Tag Archives: transformative writing

We practice writing to know ourselves changing

graffiti from miss tic: a woman with devil horns, hands crossed in front of her, next to the words "A Lacan Ses Lacunes"“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 [1]


“Women come to writing, I believe, simultaneously with self-creation” – Carolyn Heilbrun [2].

There’s a sense of self that can emanate through writing. It is a transgressive self, a shifting, slippery self that doesn’t have to have one single constituency, is not beholden to one instantiation of a single and stable I. Continued writing practice can open a path to this consciousness.

Latina author Maria Lugones, shifting identities as she moves among the various communities she inhabits, describes a feeling “of being a different person in different ‘worlds’ and yet of having memory of oneself as different without quite having the sense of there being an underlying ‘I.’”[3]

There are ways, of course, in which this can be intensely painful, yet it does not have to be a uniformly negative experience, however–particularly when we are writing for self-creation or self-discovery. On the page I have felt it to be quite liberating. We are ever-changing. We are–I am–never the same from one moment to the next. All my meanings are always already changing–and so are yours and so are yours. Today you are new and old. Nothing is ever not changing in you. We are always never the same. The girl or boy who was raped is/not you. The adult who (was) fucked is/not you. We are/not the same. Not parenthesized, not encapsulated. We practice writing to know ourselves changing.


“Write! and your self-seeking text will know itself better than flesh and blood […] When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love.  In one another we will never be lacking.” Cixous [1]

Thank you for the ways you allow yourself to unfold and enact, instantiate, moment after moment after moment after moment. Thank you for the creation of your words.


[1] Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa (Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, trans.) Signs 1(4), 1976, 875-893.

[2] Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing A Woman’s Life, 1988, p 117)

[3] Maria Lugones, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception. In Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Tharp (eds.), Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women’s Writing. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998, p 174.

Book notes: Beyond Survival

cover for the book Beyond SurvivalI 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).

Beyond Survival seems like it would make a good companion for folks working with The Courage to Heal, but is also a  powerful tool on its own, regardless of how long you have been wrangling with the aftermath of trauma.

More as I read through this new find!

The ethical heart of my practice: AWA

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:

vines drape around open door, from http://flandrumhill.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/the-green-door/ 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. the reds, yellows and oranges of fall foliage in New England, from Indospectrum.com 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.

Because I was doing “healing” work outside of the therapeutic model (not therapy, not even poetry therapy)a molting seal taking some space for hirself, from blog.oregonlive.com, and also doing “writing education” outside of the traditional academic model, I found it challenging to describe to others exactly what I was doing with the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops. This proved to be relatively isolating, and I often felt like I was working in a vacuum, sometimes questioning whether I was working “appropriately” or effectively as a facilitator.

After doing the workshops in relative isolation for a couple of years in San Francisco, I connected with Chris DeLorenzo, an AWA affiliate, about joining his Laguna Writers workshops. Chris took a risk, having another AWA facilitator in his workshop, and I am forever grateful! I began to find my way into the AWA community I’d been searching for, and I got to experience the risk and freedom and vulnerability possible in the role of participant! sea lions together!  From tapirback.com Through Chris, I began to connect with other AWA facilitators and lovers of the method, including some especially long-term participant writers, and this informal community has made all the difference for me as I move forward in building my workshops and continuing in the role of facilitator. When I have questions or concerns, struggles as a facilitator or just need some love and support, I know I can turn to these folks and they will get it about AWA, what the method is and isn’t supposed to do, and all that can happen within the method’s clear and expansive boundaries.

I always knew that Pat was there if I had questions, although I was stubborn (like as little kid!) and stayed out of touch for several years, stumbling in the dark, an unnecessary hardship when there were so many hands around to help me get started in the work, answer questions, give feedback and guidance. Having a community – one that’s now expanded to a group of 50-some North American AWA facilitators – has been so useful for me, a reminder that I am a part of something larger, that I do not have to be in competition with these my sibling workshop leaders, that I have folks from whom I can learn and with whom to share what I’ve learned.

animal mandala, from art-poster-online.com This method is the ethical core of my writing practice and work. Being connected with other facilitators, this now world-wide community of AWA-ers, means that we can nurture one another *and* hold one another accountable to the 5 agreements and 5 core beliefs.

