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uprooting and untangling the binds of rape culture

Squash seedlings, damp, spreading out in morning sunlight
Squash seedlings almost ready for transplant!

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sun doing where you are right now? How is it feeding your heart?

Even though it’s possible, here in California, to garden year-round, I still live with the rhythms I learned growing up in zone 5 out in the midwest, where one had to take a break in gardening overwinter because, you know, snow. But every late February, something about the quality of light changes, and I get called back out into the garden. We moved last fall, so I have a new garden to build here. I’ve put in some carrot and radish seeds, have peas and chard and onions and herbs and nasturtium and sweet pea growing, and I can just barely see the tips of gai lan seedlings. It’s hard not to want to do it all right now, to have the garden bursting with color and fruit and flower that we left behind in Oakland. I’m re-learning the slow work of cultivation.

I had to dig out some kind of tenacious weed yesterday — California burclover, I discovered — and, while I dug my fingers around a particularly obstinate stem, I got to thinking about the work of uprooting rape culture.

The burclover, right now, is lovely, tender, with clover-like leaves and small yellow flowers. You can just barely see the buds of the fruit next to those flowers; the green pods are covered with a fine fringe that, when they get brown and dry, will turn into spines that dig into any bare feet or paws that go walking through the lawn. I know from past experience how difficult it is to get rid of these plants once they’re established in a garden, so I started pulling them out of this new yard as soon as I realized they were what was matting the area around my garden bed. But they don’t come up easy — though each plant just has one white taproot (like a dandelion) holding it in place, aboveground it sends out suckers and vines that also put down little roots in the soil as they spread. If you can get the whole rosette in hand and twist up, often you can pull up the taproot, too, but the sucker branches twist into those of other plants, growing over and under, through and around. Untangling those as best as possible, trying to save other small plants caught in between, becomes the slowest part of the weeding process.

I spent more than an hour on this yesterday, and still only managed to clean out a couple of square feet, barely noticeable if you’re not paying close attention. The ground I’m working with is clay-y and hardening — often, instead of getting the taproot out, I just tore off the surface greenery, leaving the slick greenbrown stems. I got out tools, used the hand cultivator and trowel, spent several minutes on each one of these plants, trying to dig out the root.

It was good and patient work, centering, calming.

While I was at this, I thought, This is what the struggle against rape is like — this is what it takes to end or change a cultural mindset that says that some people (mostly men) should get to have sexual access to the bodies of the people (mostly women and children) whenever they want. This mindset has deep roots, is well-established, can look harmless at first, in certain lights or seasons or when young or early in relationships, say, and gets twisted into and through the rest of society, choking the life from other things — both wild and cultivated — that need air and light and room to grow.

A bucketful of burweed

I can’t pull out one plant and be done with it. I have to try and get them all. But I can’t do it all at one time, nor can I do it all alone, as burweed certainly has a presence in every neighbor’s garden and in the wildlands back behind the house. I have to be vigilant, return to the same spots that I worked over yesterday to pull up the plants that I missed or whose roots kept hold. And during the time that I live here, I won’t eradicate all the California burclover. But I’m also choosing not to lean on the easy solution of poison, which will damage the soil I’m trying to reclaim and make it less hospitable for other life, will kill other plants also deemed weeds by a certain type of gardener and the gardening industrial complex, but that I want to nurture and save.

So I keep going in with my bare hands, now, when the fruits are still young — before they dry into hard burrs that are intended to dig into feet and feathers and fur, get carried away to establish new colonies elsewhere — and root out what I can.

The work of change is like this — slow, persistent, requiring patience and tenacity and vigilance. And with as many people as there are tangled up in the binds of rape culture, uprooting it is going to take time, as we try and help untangle the thoughts and beliefs and behaviors and entitlements and shames from the other stuff inside that needs room to breathe but has been choked of light and air — kindness, creativity, vulnerability, humility, grief, tenderness. The work is slow. It may take our combined lifetimes.

