Tag Archives: survivors workshop

Podcast Answers – Day 6: How do the workshops impact survivors?

A couple weeks ago, I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation. Here’s my answer for day six!

6. What has been the impact of the workshops for survivors of sexual abuse?

metal sculpture of phoenix rising from the ashes
I love this question, and it’s a challenge for me to answer: while I can say what’s been my experience, I can talk about what I think happens for some folks sometimes, but I can’t speak for all the survivors I’ve written with. So I’m going to say some things I think about the workshops can impact or have impacted folks who’ve participated (myself included), but I’d love to hear your thoughts, too!

(Note: there’s a little bit of sexual language in this post — just fyi!)


We have our bodies. We have our hands and feet thighs legs arms eyes noses breasts mouths bellies chests butts foreheads fingers lips toes and yes genitals yes cunts and cocks yes they always are of us. Through [this] writing, I open to the world around me. I walk around heavily awake, I smile more amply, I touch the cats on the ledge with my eyes. I am seen and I see. I am witnessed. I am heard. I am differently present. This is the opposite of dissociation. This is the practice of embodiment.


We can change the world this way, through writing deeply and openly—I mean, with this and other practices of knowing and living ourselves into the vast elemental of art. Don’t ever think that our work, the very practice of writing—the very fact of taking the time to sit down with one’s own thoughts, committing them to paper, doing so in community –is not revolutionary. We undermine and examine the old teachings. We take the old language and turn it inside out. We name our hidden truths. We true our hidden names. We crack through the surface of the advertised world and take hold of the reins of our lives. As long as we keep on writing and knowing each other as constantly changing peers in this process, as long as we are free to tell ourselves and our stories however we choose, as long as we play in the memory and myth of the thickness of metaphoric language, as long as we climb into other writers who speak to us and experience their words viscous with reality (whether those words are published in a collection or read aloud in a writing group), we will walk ourselves, together, into freedom.

stones talk: trust, strength, focus Remember the guidelines of the AWA method writing workshops (as developed by Pat Schneider in her book Writing Alone and With Others):
1) Confidentiality: everything shared here stays here;
2) Exercises are suggestions;
3) Reading aloud is optional;
4) Feedback is positive and treats all new writing as fiction.

We build trust in a space in which we hold ourselves and each other in confidence. Writers have the structure and possibility of exercises offered by someone else, and the freedom of interpretation and play. We can then choose to “perform” (read aloud) our new writing, or not. If and when we choose to share what we’ve written, we know we will receive a warm and strong hearing that focuses on the artistry of our words, our language, our imagery. We ourselves aren’t deconstructed, analyzed or pathologized.

 Many writers in these workshops seem to “break open” right from the beginning. And that power is magnificent. We do it because we can and we are ready. We have a kind of “public performance space” that is also private, confidential. The writing room becomes our stage and our quiet bed. We have the assurance of privacy, which allows for the audacity, bravery, and cojones of recital. We come and write because we know someone will be there to hear us, and that we will be able to construct ourselves in the sight of others and yet not be held or tethered to any one permutation of ourselves. Finally, it’s out in the open, and other people are talking about it. No longer do we as individual (so-called) victims have to remain silent: we have a place where we can receive others’ stories, experiences, recovery, struggle, contradiction while offering our own.

In this space, no one has any authority over another in the realm of experience. How I receive a piece of writing is how I receive it, and how you experience it is how you experience it. What we hear and like might be similar or disparate, but any disconnect in our experiences/hearings does not render one or the other more right or better or more important. Also, each person’s interpretation of an exercise is correct. butterfly heart

For survivors, those of us–so many of us, in so many different ways–trained into wrongness, trained into silence, trained into the invisibility of our language: when I say that the workshops are “transformative,” I mean that we create ourselves a space in which to alter how we have come to know ourselves through words. When we tell newly-re-framed stories and we are heard… how can that not empower and open the heart?

This can take awhile to sink in for writers in the workshops. But you know how it is: Over time, and through hard and serious risk, each person learned the primacy and power of their words, their experience, their interpretation, their artistry. It’s revolution. It’s gorgeous.


Now, it’s y’all’s turn: What about for you? Have you participated in this or another AWA-method workshop? What’s been your experience about how survivors can be impacted by this work?

Spaces still available in this Saturday’s Write Whole introductory intensive!

