Tag Archives: write whole

NaBloPoMo #12: why I write

This write is from a Write Whole group last summer — this was an introductory write, designed to get our pens moving and our hands loosened up. The prompt was “Why I write,” and this is what came for me in those 8 minutes. This one took a turn midway through that surprised me, but that’s not at all uncommon during these writes:

I write to put teeth back in it — teeth and knives and nails. I write to find the shape of my fist, the smile of my backhand, I write to find a shape for the violence that has no outlet anywhere else, for the violence that contours throat and belly, for the violence that crafted the trajectory of my whole adulthood. I write to find a container for the rage, trace the edge of the blade.

This is supposed to be gentle and kind. This is supposed to be pacifist and non-violent. The editors and censors and worriers jump in quick — justify yourself, they say. Clean up that mess you’re about to make.

I write because I’m not supposed to tell his stories — or, later, his. Because I carry the bilge of a broken marriage still burnt and straining in my muscles, the years of someone else’s terror released as control and — what do I say — shame into my body, my love, still slick down all my tender insides, still shaping every new voice I hear.  [redacted] What I really want to say is I still don’t have all the words for those years of loss, nor access to what joy I believe was true between us. The rage doesn’t end just because I moved out of his bedroom — in fact, it wasn’t until I left that those true flames of sorrow and loss were truly allowed to blossom.

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.

Jen’s ten rules for writers (for today)

Sometimes things conspire to keep the body from pulling itself out of bed at 4:50am. Sometimes the dog has been awake at irregular intervals all night, snapping off sharp, surprising barks at the neighbors who had the audacity to have a gathering on their summer-vacation Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Sometimes she’s up at 1:48am, shaking and scratching and agitating so that her collar rings like poorly-tuned chimes, needing to go outside. Sometimes the body stands at the back door, falling back asleep while upright, waiting for the dog to finish exploring the night yard and ask to be let back in. Sometimes the work went late into the night and rest didn’t come early enough. Sometimes the leg spasms, dancing all by itself, and the rest of the body doesn’t want to stretch it — that road leads directly to charlie horse.

So sleep, such as it is, blows right through the 4:50 alarm, through the many snoozes, and continues on until almost 7. Sometimes the sweetheart’s arms are just too sweet to slip away from, and so it’s a whole lot better to cuddle back in under the covers after every snooze. And those precious early morning writing hours are spent in dreams. But the dreams will make their way into some character’s head, someday. That’s the hope.

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Today is a self-care day: body work, therapy, CoDA — not in that order. There’s much work to do — we have a beautiful group gathered for our summer online write whole session, and folks have already begun to share strong and gorgeous work there; our fundraising campaign for Sex Still Spoken Here (the Erotic Reading Circle anthology) is in the homestretch and needs a lot of attention in order to make our $5000 goal; Dive Deep‘s SummerFall 2014 Cohort is underway and manuscripts are arriving for response; Write Whole‘s in-person session begins next week, and I’ve got to prepare our syllabus and get the word out to any last-minute registrants — I’ve also got a syllabus to prepare for a master class for the National Poetry Slam at the beginning of next month and start getting the word out to local colleges about our 2014-2015 workshop offerings… so today’s practice will be to relax during the self-care time, and trust that the work will get done as it needs to get done. Whew.

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Last Thursday, In the first meeting of our Dive Deep SummerFall cohort, I asked us to write (in 10 minutes) our 10 rules for writers (I got the idea from Advice to Writers, which shares various writers’ lists of 10 rules now and again…). We got some great lists, and some interesting overlap among many of our lists. What would get included on your list of 10 “rules” for writers? What would you leave off your list of “rules”?

Here’s what my list looked like:

1) Start now.

2) Open a notebook. Get a fast-moving pen. Sit down at a corner table in a bustling cafe, next to a window, wearing headphones connected to a tape player blaring music you’ve listened to often enough that the sound simply permeates your brain, creating a barrier between the loud voices around you, the even louder and more hostile voices within you, and the words you can barely even allow yourself to know you want to write. Put the pen to the page. Write one word, then another, as fast as you can, faster than the eyes of your inner editors and censors can read. Keep going for 20 minutes, take a breath, then keep going for another 20 years.

