and fear, throw
logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render
it down and distill,
that for which there is no
other use at all, boil it down, down,
then stir it with rosewater, that
which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
which you smear on your lips
and go forth
to plant as many kisses upon the world
as the world can bear!

I lay in bed long after the alarm went off, hitting snooze, turning back over to cuddle into the blankets, writing this post in my head: render is what we do with the material we live through when we decide to offer it down oto the page. When we write out our joys and struggles, we render the experience from something we lived through, from a vast and uncoordinated series of memories and neuronal interweavings, into story.

Rendering a story takes work. We decide what details to include, what to leave out. We create a structure: a beginning, middle, and end — even when telling just one piece of our day, we tend to create an arc. We build tension, we use sensory detail, we develop characters, we use foreshadowing and backstory — we aren’t intending to do any of this: humans are storytelling creatures. We learn how to do story early, just by listening to the other people around us. We play make believe, we dream, we gossip, we remember aloud to friends, we write poems and fictions and journal entries — we render the constant influx of sensory experience and data down to the stuff of deep human communication: story. And there are so many ways to tell the same experience — every time, the story will be a little different — we’ll remember some detail or forget another, we’ll add a twist, we’ll include something we weren’t ready to say the first time. Every rendering has a different flavor. And why do we do this? To make sense of our lives. To feel witnessed. To be part of the tribe. To set some order to the overwhelm, to have some sense of control over the experience: this is my material, and I’ll do what I want with it, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the life-and-death squirrel-dog drama, the house finches are quietly chewing seeds off of the hawthorn tree, tenaciously avoiding the thorns while they breakfast. I’m noticing my allegiance with them these days — is there really any reason to be running around crazy, barking at everything that feels like a threat? Don’t we have some songs to sing? There’s a juvenile finch in with the adults, just learning to fly, and though she’s joined the grown folks for the meal, she still needs help serving herself, and flaps her wings at one of the adults, chirping, until they feed her. Meanwhile, Sophie stands vigilant, just in case the intruder should return. There have been years I lived the way she is standing right now: muscles tense, every nerve at attention, unable to focus for long on anything but the chance that someone or something might cross the boundary into her space and already ready to fight it off. The thing about Sophie is that she’s able to walk away after a little while. She discharges her tension (shaking her body and stretching long and hard), ridding her muscles of the adrenaline and anxiety — then she moves on to the next thing. It’s usually not so easy for people — we hold tension and hyperalertness in our bodies long, long after the trauma is past.

One of the ways I discharge the old trauma, rendering it into something of use, is through writing. What about you? What happens when you story your knowings, your experiences? What happens when you don’t?

It’s not your fault

Good Tuesday morning, writers & writers-to-be — the sun is shining outside and the guys who are fixing my car window have got the vacuum running strong and my poor little dirty girl is getting a bit of a cleanup.

What’s outside your window today?

My car was broken into last night. I parked in a busy lot in a bustling part of town, and my sweetheart and headed off to pick up our bit of take out. When we got back to the car, fewer than ten minutes later, a back window had been smashed in and the bag that I’d inherited when a dear friend passed away — filled with nothing more than a couple of writing notebooks and some flyers for upcoming workshops — was gone.

I was quite confused as I approached my little car — I thought, Wait a minute, isn’t that where I parked? Why is that smashed up car in my space? Oh no — that smashed up car is mine.

And then I decided to run around the neighborhood to try and catch whoever it was. I stopped people walking and said, Hey, did you see a guy running past here carrying a brown bag? (Please note my assumptions.) Of course, no one had.

We’d just been gone a minute! How far could they have gone?

I thought I could catch whoever it was. I thought maybe I could get back my bag and what it held — the project notebook filled with ideas and visions and plans for upcoming writing ourselves whole workshops, events and books; the notebook filled with writes still to be typed up for the writing ourselves whole book I’m compiling; the notebook of workshop writes from Saturday’s Liberatory Potential of Erotic Writing workshop up in Sacramento.  I thought I could get back the little (empty) coin purse I’d received from my mother many years ago, and my first business card case that I was so proud of.

