Tag Archives: shame

(nablopomo #12) be willing to be

graffiti of a pit bull terrier sitting in the midst of blue and green line drawingsGood morning, good morning –I’m feeling a little off-kilter this morning, not quite full. Maybe something in me is following the moon.

It’s one of those days when I don’t want to write, when I want to do anything but, when I feel overexposed in and to words, and so I want a break from them.

I’ve been up for a little while, wanted to get my blogging in early. I did a bit of journaling, jotted down a couple of dreams that I could remember, and then got distracted by looking up dog training info online.

The puppy and I need to go back to school. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a puppy update here. But nablopomo doesn’t give prompts for the weekends, and my freewriting at the moment is drawing me toward dog love and dog struggle and dog shame.

here we are at graduation from her first puppy class

As of the end of this month, Sophie will have been with us for six months. Six months! Next month she’ll be a year old. You might remember the panic and overwhelm I was in during that first month, how terrified I was, how I wasn’t sleeping enough, how being with her was bringing up feelings about my past dogs, especially the one I had as my sole unconditional companion during high school, during my stepfather’s abuse.

Sophie feels like part of family here, and a part of redefining family, at a time when the Mr and I are re-engaging with what family means. She’s a steady presence and still feels new — I find myself pressing my face into her warm brown puppy smell and thinking, Who are you? How did you get here? She is a part of our everyday-ness, a part of home, now. We’ve been through one dog-training class and now I think we’ve got the funds to do another. And it’s time.

Yesterday, at the end of a great walk in the hills not too far from our home, we were approached by a small pug and his mom. The pug may have been a puppy; he was a fraction of Sophie’s size. Sophie hunched down, like into a prowl, and came toward the dog from that stance. When they got close to each other, the other dog, wagging, bouncy, wanted to play, but Sophie was rough and aggressive. She was growly and wouldn’t leave off the dog when I called to her; finally I got her collar and got her out of the situation. She wanted to play, then, barked, wagged her tail, what’s the problem? The other mom picked up her dog, we exchanged a few words, I said Sophie was obviously still in training, we said that both our dogs were puppies. I knelt there on the ground with Sophie for a bit, wanting her to stay calm, while the other two walked away. I felt awful, sick, ashamed, frustrated and scared.

This is why we have to go to school, why I need more training — in those moments, sick and ashamed aren’t useful feelings. They’re triggers, or, really, reactions to feeling triggered. At times like that, I’m more worried about doing what someone else will think is right. How can I explain this? I’m back under my stepfather’s gaze, being watched and judged, and get reacty and panicked. I’m not thinking clearly any more than Sophie is.

The triggered feeling is so old, and I want to move with and past it. I want to trust the parts in me that invite me to do something different, but that I often ignore — trust, that is, the connection between me and my dog. I want to know how to interact with Sophie in those moments, before we get to the dog, to the situation that’s freaking her out. There were many different things I could have done in that moment, well before she got into a fight, but I ignored them, hoping that she’d be all right, even though she was showing me signs that she was in an odd mood with respect to that dog.

The shame that blossoms in me, it takes over everything, is a bright wash of red-orange, isn’t any help at all. It coats the inside of my mouth and all over my skin, tingles me unapproachable. We will go out again today and try something different (treats, leash, redirection, practice, practice, practice).

I have a note that reads be willing to be uncomfortable stuck to  my computer monitor. I have it there because I need reminding, encouragement, sometimes a push, to do the things that are important to me — and getting there often means moving through discomfort, often, deep, thick, bodily discomfort. I’m reminded of the thinking I do about safety, and about safe space — that I can be safe in the midst of change, in the midst of reaching beyond my comfort zones, in the midst of doing something that pushes all my buttons. Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong. Sometimes it does. I’m learning to listen differently, learning to tell the difference.

There’s more to this, but now it’s 12 hours since I began this post, and I need to get it out. The puppy and I had a good and uneventful walk today — I brought more treats, did more training practice, she got to chase the ball and eat hot dog treats. I’m scared, reaching, and grateful.