Don’t forget — we’ve got one more Saturday intensive coming up this weekend, 12/20, and there’s still room if you’d like to treat yourself to a day of good writing, good food, and good community!

Write Whole: Survivors Write — an all-day writing retreat open to women survivors of sexual trauma
Saturday, December 20, 8:30am-4:00pm.
(Check-in and registration/continental breakfast 8:30-9:00am)
Light lunch also provided.

Location: Writing Ourselves Whole workshop space in downtown San Francisco.

For each of our all-day Saturday writing retreats, we gather in the morning for coffee and some home-baked breakfast, and then write through the rest of the morning. After a break for a light lunch, we keep on diving deep into our work through the afternoon! At the end of the day, we have some conversation about revising and editing our work, and we close by four.

As for all the other writing groups, we will be using the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method. You’ll leave with: a rich body of new creative writing; feedback from your peers about what’s already strong in your new writing; and some thoughts about revising your new work.

The fee for these retreats is $100. Please let me know if you’d like more information or would like to register — send an email to jennifer (at) writingourselveswhole (dot) org, or visit www.writingourselveswhole.org!

Join us!

Saturday Intensives on 12/13 and 12/20!

Treat yourself to a day of good writing, good food, and good community!

Declaring Our Erotican all-day erotic writing retreat open to folks of all genders
Saturday, December 13, 8:30am-4:00pm.
(Check-in and registration/continental breakfast 8:30-9:00am)
Light lunch also provided.

Write Whole: Survivors Writean all-day writing retreat open to women survivors of sexual trauma
Saturday, December 20, 8:30am-4:00pm.
(Check-in and registration/continental breakfast 8:30-9:00am)
Light lunch also provided.

Location: Writing Ourselves Whole workshop space in downtown San Francisco.

For each of our all-day Saturday writing retreats, we gather in the morning for coffee and some home-baked breakfast, and then write through the rest of the morning. After a break for a light lunch, we keep on diving deep into our work through the afternoon! At the end of the day, we have some conversation about revising and editing our work, and we close by four.

As for all the other writing groups, we will be using the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method. You’ll leave with: a rich body of new creative writing; feedback from your peers about what’s already strong in your new writing; and some thoughts about revising your new work.

The fee for these retreats is $100. Please let me know if you’d like more information or would like to register!

Join us!

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. Beginning June 4 (just two weeks away!) 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 Lisa at 415/861-2024 ext. 302 for a short intake interview or for more information. Thank you!

This March, join us for one of our weekend intensive writing days!

Announcing weekend-day workshops this March – Reserve your space now!


Want to get a feel for how the workshops run before committing to a full 8-week session? Not able to join to a full 8-week workshop session? Want the opportunity to go a little deeper into the writing that you’ve gotten started on your own, or during regular workshop meetings?

Here’s your chance!

Join us for a day of good writing, good food and great company! The March dates are:

  • Saturday, March 22: Declaring Our Erotic: open to folks of all genders and orientations!
  • Saturday, March 29: Raw Silk-Women write desire: open to all women
  • Sunday, March 30: Write Whole-Survivors Write: for women survivors of sexual trauma
  • I’ll provide breakfast and light snacks for the day. As for all the other writing groups, we will be using the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method. You’ll leave with: a rich body of new creative writing; feedback from your peers about what’s already strong in your new writing; and some thoughts about revising your new work.

    Each retreat day runs 10:00am-4:00pm (Breakfast 9:30-10:00am). The cost will be $100; sliding scale may be available. All workshop meetings held in our convenient Flood Building office, right off the Powell Street BART stop. Contact me (jennifer (at) writingourselveswhole (dot) org) with questions or to reserve a space!

    Reminder: All identities (i.e., women, survivor) are to be self-defined!

    Celebrate the new year with new words! Winter 2008 Workshops Begin Soon –

    Transformative writing workshops:
    Winter 2008 sessions begin January 7, 8 and 9.

    Erotic writing workshops and workshop for survivors of sexual trauma begin soon! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about these special topic writing workshops: jennifer@writingourselveshwhole.org.

    —————————————-

    ~ Transforming our language is one way we transform our lives. ~

    ~ Visit www.writingourselveswhole.org to register for these special topic writing workshops~

    Write Whole-Survivors Write meets Monday evenings beginning January 7.
    Open to women survivors of sexual trauma. Gather with other survivors to create new art and new beauty out of your experiences, and deepen your sense of wholeness.

