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not apples and oranges, but apples and apples

graffiti: text reads, Oh, good morning. It’s a Monday again. How did the weekend treat you? Were you kind to yourself? Did you make some room for your words?

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Don’t forget about the Writing Ourselves Whole book launch party next Tuesday, December 5! (Click for more deets or to RSVP!)

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As may not be surprising to you, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about sexual violence in our culture. How are you doing with all this media coverage? Myself, I’m feeling both grateful and totally triggered much of the time. Ugh.

The media are doing an interesting thing now, trying to figure out how to talk about different kinds of sexual violence and sexual violations, and they are setting up a kind of ranking— or, really, reifying a long-standing hierarchy: which one is worse? This has been played out over and over these last couple of weeks — if we are asking Roy Moore (RM) to drop out of his senate race after sexually assaulting teenage girls, shouldn’t Al Franken (AF) have to resign for sticking his tongue into the mouth of an adult woman on stage? Aren’t they the same thing?

I listened to commentators carefully articulate why it was that, even though what AF did was bad, it certainly (obviously, clearly) wasn’t as bad as what RM did and has been doing for decades. This is the trouble with looking to the criminal justice system to give us our moral code, to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong — if it’s not illegal, it must, in some sense, be ok.

Let’s see — which assault is worse than the other? Let’s weight them. Let’s compare. Let’s get into that game of the Trauma Olympics: Who had it worse. Who deserves more sympathy, more punishment. Whose assailant was just making a joke, didn’t mean it. Who is the real victim of a  real predator here?

Let’s look at the flip-side of this game: what was done to one victim is not as bad as what was done to another. Having an adult man jab his tongue down your throat, when you’re an adult woman, is not as bad as having a man assault you when you’re a teenager is worse than having a man fire you for spurning his sexual advances is somehow “better” than having a man holler at you on the street and then call you a bitch when you don’t smile at his catcall — but one isn’t better than the other. It’s all different versions of the same fucking thing: misogyny, patriarchy, male supremacy, rape culture.

In my years leading writing groups with sexual trauma and sexual violence survivors, I have repeatedly had women voice concern that they didn’t belong in the room — they weren’t raped, they weren’t sexually abused as children, what happened to them wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what happened to other women. They were just harassed at work for a few months or years. They just had a dad who talked to them inappropriately as they were growing up, or liked to watch them when they came out of the bathroom after a shower. They just

It’s that “just,” that minimizing voice in our heads, that the media response to AF is building up right now. We who have been the targets of any form of sexually-based violence are familiar with that minimizing voice — it wasn’t as bad as what happened to her — it could have been worse. It could always have been worse. We shouldn’t complain. We should be thankful he didn’t do something worse.

Maybe those who assaulted us in whatever way told us this directly — but usually they didn’t have to. Our families and communities do this for them. The media and the criminal justice system do it for them: through categorizing some acts as misdemeanors, some as felonies, some as not criminal behavior at all.

And so we play down what was done to us and we question our responses — why do we feel so sick and angry and scared? What makes us think we have the right to add our #metoo? What happened to us just wasn’t that bad. So why are we replaying his words over and over in our heads? Why are we acting like it was such a big deal? Why can’t we just get over it? Why aren’t we strong enough to just let it roll off our backs? Why can’t we just take a joke? Obviously, he didn’t mean to hurt me. He meant it as a compliment/ just likes me/ was just joking / misunderstood something I did or said or am.

We tie ourselves in knots with the self-questioning and the minimization, and that’s one more piece of the violence. If we are tied up with this spinning and self-doubt and self-demonization and cognitive dissonance, then we won’t be rising in the ranks of our professions or instigating revolution; our energy will be drained elsewhere. We will have less energy for resistance and revolt, for art and creativity and wonder.

This hierarchizing of trauma, this ranking of violences, does further damage to survivors, we who have already been taught to minimize our own reactions: we hear the media telling us it wasn’t that big a deal, or not as bad as X (or not so bad that we want to lose this guy’s vote in the Senate, or whatever).

But it is as bad as X. If we have experienced any sexually-based violence, what was done to us was bad, period. The acts and actors, violences and violators, all work together, don’t you see, to create what we have been calling “rape culture” for decades.

