Tag Archives: what helps

What about Interdependence Day?

mural of African-American boys and girls playing instruments with joy!There’s a little bit of cool outside right now — the last few days have been so hot, I’m reveling in this bit of mist and ease.

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I’m rereading Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery in bits and starts. Last night I got back to this section:

The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Fighting to keep language, language became my sanity and my strength. It still is, and I know of no pain that art cannot assuage. For some, music, for some, pictures, for me, primarily, poetry, whether found in poems or in prose, cuts through noise and hurt, opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself. Wounds need to be taught to heal themselves.  (1997, pp 156-157)

I would urge anyone who loves words, who is interested in the life of art, of the artist’s life as art, and/or who wants criticism as something alive and daring to read this book (and, of course, to read all the rest of her books.)

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This morning, I’m wondering what our country, this USA, would look like if we marked and honored Interdependence Day. What if it mattered that we need each other?

Yes, it’s important to take note of the day on which you broke free from an oppressor  — do you know the date/month/time of year of your own personal independence day(s)? — but here’s the next thing: no one ever actually breaks free alone. We decide, ourselves, that it’s time to take a step toward freedom — and we always have (had) help to get there, in one form or another. What if we honored and recognized that help? What it it wasn’t seen as weakness to stand with others, to allow others to help us? What if our country honored all the ways that we truly depend upon each other?

The myth of American Independence, the pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps thing, that’s an entrapment; it’s just a lie. We all have helping hands, whether in the shape of friends, family, community, characters in books, art, tv shows, stories from movies, class or race privilege, trust funds, education — if we find ourselves getting free, it’s because we have had it made known to us that free is a possibility. Who showed us that option? Who were our role models? What characters or foremothers or stories did we tuck under our hearts when we felt the most ensnared that began to chew and gnaw at our bindings, that began to push our face toward the sun of our own power? Those desires and makers-of-possibility, those who held our hands whether they knew it or not: we need to remember and honor them as well.

Back in 1993, my list would’ve included: my mother, my sister, the characters in Macho Sluts by Pat Califia, the characters in Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, my dog Katja, Molly Millions from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Kata Sutra

Let that be your write today: for 10 minutes on this Independence Day, write about who and what helped you get here now — you might begin with the phrase, “This is who/what got me (her/him/us/hir/them) through…” or start by making a list of the people and characters that brought you (and/or your character) through the fire, and then choose one or more of the items from your list as a place to start. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go!

Thank you for the ways that you have been a guiding light for others, for folks you’ll never even know. Thanks for the ways you honor all your inspirations. Thank you for your creative power, your vulnerable strength, your resilience, your words.

still learning the muscles required

graffiti of silhouette standing beneath a raincloud, and another silhouette offering that person an umbrellaI’m just beginning the first of many re-reads of Annie G. Roger’s A Shining Affliction — I want to tell you about it, but I don’t know if my words are far enough away from the story to really get into the details yet this morning. I can’t do a book report or a review yet, although I’d like to. I do know that it’s re-sparked my curiosity about and interest in Lacanian psychoanalysis (which got fully opened when I first read another of her books, The Unsayable: The hidden language of trauma, a couple of years ago, and has been lingering and touching my terror of it ever since).

this morning I have story after story I want to tell you, and I am too scared and stuck to open my mouth

What are the languagings for that experience? I’m aware of being badly in need of help, and not knowing why anyone would help me, and, while I’m feeling all this, experiencing, too, that self above the self that watches and is curious about it all: where does that certainty of not being help-able, not being worth helping, come from?

I want you to read her work and then talk with me about it — I want to go to where she is and study with her. This feels too exposed, writing this, naming my desire for a teacher. This is all so layered, in a culture that values (the myth of) individualism and sees any request for help as a sign of weakness.

One thing that happens with this book (A Shining Affliction, I mean) for me as a reader and a survivor of trauma and a facilitator of healing/transformative spaces with and for others, is that I’m offered the opportunity to be imperfect, un-cured, incompletely healed, as I move forward in my own work. That it is ok to still be wounded and healing (and doing your work around that wounding, of course) when you are working on holding space for others to do their work. I get stuck around that sometimes: I feel I should be entirely well, fixed — and that, if I’m not, I risk doing harm to others, those in my workshops; no, that, in fact, I am harming them, period. That I am harm. (That’s some old stuff.)