3) Understand that anyone’s rules for writing are useless to you.

4) Move your body in ways that feel excellent to you and make you sweat at least as often as, and for as long as, you write.

5) Be around animals — they being you into the present moment better than anything else.

6) Read books you love. Read books you don’t love. Read in and out of the genre you want to write.

7) Write what you love — not what you think you ought to write. Forgive yourself for not always loving what you “ought” to write.

8) Remember that writing needs room to breathe — loafing, wandering, and lazing aimlessly are often deeply creative acts.

9) Take paid work that has nothing to do with writing, leaves you energy to write, and provides material for your writing.

10). Be easy with you. And keep going.

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!

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!

Fall workshop schedule at Writing Ourselves Whole

graffiti of a butterfly hovering a branch that contains two nests of heartsFall is upon us, and many folks are in the back-to-school mode. Maybe you’re ready to pull out those composition books and let your words flow. Maybe you’re finished with summer’s travels and are ready to settle back into a relationship with your words. Maybe you’re ready to find community support for your stories. Whatever your reasons, join us in a group or workshop this fall, and write yourself whole:

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning October 14, 2013.
Fee: $350
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 women
8 Tuesday evenings beginning October 15, 2013.
Fee: $350
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt.
Safe space in which to explore our gorgeously complicated erotic selves! Find community around the complexity of desire — and transform your relationship with your creativity and your sexuality! — as you try your hand at explicit erotic writing.

Online writing groups
6-week summer sessions begin October 13, 2013
Final group offered at introductory fee of $100-150.
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. 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, September 21 (waiting list available).
Mark your calendars now for the Fall Flood Writes: Oct 19, Nov 16, Dec 21.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Next series begins begins January 2014
Fee: $200/month (multiple-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group; contact me to be added to the waiting list for the first DD of 2014.
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.

Create the space this fall for your good words. All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register. I look forward to writing with you!

just once before I die I would like to know I’ve flown free

The prompt I offered at one of our last Write Whole sessions was “things we aren’t supposed to talk about.” (You can make a list of those things, if you want, or simply dive into the first thing that comes up for you when you hear that phrase); we wrote for twenty minutes.

Here’s what I wrote:

I am afraid of dying. I am still afraid of dying. It has been twenty years since last he put his hands on me, he has been in prison for seventeen years, and still something in me remains stalled. 

I’ve had friends who don’t want to hear that I am still afraid of my stepfather killing me, that I bear the steel-rod terror still along my spine and through my shoulders that one day he will be released or escape from jail, come and find me and do, finally, what he promised so many years ago, when I first tried to get him to stop what he was doing to me, when I tried to stop the “sexual part of our relationship,” as he liked for me to call it. How had we gotten into the conversation, my friend and I? I said I was afraid I would freeze if I ever opened the door to find my stepfather standing there. My friend was aghast – and though he didn’t try to be, was profoundly shaming. He wanted a different response from me, and so I gave him one: I stopped talking about it. His telling me that I should remember that I am not the 19 or 23 or 21 year old I was when he last threatened me didn’t help. His grimace of feminist disappointment didn’t help.

I remembered – this is my fear to carry alone.

And it’s a site of shame – of course I know I should let it go. I know I shouldn’t believe one more of his lies. Where is this going? Last month, a friend dies at 50 with      yes      so much more of his life left to head and yet a gorgeous legacy of work and craft and community – and, at 41, I feel like I am still in limbo, still waiting for this man to die before I can truly open up the spigot of my heart, still sure that anyone I open my heart to will get killed as well, still afraid that any ambitions I pursue or life I build will be precisely what he will take delight in tearing away from me, burning in front of me. Torturing me until I relinquish. This was always his way. Why would twenty years make any different to a sociopath?

And so I try to remember to breathe, how to breathe, try to remember that, if he’s going to kill me, it probably won’t be today – and today I have some of my own beautiful and free life to live. I want to understand how to rid my body, my hard-grasping psyche, of this terror. I want to know how to communicate freedom and safety to my body, I want to know how to love freely into this life, how to stop mourning my inability to heal faster than I have. Maybe it all comes down to breath.