AF didn’t have to threaten to violently rape the women he assaulted; they already knew that the possibility existed, by virtue of growing up female in America, and he had already demonstrated his willingness to violate their personal space, boundaries, and human autonomy. It’s not “just” an unwanted kiss, somehow in isolation from everything else this woman has experienced. It’s one more instance of sexual violation.

Sexual violence is sexual violence. It takes many different forms, but we who are survivors know how damaging it is to play the comparison game, and to buy into this mainstream story that some violence is worse than others. Every form of any form of sexual violence experiences a similar aftermath: rage, shame, self-blame, grief, guilt, fear, isolation, loss. The details of our experiences matter and every act of sexual violation is unique. But it also all exists in the same realm, not on a continuum so much as of the atmosphere surrounding us all the time —we are reminded that we could be next, if it happened once it could certainly happen again, if it happened to her or them it could happen to me.

The media does not need to buy into doing the criminal justice systems’ job for them. Commentators don’t have to play the game of ranking: it’s just another layer of rape culture, just another part of the problem. When asked whether some form of sexual violation is worse than another, I’d like folks to consider that there is no such thing — It’s not apples and oranges. It’s two different kinds of apples. It’s all assault, it’s all the assertion of power over another person’s body, autonomy, humanity. It’s all degrading, dehumanizing, objectifying— disregarding the well-being of another person, and believing that you have the right to do so. It’s sexually-based violence in different forms, and each act is woven into the net of every other act of sexual violence, past and present.

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Be easy with yourselves this week, ok? We’ve moved firmly into “holiday” season — sometimes that brings up painful or difficult memories. Just keep breathing, please. Be tender with the tender parts of you. Thanks for all the ways you are gentle with those in your community, and the ways you allow others to gift you with their gentleness and kindness, too. Thanks for your words, today and every day,

 

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Fearless Words: A free writing workshop for women survivors (with SFWAR!)

San Francisco Women Against Rape is offering our Fearless Words Creative Writing Workshop for women survivors of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and child sexual abuse. Group begins August 28. Eight Wednesdays, 6-8pm at The Women’s Building San Francisco (18th and Valencia). Woman-identified writers of all levels are invited to attend this workshop, created especially for survivors of sexual violence to discover our voices, create political dialogue and develop our craft as writers, while using writing as a medium of healing and transformation. Facilitated by Jen Cross, this group is free, wheelchair accessible, and runs 8 weeks. Call Tabitha at 415/861-2024 for a short intake interview or for more information. Thank you!

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what if we lived

graffiti: silhouette of a child walking a dog - behind them are enormous bright flowers(some maybe-intense writing about incest this morning — not details of a story, but thinking about how we think about ourselves, the language we use to describe ourselves. In any event, please take care of you — xo, Jen)

Today’s tea is tulsi-anise-nettle-mint. I choose tulsi for the calming, anise for the thick, round taste and the belly comforting, nettle for the cleansing and the bitterness, mint for the sweetness, the quickening sharpness. And, for the first time since moving, the first time this year, likely, I have the window open while I write. 2 candles, the tea-smoke pushing into the light of the flames, and some cool breeze from outside that feels like a good morning.

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This is what I thought about this morning, considering the language of incest & trauma: the idea of soul-murder. The language around incest is this language: he killed the child I was, he murdered my soul. It’s the language of death (and rebirth, sometimes). Death is irrecoverable, it’s an end, it’s finished. And sometimes, during the recovery/healing/growing process, incest feels like that, like having been killed, because we see how the trajectory our lives were on was irrevocably changed, and we can never know who we might have been if this person hadn’t decided to take our life path into their own hands, to intervene on our bodies and minds and understandings and beliefs, to seem to forclose our futures, shut them down, close our eyes to tomorrow. That can feel like a killing: I might have been a happy teenager, I might have been someone with close friends, I might have been able to learn some comfort in my body playing sports or in other physical activity — but you (that abuser/the abusers) took that from me.