It can sound a little cult-y, and yet I have never been a part of a structure or a community that feels as though it has each of our own individual best interests at its heart, alongside the best interests of each writer with whom we work and our larger communities also at heart. heart cloud!  from http://www.flickr.com/photos/stivsky/ AWA workshops are about a sort of kindness and faith and respect that gets devastatingly short shrift in especially our western world these days. So yes, I believe in AWA as my own spiritual path (I mean it!) and I an so thankful to finally have realized that I am not alone.

As someone who is expressly not doing therapy and yet working with survivors of sexual trauma and working with issues of sexuality, I use AWA as my ethical framework, the space in which we tell our true stories, fiction or not or a commingling of these, while also developing our writer’s craft (sometimes without even realizing it). In the workshops I’m lucky enough to facilitate within this framework, each writer is allowed to hold the tender morsels of one another’s deepest pain and secret joys, our silliest moments and/or most hidden desire–these brand new creations–with the kindest regard.

(If you’re in the SF Bay Area and are interested in learning more about AWA or want to participate in a facilitator training, there’s one coming up in just a couple weeks in Alamo, CA: http://www.amherstwriters.com/CertTrai.html)

thinking about the narrator

describing writing ourselves whole in a wordcloud! 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…

Erupting from the structure of open hands (sculpture outside Creighton University) and then scratch screech wham I feel like I’m pulling on the breaks around all that freedom (although that’s not the case). The piece that can be the most challenging for folks new to the AWA method is the part where we talk about all the writing as though it’s fiction. Unless instructed otherwise by the writer, we talk about the narrator and the characters in the piece (rather than saying ‘you’ to indicate that the writer and the one written about is necessarily the same).

Initially, this can feel like a confusing irritation. I sense folks cringing under the weight of one more thing to remember and how do you talk about fiction anyway what if I do this part wrong?>

I take a deep breath. I say, this is how we talk about it – we don’t know what’s fiction and what’s nonfiction – we don’t need to know.

what you say - how you say it, a pie chart from aspieteacher.com This is what I want to talk about: the wording matters. How we talk about something matters.

There’s a space enacted when I talk about your story in the 3rd person; there’s a different intimacy, in a way: slightly less immediacy, more distance, which, when we’re handling something raw and electrified like brand new writing        is a good and useful thing.

We offer each other risky stories in these workshops – and in most writing spaces. We need to be tender with each other in response. This guideline is part of the tenderness, the way we set a structure that creates a space for enormous risk: we won’t tear it down, and we won’t tie it to you. We won’t point at you while we are talking about it.

Here’s the other thing that happens – if we have made fiction with our stories, suddenly we are strung up on the line of It All Has To Be True when someone refers to the “you” from the story as fact        we all know there is a difference between facts and truth…

being able to see our rose-colored glasses
One more thing? Talking about the piece of writing as though it’s fiction gives us as peer writers and respondents the chance to forefront and acknowledge our lenses. There’s room for each of our interpretations. If I have written a story about some situation between, say, my sister and I, and to many people it sounds sad and I am trying to find language for the joy in a difficult moment, response to that piece will likely run a gamut from “I felt the happiness they got to have at that difficult time” to “they were so sad and that was really strong for me, came through really clearly.” When someone ‘misinterprets’ me when I am speaking, especially in response to something intimate or personal or painful, and I feel the need to clarify, to correct. Within this structure, though, I have the freedom (the gift!) of hearing multiple interpretations of my telling – I get to hear multiple readers’ responses, what they hear in my writing, what they bring, too, to their hearing. I don’t have to take it personally – it reminds me that every reader (including editors – and friends/lovers/parents!) have a lens, bring what they’ve experienced to a story.

hematite sphere, from moonlightmysteries.com There’s a working space that gets opened up around us when one person puts her words in the room and then all of us, the writer included, gets to look at those words as a bit detached from the writer herself. We get to turn the story over, allow response to all of its angles, aspects, curves, undersides. Often, I picture the story as a silvery-malachite ball floating next to the writer: we all get to enjoy this creation for what it is, exactly as it is, expecting nothing more from it (even if we didn’t want it to end while we were listening).

For me as a human subject, it’s difficult to be examined, responded to this way – I get a little prickly and nervous, even if all the feedback and words I hear I know are supposed to be ‘good’ and strong – still there’s a discomfort, more

In a way, talking about the new writing as fiction objectifies the work in the best way, highlights its status as an artistic creation as opposed to a confession, and allows us as writers and as listeners to experience the distance between who we are and how we tell it; this part of the structure also holds the separation between writing group and therapy group. These workshops are not therapy groups. We are creating art while we put language to difficult or new or exciting or scary or sexy or socially-unacceptable truths.