The truth is that whoever stole that bag must have been disappointed: no money, no cell phone, no computer. Nothing to try and sell but maybe the bag itself. They don’t even want what’s inside — why couldn’t they have just dropped it at the edge of the parking lot?

My sweetheart called around to window replacement companies, and we came home and shared our take out Thai meal. We watched a movie. We tried to redirect our attention from fury, disappointment and violation to next steps and connection. We went to bed. Neither of us slept well.

I was up in the middle of the night rehashing my choices last night: If only I hadn’t taken the car out at all…; if only I had parked in the first spot I saw, that brightly-lit one…; if only we’d talked to those guys in that car making noises at us instead of ignoring them (were they they ones?)…; if only I hadn’t re-locked the car as we were walking away, thereby letting those guys know which one was ours; if only …; if only…; if only…

I’d done some of this at dinner: I should have taken my bag out of the car, I said. I know better than to leave my bag in the back seat of my car! How long have I been living in the Bay Area? I know not to leave anything enticing in plain view.

My sweetheart said to me, This was not your fault. You didn’t cause this.

Period. No exceptions.

And then I got it: Right. If only I hadn’t been wearing that short skirt…

We smiled rueful smiles at each other. It’s almost impossible not to blame ourselves when we are violated in this way — whether it’s our car, our writing, our home, or our body that got broken into. We have been trained away from putting the blame squarely where it belongs: on the perpetrator.

I tried to remind myself of this during my middle-of-the-night self-recriminations. If only I’d… Jen, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t matter that you left a bag visible on your back seat — no one should have smashed through your back window to grab it. Period.

What about, If only that motherfucker hadn’t decided to smash in my window and steal from me…?

Maybe you know something about this kind of self-blame, of blame we take on ourselves because the person who should hold it is unknown to us, or won’t accept it. If we are to blame, we think to ourselves, then we can make different choices in the future, ones that will keep us safe. If we can be mad at ourselves, we have somewhere to direct our fury.

It’s not your fault can be hard to believe if we’ve been hearing the opposite message for our whole lives. Today I’m doing some acting-as-if. I’m noticing how deeply ingrained are those stories that we bring on our own misfortune, that we are to blame for the violence committed against us. We are not to blame. It’s not our fault. Maybe if we say it over and over, we will begin to direct our anger, we will be able to put the blame where it belongs.

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Are you blaming yourself for something someone else did to you? Do you struggle with the message that it wasn’t your fault? Can you take some time to write this today? What are the ways you are taking responsibility for their actions? What if, no matter what choices you made, you didn’t ask to be harmed, you didn’t deserve to be harmed, and you are not to blame? What if that’s true?

I am sending love and compassion to whoever it was who smashed my window and stole my words — at least now and again, I’m breathing in this practice. May they find peace and the roots of peace. May we all find peace and the roots of peace. I’m grateful to you, today, too, and grateful for your words.

questioning the broken story

patterns-closeIn Tuesday’s post, I said: How we tell our stories matters. The words we use for our stories matters. The metaphors and symbolic language, the imagery – all matter, all influence how we perceive ourselves, our bodies, our physical being, our agency, our history and our possibility.

For instance, consider the story inside the word broken as it gets applied to survivors of violence. Broken is commonly incorporated as a metaphor into survivor stories – he left me broken. He ruined me. She left me in pieces. He tore apart my soul.

I climbed into this fragmented narrative, this narrative of fragmentation, when I began to identify as an incest survivor. Identity is a story: we don’t just take on a label when we identify as something, we take on the narratives that accompany that identity – we have to interact with that identity’s story. The incest/trauma survivor story contained these: “broken, ruined, dead.”

These are powerful phrasings, necessary to use to describe how the body feels, how the victim feels, how the raped child feels when she is violated by someone neat to be a protector, when she is physically and psychically assaulted, then silenced, shamed and threatened, then psychologically tortured so that she will comply with the abuser’s demands of silent complicity. We need a brutal narrative to match the brutality of our inner experience. We need a story that will wake people up, we need a story that will make standers-by understand why we need help. We are attempting to counteract and supplant the other, deeply entrenched stories: the child is the parent’s possession to do with as the parent wishes; children often lie and are not to be believed when they say their parents or other adults are hurting them; child abuse is a family problem and outsiders should not intervene; children often invite sexual acts; America puts women and children first – those stories hold powerful sway, culturally. It makes sense that with the rise of an Incest Survivor advocacy community, we would reach for language as incendiary as the experiences and silencings we suffered through: he might as well have killed me; he left me for dead; I felt like a ghost; I didn’t exist anymore.