Recently, I was telling my therapist that I wanted to get to that light, I wanted to feel it flare, I wanted to get underneath all the layers of self-protective mechanisms and inside walls and fear and shame and self-aggrandizement and loss and sorrow and make some windows so that that flame could burn a bit more brightly. In my inside metaphors, that flame is what: soul? will to live? will to survive? that flame is the fingerprint of a little girl who had to take her life into her own hands. that flame is a closed eyelid of a child who decides to see what she needs to see, but not let out what she wants to keep safe. That flame, the small one deep in my chest, is the self-mothering. That flame is the heat of living. That flame is curiosity about tomorrow, the thing that kept me alive. That flame is what fed my understanding that he couldn’t make the clock stop ticking. That flame is what he could not blow out, no matter his 10 years of trying — and what I couldn’t drown in alcohol, self-loathing, deep shame, cloaking, couldn’t choke out with too much food, couldn’t run away from. That flame is this me still alive. He didn’t kill anything. He didn’t have that much power.

The idea of soul murder is a impactful one. It says to the reader,  These people do terrible things from which their victims never recover — because, as we know, murder victims never recover. It conveys a message to policy makers, and others in all our societies, that have condoned the sexual use of children apparently since the beginning of time: we should think differently about this act of child sexual use. We need people to understand that it’s a really bad thing, so that they start taking action to prevent its continued prevalence, to stop being so silent around the great numbers of people being used sexually against their will or desire.

(The birds just woke up outside.)

The words we use to define ourselves shape how we understand ourselves, in how we can see ourselves. If we as people who have experienced child sexual abuse, and/or other undesired/unconsented-to sexual use, learn from the experts and authorities that our souls were murdered, that has an effect on us — that tells us something, it gives a shape to the enormity we carry, the stuff that has so little language for it, and there’s a relief in that: This awful feeling inside, the emptiness, the thick loss? It’s what was killed. It’s a death we carry around inside our skins.

But: What if our souls weren’t murdered, and it was still an awful, inexcusable, unwelcome, inappropriate, not-at-all-ok thing that was done to us?

There have been times that I have felt, psychically, like I was digging out of a grave. I felt that far down, that far away from humans, that distant, that dead. And I have appreciated, needed, the myth of the phoenix, that which is resurrected from the aftermath of the flames, that which rises up anew. But what if I was never dead? What if he didn’t kill my teenage self? What if I survived without being murdered? What if you did, too? What if my psyche did a tremendous, un-willed job of keeping my inside-light protected and lit? What if yours did to?

I don’t want to take this language from anyone for whom it’s working/necessary/important. I do want expand the way we think about ourselves, about anyone who has experienced sexual violation. The metaphors we use predominantly in our society put shape around our thinking — which means they also put boundaries around that thought. (I first learned about this idea from reading Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson — a profoundly important book.) First looking at, becoming aware of, and then (if we choose to) changing the metaphors we use for our situations, our understanding of ourselves, can intensely resituate us in our understanding of our world — resituate what we understand our possibilities to be.

We lived. The flame within us lived.

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A writing idea, for when you have some safe and uninterrupted time — this is one of the few prompts in which I’ll specifically invite you to use the word ‘incest’ or ‘rape’ (as it works best for you), and so please take care of yourself around this one (as with any writing prompt). If you want, check in with someone before starting this write, or think about who you can call/talk to after, if things come up that are triggering or upsetting.

‘Soul murder’ is one way we think about incest/sexual violation. I’m going to invite us to create some other metaphors. let’s take 10 or 15 minutes for this one, after we create the list: number a sheet of paper from 1-7 (you don’t have to do this; I just always liked the numbering part of the spelling test at school.) Write down a list of 7 everyday-type actions: “going to the store” “tying my shoes” (or his shoes, or her shoes). Don’t think too much about each item, just put them down as they come to mind. Then let the phase “Incest is like” or “Rape is like” or “Sexual harassment is like” or “Molestation is like…” go in front of each phrase — say it out loud. It’s ok if they don’t make any immediate sense. Choose one that sounds interesting to you, that catches your writer’s creative attention, that you feel especially curious about, and let that be your starting point: for instance, Sexual harassment is like tying his shoes — ok: what does that mean? Write down your prompt, whichever one you chose, and write it at the top of a new page (or below your list) and start there — it’s ok if your writing isn’t logical, is filled with images and ideas; that’s just right! Write for your 10 or 15 minutes, as fast as you can, as much as possible without editing. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

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Thank you for all your knowings and reknowings and deep, unlanguaged understandings, and your survival. Thank you for the creative ways you have found to heal and hold you and be present with others. Thank you for your words.