Thanks for your practice, for the ways you hold your own growth. Thanks for your patience and presence with others’ discomfort, how you allow others, sometimes, to be present with yours. And your words, too. Thanks for your words.

meeting ourselves where we’re at

graffiti -- girl blowing heart-bubbles up to the sky

a bunch of love from me to FemmeCon2010

Good morning good morning.  It’s still morning, even though the sun is higher in the sky than I’d prefer it to be when I start my morning blog — I like it still to be down lost over the horizon, actually …

I’m taking it slow this morning, this week. After a super busy femme-conferencing, writing-the-flood-ing weekend, this week I’m on furlough from my day job at UCSF, which means I’ll only be working one job this week: writing ourselves whole.  It’s kind of blissful. I got to have a quiet evening in last night with my mr. hubby, eating leftovers and watching Men Who Stare At Goats (which actually I’d like to write about later: there’s a lot in there about masculinity, I think, about the damage our current constructions of masculinity do to men and boys (and…), about the work required to undo that/those constructions, and about how much work is required to hold on to what gets loosed/freed up — it’s a funny-ish movie, but also really sad).

This weekend was the Femme Conference, and I have way more to say about my experiences than I will probably get to today, but then main thing I want to get to is I’m grateful to every one of the organizers and every one of the attendees. FemmeCon, like any ostensibly-single-identity-focused space, is complicated and complicating, gorgeous, problematic and problematizing, and I’m so glad it exists.

If I had blogged on Saturday morning, this post would only have been about failure and loss — and now it’s about failure and loss and friends and hope and gratitude. On Friday I led an hour-long workshop for femme survivors in which I hoped we’d be able to write and then talk about how our femme selves intersect with our sexual-trauma-survivor selves, how each inflects the other, and how we navigate that terrain. In an hour. OK.

I got to sit in a room with a group of fierce femme writers — I wanted to hear every word they had to write and share. And after we got situated, got ourselves into a circle and introduced, and after I described the AWA workshop method that we’d be using to hold ourselves and one another as writers and artists, and the structure that we’d be using to keep one another safe, we had less than half an hour to write and share.  Goddamnit. And so, yes, everyone got to write, and not everyone got to share, and not everyone who wanted to got to give feedback on every piece of writing that was shared.

I felt like I’d tried to stuff a balloon into too-small a space, and it’d burst, deflated. We ran into the wall of the end of the hour just as we were really getting into our work, getting into the writing and the sharing and the conversation.  And yes, I know that that’s the bane of every conference workshop leader — conference timeslots are forever too short for the vast amounts of work we want to be able to do together.

I felt horrible, like I’d asked folks to open something profound and deep, and then tossed them back out into the stream of conference goers, all open and vulnerable and raw. The truth is that I hadn’t centered myself as much as I’d planned that morning, hadn’t reminded myself that we weren’t going to be able to do as much as I’d hoped we could do in our timeslot, and so I forgot to remind the attendees about that.  Not that we don’t all know that there’s never enough time, but still there’s something powerful in the acknowledgment — and, too, it helps us to make informed choices about how we write, how much of ourselves we open.

Now, I know that every survivor of every kind of trauma is resilient and creative and makes decisions every moment about how much of hirself to share and open into; everyone in the room made hir own best choices. And still, the truth is that I didn’t do what I wanted to do: hold a space where we could write, share and connect with one another through that writing and sharing.  We were too rushed because I didn’t plan well enough.  And I spent the rest of the day really, profoundly beating up on myself — way too much. Yes, of course: triggered. Look how you do damage to these other people. Who do you think you are to be doing this work? It didn’t matter that the evaluations were overall very good, that I received wonderful feedback from attendees, that folks said they were moved and grateful to have been able to be there (and, yes, would have preferred to have had more time). All I could hear was the self-beating in my own head.  Jesus, that’s hard to get away from.

I had to force myself to stay at the conference, to sit in my own shame (self-inflated, yes) and stay present.  I talked to friends, called the Mr., called my workshop-facilitator sister-colleague-friend Peggy, said how I was feeling.  And the fact that I could do that was profoundly useful: I didn’t stay alone in the shame-dip. (Is it every like that for you?  Like you’re sitting in the chair over the pool of shame and the parts of you that like to tell you terrible things about yourself are standing out in the carnival fairway with the balls in their hands, and they’re throwing them at the red circle with every repetition of the awful things you think about yourself, hitting hard and letting you fall into the sharp cold water below.) I stayed at the conference, sure that people were spreading the word about how irresponsible and awful the workshop was.  (Whew. Talk about spinning out.)