But I’ll tell you that yesterday, when I took a break, I noticed how good my body and mind felt, being at this labor, how grateful I was to be outside, my hands embedded with dirt, back sore, the work begun—incomplete, sure, but begun.

milkweed seedlings

My mother taught me the rhythm out of weeding, which, inadvertently taught me the rhythm of change work. She cleared out her huge garden a little bit every day, pulled a few weeds, tended the loosed soil, planted something new – until eventually she had the messy gorgeous beauty that is her sprawling wildflower-herb-vegetable garden. It’s a rhythm, a daily practice, something that can sustain us as we engage in the work of uprooting ideas and mindsets (of say, patriarchy and white supremacy) that have overtaken much more than their fair share of the earth, digging out space for more beauty, more birds and butterflies and bees, more sustenance, more space where it safe to walk on a spring morning in your bare feet.

Is there something in your life that needs some room to grow, to breathe? What would you be cultivating right now, if you gave yourself permission? Take 10 minutes with a notebook, open to a new page, and just write whatever comes when you think about these questions. Try not to edit or think too much about it, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Be easy with you today, ok? And thank you for your good words.

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Write Whole: Survivors Write — new group begins on May 1!

After a two-year hiatus, I’ve scheduled a new session of our survivor-centered group, Write Whole: Survivors Write to begin next month. Please let me know if you’d like to join us!

~Write Whole: Survivors Write
8 Monday evenings, 6:00-8:30pm, beginning May 1
For women survivors of sexual trauma

o In the Write Whole: Survivors Write workshop, you’ll gather with other survivors of sexual trauma to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. We freewrite together 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. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words in a supportive, transformative, and survivor-centered community.

This group is open to all who identify as women, and ‘survivor’ is intended to be self-defined as well. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re worried about whether or not you’d “fit.”

Pre-registration is required. The fee for an 8-week session is $375. (I can generally work out payment plans; please contact me if you have question or concerns about payment.) Please register early! A $75 deposit will confirm your space in the workshop.

No previous writing experience necessary. We’ll meet in El Cerrito in a beautiful garden space, 1.5 blocks from BART and close to other public transportation.

Please contact me with any questions. I’m looking forward to writing with you!

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What’s coming up at Writing Ourselves Whole (Fall 2014)

It may not feel like it much these days, but fall has arrived in the Bay Area. The young folks are back to school, and the words you put on hold during the busyness of summer are whispering to you again: It’s time to write.

Give yourself the support, structure, and community that you and your writing deserve; come and join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops.

Here’s what’s coming up around Writing Ourselves Whole:

Write Whole-Survivors Write.
Open to all survivors of trauma

8 Monday evenings beginning October 13, 2014.
Fee: $365 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Writing the Flood
A monthly writing workshop open to all

Next Flood Write meets Saturday, October 18, 1-4:30pm
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
(And mark your calendars now for the rest of the year: November 15, December 20.)

Writing Ourselves Whole goes to Lit Crawl!
Saturday, October 18, 6-7pm
at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th St., San Francisco, CA
FREE!
Join us on October 18 for Writing Ourselves Whole’s stop on the infamous LitQuake Lit Crawl. The theme of our reading will be Fierce Hunger: At the intersection of desire and trauma, longing takes many forms. Join us as Writing Ourselves Whole writers name what survivors are starving for. Readers include Eanlai Cronin, Manish Vaidya, Renee Garcia, Blyth Barnow, Seeley Quest, and Jen Cross. Please note: This reading will include explicit sexual content.

Dirty Words – Sacramento
A day-long erotic writing group
November 8, 10am-5pm
Offered through AWA Sacramento
Ever read through a sexy short story and thought, “I’d like to do that!” Join this fun and supportive group of writers and dive into your own sexy words! This group is designed to leave you more confident with sexual language, erotic expression, and your own writing practice. In this AWA-model workshop, we’ll spend the day writing joy back into our bodies and our desire. Discover how empowering a creative engagement with sexuality, sensuality, desire, and fantasy can be. Receive immediate and concrete feedback about what’s already working (and hot!) in your writing, and leave with strong new work. Bring your notebooks or laptops and your most open mind.  No previous experience necessary! Fee for this day-long writing group is $100. To register, please contact John Crandall of Crandall Writers at 916-708-9708 or johnalbertcrandall@yahoo.com.
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No previous writing experience necessary! All workshops facilitated by Jen CrossEmail Jen with any questions, or visit our contact page to register!