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all of our body can hold different parts of our stories

graffiti, wheat pasted maybe, of a young male deer beneath a green treeI got up extra early today to do my morning pages, before coming to the computer.  Maybe it will have been a good idea, but right now I’m tired and would like more sleep. Yesterday was a very quiet day — perfect. No time on the computer — 2 old movies (a Doris Day & a Katherine Hepburn) and 1 more recent, Hook. A day for baking, for reading in the sun, for cafe writing.

Two nights ago, when we got home from dinner with Alex after Body Empathy, there were at least two deer nested down back beneath the big tree directly in front of the carport. We tiptoed out of the car, lugging bags of stuff, materials, workshop business and food, and said hello to them and told them how pretty they were. They kept their eyes on us, ears up, watching, but didn’t move. The bigger one didn’t move, the mama maybe — the smaller, behind, she’d stood by the time we were done unloading. Yesterday afternoon I wandered back to where they’d been, wanted to see the outlines of bellies on the ground, in a pile of leaves maybe, but all I saw were the small hoofprints all around the back area where the giant pile of leaves used to be. Maybe they were snacking on new blackberry cane growth, or maybe there was something good in the neighbor’s compost pile. I knew they might come up to the house and push their heads to the tomato plant I’ve got that’s going crazy now, suddenly flowering and budding, growing tall and almost wild — I knew they might come up and get a taste, since F! has seen their footprints in my lettuce pots behind the fence! It’s ok, though. They can have some and can leave me some. I’ve heard their feet clacking on the sidewalk, those dark hooves striking sharp and simple, like it’s a normal sound, deerhooves in my ears. They won me over.

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It was a beautiful Body Empathy workshop on Saturday, all of us risking that slow possibility of being in our bodies. We started off a little discombobulated, got to be imperfect, because no one was there to open the church for us, & thus our meeting space, until 9:30 — which was when we were supposed to be getting started! We’d invited folks to start arriving at 9:30 so they could get breakfast and settle in, but those who arrived at 9:30 got to help us set up (thank you!) or got to wander a bit around the bowels of First Congo, checking out what was new and fresh in progressive christianity. After the coffee pot wouldn’t work and the stovetop wouldn’t come on, finally we got things together (many thanks to the Mr. Fresh! who went out for a box of Peets!) and moved into some gentle and poweful work. Thanks to all who were there, and, too, to my amazing co-facilitator, Alex Cafarelli, who reminds me often how ok it can be to be in these bodies we carry around with us, even it it’s not ok sometimes. this morning I’m doing some stretching, some spinning, that gentle loving kindness movement that Alex offered to us, as though we deserve to love and be loved by and in our bodies. And we do.

These were two of the quotes I handed out on Saturday, with our guidelines & practices:

I write to understand as much as to be understood. Literature is an act of conscience. It is up to us to rebuild with memories, with ruins, and with moments of grace.
—Elie Wiesel

I love the body.  Flesh is so honest, and organs do not lie.
—Terri Guillemets

Organs do not lie. What does that mean? I appreciate the opportunity, the invitation, to consider. This quote reminded me, while we were doing our work on Saturday, of Nancy Mellon, who I had the chance to meet at the last Power of Words conference. Nancy writes and works with the idea of storytelling as a healing art, and wrote a book called Body Eloquence: The Power of Myth and Story to Awaken the Body’s Energies — she talks about the information our organs hold, our inside parts hold, and how we can access those stories and truths. She’s an amazing storyteller, had us all completely transfixed in the Haybarn there on the Goddard campus, as we waited to hear what the lungs could do, what the blood knows, what our small intestine can tell us.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories, our lives, our histories, our truths? It’s scary to me, sometimes, this possibility — the fact that my organs (say, my liver, which I wrote about some this weekend) can hold some information about me feels outside my conscious control — and it is, at least in the way that my western logical ‘rational’ mind things about conscious control.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories? It means that we are (still) whole — that our bodies know our truths, and that we can access those truths, through somatic work, through movement and dance, through art and creativity, through myriad right-brain activities, those ways of being and thinking that step gently and kindly around the rigid left brain that wants to think it has the exact right ways to know.