And then I went to the opening remarks and listened to one of the Femme Collective members, Jessica Eve Humphrey, talk about, among many other things, the truth about failing, and the importance of meeting folks where they’re at. She said we will fail, of course we will fail, but we will learn from these failures, and next time, we will fail better. (This from a Samuel Beckett quote.) We don’t have to fail in the same way every time.

Oh, right.  Learn from this, goddamnit, I said to myself.  Not so kind,  yet.  Not quite ready to pull out of the shame dip, to slip off the chair, to go sit on warm hay and dry off in the sun. But I got there, thanks to friends and meeting myself where I was at.  (Here’s the thing: we often have to meet ourselves where we’re at, too.  That’s part of radical self care.) And part of where I was at was overwhelm, not having had any down time or writing time all week.  So I took Saturday morning to write and process, to think about what had gone well (and there was lots that had gone well at Friday’s workshop!) and think about what could be different the next time I try to do something like that during a conference workshop. Then I went to this month’s Writing the Flood workshop and got to write with more powerful scribes, got to set up and have time and space for writing and sharing and snack breaks. Then, and here’s one of the greatest parts: I got to meet with my amazing sisterfemmequeergrrlfriend Alex Cafarelli and assist her with her fantastic number, Super Stud Muffin, at the FemmeCon’s phenomenal Saturday night show, Glitteratti.

I didn’t stay in the shame, but, too, I was present with it and (I hope) I learned. I sat in the fire, which is a concept that came to me some years ago while I was still a student at Goddard and, I think, a group of us were talking abut white privilege and the importance of being present with the truths of our own racist actions that arise out of our ignorance of white privilege (or, sometimes,are being willfully ignorant about): that, when someone tells us we’ve fucked up or that something we’ve done hurts them, we need to sit in the fire of our own reactions, be present with the truth, and learn.

Fail better next time: that means, no one does it perfect, ever. Don’t reach for perfection — reach for excellence; Jessica said that, too. Oh, yeah. Perfection is a trap, and often an excuse.

Sunday I went to the fantastic short-films screening* that Sarah Deragon curated, and got to break open again (again). Celestina Pearl’s film Las Mañanitas (The Little Tomorrows) started the tears: I wondered what it would have been like to be honest about my life with my own grandmothers. And then Indira Allegra’s Blue Covers** (again, again) pushed the tears out and clean: when I can do the work of remaining, the film says.  Yes, the work of remaining.  It’s not just during sex — remaining can take work at other times, too. This weekend I did the work of remaining, and I’m grateful for all the help I had in tethering myself in my present, not whirling off and out into endless shame spirals.

Later, I want to write about how hard it can be for me to be in all-femme space, and how grateful I am for the opportunity to learn how to be a girlfriend, like, sistergirlfriend, in these spaces. For someone who was kept from intimate connection like that during my teenage years and very early adulthood (again, more about this later), it’s so painful and difficult to try and learn as an adult how to be a ‘friend,’ and I can’t even find the language to describe the gratitude I have for the friends who walk with me anyway — I love you.

Thank you all so much for being there, and for reading — really, for all that you do.

*So many amazing films!  Seriously, check out this listing

**If you haven’t seen Blue Covers yet, you need to.  Here’s what I told Indira this weekend:  I think anyone who’s ever been, is currently or ever will be partnered/lovers/sexual with someone who’s a survivor of sexual trauma or molestation needs to see this film — and any survivor, also, is likely to be profoundly affected.  Please find it and give yourself that gift.

sheep in the wolf

It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, memory, or maybe it’s the other way around: how the devil slinks up into the backs of my brain, flashes of what’s lost or what used to be; what could have been. This is where we are now, stuck in a new reality. I’ll start over when I turn the page. I’ll start over.

It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, memory is, or maybe it’s the other way around, a sheep in wolf’s skin, the history that pushes up my spine into awareness some nights brings bared fangs and glisten, brings those eyes with the yellowing whites, brings that battered, matted fur and the thin possibility of escape from steamy breath in chilly summer fog evenings.

But what’s on the underside of that cartilage, that exoskeleton, that drape over the shoulders is the sneaky inside shape of dingy grey curls and lambs wool, the sweet breath of how we used to wish on falling stars and clap fireflies into jelly jars and sickle the summer afternoon air with our swinging pumping legs.