What happens in that in-between space, the transformation of memory and fantasy into words and onto paper, is sacred, and talking about a work as though it’s fiction protects and honors that space and that artistry in all of us.

Your turn: How is it for you, if you’ve participated in an AWA workshop or facilitated such a space — what’s your experience of the ‘fiction’ part of our practice?

why join an erotic writing workshop?

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.

We do not have to be silenced through our limited erotic language any more. One of the things I have learned through both my studies and my own writing practice is that what we know ourselves to be is shaped in large part by how and what we know to say about ourselves – that is, by the words we can put to our inner and outer experiences. The deeper and more complicated our language, the deeper and more complicated – and often, simultaneously, more clear – our sense of our own identity, desire and self.

It can be scary to imagine writing explicitly about sex – with strangers, no less. Here’s what you can expect: we write together, as we’re inspired, in response to open-ended prompts; we read aloud after writing only if we want to, and, when we do decide to read aloud, our peers in writing respond to our writing as though it’s fiction and will tell us what they liked about what we shared. These last two pieces are important – for the erotic writing groups as well as for the survivors writing workshops at Writing Ourselves Whole – and are the main reason that we use the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop model.

Each of us as writers decides what part of what story we want to share or explore and/or create. We may begin with something rooted in the autobiographical, then weave into the fictional, and back again; no one can know what’s “fact” – and what listeners will hold on to is the emotional truth of the writing. These are our storytellings, and we will get to hear what’s already strong, already working, in our brand new works of art.

You my feel a desire to write but feel that you are not a writer, that you cannot write, maybe because someone in school told you so. It is often the folks with this belief who surprise themselves most with what flows from their pen. You may feel timid around the descriptions of sex and sexuality in your writing, and want a chance to work on that in a safe environment. You may have individual erotic desires that you’d like to explore before acting on. You may simply enjoy writing about sexuality or desire, and want the opportunity to practice your craft. You may be in the mood for something new and different. For all these reasons – and more – folks have come to the Declaring Our Erotic writing workshop.

(Originally appeared at http://www.openexchange.org/archives/OND07/cross.html)

National Assoc of Memoir Writers FREE teleconference tomorrow!

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

We’re inviting you to sign-up for A FREE teleconference sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers to be held on April 23rd starting at 10 AM PDT. You will receive the conference call information after you register.

Schedule of calls are as follows (please note that the times are in PDT):

10:00 AM Kay Adams Writing Through Troubled Times
11:15 AM Dr. James Pennebaker Putting Emotional Experiences into Words
12:30 PM Lucia Cappachione Re-Membering Your Self: Creative Journaling for Memoirists
1:45 PM Christina Baldwin The Spiral of Experience—How Story Changes Over Time
3:00 PM Marina Nemat Writing and PTSD

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., President of The National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) is host and director of the 2009 Virtual Conference.

Guest Speakers for this year’s conference:

Kathleen “Kay” Adams, LPC, RPT
10 AM PDT | 11 AM MDT | 12 PM CDT | 1 PM EDT

Writing Through Troubled Times:

Journal Your Way from Chaos to Calm

Anxiety is the new pandemic. Our workplaces, families, campuses and communities teem with overload and uncertainty. We’re exhausted by the demands on our personal resources. Money shrinks, conflict swells, and stress shatters our confidence and clarity.

Dr. James Pennebaker
11:15 AM PDT | 12:15 PM MDT | 1:15 PM CDT | 2:15 PM EDT

Putting Emotional Experiences into Words
In this virtual conference Dr. Pennebaker, world-famous psychologist who conducts research on how writing heals, will teach us how expressive writing—writing true experiences with emotional content– creates positive change and promotes the healing of trauma.

Dr. Lucia Capacchione Ph.D., A.T.R.
12:30 PM PDT | 1:30 PM MDT | 2:30 PM CDT | 3:30 PM EDT

Re-Membering Your Self: Creative Journaling for Memoirists

In this teleconference Dr. Lucia Capacchione will discuss the relevance of art, collage, and non-dominant hand writing and drawing in the context of a journal for memoirists. Tapping into rich stores of memories using right-brain techniques, which she originated,

Christina Baldwin
1:45 PM PDT | 2:45 PM MDT | 3:45 PM CDT | 4:45 PM EDT

THE SPIRAL OF EXPERIENCE–How Story Changes Over Time

The power of story allows us to interpret experience in ways that potentially transform facts and events into meaningful insights. It is from the stories we make out of experience that we create the lives we lead and the people we are.