Thank you for your words, for the way you risk speaking without words, too, all the different ways you say, you listen, you witness and share.

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Coming up! Body Empathy on Sat, November 13

(Please help us pass the word!)

First Congregational Church of Oakland

2501 Harrison St.

Oakland, CA

No previous experience necessary! Pre-registration required. Fee: $50-100, sliding scale (Please check in with us if funds are an issue—payment plans are always possible, and we may be able to work out trades or other arrangements as well!) Register here — or write to jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org with any questions!

What if we could truly experience empathy for our bodies as they are – and then, by extension, for ourselves, as we are?

As queer, genderqueer & trans survivors with a wide array of backgrounds and identities in a sexuality-/gender-restrictive culture, our self-protective tendency can be to “check out” by detaching mind from body to such great degrees that it can be dangerous. Physical activity and writing are two ways to check back in with your embodied self.

With deep respect for the privacy and variety in our personal experience of gender expression and our individual histories, this workshop will create safe space for participants to embrace our bodies as they are, and to write the stories our bodies have been wishing to speak, while allowing possibility for the integration of identity and physical presence. Using brief writing exercises and low impact body mindfulness exercises derived from improvisational theater, Zen meditation practice, and the internal Chinese martial arts, participants will have the opportunity to fully embody our gender complexity in a healing and playful environment.

The exercises we practice can be easily incorporated into our daily lives and can enhance our ability to reflect mindfully on our experiences, while interacting with others from a place of self-acceptance, internal power, and confidence, as we move through the world as the fabulously feisty queer & gender warriors we are…
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Your facilitators:

Alex Cafarelli is a Jewish genderqueer femme trauma survivor with a background of 17 years of martial arts training. Currently teaching body mindfulness classes in Oakland, Alex also works as a gardener specializing in drought-tolerant and edible landscapes, does Reiki/massage bodywork, and develops and leads element-based rituals to support women, queers, transfolk, and genderqueers in moving through transitions and healing from trauma. Contact Alex at petals_and_thorns@yahoo.com.

Jen Cross is a queer incest survivor and a widely-anthologized writer who has facilitated survivors and sexuality writing workshops since 2002. She offers two weekly AWA-method workshops (Write Whole: Survivors Write and Declaring Our Erotic) in San Francisco. Find out more about Jen at
writingourselveswhole.org or write her at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org.

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light through the layers of his lies

woman in a gas mask, naked, lying flat and looking out at the viewerNote: this morning’s write contains some explicit writing around sexual violence. Just a heads-up: please be easy with you. xox, Jen

I’m in that very-tired place that comes just before bleeding, at least for me. So my thoughts are slow this morning and I’d like another several hours of sleep.

This month’s Writing the Flood is coming up this Saturday, 10/16: want to come out and write?

Some exciting plans are in the works — Alex Cafarelli and I are again going to be offering our Body Empathy workshop next month on Nov 13! Registration is open now — more info soon here and on the calendar page.

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For our first prompt last night, I offered these three fragments:

– There’s no way to describe how…

– I’m coming out as…

– The world begins at a kitchen table (Joy Harjo)

(Grab one of these and use it for your own write this morning: we took 20 minutes; please take as much time as you’d like– follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go).

Here’s my response to this exercise:

There’s no way to describe how slow it used to go, the panic, the rising, the waiting. I’m not sure where I want to go with this.

There’s no way to describe how the waiting used to feel, how cold the silence was in our house when my mother was still at work showing picture books and anatomically-correct dolls to her child clients in the sterile plush of her therapist office and her husband was at home with her daughters, wanting and jockeying to make an anatomically-correct doll of himself for us to play with.

I wanted this to be a poem but it’s just the same old story and I’m coming out as not quite ready to let go trying to tell you how it was. This is an awful memory: he was the one who taught me both the hatefulness and acceptability of queerness, the way he’d mock and cackle over gay men he knew, decry their mother issues, their obvious narcissism, and then later, mucfh later, in bed with me(and how much I need a phrase that incorporates the tender brutality of a forced and enforced consent into something as plain and bald as ‘rape’), he would detail his own bisexuality, he wanted to form an allegiance with me, but I couldn’t agree too easily, because of the doublethink and the nausea that caused.