I mean the good and lovely hides inside the loss, the way an angry dinnertable altercation hides within it the careful way my sister and I made the evening salad, how we tore the iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes into bright rubies, nettled the carrots into shavings with a grater. The memory of my stepfather’s rage is the overcoat

and underneath was how my sister and I could bear up under that grey weight, learned – what do I want to tell you? – about keeping a straight face while telling lies I mean, we learned ourselves the uses of wearing the wolf or the sheep as needed. The way the memory at first glance is so often a covering for the deeper, quieter memory hidden inside the first the way dreams go: you see one layer and when you’re waiting or telling that one down, another layer emerges, another part of the dream, another figuring

and I am grateful for the way my brain pulls the wool over my eyes, reveals the difficult stuff first because it knows that I am not so trusting of beauty, and it slips the pure stuff in to my consciousness sideways and beneath a red cape it shows me the strengths I carried, my sister carried, even as all I could see at first is the terror: the way we were edged to resilience, the sheep the wolf, the hidden simplicity inside the mask, the way what I think I remember is never, at first, the whole story at all


I wrote this in Monday’s workshop, and it’s the beginning of something longer, I think, about how different words are “charged” differently for each of us… xo, Jen

Yesterday at the bookstore I asked the man behind the counter if they had any books by James Pennebaker.

“I don’t know who that is,” he said.

I waited for him to offer to look the name up, but he didn’t. He was quiet, and for a moment I thought that was going to be the end of the conversation.

Then he said, “What does he write about?”

And so I described how Pennebaker writes about the uses of writing to mitigate the aftereffects of trauma. And the young man behind the counter at this Berkely bookstore said, “Oh, well, I don’t know – but if we had anything like that it would be up in self-help popular psychology – you know, we hear the word ‘trauma’ and we just throw it up there.”

Ok. I’d just spent the last hour scanning all the titles in their relatively (at least by today’s bookstore standards) extensive linguistics, psychology and popular psychology sections, and found no books about the uses of writing as a healing or social change craft or practice or tool. But, here, look – I did find this old standby attitude about trauma: It’s not a terribly serious issue, not really, those whiners, put it there next to the What Color is Your Inner Elephant? and How Your Catbox Can Guide You To Enlightenment. I felt that old internalized shame, to be asking for a book about trauma – just one more white woman looking for the language to my loss? What’s this attitude about the struggle and strain for transformative experience?

I mourn the feeling that these words of my life are the loaded curse words: trauma, incest: not dyke or pornographer. Those latter words have no power over me, carry no tethers to my own shame and still these years later I cringe under the gaze of real academics, real literary pursuers, rel social change workers who aren’t so ‘bound by their past’ or who are able to just ‘let things go, move on.’ This is me, moving on, with these words, sanded against my face always, chapping my lips and cheeks, reminding me where I come from. This boy-man behind the counter worked it out on my bald face, his fear of this word, this one of the many loaded words we all carry, and how the word becomes a crematorium to connection or even meaning if we aren’t truly listening to each other.

Some words that are loaded for me to hear: incestuous, traumatized, raped—especially, I’ll tell you, when those words are not used to refer to people and their actions against the bodies of, or experiences at the hands of, other people, and instead used thus: the women’s community here is so incestuous, you know? Or, The people are just being raped by the banking execs, huh? These images don’t work for me.

A loaded word is one that is too heavy for metaphor.

The loaded words I use that are not triggering or difficult for me any more but might still score an anvil-dropping line across another’s ear are: lesbian, gay, dyke, queer, survivor, rebel, survivor, Black, white, fucking…; I say these words with impunity, I spend them freely, I have earned the right to let them fall off my lips in every day conversation, at the credit union or with my father. The folks I’m talking to are not always so similarly prepared, their ears not exercised or stretched out, their eardrums are tensed still, they are accustomed to these words being laden with anger. But in my world, these words are laden with fear – ok, sometimes, sure – but they are laden also with love.

These are the buckets of cold water we offer one another to drink. Sometimes, we have to say the difficult thing, just because we know there’s another someone nearby, maybe also waiting in that bank line, whose ears are parched from all the silences, from all the years of people not saying the words that are too heavy for some people to hold. True, sometimes those words are going to sound like that cold water just got thrown in our face, our eyes pop open wide and we get that shocked look, like we just woke up – hard.

We wake each other up.