Marina Nemat,
3 PM PDT | 4 PM MDT | 5 PM CDT | 6 PM EDT

Writing and PTSD

Marina Nemat is the author of Prisoner of Tehran where she chronicles her harrowing experience as a prisoner in the famous Evin prison in Tehran. Marina was only 16 years old when she was arrested. She was tortured and came within minutes of being executed.

We are excited this year to present the top writers, researchers, and mentors in the field of therapeutic writing, all of whom were gave us a huge amount of inspiration and information at the 2008 Journal Conference in Denver. Kay Adams, one of our guests for this important telesummit, was the director of this important and first ever conference that brought together for the first time the important people in the memoir, journaling, and therapeutic writing world.

Some of you may want to know the definition of therapeutic writing. Dr. James Pennebaker, one of our guests and the premier researcher in the field of writing to heal, has done many dozens of studies with hundreds of people that demonstrate all the ways that writing helps to heal—the body, the mind, and the spirit. The work of Kay Adams work and Christina Baldwin for the past three decades has been in the area of writing from soul, listening to the inner spirit, and using writing as a way to more deeply know the self. When we are connected with our deepest inner self, we are able to be authentic, to tell our truths, and free ourselves from some of the constraints and pain of the past.

Writing is a way to listen to ourselves, to give voice to what we deeply know about ourselves, our society, our planet. All the presenters at this very special telesummit will help to give us guidance, inspire us, and evoke the desire to use writing as a regular technique in our lives to create wholeness and even happiness.

Please join us for this wonderful and inspiring telesummit. You can also join us by phone for FREE. Sign up here, and you will receive more details about the telesummit, including new presenters and details about the conference, as time draws near.

Note: If you have signed up for last year’s NAMW Telesummit, then you’re automatically added to the list and you need not sign-up for this teleconference.

March retreat on 3/14 and Spring workshops!

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!

** Write Whole: Survivors Write – Saturday Intensive!
An all-day writing retreat
Saturday, March 14, 2009
(Check-in and registration/continental breakfast 8:30-9:00am)
Light lunch also provided.
~ Treat yourself to a day of good writing, good food, and good community! 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! We create new art and new beauty out of the complicated realities of our lives. Open to all women who identify in as survivors of sexual trauma.

**Write Whole: Survivors Write**
Special 5-week workshop meets Monday evenings, beginning April 6.

~ Gather with other women survivors of sexual trauma in this workshop, and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing, and deal with such subjects as: body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more. You’ll be encouraged to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words! Open to all women who identify in as survivors of sexual trauma.

**Declaring Our Erotic**
Special 5-week workshop meets Tuesday evenings, beginning April 7.
Open to folks of all sexualities and all genders!

~ Are you ready to explore some new edges in your writing? Are there longings you would like to find language for? Now’s the time: you may very well surprise yourself with the depth and power of your writing!

This is a deliberately-diverse erotic writing workshop open to folks of all sexualities and all genders. For anyone who’s ever thought about writing erotic stories – now’s the time to get some of those fantasies down on the page! In these workshops, you will get more comfortable exploring and talking about sexual desires, receive strong and focused feedback about your new writing, explore the varied and complex aspects of sexuality and desire in a fun and confidential environment, and, of course, try your hand at some explicit erotic writing! In addition, if you choose, you may share your manuscripts with peer writers for well-rounded response to your erotic work.

All workshops held in San Francisco in an accessible space, a half-block from BART and on many MUNI lines. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! Fee for 5 weeks is $175; fee for Saturday retreat is $100. To register or for more information, email jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org or visit

About your facilitator: Jen Cross is a freelance writer whose work has been published in many anthologies and periodicals. Jen has facilitated writing workshops since 2002. She received her MA in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College, and is a certified facilitator of the Amherst Writers & Artists method (http://www.amherstwriters.com/).

Listing: one more of the tricks of the “trade”

AHN logo - spiraling us together!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?