Of course, who, in this culture, is entirely well? And, separate from that, isn’t it true that the “healer” who is aware of and working on hir own stuff is providing more safety for the folks ze works with, because ze is more able to see hir triggers and ‘stuff’ as separate from the other person’s stuff? And we know that the isolation of those who experience trauma contributes to this feeling of being both unsafe and unhelpable. (How’s that for distancing language? I mean to say, the ways I was isolated during my adolescence contribute to this sense of having to do for myself, still learning the muscles required to reach out for help.)

I would like to be more articulate about this this morning, but I have to get ready for work.

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What would you like help with? In what areas do you feel unhelpable? Can you write out the help you (or your character) would like, in as much detail as possible?

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Thank you for the help you provide to others, and the ways you allow yourself to risk letting other people help you. Thank you thank you for your words.

How you can support life-changing writing workshops!

Hello and Glad Yule, Writers and Friends!
“I really appreciate and am a bit awed by the amount of support and healing that has happened for me in this room. The level of respect and regard for each writer’s voice is a gift I carry with me into the rest of my life.” anonymous (Write Whole writer)

Through Writing Ourselves Whole, people are restorying their lives. Some writers come to our workshops to reclaim their bodies, their words and their creativity after trauma; some, to find words for their beautiful and complex sexuality. All are empowering themselves through creativity. In 2010, Writing Ourselves Whole provided opportunities for nearly 100 individuals to write and share their stories. I’m deeply grateful to all those who have supported Writing Ourselves Whole’s work to offer safe, confidential and transformative writing groups that allow for deep creative discovery.

In 2010, we held ten 8-week writing workshops and twelve single-session writing groups; we offered workshops in San Francisco, Oakland, and on the East Coast. At the beginning of the year, Writing Ourselves Whole joined Intersection for the Arts’ Incubator, and we have begun to offer a scholarship fund for those in need! This means more full and more diverse workshops, which are always priorities for our sessions.

In order for Writing Ourselves Whole to continue offering writing workshop scholarships and below-market rates for our current and future low-income writers/participants, and meet all of our financial obligations for space rentals and supplies, we need your financial support. Please consider a tax-deductable donation in order for Writing Ourselves Whole to continue.

There are different ways that you can support and invest in the work that Writing Ourselves Whole offers:

  • Full Scholarship: Each $325 donation to our scholarship fund covers the full cost of a writer including: a 8-week workshop session, snacks, drinks and supplies, which are always provided.
  • Make a one-time donation or become a monthly supporter by signing up to donate $500, $325, $150, $50 or $25 per month. These funds will cover our ongoing monthly expenses including partial scholarships, workshop space rent and supplies. Any gift is deeply appreciated and helps us to do this work. No gift is too small!
  • Purchase a gift certificate for any current or aspiring writers on your gift list. Please contact Jen using the form on the Writing Ourselves Whole website. Gift Certificates can be purchased for $250, $100, $50 or any amount, and are a generous way for you to support the poets, storytellers, memoirists and other writers in your life!

To make a secure, tax-deductible, online donation using your debit or credit card, you can visit the Intersection Incubator donations page. Choose ‘Writing Ourselves Whole’ from the drop-down menu next to the question: “Which fiscally sponsored project will benefit from your donation?’ (Writing Ourselves Whole is down near the bottom!)

Thank you for your generosity, your belief, and your support!

Your investment will help us continue offering transformational writing workshops in 2011, both through our regular workshops, Write Whole: Survivors Write, Declaring Our Erotic and Writing the Flood, and through some exciting new developments in the works: workshops in Sacramento, an online offering in conjunction with the TLA Network, and more!

With so much gratitude,

Jen and all of us at Writing Ourselves Whole

P.S. Writing Ourselves Whole has grown beyond just my own two hands. There is an amazing group of volunteers who have joined the team that is Writing Ourselves Whole! Jianda, Lou, Maisha, Renee and Christina: thank you!

we’re here, we’re queer, we’re surviving

graffiti of a female face, frowning, serious, strong, with the caption 'recuerda! hoy es el dia!'