What bed was that in, and what house? Somehow now I’m imagining a bed that never could have been, and so it must have been the couch — I hate worrying into these details, and it’s only in the details that I survive.

I had already met gay people who weren’t raopists, so there was no chance that i would conflate his rabid bullshit with gayness, period. He wanted me to mut my finger in his butt and I’ll tell you that I did it, just one more shitty thing I did to survive. I had learned from safer sex lectures how to be careful, and I leanrd the awful power of penetrating. I never wanted anything of him on me. He made this connection, wathing something in his butt made him gay, and then talked about the consensual sex he says he had with his uncle when he was a little boy.

This was when his stories started unraveling. This was when I began to see light through the layers of his lies. This was when I did as I was told, but kept some handle on the part of me I put away, the part that sat heavy with the stones of his stories, the part that came back after he was finished and I was alive again.

Thank you for your gentleness with yourself today, with all the yous you’ve been, with all you’ve done and do to survive. Your being is important, and I’m grateful for you.

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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.

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DOE: the right to be honest

painting, "From Strength to Liberty" -- figures entwined, reaching, pushing, stretching, dancing
"From Strength to Liberty," by Javier Azurdia -- click on the image above to see more of his gorgeous work.

I started to type in my motto as the title of this post, but only got as far as “lobertis…” and I had to stop and delete it all and drink more tea. Still fighting off, battling (dang it — the military metaphors are all over us!), wrangling with this cold, but I think I’m on the backside now. Got some great healing advice over on facebook — thank you! I’ve had lots of tea and veggies and rice and miso broth. I’ve got these soups I make when I’m sick that always just look awful when the sick is gone — but they do the job!

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Today’s supposed to be a Declaring Our Erotic post. With this cold here still clogging up my nasal passages, I’m not feeling like I’ve got all that much erotic to declare.

I do want to remind you about tomorrow’s podcast with Jianda Monique!

And I want to remind you, too, that the next erotic writing workshop is one that’s open to all LGBT/queer survivors of sexual trauma or sexual violence, and begins Thursday, Oct 7.

This is going to be a powerful opportunity for queer survivors of all sexes and genders to come together in one space and write our full and complicated sexualities. We get to write fantasy, we get to write other people’s fantasies, we get to write things we’ve never done and never will do but think about sometimes, we get to write whatever erotic we want. We practice releasing the self-censor, we practice releasing this idea that there’s only a small range of erotic desire that’s “ok” for us to want or think about, we practice trusting our writing voices to take us wherever we need to go, even to where we didn’t know we needed to go.

I’m telling you, it’s going to be gorgeous. Will you join us? Or, too, can you think of someone who might like to know about this workshop? Would you pass the word to them?

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I think I must have written about this before in this blog, this motto: “Liberty is the right not to lie.” Attributed to Albert Camus, but I first came across it as the epigraph to Pat (now Patrick) Califia‘s devastating book of lesbian erotica, Macho Sluts. (This  book is what made me queer.) (Well, the book, and the hands that passed it to me, and the community that contained us all. Thank goodness to these.) (Of course, if I weren’t already queer, the cover of the latest edition of Macho Sluts would do the job, without question.) (The quote is also included in Tillie Olson’s absolutely amazing book, Silences.) (I’ll stop with these now.)

As a young person under her stepfather’s control, even from over a thousand miles away, I almost never felt free. Something opened in me, though, when I read that phrase. Lying was, for me, one way to get free, to say, You don’t have control over every aspect of me — I will still have control of my words, of the intersection between my word and deed, of my honesty. You can’t force my every truth from my lips, though he tried.

This quote, this idea, liberty is the right not to lie. The right to be honest. The right to tell the truth. Not just about desire, as Califia was doing and urging — but, yes, too, about desire.

Perhaps my stumbling (or, rather, my being encouraged to stumble) across this quote was the beginning of his end. Anyway, it was a continuation of my opening. And I hold it still close to me, regularly: What am I not being honest about? Is that living into liberty, into liberation? Our liberation will be in our ability to honestly tell our lives, our truths, our experiences, our longings,  our fears, our dreams.

Lying can be a place of freedom for awhile, a survival strategy. Internalizing it, though, in my experience, is a place of death, of self-silencing.