As I came into an Incest identity, I latched onto the story of broken: And the more I told the story of how broken I felt, the more the story of broken is what I inhabited.

Broken was big enough to explain how I felt. Broken was also irreversible. A shattered vase might get glued back together but you can always see the cracks, the scars – and that vase was now weaker, easier to break the next time. We were broken and proud of it. Fuck you, we said. We might get better, but we were never going to be the same. He ruined us. He broke us. He stole our childhood. He stole my adolescence. He broke my sex and now I would never be normal.

These stories express our extreme disenfranchisement from our own agency. And we tell them over and over and over – and, each time we tell the story, we deepen its neuronal pathway inside us, making it easier and faster for us to tell again the next time.

Just a few years ago, I began to question: What if that story was a lens that I was looking at my experience through? Certainly I’m using broken metaphorically, to express my sense of internal fragmentation, and of not being a normal and regular (which, my necessity, means unbroken and whole) woman. Aren’t I?

What if there was another story, another lens I could look at my experience through? What if broken didn’t have to be my name? What if I am whole, my sex is whole, my complexity is whole? What if I struggle, still have questions, but am whole, intact?

 What if I could tell a different story?

“The truth about stories is that they’re all we are.”

Taking a stand against a cultural story and meta-narrative is resistance work, builds muscle.

In learning to live outside the lens or silo of Broken, I am flung (if I’m not careful) headlong into the relentlessly cheerful Gratitude story: whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

What if I didn’t want a cultural narrative, a grant application anecdote, a Hallmark card, a cup of soup for my soul? What if I was ready for a less-than-simple story, something more complex, more complicated, more real; something less pithy, less easily told?

In our survivors writing groups, this is what we hold open room and hold out hope for – the messy story, the fragmented telling, the rape story with jokes and laughter in it, the story of the loving parent who put his hands inside his child, the story of turning still for support to the mother who abandoned you – the stories that friends, surveys, some therapists, family, nonprofits, social workers, activists and advocates have a hard time hearing (literally comprehending) and holding because these stories don’t match the language we have acquiesced to as a culture: ruin, devastation, dismal, hopeless, broken.

Our human, lived stories are more complicated than one lens can reveal.

Outside of one story are a hundred other stories. Outside of Broken is frightening, still – I feel uncontained, sprawling. I also experience myself as having greater agency. Not broken or unbroken, intact and imperfect. Wounded, sore, struggling, whole. Human, like all the rest of the humans around me struggling with something.

Thank you for the stories that have carried you this far, and for the stories you are beginning to question and upend. Thank you for that risking. Thank you for your words.

opening to new stories

Thomas King writes, in The Truth About Stories, “Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous.”

What is a story? It is a rehashing of events, a narrative, an anecdote, a lie, a truth. The dictionary isn’t helping me here, just giving me synonyms. What is a story? It’s a telling or a making up. It’s offering an account of an experience, so someone else can can come to know or understand what happened. It’s a fabrication, a weaving into existence something that wasn’t, that didn’t exist, until we put it into precise words.

 Story is contextual. And who determines a story’s context? “She’s telling stories” is the way some folks call us liars. But we know what truths come from storyteller’s mouths.

 Thomas King also writes, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” He repeats this line throughout his slender book, driving the point home: we create ourselves, we know and understand ourselves, through the stories we tell and/or listen to and believe about ourselves, about those like us, about our communities, society, families, world.

Trauma is a story. Identity is a story. Religion is a story. Sex is a story. The body is a story.

Yes, the body is also bone and tissue, chemical reactions, pulses, electrical leaps. The body is fluid and organ, is emergence and excretion, is breath and heartbeat. The body exists as an object in this precise moment, entirely independent of its context, its historical situation, its experiences. Doesn’t it?