So, here are some of the questions I’d love to explore in more depth:

  • Why don’t I call what I’m doing ‘therapy’?
  • How do silences/silencings in one area of our lives affect the rest of our lives?
  • What’s the psychological/social effect of transformative writing in community?
  • How does trauma change the way we “know” things, and then how does art both accommodate and help to reshape that new knowledge/way of knowing (ontology?)
  • How do we get started with transformative writing?
  • What does art, experiencing and creating art, do to our brains?
  • Why would anyone want to write about sex in a group of strangers?
  • What do people who’ve been in the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops have to say about them?
  • What’s the difference, psychologically/neurologically, between the creation of visual and verbal art?
  • How can writing be a spiritual practice? What’s our definition of “spiritual practice”? Does it need to be a spiritual practice? Can writing ever not be spiritual?
  • Reconsidering ‘recovery’ – tangling with the voice that says, “I want to get back to where/who I was before this happened.”

    These are some of the questions tickling the inside of my brain these days, and getting them out there in front of you provides me with some more impetus to actually tackle them.

    I’ve had a lot of my old cognitive science interests re-emerging recently, in particular around the neurophysiology and social/sociological effects of trauma and of trauma recovery through transformative writing (in particular — though any expressive art, in general).

    What about you? What questions do you have about the writing experience, about expressive or healing arts, about Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists writing workshop method, about erotic writing, or…? Please let me know — and we can add them to the list!

  • Podcast Answers – Day 9: What inspires me about the writing workshops?

    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?

    the clouds pooling on the horizon between a brilliant blue sky and the bright green grass 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.

    Have I mentioned this here before? Pat Schneider says in her book, Writing Alone and With Others, “What I believe is not what everyone believes. It is this: There is no place for hierarchies in the heart, and the making of art is a matter of the heart. Art is the creative expression of the human spirit.”

    This is what I believe: Give us safe space, a room of our own (with or without safe others) and we will create change in our lives. We can be safe and explore what it means to lie and truth our way to safety, to lie our way home. We must take what we need to continue the process of survival, which is ultimately a process of resistance: the pen the paper the time the space the cafe or bedroom or kitchen table the 3 a.m. living room the subway train the cemetery the laundromat the whatever you need.

    Pink lotus reflected in a pond, from travellersworldwide.com I’m working as a part of an alternative healing movement seeking to provide and facilitate spaces for self-empowerment, which might be witnessed and supported/encouraged by others on a similar journey. I struggle whenever anyone refers to the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops as “therapy.” If anything, I’d like to be known simply a writer and a group facilitator/participant. I do this work with survivors of sexual trauma and around sexuality/erotic writing because I believe in its effectiveness, and because I’d like to continue to have available to me and others like me the options of non-clinical healing/transformative process and practice.

    I’m interested in what a specifically non-clinical model of Transformative Language Arts (TLA) can accomplish. Transformative Language Arts Network logo, from www.tlazine.blogspot.com/ I’m interested in transformative/healing modalities that will not reproduce the old analytic model, will not appropriate the language of clients and masters, will not capitulate to professionalizing drives that are infiltrating social service agencies around the country. What can we do when we come together with people, with mutual respect, with a give-and-take of information, with a possibility of mutual ex/change? Those in power will work to rewrite us broken bodies back into some semblance of (their) normalcy. They don’t want us rocking the boat.

    Together, we who participate in these writing groups engage in the communal creation (and continual re-creation) of a space that allows for risk, performance and play. As a participant, I struggle to make clear for the rest of the writers: I will take the same risks you will. I will trust you to cherish what of myself I offer, and I will be open to your feedback. I have something at stake here, personally, just as you do. This willingness, in my experience, allows for a leveling of the power in the room–which is transformative in itself. (It also, of course, comes with its own difficulties.)

    raw amethest crystal, from wikimedia commons When we, whether or not we’re survivors or sexual trauma, come together this way—-assiduously working to remain aware and respectful of the differences among us, and share our words—-we have the opportunity to acknowledge our individual places of beauty and strength, both because we listen to our own poetic phrasing and descriptions, and because others tell us what is beautiful and strong for them in the writings we offer. We hear, witness, and open (to) the splendor in ourselves and in others. There is transformation in those moments, particularly when we who have spent years reiterating to ourselves the lessons of ugliness that we learned at our abusers’ hips are able to acknowledge beauty in ourselves.

    The truth is, those interested in liberating themselves and each other from the weight of oppression must be involved in the process, the development, of any education or liberating strategy. Education cannot be bestowed. Wellness cannot be bestowed. Liberation cannot be bestowed. These are all processes in which one must be continually and consciously engaged.

