“The unconscious is structured like a language” – Jacques Lacan
“We are in no way obliged to deposit our lives in their [the Lacanian fathers’] banks of lack, to consider the constitution of the subject in terms of a drama manglingly restaged, to reinstate again and again the religion of the father.” – Hélène Cixous 
I just recently discovered the book Beyond Survival: A Writing Journey for Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse by Maureen Brady, and I’m glad to be able to add it to the Writing Ourselves Whole library.
Published in 1992, this is a collection of 52 writing exercises specifically focusing on issues around healing from sexual trauma; the idea is that you give yourself a year to explore through writing your own healing: week 2: Breaking the silence; week 15: But who am I?; week 32: Sexuality; week 49: Trust.
The exercises are much more directive than I offer in the Write Whole workshops, in that they ask the writer to specifically consider different parts of our life and struggle after experiencing sexual trauma: write what you remember about the abuse, write what you lost by keeping secrets, write what you’re afraid will happen if you trust people — each week’s exercise includes a page or so of discussion about that theme or issue. You could respond to these exercises for yourself or for your characters (if you’re working with a character who is a survivor of sexual violence, writing in response to some of these exercises could be an excellent way to learn more about them and their lives).
This is something I wrote up awhile ago, for the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) facilitator’s community, and I wanted to share it with you all, here, in honor of the National Day on Writing:
As a student in the TLA program at Goddard College who was looking for a way to use writing as a healing tool, the AWA writing workshop method broke down the door for me. Here was a simple, deeply powerful and ethical-by-design method for writing in community about any topic you might wish to write about, but in particular any topic that is painful, complicated, or raw.
The AWA method we learned in the trainings that Pat Schneider led at her farmhouse in 2001 and 2002 (the latter, an Amherst Writers and Artists (AWAI) training, was co-facilitated by members of the original Chicopee Writers), revolutionized my thinking and brought me a powerful sense of peace. At the time, Goddard (where I was pursuing my MA) was undergoing an accreditation review and was at risk of closing – after my first AWA training, I was no longer afraid of what might happen if Goddard closed (which it didn’t): I’d found the structure for my life’s work. Here was a resolutely non-hierarchical and safe container in which all people, regardless of their relationship to the word “writer,” could explore in words their own complicated and beautiful stories.
As a certified Amherst Writers and Artists workshop facilitator, I use this structure for all of my writing workshops:
1) keep all writing offered in the workshops confidential
2) offer exercises as suggestions
3) remind folks that sharing is optional
4) respond to all writing as though it’s fiction and with what we liked/found strong
Now, the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops that I facilitate (survivors writing workshops and erotic writing workshops) often end up, at least for many (but not all!) participants, being ‘life writing’ opportunities workshops, where the writing is a telling of our own stories, getting into that thick truth of the everyday stories we exist within.
As a facilitator (and as a writer) I am interested in making/having opportunities for us to tell the whole truth(s) and so at first when I am going through the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) practices with a new group, I describe the way the method holds space for all this openness: you get to write whatever you want here because we keep it all confidential, and you get to do the exercise or not do the exercise whatever you want, you can even write about how much you hate the exercise and you can read it or not and if you read we only say what we like and what’s strong…
Tonight’s the erotic reading circle at the Center for Sex and Culture, and I’m getting my promo materials together for the summer writing ourselves whole workshops, which will include the Monday night survivors writing workshop and a Tuesday night erotic writing workshop for survivors of sexual trauma. During a time when folks are struggling around money, are worried about the well-being of our planet and of our communities, I know it’s easy to question why anyone would devote precious time and energy to writing about sex. Why would someone join erotic writing workshop?
A couple years ago, I published the following wrangling with to that question in the Open Exchange magazine here in San Francisco:
Why an erotic writing workshop? The base of all Writing Ourselves Whole workshops is the trans-formative writing process, the option of opening up oneself into the heart of one’s experience. An erotic writing has opened, for me, an internal space for previously unexpressed desire, wish, need. This desire has not been confined to the erotic realm – I’ve found longings unrelated to sexuality rising to my surface, seeking expression and manifestation.
Visit the NAMW conference site to sign up for tomorrow’s telesummit and to get more information. It looks to be packed with amazing information and connections!
2009 Second NAMW Virtual Conference
Don’t forget: there’s a Saturday Write Whole retreat on 3/14, and the spring workshops begin on 4/6 and 4/7! More information below — visit www.writingourselveswhole.org for more information or to sign up!
Spring 2009 AWA-model writing workshops
with Jen Cross/Writing Ourselves Whole!
I had such a great experience writing in response to the Arts and Healing network interview questions over the last several months — and I was also, finally, motivated to regularly update this blog.
So, at 6:30am while I was working on my morning pages, I jotted down some more questions I’d like to answer (or begin to answer!) about my work, the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops, the uses of art, and more…
It ends up tricking me into posting more regularly — we’ve got to do what we determine will work to get us around our blocks and internalized naysayers, don’t we?
Back in November, 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 9!
9. What inspires you the most about your workshops?
I’m consistently inspired by these two facts: The ongoing reminder that every person has artistic brilliance inside that is seeking an outlet, and that community can web together to support one another – that we can collaborate around healing and individual/social transformation without needing MSWs or other clinical degrees. These have something to do with one another.
Back in November, 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. I took a bit of a break at the end of Dec, but I’m back on track. Here’s my answer for day 8!
8. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to use writing for their own healing, or to facilitate healing in others?
This is such a big question – I actually feel I need to break it down into two: Thoughts for folks who want to use writing around their own healing/transformation, and thoughts for those who wish to use writing to facilitate healing with others.