    Declaring Our Erotic workshops meet Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. DOE workshops provide a space to get more comfortable exploring and talking about sexuality and desire, and to become less inhibited in your own writing.

  • Mixed DOE: Tuesday evenings beginning January 8 – Open to folks of all sexualities and all genders!
  • Women’s DOE, Wednesday mornings beginning January 9 – open to all women!

    ~note: both “woman” and “survivor” are intended to be self-defined.~

    Transform your relationship with your writing and with yourself. Open to folks of all writing abilities!

    A few spaces are still available in each workshop. Cost for 8-week workshops is $250. Workshops held in downtown San Francisco, near BART and MUNI. To register, or for more information, visit www.writingourselveswhole.org!

    About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a freelance writer and queer incest survivor whose work has been published in numerous anthologies. She’s facilitated writing workshops for the past 5 years.

  • Blogging our workshop creations #1

    Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with the raw material that we create in workshops – and often, it’s not necessary to do anything; there’s powerful work done just in the act of writing, in the act of creation. Yet, there are times when I want to return to a piece, and I’m not sure how to pick up where I left off… the first thing I have to do, of course, is transcribe the work from my notebook into the computer. And one of the things I’ve decided I’d like to do is put more of this work up onto my blogs.

    From a mid-July meeting of the Monday survivors writing workshop, one of my own exercise responses:

    It’s difficult, the things that are known and the things that are unknown, and when I say difficult, I mean shitty and infuriating, and when I say ‘are known’ and ‘are unknown’ in that most passive voice, what I mean is the things I can say for certain and the things that I could possibly have never said for certain because when they were occurring I was without a root in language, my mouth floated out, into an obliterating twisting and carnivorous extermination whenever I tried to find the words, and now, I am without a root in time or place or truth.

    And then, even here, I wonder if any of this makes sense.

    Sometimes all I want is to speak to other survivors, cause sometimes all that needs to be said is, You know?, and you make a face and your affect says everything and you don’t have to explain and they say Yeah, and hen you both nod and you’re sort of silent, not because now you’re trying to swallow, once again, a desire to tell, to have someone else understand, but because s/he meant it when s/he said Yeah. S/he gets it, whatever the shitty thing is, and there’s no need to wrangle up into the terror of words that can never really speak the truth anyway…

    What I want to know is a matter of fact timeline, but what goes beyond the point of contamination to the honest-to-god wreckage that is my memory is the fact that isolation/disconnection/dissociation during an experience means that some things are just not possible to anchor in time. So, of course, these rememberings just float around in my body, my brain, a whole smeared fabric of my adolescence, a thin, dense stain on what was otherwise apparently, to the rest of the world, a perfectly privilegedly normal and cohesing existence.

    What I know is what happened – hands on the only budding places of my body, the truth of years spent readying me for his ultimate goal – and what I don’t know now – besides why, because who cares? – is exactly when. Was I fourteen or sixteen? Still in junior high or high school? Was it winter outside? Summer? Were the birds throbbing alive in all the trees or were the outsides silencing in solidarity with my own?

    What I don’t know is how to make poetry of this. What I don’t know is how to stop wanting to know – wanting these peculiar answers. What I don’t know is why it matters if I figure out now, twenty years later, that Ok, yes, I must have been fifteen when that part happened, when the body of me came pressing tight to my lips, when I felt all the air escape from what I thought was the secure solidarity, the impenetrable mask, of my thick skin.

    I put a period there, but I think I was asking a question, wasn’t I? What I’d really like to know is how to, just once, twist that image of his body and my body on that cheap squeaky brass-framed bed into a work of art that even my ears could find beautiful – no, maybe not beautiful, maybe not honoring, but no more pedantic and not any more pity-worthy – I’d like for these images to begin finally doing service to some other kind of truth.

    Really, I’d like to elect them out of their only residence in my brain and push them hard onto the paper, tape them cheaply down with crappy tape that quickly pulls up and dirties at the corners, push those bilious, billowy pictures flat for once, let them be seen in two shallow, sullen dimensions, show them – yes, sure, finally – to my mother and father, let them see what was happening, share these pictures with my sister, like trading cards. We would sit, cross-legged, in the clover park with the summer bees all around and chew our big words of gum while the wind blew the hair all around our faces and we’d finally look at all we could not share or see before, in the vast, thick safety of that warm afternoon.

    7/16/07