"Remember! Today is the day" (click on the image to see more of LD-'s flickr set)

It’s October — LGBT Awareness month (which includes National Coming Out Day on 10/11) and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How do these national-anything months affect our lives once we’re out of school, away from the programming groups that have a captive audience? It’s the month for NCOD, Take Back the Night marches, times when we announce who we are, what we’ve experienced, what we want to see change.

National Coming Out Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month go together, of course, when it comes to queer kids getting beaten, getting harassed, getting assaulted, getting kicked out — We’re here, we’re queer, and we deserve bodily integrity, we deserve health and safe homes, we deserve not to be bullied, not to be harassed, not to bully or harass others.

There’s a campaign that I found to get queer folks to re-associate with their high schools, to be a visible and out alumnus. I wasn’t out, even to myself, in high school.  Instead, I was being regularly sexually assaulted by my mother’s husband, and the only friends I was allowed were the boys who I might date, the boys who my stepfather thought would eventually have sex with me — my entire life revolved around my sexuality, in this hideous and adult-driven way. I had no idea that anything other than heterosexuality and sexual violence could be in store for me. There was no place to explore my own desires or fantasies, to think about how my body worked or why, to consider what brought me joy. Sex wasn’t about joy — it was about endurance and escape. Sometimes there was a moment of connection, and I’m grateful for those — moments that were outside my stepfather’s control, that were about just me and his other person, or even about a momentary wholeness in my body. These were fleeting and sometimes even more painful for my remembering them later, knowing I could never count on them, never get them back.

The It Gets Better campaign wouldn’t have worked for me; that’s not to shut it down or say that it isn’t useful (and click on that link above to see what might have gotten through, though, that message from Aunt Kate) — most of the public awareness campaigns didn’t work for me. We might have a lecture at school about tell someone if someone’s touching you wrong and all of us in the audience would be squirming and embarrassed and cutting our eyes at the kids (the girls) who it was rumored were having to have sex with someone in their family. My stepfather might have given that lecture to our school — he didn’t, but he could have, because that’s the work he did: and he always wanted to be of service. So no one would be cutting their eyes at me, though I’d be looking for it and I was terrified of someone finding out — not because of the shame or embarrassment, but because of his punishment, the way I’d have to repudiate anyone else’s knowledge, the way I’d have to learn how to hide better, more transparently, more in clean sight.

I had no possible sense of a future that didn’t include my stepfather’s control, so there was no place in my life where “it gets better” would have fit. I don’t know what would have worked (except, maybe, for one of his colleagues to have stepped forward, to have paid attention to what they were seeing (my stepfather’s extreme control of his family) and taken action).

Would it have helped if there’d been a campaign specifically aimed at those experiencing sexual violence — for a grown woman to say to a camera somewhere in the world, seeming like she’s looking right at me, somehow more safe for that intimacy of one person speaking to one other person: I never thought I could get away. But I did — finally, I was able to get away from the man/person who was hurting me, and this is how I did it and this is where I got help… Would that have helped me consider my own possible escape? Maybe I would have tucked it away somewhere inside future reference.

I want a hopeful end here, a clear sense of what could work, now, for someone else in my situation. I guess, though, that that’s why I write at all, and why I write under my own name. My survival, my rescue, came incrementally, and it mostly came through reading other people’s stories — it came through a slow awareness that I was not alone, that I wasn’t the only one who’d experienced this kind of isolation and control, that other people went through this and then, later, had a life that they were happy with, that they found pleasure and joy in. It was through reading the coming out stories, the survivor stories, through Dorothy Allison and Maya Angelou, the collections of Take Back the Night readings. Over and over, those voices reached out and caught me, and so I keep on trying to reach out and catch someone else. I needed to know that, yes, something as plain as ‘incest’ and ‘domestic violence’ could be applied to my stepfather’s behavior, that I could find myself and my experiences in that language.

My queerness is entirely interwoven with my incest survivor-ness, and my National Coming Out Day is always inflected with DV Awareness month, so my slogans look like this: We’re here, we’re queer, we’re surviving and We’re loud and raunchy and messy, because finally we can be and Big joyful incest survivor queergrrl.

What does National Coming Out Day look like for you? Do you still have coming out moments? Want to write about one of those as a prompt for today? (Write about whichever one just came to mind when you read that question — share it here if you want)

Or just think about it, and know that I’m grateful for that work you did, are doing, will continue to be a part of today…