It seems true that I am not supposed to talk about the way this terror still lines my shoes, lives beneath my knees, behind my eyes; no, I no longer wait for him to come through a window. No, the place where this terror lives is inside my bones now. It stops up my reaching, my wingspan. Just once before I die I would like to know I’ve flown free.

unsolicited advice for a survivor

Rockridge HeartsThis is what I want to say: It won’t end. You won’t get fixed. You won’t reach a place where you name is Healed and incest doesn’t feed you breakfast anymore. The people who tell you You’ll get over it don’t know what they’re talking about, because they live in their own closed cage of denial. You have been transformed. You are not the same as you were Before. And you will never not also be who you were Before — but it may be some years before these layerings of yourselves can sit in the same room with you and have coffee in the morning. There is no such thing as getting over it. There is the business of living through. There is learning to breathe again, there is learning you are worthy of the air you breathe, there is having to breathe when you know you are not worthy. There is you, just breathing. You will have years called Night and years called Drunk and years called Weep and years called Frozen and years called Broken and Fuck. You look at this and think you can’t bear so many years of pain — but what’s true is that all those years are also called Freedom.

You will not always be in pain. Your heart will harden and soften at the same time. You will forget all the names you ever had, you will climb into a skin so different from the one you were fucked into that not even your mother — especially not your mother — will be able to recognize you. This may or may not be a cocoon. It might just actually be the true face of your new eyes. Every stage of healing is a phase, like this breath you are taking is a phase, like this heartbeat is a phase, like a single kiss is a phase is an instant an instantiation of your personhood. Phase means nothing except you are still alive. Ignore them when they tell you that whatever you’re experiencing now is just a phase. Ignore their relief, if it comes, when you enter a different phase. They do not sing with all the tendons of your body and they can’t speak the truth of your soul. Sit with the people who can hold your surfaces and your undersides.

One day you will say yes to your skin, yes to sex, yes to the feel of your body alive and inhabitable. The next day you will wrench up with No again. There will be years like this. There will be two yes hours in a row. There will be days when you don’t say his name, nights when the dreams in which you cannot move begin to stretch and taffy in your psyche, one day inside you will take the knife he brandishes and turn it on him. That will be a good day.

Know that this that you’re in right now will change. Be with people who can hold the shimmer of insurrection that is the space between who you were raped to be and who you are becoming. Be with those who can open their hands out to rage, who are imperfect in their holding, who want to fix it, who understand that there is nothing to fix. Understand that you will emerge from broke, that broken is a necessity, that no human passes through life whole, that none of us are anything other than whole. Believe that broken is necessary if one wants to see all sides of a thing. Know that you are because of and in spite of, you are of and not of, you are welcome in this human family, you have never been outside its true skin. We are just a people who has forgotten how to open our hands to those who need our receiving, who deserve a welcome, a yes, an apology. Know that the platitudes people offer you exist so that you can climb inside something together, that they are a doorway that you can meet each other through when the words don’t work anymore. Know that words will fail you but you will keep trying to unwrap them to find what lives inside, because for all the pain there you will never stop wanting to know and to share what lives truly inside yourself.

(A write from last night’s Write Whole survivor’s writing group meeting.)

I believe in the topology of regeneration

This is a new day. My body is sleepy, thick with desire for the covers. The candle blossoms new color into the dark room, and I am here with these early words. Fit me into the couch cushions, cover me with my mother-knitted afghan, hand me my tea cup and my novel. What do these words want from me today? What do your words want from you?

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I have two survivors workshops going right now, one in person (Write Whole) and one online. Last night was the third meeting of the spring Write Whole session, and got to be amazed at how deep the writing went, and how fast. We wrote hard about memory and grief, and in-between writes, we talked and connected and laughed. We wrote anguish and struggle last night, and after the workshop was over, I felt energized, lighter, and so grateful. It was a big one last night.

Sometimes people say, when I share with them about the work that I do, “Oh, that must be so hard.” I don’t know how to convey to them how much it’s not hard. How grateful I am every time I’m in the presence of a story that was never supposed to be told, how I appreciate the effort and risk involved in sharing brand new words, how honored I am to get to be in circle, over and over, with writers who are willing to language what we are trained never to be able to say. That’s not hard, I want to tell people; that’s a gift! Continue reading

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