Would this body be what and how it is independent of the stories I have told about it? What is my body without its stories, its histories and herstories? What is yours?

Is my DNA a story? My musculature? What can you learn from the story of my skin, her scars and stretch marks, her stains and curves? What can you read in the complicated interweaving of my neuronal infrastructure (which would be transformed if the stories of my body were transformed)?

We use story every day, throughout the day. When someone asks how we slept, we offer a story of deems and waking. When a friend calls to tell us about her morning, she gives us a story, an anecdote. We tell childhood stories, baby stories, coming out stories, the story of how we met, the story of an illness, the story of our experience of abuse, the story of our recovery. When I ask someone, “Do you know my story?” – I have a particular story in mind. I meant the story of my trauma, most of the time – and this is the story of my body.

Every story is an illumination and an occlusion. Every story highlights one side of a situation while leaving out other information. This is out of necessity. We can’t remember or apprehend every detail of a happening or an experience. We remember what’s important – we tell what we remember and, over time, what we remember is what we’ve told repeatedly. We believe our own stories. We can forget that there are other ways to tell, understand, consider those stories – and each different telling provides a different lens through which to consider ourselves and our experiences.

How we tell our stories matters. The words we use for our stories matters. The metaphors and symbolic language, the imagery – all matter, all influence how we perceive ourselves, our bodies, our physical being, our agency, our history and our possibility.

What stories do you have about yourself and your experience that no longer serve you? What happens when you shift, examine or change the stories you’ve been living with, and by, and through? What happens when you expose yourself to other people’s stories, really listen to them, and consider how they compare to your own?

the shift of our stories

graffiti detail: bright slashes of red blue black yellow silverGood Monday to you. Here is candlelight and cooling tea, here is the chill of late October morning, here is the click of keys into a quiet kitchen, here is the ache of morning. What is hovering inside and about you at this time of faeries and visitations?

Today I am thinking about story: the stories we share with others in order to explain ourselves, the way those stories, our storying, shift over time — and what those shifts can tell us about how we are healing. Continue reading

trusting our soul fire

graffiti of a bird behind barsGood morning, my friends, and good Monday! I’m here on the other side, just waking up. Slow morning and all the clothes are on inside out, waiting for the tea water to boil and for the words to come.

This morning I am thinking about instinct, intention and ambition. I spent some time yesterday, again, with the women who run with the wolves, reading the chapter about soul hunger. When we have been starved of our true selves, we will grab for anything that looks like it will feed us; how do we learn to trust our instincts again, to only take on and in what will truly feed and sustain our souls?

Yesterday Matthew Fox gave me Hildegarde von Bingen in conversation with Audre Lorde, spoke of a reengagement with an eros that is embodied, that inhabits our every movement, that is about our passionate communion with life.  He mentioned, too, Women Who Run With the Wolves, which brought me back into this book’s stories. We who have been starved or have starved our souls, we who have been trapped and dried up and without access to that which fills us up and moves us forward (which is, of course, our erotic self) can often stuff ourselves full of whatever comes our way as soon as we are freed from what bondage has kept us separate from our souls. And — at least in my experience — we can get strung out on that feeling of being released.

(Some explicit languaging of trauma below the fold in this post: be easy with you)

Continue reading

the deep vein of your body’s true story

stencil graffiti that reads: I say / the say/ the say/ says/ me/say/sayGood morning good morning good morning. Who is feeding you this Wednesday? What does it sound like where you are? Here, I think it’s mostly quiet outside — there’s a lot of clamor in my head this morning, so it’s hard to say for sure.

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Tonight’s the Erotic Reading Circle, 7:30-9:30pm at the Center for Sex and Culture — if you are local to the Bay Area and are doing any writing that involves sexuality or desire, I invite you to join us. The folks who gather at the ERC consistently impress me with the power and variety of their work, and, too, with the generosity of their feedback for one another. It’s a good space for sharing new work, and a safe space for folks who are just starting to offer their work to others. It would be great to welcome you into the Circle!

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Today I am thinking about stories, and about this idea of re-storying, which is like restoring, but with story, right? Here are two quotes that are with me this morning:

Thomas King, in The Truth About Stories, writes,

The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. ‘You can’t understand the world without telling a story,’ the Anishinabe writer Gerald Vizenor tells us. ‘There isn’t any center to the world but a story.’