    We must have multiple possibilities, routes, and paths of transformation and life change. As soon as we who are “alternative” start bending ourselves to look more “respectable” and “acceptable” to the mainstream, the alternative has thrown up its hands to governmental organizations, to the drug corporations and lobbyists, to the medical doctors and to The Old Mothers and Fathers.

    And so I’m privileged to have the opportunity to walk alongside and sing the songs that rise when we are all similarly invested in a process of transformation. Instead of grabbing the shreds of authority that Power pretends to offer those of us interested in healing work, along with the false promise of more control (and more money!, they say) in the future as long as we follow their rules, I would rather continue to experience the empowerment and full-bodied joy of the deep connection and conversation that occurs when folks walk their transformation side-by-side.

    clownfish peeking out from within an anemone, from coral-reefs.orgTake me backward into your dreams and let me watch you stumble. Your language is yours alone, the sounds of your body the stretch and wrinkle of your face the wrinkled words and nods, shrugs and shivers and shifts of eyeballs. You don’t know that you know your own way and I cannot tell it for you. I can take your hand, though, and promise not to leave you while you float in your own waters, while you choke down the nausea of history in your instance to see the clownfish and schools of yellowtail floating around the coral of yourself.

    What has inspired you about workshops you’ve participated in and/or facilitated?

    Podcast Answers – Day 8: Thoughts for others who want to do this work

    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?

    Putting the pen to paper 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.

    Part 1: Thoughts for folks who want to use writing around their own healing/transformation –

    Want to write yourself whole? Pick up the pen and start now. Just let the words come. Don’t pick the pen up off the page, don’t censor, don’t make sense. Don’t stop to worry about whether your grammar works there or if you ought to use a comma or a semi-colon or if it’s time for a new paragraph. Give yourself these 5 minutes, maybe 15. Give yourself a lunch half-hour. Give yourself a morning hour, an evening hour. Shut off the phone and turn away from the computer. Follow the flow, the pull of your writing. Set down in ink or pencil whatever words come up, non sequiturs and nonsense and to-do-list reminders alike, stories and complaints, wishes and dreams and frustrations and remembrances. Let it all come and comingle on your page. Let it flow through the boundaries and the bridges that we build within and around ourselves, the containments and separations, the work stuff and play stuff, the now stuff and then stuff. This writing is just for you. It doesn’t have to be shared or read aloud or posted anywhere, unless *you* want to do so.

    Keep writing! from plus.maths.org
    Start it now. Do it again tomorrow. Keep up this pattern as many consecutive days as possible, over several years. Continue for a lifetime.

    I’m just repeating what I’ve been told, what’s worked for me, what I’ve read. This is the kind of urging that Natalie Goldberg makes in Writing Down the Bones, that Anne Lamott sets before us in Bird by Bird, that Pat Schneider lets us consider in Writing Alone and With Others. Trusting yourself enough to write freely and broadly and openly and deeply — it creates change.

    Freewriting sample from ficitonwriting.about.com
    This kind of freewriting has introduced me to my thought patterns, allowed me to trace out language for experiences that I thought were unnamable, given me meditation and play time. And over time, I’ve learned again to trust whatever my writing wants me to put on the page, to generate material first and then edit later, and to only share my writing when I’m ready, and with folks whose opinions I trust and appreciate. Pat Schneider has an awful lot of good stuff to say about transformative writing when working alone in her book (Writing Alone and With Others).

    Part 2: Thoughts for those who wish to use writing to facilitate healing with others –

    The experience of this erotic writing group ended up being harder, and more amazing, work than I expected it to be. I don’t know exactly how I could have believed that facilitating a group like this would be easy, or straightforward, or wouldn’t bring up intensely hard emotions for women participating (definitely including me)–but I did, and it didn’t take long for me to understand the error in such beliefs. Yet the women were incredibly supportive of me in this endeavor. They offered me great feedback on my writing, allowed me to fuck up and keep going. They told me they needed what I was doing in this group and I wanted to, and did, tell them that I needed them, as well. We opened and we fed each other words and images, and in doing so, we fed ourselves. I was continually astonished at what happened when these women set pen to paper. We got somewhere together, yet each woman arrived via her own path, with the rest of us as witnesses who walked along with her. All I did, it seemed, was create a space, come up with exercises–it was the women participating who came in and made magic. Every week felt like an absolute miracle, this opportunity to sit in witness with these courageous women. (from my process journal, Fall 2002)

    We can do it! from archives.gov On the one hand, I think anyone ought to be able to do this work. I think to myself, Look, I haven’t had any special training and I did it. I don’t have an MSW or experience as a therapist. But here’s what I do have: personal experience of surviving sexual abuse; training and experience as a volunteer listener for youth and battered women and men; certification as an Amherst Artists and Writers writing workshop facilitator; training as a crisis/peer support group facilitator. All of these skills came in handy during the writing groups I’ve facilitated.