For your write today, if you want to take 10 minutes, consider for yourself Camus’ phrase: “Liberty is the right not to lie.” What does it mean for you? What comes up when you read it? Start there, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for being there, for reading even the sick-typed words. Thank you for the good work you’re doing today, for your powerful writing. Thank you.

babayagaSmall

someone who can see what I mean

graffiti: child reading a book
read read read...

It’s Monday and I am thinking of things to write about — I just did my three pages, and that feels good, a kind of stretching. But what now? I thought about writing about my ideal reader: who is that?

The candle is at my right eye now, the lights are strangling my attention: incandescent on the left, candleflame on the right.

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A busy week on tap here, and it will end with this month’s Writing the Flood. Want to join us for some writing prompts, some excellent writing community, and a chance to spend your Saturday afternoon creating writing that may very well surprise you? I’d love to write with you!

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Ok: Ideal reader? Sometimes my ideal reader is someone who just needs to hear a truth that I have the capacity to share, but more often, I think it’s someone who can hear what’s underneath what I’m writing, someone who can hear and read and feel the coded messages, the letterings and thoughts behind the words and phrasings I use, someone who can say, “Oh, I get why she said it like that — yes, that’s exactly how I feel, too.” I want someone who lifts up the words, the blanket of meaning, and touches what’s messy inside. I want a reader who feels that stuff of anguish floating around the belly of their own words and hasn’t known how to find language to coat it in, to tuck it into, how to push it out into the snowy world with its hair still wet and tangled, its shoes inadequate for the snow, its belly not quite full.

What I want is someone who can see what I mean: everything I mean. Who knows the stories I’m not telling and can read them inside the stories I have told, someone who can feel the backstory, someone who holds the cicadas and devlishness of the place, the house, the specificity I come from.

Carla Kaplan talks about an “ideal interlocutor” (interlocutor: someone who takes part in a conversation/dialogue) in The Erotics of Talk, (and if you haven’t read this book, I’d highly encourage you to find it; she shares  powerful vision of an erotic engagement with conversation, a “communicative ethics,” as a process of individual and community/social transformation): the ideal interlocutor  is someone who has the capacity to fully hear, comprehend and respond to our stories, our tellings. In her book, which engages literary and cultural theory, Kaplan asks the question: Is it true that women in literature have “lost their voice”–and that it is the responsibility of feminist (or other) critics to unearth that hidden/lost voice–or is it the case that women authors/characters have been speaking all along and what they have been “looking for” is the right interlocutor:  someone who will/can listen and is able to hear?

When I was reading her for my thesis work, I took this question to engage with one of the myths about women and the “underserved”: that we have no voice. That others are required to speak for us because we are the voiceless. This phrase is used as a fundraising tool, a way to touch the hearts of those with money and access to circuits and systems of power: “be a voice for the voiceless” and “we have to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

This is a pernicious metaphor: being ignored or not listened to is not the same thing as not having a voice, not speaking. Incest survivors and those who experience other forms of sexual trauma, in my experience, “tell” in many different ways, both directly and indirectly. We may be ignored, denied, shoved aside, policed, legislated against, but we are not voiceless. We speak: many many people, however, don’t want to listen, do not want to be that interlocutor.

The word interlocutor brings with it this idea of exchange, of participation, at least, on both parts: conversation, dialogue. That means more than just one person listening to another — that means being engaged with.

I have that longing myself, for those readers/listeners who have the background and present desire to fully engage with the stories I’m telling, who can hear the whole story, even more than what I’m saying, who have the capacity to respond as well. And I’m fortunate to get to meet readers/listeners/interlocutors of this sort on tour with Body Heat, and during the workshops, where we engage one another’s stories as writing as craft and as  powerful truth-tellings (whether in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction form).

Have you thought about your ideal reader/listener? Who is this person?

babayagaSmall

pay attention to all the different facets that truth has

crying is ok here - graffitiI’m afraid to start writing again this morning. There’s this fragile peace within me, something inside that’s just barely standing on its own two feet, and I don’t want to shatter it or shake it up or push it back over.