Your facilitator Jen Cross founded Writing Ourselves Whole in 2003. She facilitates sexuality and sexual trauma survivors writing workshops in Oakland, CA, and across the country. Jen holds an MA in Transformative Language Arts, and her fiction and creative nonfiction have been widely anthologized.

Writing Ourselves Whole believes in the power of transformative writing practice in community to restory individual trauma experience and restore those parts of ourselves we are trained to hide. We believe in the power of story, the joy of writing, and the depth of human creative resilience.

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What’s coming up at Writing Ourselves Whole

Do you have some writing to do this summer? Let us provide the support, structure, and community that you deserve; come and join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops. Here’s what’s the summer schedule looks like around Writing Ourselves Whole!

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning July 28, 2014.
Fee: $365 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Our SummerFall 2014 Cohort is full. The next series begins January 2015
Fee: $200/month (6-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.

Write Whole Online writing group
6-week summer sessions begins July 20, 2014
If you are not able or comfortable joining an in-person group, we offer online groups as well. This summer, our Write Whole: Survivors Write online is open to all women survivors of sexual trauma. No special software required — just a computer, an internet connection, and the desire to write in supportive community. Fee is $225.

Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all
Meets the third Saturday of every month
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
Next Flood Write meets Saturday, July 19. (And mark your calendars now for the rest of the summer: August 16, September 20.)

Create the space in your summer for the power of your good words! All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register!

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Another chance to write your story this winter!

Rockridge HeartsAre you seeking a space to write that will welcome the depth and complexity of your whole story? Do you want the weekly invitation to write and the knowledge that you will receive honest, kind and generous feedback about your words? Join us at Writing Ourselves Whole, and let your writing flow.

We’ve had to juggle the winter workshop schedule at Writing Ourselves Whole, which means you still have time to register for our survivors writing group or our general-topic daytime writing group:

  • Write Whole: Survivors Write, open to all trauma survivors, now begins Monday evening, February 10 (meets 8 Monday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm)
  • Meridian Writers, a new, general-topic group open to all writers, now begins Wednesday morning, February 12 (meets 9 Wednesday mornings, 9:30am-12:00pm)

Read on for more details about these groups! Contact me if you’d like to join us, and please feel welcome to forward this information to those you think might be interested in joining us.
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Workshop descriptions:

o In the Write Whole: Survivors Write workshop, you’ll gather with other trauma survivors to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words! Remember: we’re open to ALL trauma survivors, and ‘survivor’ is self-defined! Fee is $350; partial scholarships are available for all trauma-centered writing groups.

o Meridian Writers invites you to join a new community of writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. Find your center and write your story. New Wednesday morning group forming now! At the end of our nine weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of original writing. Spaces are limited to 9 writers per workshop session. Fee for our regular 9 week workshop is $425. Fees from this workshop help support Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.

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No previous writing experience necessary! All groups use the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method. We meet in Oakland, near Lake Merritt, close to several BART stations. Space is not wheelchair accessible. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! To write with us, email Jen at jennifer(at)writingourselveswhole.org.

I look forward to writing with you!

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Grow your words this summer — upcoming writing opportunities with Writing Ourselves Whole

ripening tomatoes, June 2013What words are ripening in you these days? Want to harvest those phrasings and images onto the page? Come and join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops. Here’s what’s the summer schedule looks like around these parts!

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning July 8, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Reclaiming Our Erotic Story: Open to all lgbtq women survivors of sexual trauma
8 Tuesday evenings beginning July 9, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Find community around the complexity of desire, and transform your relationship with your creative self through explicit erotic writing.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Next series begins begins July 2013
Fee: $200/month (multiple-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group; 1 space available
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.

Online writing groups
6-week summer sessions begin July 1, 2013
Fee is $100-150 (sliding scale).
If you are not comfortable joining an in-person group, we offer online groups as well. This summer, our Write Whole: Survivors Write online is open to all queer/LGBTQ survivors of trauma; Reclaiming Our Erotic Story online is open to all women survivors of sexual violence. No special software required — just a computer, internet connection, and desire to write in supportive community.

Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all
Meets the third Saturday of every month
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
Next Flood Write meets Saturday, June 15 (waiting list available). Mark your calendars now for the rest of the summer: July 20, August 17, September 21.

Create the space in your summer for the power of your good words! All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register!

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Here’s my impression of a car salesman: sign up now and save!

A quick note about our summer in-person workshops: you may already know that there is a $50 discount for registering by the early bird deadline (June 10 for Write Whole: Survivors Write and June 11 for Reclaiming Our Erotic Story). That means you pay $300 instead of $350 for an 8 week workshop. (That $300, by the way — if you like math like this — breaks down to less than 40 dollars per meeting, and about 15 an hour). All you have to do to qualify for this discounted rate is to register and send your deposit by the deadline.

I’m adding an additional incentive to those who know they’d like to participate in one of our survivor-centered writing group this summer — a further %10 discount on that early bird rate for those who pay in full by the early bird deadline. That means $270 for the 8-week writing group.

My aim here is to get the get the groups fully registered earlier rather than later, so that I can focus more attention on preparation and less on promotion!

Please let me know if you have questions or would like to register. I look forward to writing with you!

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So many ways to write your stories! (Late Spring & Summer with Writing Ourselves Whole)

heart vidaWe’ve got a lot of writing opportunities coming up in the next couple of months! If you’re ready to write into your own intersections of trauma and desire, this could be the time to join us.

Summer 2013 Schedule

“I Masturbate:” a writing class in honor of National Masturbation Month
THIS SATURDAY, May 4, 12-3pm, $25-50 sliding scale
Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St., San Francisco
Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/376758
May is National Masturbation/Radical Self-Love Month, and in conjunction with Shilo McCabe’s “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition, the Center of Sex and Culture wants to give you the opportunity to celebrate the power of masturbation and radical self-love! No previous writing experience necessary! At the end of our three hours together, participants will have several new, hot and surprising pieces of writing, will be connected with a supportive creative community, and be warmed up for a month of radical self love!

Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all
Meets the third Saturday of every month
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
Next Flood Write meets Saturday, May 18

Liberatory Potential of Writing Desire (Let’s Write About Sex!)
June 8, 2013 10am-5pm
Sacramento, CA
A day-long writing group with AWA Sacramento
To register, write to John Crandall at john@fireartsofsacramento.com
Expand the depth and breadth of your writing, discover the gorgeous creativity of your erotic self, and celebrate your individual erotic story. Spend the day writing joy back into your body and your sexuality. In a community of engaged and encouraging peer writers, try out some heated and surprising new writing, and find out how empowering a creative engagement with sexuality, sensuality, desire, and fantasy can be.

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning July 8, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Reclaiming Our Erotic Story: Open to all lgbtq women survivors of sexual trauma
8 Tuesday evenings beginning July 9, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Find community around the complexity of desire, and transform your relationship with your creative self through explicit erotic writing.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Next series begins begins July 2013
Fee: $200/month (multiple-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.

Online writing groups
Summer sessions begin June 24, 2013
If you are not comfortable joining an in-person group, we offer Write Whole and Reclaiming Our Erotic Story online!

All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Register here!

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Spring 2013 Workshop Schedule!

HowAliveThe Spring workshop series kick off in April, and there are still a few spaces available in each — I’d love to write with you!

  • Saturday, April 6: Writing the Flood (our monthly writing group open to all)
  • April 7: Dive Deep (our advanced, manuscript-driven workshop)
  • April 8: Write Whole – online (open to all queer survivors of trauma)
  • April 15: Write Whole – in Oakland (our trauma survivors writing group)

Read on for more information about each of these events— and visit our Sign Up page to register!

Continue reading “Spring 2013 Workshop Schedule!”

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Follow your words — Winter ’13 Workshop Offerings!

heart vidaDo you have stories or poems, lines or images that want to find their way onto the page? Join one of our writing groups or workshops, and connect with an engaged and fiercely gorgeous writing community while you release those words onto the page!

Read on to learn more about Dive Deep (our advanced, manuscript-driven workshop), Write Whole (our trauma suvivors writing group), Meridian Writers (our daytime writing workshop for women) and Writing the Flood (our monthly writing group open to all). Continue reading “Follow your words — Winter ’13 Workshop Offerings!”