And then there’s this from Dorothy Allison’s interview in Writing Below the Belt:

Sexually, I have a fetish about truth telling. It does help in my work. I find it profoundly arousing to watch somebody struggle to articulate their desires. One of the things my girlfriend and I say together, around this whole thing, is that you can have anything you want if you have the courage to ask for it. But having that courage to ask for it, wow! So we set up situations where you can have anything, honey — you just have to be able to ask for it.

Hold those two quotes against each other for a moment.

These are the questions living in me right now (living is perhaps to passive a verb. Exploding is a little bit more accurate): What are the stories you are telling that shape you, that shape what’s possible for your life, what’s possible for or around your big life-desires? What would it mean if you could find exactly the language for what it is you want? What if you released that language, that desire, into the world with no expectations, no demands?

I am thinking about story today, and how it relates to how I have been living in my body for these nearly-forty years, but most especially over the last about-twenty years, since I both breaking contact with my stepfather and coming out as queer.Those two life-altering, body-and-deep-sense-of-self-altering experiences, occurred during the same time frame for me, and so they have been woven into each other, one entirely of and about the other. My queerness was necessarily about my trauma. My experience of incest was entirely queered. I can’t, still, take them apart –and don’t want or need to. That story is still true for me.

The story of my body has changed many times for me over the years — in particular, the story of my queer and queerly-gendered body. When I first came out I was so often so excited to be in this body and accepted; I found my desire and seduction on the dance floor, and fed it to everyone who could meet my eyes. And then, as I moved more fully into a gay identity, and more fully, too, into a sense of myself as survivor, I wanted to be visible, acceptable and protected, and offered my body into butchness the way the knight offers himself into his armor, and for similar reasons. I wanted the sword and shield, to defend someone’s honor (sometimes even that of my own inside-self), wanted a safe reason to kneel down. But armor only contains what we allow it to, and the girl in me kept leaking out, through all the seams, making herself visible, insisting that she be known, no matter how hard I fought and buckled and bound. So finally, some few years ago, I renounced (didn’t I?) and mourned that butch self and allowed (do we really get to allow this?) my body to mean girl again in the world, to mean visible woman, to be read as femme. I wanted to be all and only girl, Farrah Fawcett, please & thank you. (I have discovered that she lodged somewhere deep in me, and early, as the epitome of female sexiness, and am kind of delighted by how that marks me as of a particular time and place.) But, oh, sometimes our bodies reveal their stories to us, show us that we are not in control of them, and I came to understand that the interweaving that marked me as a child, that tomboy girl with dirty scuffed knees in the skirt that twirled high and a book clutched always in her hands, marks me still, that I bring both and more with me everywhere my body chooses to carry me. That I get to claim that both-and-more-ness as my birthright.

And the sense that I am actually able to claim anything, I mean fundamentally understanding anything, about my body as birthright is more powerful than I have words for right now. You understand, don’t you? At just the moment when I was meant to begin to learn my body’s own stories, gendered and sexual stories, stories of her desires and possibility, there was a man who entered my life and, soon, my body, who took it upon himself to retrain me into his stories. And I have been living in and struggling with those stories ever since (at the same time that I was trying to learn how to talk, how to use the same words that other people use, how to be human), and did not ever expect to –did not even consider the option that I might– reach within myself a deep vein of my own body’s true story. That I could hold in my hands a glimmer of this sense: this is who my body would have been anyway, even if he hadn’t come into it and tried to blow it apart.

Do you know what that means, why I feel lifted off the ground these days, like song and blown plum blossoms?

So there’s a new story rising like bread in me, rising like candleflame, rising like a skirt over the subway grate, rising like love and open hands, and I don’t have quite the language for it yet, but it’s a profoundly new articulation about the possibilities for and of my body. Not just about what my body can do  — about what it can be, what it can mean.