I didn’t blog last Friday — I got up, overwhelmed and sad, and didn’t have any words to meet me once I sat down at the page. That happens sometimes, and often I write through it anyway. What am I doing here, I type — why aren’t I asleep, I could be in bed, what’s the point of this? Then I get tired of that sort of writing and I move into something else, something more interesting. On Friday, I couldn’t get to something more interesting. Everything fell away from what words could do for me. I hate that place. So instead I went online, I read my email, something I try never to do before doing my writing, because it’s always easier to read than to write, at least for me.

There’s a mailing list I’m on, STAT (Society for Treating Abuse Today), for survivors of extreme and ritual abuse and also for therapists who work with survivors of such abuse. Someone had posted a link to the Franklin Scandal. I followed the link, and found myself reading excerpts from a book about a man, Larry King (not the television star). Larry King ran a credit union, where kids from Boys Town worked. There was a contract between Boys Town and Franklin Credit Union. Larry King also flew kids from Boys Town to Washington DC, where the kids had to have sex with/get raped by prominent public officials, at sex “parties.” This went on in the 80s, and I don’t want to go back to the page again to get all the details — I don’t want to get sucked in again. He provided kids for the parties, and also a photographer — he wanted to get pictures of these politicians that could be used for blackmail. In this scenario, the kids were stage makeup for a higher game — political jockeying between/among adults. These kids were pawns, tools, utensils in a bigger game. Their individual humanity didn’t matter — what mattered was getting a photo of this particular individual, this career politician, this power broker, having sex with some kid. Any kid. The humanity of the kid doesn’t matter to the adults running the game.

One of the kids who finally found themselves able to come forward with information about the abuse, the trafficking, the parties — she was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to 27 years in jail. Larry King went to jail for embezzlement at the credit union, but never charged with, never held to account around, the crimes he committed against kids. Investigators came up murdered during the investigation, and one official body found that the entire thing was an elaborately crafted hoax, envisioned by the young woman who was found guilty of perjury and another person, who’d also been trafficked to the sex “parties.”

Of course I believe this story. There’s nothing at all about it that’s implausible to me. Here’s what happened as I was reading — this wondering: did my stepfather know about this thing? He worked with Boys Town, both he and my mom both, as therapists. Did he know about it and want in? Was he too late and just trying to recreate something similar in his own home? Or is it all just coincidental? I read through the book excerpts, then did some more searching for related pages, looking for his name, any charges made against him and the work he was doing to supposedly help the sexually-abused youth at Boys Town. He said he met his connections from the CIA (he said, yes, he said he’d once been a part of the CIA — because how does a girl from the middle of Nebraska get away from someone who can find her anywhere on the planet?) out at Offut AFB; there’s that connection in this book, both with the CIA and Offut. Yes, coincidence. Or not.

Then I got up away from the computer and I turned it off for a couple of days. There’s no escaping the spinning that starts, there’s no logic-ing myself out of it, once I start slipping down into the “everyone’s a potential associate of some sex abuser and you can’t trust anyone” pit. Because it’s true, of course, and it’s not true — there’s no way to prove, is the point.

I don’t want to be typing this

When I walk out into the world, and meet people casually, there’s no way to prove who knows what, who doesn’t know, who’s safe. There’s no way to know who’s hurt a kid, who’s hurt a woman or a lover, who’s done something stupid and awful (or intentional and awful) that they regret or they don’t regret.

Knowing that, I can either step completely outside the world and live in a cave (I nearly wrote cage), or I can take a deep breath, know how much I can’t know, and move back into the world with my boundaries in tact, listening to my intuition, and attending, too, to how much generosity and kindness exists within humans, even alongside our capacity for horror.

But in the in between, I took some time away from words and hung out with a different creativity. I worked with food, and both remembered and didn’t think about my parents, my family, where this capacity for creativity came from. Apple-Zucchini-Carrot bread, green lentils and quinoa with coconut milk and green onions, kidney bean refritos, soup stock, apple and peach crumble.  It was a good weekend. A weekend of attending to different languages, the subtle interactions of tastes, paying attention to the drift of nutrients in my body, which meant paying attention to my body’s wellness, though not directly.

We learn to listen on a slant, to pay attention to all the different facets that truth has, and sometimes we can use that for our own wellness, right? What do you listen to when all your usual channels have gone to static?

Thank you for being there — I’m so grateful for you.