    Can you do it without any of this training? It’s hard for me to say, because I have it and the folks I know doing the work have it. Desire is important, as is intuition—both of these are essential, even—but so is experience. It’s important to have the skills necessary such that a group of folks handling volatile material together can engage safely and ethically in the work they need to do. By safely, I mean without psychologically imploding in the group, and assisting others in their struggles not to implode. It’s my experience that the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method provides a strong and ethical container for the work of transformative writing in community. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other methods – this is the one that has resonated most strongly for me, both as a participant-writer and as a facilitator-participant.

    I have just recently, and finally, been reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and picked up The Vein of Gold to continue the work after I complete the initial 12-weeks of the Artist’s Way. Toward the back of The Vein of Gold, Cameron has a chapter dedicated to those who’d create and participate in creative Artist’s Way circles, and her focus on a non-hierarchical structure and the importance of shared risk (that if there’s a facilitator for the group, the facilitator must “do the work” along with everyone else) absolutely resonated with me as essential reminders for anyone who wishes to facilitate a non-clinical transformative/healing writing space.

    Before I wa
    s a writing group facilitator, I had training as a peer and crisis counselor–from queer youth service organizations and a domestic violence agency. This means that I had experience with listening to and empathizing with people. I had experience with the fact that, often, the most helpful thing you can do for another person is to listen to them, attentively and devotedly.

    This lesson was reinforced via Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists workshop facilitator trainings: listen and hear, and model listening for others. It’s a hard lesson to really, deeply internalize.

    Difficult things come up in a writing group, whether the group is focusing on erotic writing or sexual trauma or if there’s no particular focus at all. Despite the attention to all work as fiction, the experience of emotion is real: the terror, frustration, lust, anguish, pain, desire, desperation is real. As a facilitator, you’re not going to fix it. You’re not going to offer folks therapy and you’re not there to make it all better for them. That work will be work done by the writers themselves over time, with the help of those whom they choose, and when they choose.

    Listening with intent, from inclusive-solutions.com In a transformative writing group, one thing (among others) folks seem to want, as survivors and particularly as writers, is a hearing. That’s what these groups can offer. The original AWA training, for example, helps you acquire a sense of how not to be blown away by heavy, hard, overwhelming emotions; how to ride through hard high intense roller coaster rides of emotion without getting thrown off or shutting down. Most times, you don’t need to do anything but listen, deeply hear and experience the words as they are offered to the group, and to give your personal individual feedback about the writing itself, while modeling for others how to do the same.

    The ability to attend to your boundaries is also essential. And even so, even with this training myself, I want to bring each person who has participated in a group of mine into my life and care for them and make everything OK. It’s an empathetic challenge, and there’s nothing wrong with the draw, so long as I don’t act on it: I have to save my energy for the work I can do, the work of bringing together and facilitating these writing groups. It’s hard when all you can do is 1) offer a space, 2) keep the space safe, contained (as much as possible), and 3) listen well and respond personally, heartfelt and ethically–but it’s what I can do, and because it helps, it’s what I must do.

    Folks dancing hard, from allposters.com
    Learn how to take care of yourself. How do you get support and help after group? Do you write and get stuff down and out of you? Do you call a friend or another writing group facilitator? Do you call your mom or sister or uncle? Do you do nothing? Do something, ok? I’m still working on this one, myself, and it’s been six years since I started with this work! Go to the gym, go for a walk or a drive, sing hard, run, go dancing, do something. Let loose the energy that builds up during each group meeting.

    If folks don’t have the chance to go through the original Amherst Writers and Artists training, then I absolutely encourage you to participate in an AWA-model writing group in your area, or other writing group. It’s helpful to be exposed to different facilitation styles, if only to learn what not to do, how you don’t want to facilitate (as well as to do the opposite!).

    What do you think? What’s worked for you, if you’ve done transformative or healing writing on your own? What’s worked for you as someone participating in and/or facilitating a transformative/healing writing space?