That’s as far as I can get into it just right now — there’s more, I know, and I’m journaling it, and will bring more here as I have it. For now, though, use those quotes up there as a prompt, if you want. Take 10 minutes (I’m looking at you there on your first writing morning) and let yourself into the stories you, or your characters, tell about their lives, tell about their bodies, their desires. What are those stories? What do you (they) want the stories to be? As ever, follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

I’m grateful for you today. Thank you for the freedom and shelter you have offered your own and others’ stories. Thank you for the hard work of healing you’ve done, and do. Thank you thank you for your words.

everybody is a story

image of women standing around ironing tables, working and talkingThis is one of the quotes I think of when I consider what the Writing Ourselves Whole tagline (restorying our lives) can mean:

“Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way wisdom gets passed along, the stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology, many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories once again.”

– Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, from Kitchen Table Wisdom

calling ourselves

graffiti of a woman, facing left, with a word bubble before her, "Who am I?"A dark morning with a bright moon outside, and I’m collected up on the couch with my little candle light and cup of mint-dandelion-green tea. Outside the moonlight is bright through the trees, lightening up the cloudful sky.


Sometimes I feel like I want this blog to be even more of a resource for those who are survivors of sexual trauma. And then I wrangle with that identity, with even the language there: for us, survivors. When I say survivor, I mean people who have experienced sexual abuse. Other people mean someone who has experienced domestic violence, or someone who has experienced cancer, someone who has had a relative die, someone who lived through a car crash. Survivor means ‘one who lives through affliction’ or ‘one who remains alive or in existence,’ ‘to persist after,’ ‘to remain functional or usable’…

So here’s where I’m torn: between wanting to be a useful resource for survivors of sexual trauma, and not wanting to further that identity category at all, because once we ‘own’ that label, we step into its language, we are shaped by it. And I want us to be bigger than survivor, bigger than thriver, bigger than these experiences. I don’t know that I want to use the phrase incest survivor to define myself all the time anymore. Sometimes, yes, and it’s not a thing I’m going to deny or remove from my bio. But does it have to be the first line, the first thing people know about me? This isn’t about shame, but about how I shape myself, what I think is possible and knowable myself. The language we use for ourselves defines us for ourselves, as well as for others.

Maybe for the first time in my life, I am feeling this way. I used to get super annoyed with people who would talk that way, assume that they were completely in denial. Didn’t they get it? If you experienced this, you are this. It’s the way things are.

I don’t want us to rid ourselves of these categories, because we categorize, we humans; it’s what our brains do. What I want are different words — instead of using the word survivor, I might use the phrase, people who experienced sexual violence. First of all, it’s more precise, and more people will understand what I mean right away. Second, this language defines us first as people, rather than as incest or child sexual abuse, which “survivor” can do.

Sometimes we need that place in us forefronted. I know I have. I have needed people to meet me and my work through that lens, and it’s a frightening thing now to want to find a different lens, different language. If I am not only, or first and foremost, incest, then what am I? I have said, in the not so distant past, maybe even here in this blog, that Incest is the main lens that I see life through, that I meet every experience through, that shapes and colors everything. Am I wanting to take those glasses off? Can I? Is that allowed, or possible? Maybe that’s some of this nausea, too, that queasiness, that question, this blurred, new vision.

How we call ourselves matters, because it determines how we define ourselves, what we understand ourselves capable of; every word, every label, every identity category has its attendant, often unspoken, rules and regulations, guidelines, boundaries.

If we use different language, playful language, even, to define ourselves, can we call out different parts of ourselves?


An interesting write can be to take 10 minutes, open your notebook, and write down all the identities you (or your character) walk with: mother, daughter, sister, brother, queer, straight, worker, boss, left-handed, trans, man, woman, genderqueer, midwestern, new yorker, survivor… write down as many as you can think of. Notice which ones seem to be at odds with one another, and why that might be. Which ones are most important to your life right now? Which ones have been most important to your life in the past? Are these identities you have chosen, or that you were born with, that someone else determines? Choose one, or more, of these identities, if you want, and write your history with it, write its story: when you knew that you were identified as such, and what it meant. Are there different words for this identity, either communally shared or that you have made up for yourself?

As always, follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.


Thank you for your broad vision this morning, for the ways you can look around the edges of the boundaries that someone else set for you. Thank you for your resilience and new and playful languaging, for your gorgeous words.